Unmasking the Decepticon: TransformersMovie.com Battles Usability

I’ve no problem admitting I’m absolutely as geeked as my 14 year old son about the upcoming Transformers movie. Given even the potential of soul-shattering hackery from Michael Bay — director of, among many other cinematic travesties, Armageddon (who knew directional drilling would one day save the world?) and Pearl Harbor — seeing a giant Decepticon smash through a bus on the freeway on the big screen is going to be worth the price of any number of admissions.

Please, Mr. Bay, for the love of everything holy, no romantic subplots, no schmaltz, no Ben Affleck. But, come on, even if Transformers was Ben Affleck-ted I’d go. It’s robots! In disguise! I could only be happier if the movie consisted of them fighting Shogun Warriors. Maybe throw a couple Micronauts in there as well.

Given, however, that I’m heavily invested in online marketing, that my career consists of helping clients improve their online presences in any number of ways, I’m naturally interested in whether the Tranformers’ complete excellence is being reflected in a completely excellent online marketing campaign, the primary part of which should be an excellent website. (Plus, it’s totally an excuse to gawk at big robots during work.)

First, the search for “transformers.” I’m happy to see that TransformersMovie.com is holding the number one position in both Google and Yahoo, and number two in Live and Ask. Good start. It should. It’s only when I click the link that the Autobot/Decepticon dichotomy begins to lean heavily toward the bad guys. And not in a good way.

The home page is all right (despite the inclusion of some garish advertisments, the presence of which, given the fact that the movie cost a billion dollars, is, I’d imagine, a necessary evil); I’m given this choice: “Choose Your Side to Enter: Protect or Destroy.” Which is hardly a choice. Destroy!

Here’s the point where everything goes south. You click “Destroy,” you’re all ready to start destroying, and nothing. Then more nothing. And we’re on two T1 lines; we’ve got a pipe the size of the Holland Tunnel up here. Were I a Transformer, I could have been a truck, then a toaster oven, then a minibike, then a clock radio, then a robot again by now. OK, something…please, no, you’re not taking me offsite…oh, yes, yes you are.

And what’s my reward for waiting for all that? A freaking mess. You get Megatron, which is cool by default, but he’s all scrambled up against a white background; it’s a puzzle, but you can’t do anything with it. Beyond that, the navigation’s split into nine puzzle pieces in no discernable order. The “Robots,” when you click on that button, are there, which is cool, but the “Humans” are “Coming Soon.” Not that anybody would click on that anyway, but the movie starts in three days. It’s already opened in Korea. If the humans are coming at all, they better come soon.

OK, wait, what’s this in the corner? “Robovision?” YES! This I want. OK, now I can “Engage [My] Robovision,” and no, I’m not reading all that text because I WANT TO ENGAGE MY ROBOVISION! NOW!!! This is maybe my only chance to even have Robovision and, wait, what!?!?!?!

It’s a Target ad.

OK, I’m done. TransformersMovie.com, you’ve failed me, completely. I didn’t get to “Destroy” anything (although I did come close to “transforming” my computer into a smoking pile of rubble).

Maybe I’m not the target (ugh) audience, here, but I don’t see a lot of 13 year olds having much more patience than I. I’ve seen a representative of your key demographic use a computer multiple times (many of which consist of me leaning over his shoulder to make sure he’s not eye-emming either a convict or an FBI agent pretending to be a 15 year old girl) and if it doesn’t load in half a second he’s gone. You seem like, and maybe were, an afterthought. And you could have been so cool, man.

Maybe not as cool as a big robot smashing through a metro bus, but still…