Long read: What might the ultimate character creator look like?

Baldur's Gate 3, Street Fighter and Lost Ark developers discuss.

If you click on a link and make a purchase we may receive a small commission. Read our editorial policy.

X360 campaign underway?

Seems like Microsoft's new baby is being secretly marketed under our very noses. Or is it... Oh yes, it is.

Back in the olden days, adverts were simple affairs. Whether it was car manufacturers showing off the actual car they were selling, Bernard Matthews informing us that his Turkey Drummers were "Bootiful" or a load of monkeys dressing up as removal men to sell tea, you knew where you were.

Then everything got awfully clever and complicated, particularly as far as games were concerned. The concept of a "third place" is one thing; the vision of a duck wearing a business suit and a man coughing up a human arm is quite another.

And now it seems Microsoft is jumping on the cryptic advertising bandwagon for Xbox 2 with the launch of ourcolony.net. The homepage features a load of burble about chaos, penguins and someone called "the gamem8ker", plus a weird bubble thing that occasionally displays what looks like a silvery Xbox power switch.

Enter the site by working out the correct password (clue: it's a word that fits before -time, -mate and, er, -station) and you're given the option to join a "colony" or start your own. Colonies then compete against each other by solving challenges and scoring points, and are rewarded with what looks like close-ups of an Xbox 2.

There are two pieces of evidence to suggest it really is a Microsoft-generated site and not just a big fat hoax. First off, this wouldn't be the first time the company got all tricksy with its marketing; last year it hired ad agency 4orty2wo Entertainment to come up with a campaign for Halo 2.

4orty2wo specialises in "alternate reality games" (ARGs) - a type of marketing that involves laying a trail of clues which lead the consumer to the product. These clues could take the form of anything from a URL flashed up at the end of an ad to a cryptic message in a newspaper or a secret sign from a celebrity.

For Halo 2 the company came up with ilovebees.com, a website that gradually revealed details of the game's backstory. It also featured dates and GPS co-ordinates for payphones, where fans would gather at the specified times to hear recorded messages.

There's also a countdown on ourcolony, funnily enough - and it ends, would you credit it, at precisely the time Microsoft reveals Xbox 2 for the first time in an MTV special.

The second piece of evidence comes courtesy of J Allard, Microsoft's corporate vice president and chief XNA architect. Whilst giving a demo of the new Xbox Live service at this year's Game Developer Conference, Allard displayed his own Gamer Profile as an example. It featured a picture of the man himself wearing a green t-shirt, upon which was printed a white ant with an X on its body - i.e. the ourcolony logo.

When asked about the t-shirt by US website GameSpot, Microsoft said: "J Allard is a gamer and there are a lot of gamers playing ourcolony.net." But ourcolony.net was only launched last week, and Allard gave his GDC talk over a month ago. Gosh what can it mean.

The logo has also been seen on stickers placed all over cities throughout the US and UK, as you can see in the ourcolony gallery. Here's our favourite snap.

According to GameSpot, Microsoft would only issue the following statement: "We're aware of the fact that ourcolony.net has captured the imagination of thousands of gamers across the world, and that these gamers have taken control of the site and are making it their own." That'll be that then.

Rumours that Sony plan to hit back with the radical PS3 slogan "Buy our games machine, it's better than the other ones and you'll have a nice time," are undoubtedly untrue.