The popular games weblog Joystiq regularly posts about promotional ARG campaigns, generally to do with new games or consoles like the XBox. Until today, that is. Today, they proclaimed that they were sick of viral marketing and sick of ARGs. Their list of complaints include the fact that ARGs are predictable, not entertaining (this is more of a thing against viral marketing, I think), superfluous (arguably true), artificially difficult (again true in some cases) and delayed gratification (yeah, we’re talking about countdowns here).
You know what? I agree. I’m sick of ARGs like that. They give the genre a bad name. Campaigns like Our Colony and Origen to name but two are not even deserving of the title ‘ARG’, but since they share some of their characteristics – cryptic websites, difficult puzzles – the public thinks they are representative. And this applies to other recent ARGs as well.
Promotional ARGs have a lot of shaping up to do. I’m not going to predict their demise because I think there are still fresh ways for ARGs to go about promoting products, but the problem is that the people ARGs are often aimed at – early adopters – are also incredibly sensitive to marketing, and it’s very difficult to get past that sensitivity. The more badly designed ARGs there are, the more likely the chance that even more websites like Joystiq will simply write off the whole genre.
The sad thing for me is that people think ARGs are synonymous with viral marketing campaigns (which is probably the most unfortunately-named marketing technique in existence). It’s true that ARGs are often promoting other products, but it’s not a rule. Just look at Jamie Kane or Regenesis for examples of good non-promotional ARGs – or a certain Perplex City, for that matter. For me, the brightest future for ARGs lies in entertainment and education – not promotion. That’s what gets people excited.