ARGs – just the facts, ma’am

There are a lot of numbers floating around the web regarding the audience of different alternate reality games, some of which are confusing and contradictory. I’ve presented some data that I’ve gathered over the past few months for presentations and collated them here. All data is as of 10th February 2006.

Potential problems

Quoted numbers: These are player numbers as reported by the game designers, or people associated with them. Since there is no agreed or accurate definition of what constitutes an ‘ARG player’, these numbers can refer to unique IPs, ‘players following the story’ or ‘players intensely following the story’, hence the huge range reported within individual games. These numbers have not been verified by third parties, except where indicated.

ARG forum posts: Total number of forum posts on Unfiction, Yahoo Groups and any official game forums that are still accessible to me. This should not be seen as being directly correlated to actual ‘player numbers’ and it is possible that I have missed minor forums for other games. I also have not included posts from other forums around the web (e.g. Gamespot forums, IGN forums) for any games listed below. However, in theory the Google hits should account for all mentions of the game on the web.

Google hits: These are reported from Google. The search terms used are included in the notes below. This number is probably not strongly correlated to player numbers but does give a good indication of buzz (obviously very important for promotional ARGs). A potential problem is that Google’s search results may decrease over time as games ‘expire’ and websites and pages related to the game go offline. For some games, it was difficult to determine a good and useful search term; again, see notes.

Duration: Approximate, and measured in days.

Please note that this is not meant to be a scientific survey. Instead, it is simply data that I have found on the web and more importantly, displayed the sources for. I am sure there are other and perhaps better measures, and in an ideal world we’d be able to see everyone else’s raw server logs, but until that happens, Google results and forum posts will have to do.

I intend to add results from LexisNexis in the near future.

  Quoted numbers Forum posts Google Hits Duration
Art of the Heist 125,000 – 500,000 3100 16,289 90
The Beast 0.5 to 3 million 43,000 88,536 120
I Love Bees 10,000 to 2 million 54,000 102,748 100
Jamie Kane 20,000+ n/a 15,400 n/a
Last Call Poker 10,000+ 6000 22,235 90
Lockjaw n/a 4100 520 100
Majestic 13,500 to 800,000 n/a 93,100 n/a
MetaCortechs 12,000 to 125,000 13,000 65,580 80
Perplex City n/a 36,300 283,000 200 – 500
ReGenesis 20,000 918 1392 90
Urban Hunt n/a 4600 708 90

Art of the Heist

I have probably missed some forum posts from car websites.

Search Terms:
15800 – “art of the heist”
489 – “stolen a3”


“As of May 9, the campaign story, the “Art of the Heist,” had acquired more than 125,000 followers.” – Business Week

“In just one day, 200,000 people got involved in [Audi’s Art of the Heist].” – CMO Magazine

“An estimated 500,000 people were involved in the search on an ongoing basis.” – iMedia Connection

The Beast

It was difficult to determine a good search term for this game since ‘the beast’ is a ubiquitous phrase. However, much of the buzz was generated by the Cloudmakers, who provide a good and unique phrase.

It is possible that I have missed many forum posts about this web on other web forums, e.g. movie forums. However, the main ‘play area’ for the game was the Cloudmakers Yahoo Group. It’s worth noting that the Yahoo Group still has 7000 members, and I recall that during the game it had a peak of around 10,000 members.

Search Terms:
44200 – “the beast” arg
43900 – cloudmakers
436 – “ai web game”


“For more than 16 weeks, some half a million players engaged in a kind of informational scavenger hunt, sometimes working in smaller teams, sometimes working wogether as a mass problem solving community.” – Technology Review

“The Beast pioneered this strategy, shocking more than one million players by calling them at home, faxing them at work…” – Jane McGonigal

“Over three million people actively participated in The Beast…” – 4orty2wo Entertainment

I Love Bees

It’s possible that I have missed many forum posts from game websites, notably Halo websites, regarding the game. However, they are all likely to have been included in the Google results.

Search Terms:
69400 – ilovebees
32400 – “I love bees”
948 – “haunted apiary”


“Projects that Jane has worked on include I Love Bees, in which 40,000 payphone calls were made…” – ARGN

“The company estimates that some 10 million unique visitors hit the ‘I Love Bees’ Web site and checked out the game. Of those, 2 million followed its progress from behind the scenes. About 10,000 played the ‘I Love Bees’ game intensely.” – The South End

“More than two million players participated in ilovebees.” – 4orty2wo Entertainment

Jamie Kane

“Jamie Kane” appears to be a very unique name, if not totally unique, which means it makes for a very good search term.

Jamie Kane is a single player ARG that can be started at any time and lasts for two weeks. Hence, duration is not applicable here.

Search Terms:
15400 – “jamie kane”


‘20,000+’ Cross-Media Entertainment

Last Call Poker

Again, another good search term. I have probably missed some forum posts from poker websites though.

Search Terms:
21200 – “last call poker”
502 – lastcallpoker
533 – “graveyard games”


“Last Call Poker has over 10,000 players.” – ARGN


A difficult game to search for on the internet – even ‘lockjaw game’ comes up with mostly unrelated results. I was not particularly happy with this search term, but I wasn’t able to increase it without diluting relevance.

I was not able to find any player numbers reported by the game designers.

Search Terms:
520 – lockjaw arg


Since this was an early game, forum posts are hard to come by, and I am not sure whether Majestic had any internal forums accessible to everyone. In any case, they’re not public any more.

The search term isn’t great since ‘Majestic’ is a common word.

Majestic was a subscription-based game that could be started at any point, and was taken offline before finishing, so duration is not applicable here.

Search Terms:
93100 – majestic “electronic arts”


“Of the 800,000 people who started to register for the free, first installment of the game, only 71,200 completed the process. That number fell to 10,000 to 15,000 subscribers when it came time to pay.” – CNN

“Majestic currently has 13,500 registered players.” – Gaming Age


I probably missed many posts on movie forums, but luckily ‘metacortechs’ is a unique and thus highly accurate search term. Of course, it’s worth noting that some people do use the term on the web solely in relation to the movie, not the game (it’s the name of the company where Neo worked in the Matrix). I have also included ‘metacortex’ as a search result, although again, it is not always related to the game.

Search Terms:
9780 – metacortechs
55800 – metacortex


“It became the most successful Arg ever, with around 12,000 players and visits logged from 118 different countries.” – The Guardian

“When it was all said and done, over 125,000 players from 115 countries participated in the experience.” – Brooke Thompson

Perplex City

This is the game that I design. Perplex City is a completely unique name and so is a very good search term. Unfortunately, some people use ‘Perplex City’ and others use ‘Perplexcity’ and yet more use them interchangeably, but for the simplicity of reporting, I have only used “Perplex City” search results in the table above.

As for number of players, we have about 15,000 registered on our website. This number only corresponds to people solving cards online, however; it’s possible that this is either much higher – or much lower – than the number of people playing the ARG. Our game websites have tens of thousands of visits every month. When we announced a live event in London, we had upwards of 700 people sign up in less than a week.

I am not comfortable with estimating player numbers because I’m not even sure what a player is supposed to constitute.

Forum results include

Search Terms:
283000 – “perplex city”
172000 – perplexcity (for comparison)
57100 – “perplex city” arg (for comparison)


A difficult search term. I had to make do with the one below. Forum results include official forums.

Search Terms:
903 – regenesis arg
489 – sciencesucks


Approx 20,000 – Cross-Media Entertainment

Urban Hunt

Another difficult search term. I wasn’t able to find player numbers as reported by the game designer.

Search Terms:
708 – “urban hunt” arg


2 Replies to “ARGs – just the facts, ma’am”

  1. Adrian:

    In the interest of completeness, here are some figures I’ve put together for Chasing The Wish, based on the criteria used for the other games listed here and using the data I have from back in the CTW days.

    Quoted numbers: 8,000 – 10,000 as shown by the unique IP addresses visiting the various sites of the game, including people who followed along without registering etc.

    1200+ registered players in the database

    Forum Posts: 7,975 at UnFiction, not counting the posts at the now defunct Collective Detective, where the game was played and discussed heavily (their primary game for a long period of time)

    Google Hits: about 18,000 using “chasing the wish” + arg, but this isn’t entirely accurate as it includes mentions of the upcoming comic book series

    Duration: about 8 months (240 days)

    Cost: Closer to just over $2000.00 but about $1000.00 was earned back by selling / auctioning off real world items, selling shirts, donations, and other sources.

    I’ll try to update the Urban Hunt user stats as soon as I can. Thanks for posting the other ones you have; they are a great refernce source.


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