Disney’s Giant Leap Forward

When Disney surveyed the public about a hypothetical immersive Star Wars hotel early this year, it felt like an idea from the future, not an actual commitment. Surely they’d wait until after the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge — already a highly ambitious and risky new park area — before starting work on a whole new hotel?

But at this year’s D23 convention in July, Disney confirmed not only that the hotel was real; not only that it’d be fully immersive; but that it’s a pilot for an entire ‘Disney 360 vacation concept’:

According to Bob [Chapek, Chairman of Walt Disney Parks & Resorts], this revolutionary new vacation experience will be a living adventure that allows guests [i.e. paying visitors] to immerse themselves in an entirely new form of Disney storytelling.

“It’s unlike anything that exists today.” Bob said. “From the second you arrive, you will become a part of a Star Wars story! You’ll immediately become a citizen of the galaxy and experience all that entails, including dressing up in the proper attire. Once you leave Earth, you will discover a starship alive with characters, stories, and adventures that unfold all around you. It is 100% immersive, and the story will touch every single minute of your day, and it will culminate in a unique journey for every person who visits.”

…which is about when every Star Wars fan on the planet posted shut_up_and_take_my_money.gif

There are two extraordinary things about this announcement.

One: Disney has chosen one of its most valuable crown jewel IPs for what anyone should realise is a highly risky venture. Star Wars may be the best possible fit for an immersive hotel (more on that later) but that only raises the stakes if the tech doesn’t work or the story or acting is bad.

Two: The immersive storytelling experience at the hotel is what guests will be paying for. It’s not an alternate reality game promoting a TV show. It’s not a free smartphone-powered Phineas and Ferb adventure at Epcot, or a $50 interactive Harry Potter magic wand at Universal Studios, both of which you might only expect to deliver a couple of hours of fun and would forgive for having a few technical hiccups, because you’re really at the theme park for the rides, not the games.

No: Disney’s Star Wars hotel may well cost thousands of dollars for a family, and the entire point of going is the immersive storytelling experience. It’s what they’re paying for, so it has to be sensational.

I’ve spent the past 13 years designing alternate reality games with emails and websites and actors and black helicopters, and smartphone games that make exercising more fun in the real world. I can guarantee that the Star Wars hotel team will be rightly terrified at the scope of what they’re building, and thrilled that they get to be the first people in the world to do it.

But what’s driving Disney to build this ‘360 vacation experience’? Why was it so hard in the past, and (just about) feasible now? What kind of technology might it employ? And most importantly, what will the experience be like?

Disclaimer: My company, Six to Start, has consulted for Disney Imagineering on theme park stuff in the past. It had nothing to do with Star Wars and I have no inside knowledge on what they’re up to.

Why ‘Living Adventures’? And why now?

Disney has a poor track record with immersive storytelling experiences, providing that you look only at its most popular incarnation: videogames.

Over the decades, they’ve tried again and again to develop videogames in-house, with little lasting success. With the shuttering of Lucasarts, Disney Interactive, and the $100 million ‘toys-to-life’ Disney Infinity in recent years, and Star Wars games now farmed out to Electronic Arts (who promptly delivered a game with precisely zero story), it certainly seems as if Disney’s thrown in the towel.

Not quite

Their heart was never really in it. Disney had to pursue videogames because too much money was at stake, but their most talented storytellers and artists and designers never truly wanted to work on games; movies were where true artistic glory lay. Along with the theme parks, they were the font of all new and refreshed IP, from Toy Story to Frozen to Moana.

More prosaically, I think Disney see themselves as narrative storytellers, and they’ve never figured out how to tell the stories they want to tell in a wholly digital and interactive format while still making bucketloads of money.

It’s tempting to draw comparisons between the Star Wars hotel and videogames. They both involve people interacting with computer systems with the aim of progressing in an immersive, digitally-mediated environment where multiple outcomes are possible, some of which are more desirable than others. You might then conclude that the Star Wars hotel will fail in just the same way as before, with Disney not quite making their stories mesh with a deeply interactive experience. Continue reading “Disney’s Giant Leap Forward”

Austerity: The LARP

Everyone in Britain is playing a game called Austerity. Some are playing the game with enthusiasm and conviction. Some are playing with calculation and cunning. And others believe they are not playing, when in fact they cannot escape the game.

Austerity is not a console game with expensive graphics, nor is it an addictive casual game for smartphones. It is a LARP: a Live Action Role-Playing game. Like other LARPs, this game consumes your environment and your life. Unlike other LARPs, Austerity does not take place on a disused Swedish naval destroyer and end after a weekend. You will live and breathe Austerity for as long as everyone continues to believe in it, which means it may have no end.

It has a beginning, though: the Second World War.

Nostalgia is an intoxicating brew. We venerate WW2, the last time Britain was Great, the last time the Kingdom felt truly United, the last time we had a national victory that wasn’t on the field of play. It’s natural to look back fondly on such times, acknowledging the horrors and respecting the sacrifice.

Wait, no. Not respecting the sacrifice – fetishising it.

This is Keep Calm and Carry On. This is Dig for Victory, ration books, Downton Abbey (sort of) and Doctor Who’s innumerable wartime stories.

Dig for Victory and ration books are real, of course. They were part of the civilian mission to harness the entire capacity of a country in the pursuit of victory in a total war. Likewise, war bonds and volunteering and sewing clothes for the men. Money was tight but it was necessary to be thrifty. Virtuous, even. And who can say that the war was not won by such virtuous sacrifice?

Austerity has those sentiments at its heart: sacrifice is necessary for victory against an existential threat such as the Nazis.

Today’s existential threats are the European Union, immigrants, a slightly high debt-to-GDP ratio, and a lack of respect from other countries. To prevail against such enemies, hard choices must be made. We cannot afford to waste money on shirkers, or waste money on fripperies such as arts and culture. We must cut taxes on entrepreneurs and reward hard-working families, because people who are not in families, and people who do not work hard, do not deserve anything.

Now, it may be that these hard choices often end up benefitting those who already have lots of money; but this is where the game becomes important as a justification and a distraction. If players are encouraged to emulate the heroes of WW2, to Keep Calm and Carry On, then we will be prepared to sacrifice anything to save the nation from existential threats: to cut social security, to close those theatres and museums.

Sometimes players get upset when they perceive that other players are breaking the immersion, as can happen in other LARPs. For example, we didn’t have all these foreigners back in WW2, so it’s wrong to have them here now. We didn’t have wind power and solar power either, so that must also be wrong.

But the truth is, we are all breaking the rules in Austerity. If we were really committing to the LARP, then we would be investing hours a day into community gardens and volunteer work. We would be living and fighting and dying, cheek by jowl, on the front lines, the baker next to the banker, the lawyer next to the labourer.

Real believers in Austerity would reinstate the two thousand British Restaurants, communal kitchens that would sell you a healthy meal for the equivalent of £1 in today’s money. They would serve a million meals a day to those who couldn’t afford any better, and they would make the country fit and strong.

Like other LARPs, Austerity is a sham. And like other LARPs, a lot of players don’t want to take on the hard roles – they just want to do the easy fun stuff; the sewing and dressing up and saving pennies while forcing other players to part with pounds. That is why the special mission in Austerity, “The Big Society”, was such a failure.

The real danger of the Austerity LARP, though, is that it’s not actually real. We don’t live in 1945 any more; we live in 2015. We do not face an existential threat to the nation (other than perhaps climate change). We are not obliged to spend £45 billion, or 2.2% of GDP, on a non-productive military. We do, however, have the money to spend more on the institutions that made this country great: social security, NHS, the universities, the schools.

We need to snap the fuck out this playtime and get real.

Boy With Apple

I watched The Grand Budapest Hotel again tonight and was reminded of the story behind the film’s McGuffin, a fictional priceless Renaissance painting named Boy With Apple.

As you’d expect from a Wes Anderson movie, the painting was not made by a merely talented set painter, but by an acclaimed English painter, Michael Taylor. I love it when creators imbue their works with such meticulous attention to detail — it makes it worthwhile imagining what other things lie within their universes — and I love it just as much when audiences and critics go along with the game.

Does it Feel Like a Trial?

I’m not ashamed to admit it. When I play a game, I often mentally list all the things that are wrong with it, whether it’s clumsy dialogue, irritating tutorials, or unclear level design. It’s an incessant, niggling feeling that becomes particularly strong if the game is web-based, and ARG, or contains any storytelling – and if it’s a web-based storytelling ARG, I can barely get past the splash screen without loudly proclaiming my often critical views to whoever might be present.

Now, there are three caveats to this:

  1. I know for a fact that most game designers suffer from the same problem, even if it isn’t quite as acute or critical as mine; Warren Spector once told me that he had to force himself to play videogames for an hour or two a day, like homework, and he couldn’t stop analysing everything he saw.
  2. I’m more than happy to give credit where credit is due, and it’s a rare game that has nothing to teach.
  3. I do exactly the same thing to every game and website I’ve made, approximately 6-12 months after it’s launched and I can bear to look at it again.


When I played Portal for the first time in 2007, I realised it was different. Here was a game I could play without being critical and just enjoy for the hell of it; sure, it’s not perfect, but it was so well-crafted and delightful that getting hung up on petty problems seemed downright foolish.

Maybe an hour into the game, there a moment where you’re faced with a chasm too wide to jump across and no portal-able surfaces on the far side to fire at. There’s only one solution – you need to perform a ‘momentum-conserving’ jump. And I can bet that every player who made that jump had just as wide a grin as I had when I made it. Of course, the solution made perfect sense – but it was the very last sort of thing you’d expect to see in a videogame.

Normally the solution to puzzles in first-person games is killing more people or trying every possible interaction until you randomly stumble onto the correct one. In Portal, puzzle-solving had a marvellous tactility to it that made trying and failing and trying again fun, not frustrating. What’s more, the story they snuck into it was a masterpiece of subtlety.

I finished Portal 2 a few days ago, and it sings.

And I have nothing bad to say about it. It just makes me want to make my own games better, and I hope it inspires more game designers to take a chance and throw away the cookie-cutter mould of FPSes and RPGs and MMOs, and make something that is just plain fun. And as if the new puzzle mechanics weren’t enough, Portal 2 has some of the best storytelling and characterisation I’ve seen in any game.


Portal 2 is unabashedly a game. While there is a very fine constellation of content orbiting the game, from an ARG to a comic book to beautiful song by The National, the game came first – as it well should, since it allowed Valve to create an experience that was perfectly crafted for their chosen medium. You don’t think, as you might for Heavy Rain or Red Dead Redemption, that the designers secretly want to be filmmakers; instead, you think that Valve really, really want to make games.

I find it telling that no-one is really arguing about what game genre Portal 2 exists in, or how its storytelling worked; they’re mostly just saying that it’s a good game. This is in stark contrast to the greater transmedia community which seems mired in tedious definitional debates, along with even more tedious snarking from too-cool-for-school people on the sidelines.

Don’t get me wrong – there are some interesting questions in those debates, but it doesn’t matter how many platforms your game is spread over if the game is crap. Playing Portal 2 has taught me a far more profound and lasting lesson than any ‘serious’ game that’s trying to make me lose weight or save the world; it’s shown me that the end we all need to strive for is creating joyful and meaningful entertainment.

There are a couple of lines in Exile Vilify from Portal 2’s soundtrack that are really apt:

Oh, you meant so much…
Have you given up?
Does it feel like a trial?
Does it trouble your mind,
The way you trouble mine?
Does it feel like a trial?
Now you’re thinking too fast,
You’re like marbles on glass.

Games are a hit-driven business these days, especially on the web and mobiles. If you’re a games developer, it’s hard not to think that the bestselling games out there hold the secrets to success, even if you might personally find them derivative, uninspiring, or just plain mediocre. And so, despite your best intentions and your own taste, you hold your nose and copy their methods; maybe because your investors tell you to, maybe because you’re just desperate for any way to increase the odds of success.

It’s no surprise that we think this way. We live in a culture that believes there is no luck or contingency in success or failure; if you’re poor, you deserve to be poor, and if you’re successful, it’s because you did everything right. The notion that any game’s success – whether it’s Cityville or Angry Birds or Call of Duty – might be down to marketing and timing and luck as much as game design is not one that we’re comfortable with, because it amounts to a surrender – even if only partial.

It’s easy, then, to also think that it’s all very well for Valve to make Portal 2 because they have swimming pools full of cash. They can afford to take risks – we can’t. That’s what we tell ourselves. No doubt they do have that much cash. But so do most of us, relatively speaking. Unlike a decade ago, we can all make games and we can all publish them to hundreds of millions of players around the world, just using a cheap computer and an internet connection. We can all take risks, especially creative risks.

There’s no doubt in my mind that the game you make because you want to make it, because you want to make it sing, is going to be better than any game that is an unholy monster of old wishes and gameplay tricks stolen from the bestsellers du jour. It might not sell more – but I think it probably would. And I can guarantee you that people will appreciate it, and you will have a much happier life and sleep better at night. I know I would.

Making games feels like a trial for a lot of developers. It doesn’t have to be.

A Tale from the Academy

To my utter amazement, I turned my computer on this morning to discover an email from none other than Kurt McAllister! As far as I was aware, communications between Earth and Perplex City were strictly monitored, and as you might imagine, these days I simply don’t have the clearance to send or receive anything at all.

From what I can tell, Kurt created some kind of text adventure and sent to it me, perhaps by mistake, or perhaps just as a strange joke – he’s just that kind of guy. Anyway, here it is: A Tale from the Academy, by Kurt McAllister!

But seriously, guys…

The old PXC story team have been talking about old times lately – how much we loved working together, and how much we loved our players. So we decided to write a little unofficial Perplex City fanfiction as our gift for the Restitution of the Cube. We hope you enjoy it!

Go and read Andrea’s, David’s, and Naomi’s – they’re fantastic, and I also had a little help from all of them in writing some fun easter eggs into the adventure…

Meaning and Magic on a Disney Cruise: Part 1

Over the next couple of weeks, I’m going to be posting about my 11 night Mediterranean cruise on the Disney Magic, and other Disney-related thoughts. I’m also (slowly) uploading photos to my Flickr.

On a Disney cruise, you never stop hearing about the fantastic time you’re having. Wasn’t last night’s Captain’s dinner just delicious? Didn’t you love Naples? The movie tonight is going to be simply stunning! Let’s give another round of applause to our cast for such an amazing show!

Most passengers on my cruise did, in fact, think that the dinner was delicious; they did love Naples; and they were more than happy to give a standing ovation to the cast for every show. It’s not as if they needed to be reminded of this, so why were the Disney cast members so insistent that everyone know they’re having a great time?

Here’s why. Try this experiment – find a pen or pencil, put it in your mouth and bite it for a minute.

How do you feel? A bit foolish or embarrassed, probably – but maybe a little happier, as well. The simple act of making yourself smile can actually improve your mood. It won’t take away a bad mood, but it can tip the balance from feeling indifferent to feeling happier. It can turn an indifferent or sulky teenager into a mildly impressed one, and of course, it can turn the average Disney fan into a devoted follower.

Docked in Malta

Disney understands the secret of great advertising. They don’t just want people to buy Disney products – they want them to be happy about what they’ve already bought, so they’ll buy more in the future. And a Disney cruise isn’t just a way to make money, it’s a brilliant opportunity to sell more Disney products – including movies, DVDs, games, toys, theme park tickets, clothes, and of course, more cruises – to a captive audience.

This may sound awful, but here’s the thing: the food on a Disney cruise isn’t bad. The ports – and the shows – range from average to amazing, the cast members are pretty good, the service and facilities are excellent, and the ship is by far the finest-looking cruise ship I’ve seen. Disney has plenty to be proud of. And so, just as Steve Jobs is fond of describing the iPad – a very good device, though not without its flaws – as ‘magical’, ‘revolutionary’, and ‘unbelieveable’, Disney wants you to believe that its cruises – very good, though far from perfect – are just as magical.

(While plenty of other brands regularly exaggerate the quality of their beers, cars, soap, underwear, etc, in their life-changing abilities, people seem to be less bothered by them than by offenders like Apple and Disney. I think there are two factors behind this: firstly, unlike most other companies, it really does seem like they mean it when they say their products are magical. Secondly, there are an awful lot of people out there how really do believe these claims. These two factors combined are enough to enrage millions of anti-fanboys around the world).

The Beginning

The cruise I went on with my girlfriend was an 11 night tour of the Mediterranean on the DCL Disney Magic, departing from Barcelona and visiting Malta, Tunisia, Naples, Civitavecchia, La Spezia, Ajaccio (in Corsica), and Villefranche.

Screen shot 2010-06-01 at 00.37.20

A basic cabin costs around $2000 per person, but thanks to a tip from HotUKDeals, we found tickets for half the price – a great bargain (probably due to the recession). We’d only been on one cruise before, with my parents to Cork (yes, in Ireland) last year. I found it to be a pretty interesting experience – after all, any ship with 4000 passengers and its own rock climbing wall, ice skating rink, and countless restaurants and pools, is bound to be interesting from at least a logistical, engineering, and cultural perspective. Plus it was pretty relaxing. So I wasn’t turned off from the idea of cruising. Continue reading “Meaning and Magic on a Disney Cruise: Part 1”

How to Win the DARPA Network Challenge

Update 2 Nov: Just set up a wiki to document resources about the Network Challenge at http://redballoon.wikispaces.com – feel free to join in!

You may have heard of DARPA before – they’re the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. In 1969, they created ARPANET, the predecessor to the Internet, and more recently, they run the DARPA Grand Challenge, which is a competition for groups to create driverless cars.

A couple of days ago, they announced the DARPA Network Challenge to mark the 40th anniversary of the Internet. Like the Grand Challenge, it’s a simple competition: On December 5th, ten large red weather balloons will be inflated and moored at at locations across the US. The first individual to submit the latitude and longitude of all ten balloons will win $40,000.

10 Red Balloons

The purpose of the competition is to ‘explore the role the Internet and social networking plays in the timely communication, wide area team-building and urgent mobilization required to solve broad scope, time-critical problems.’ Without the internet, it’d be impossible for all but the very largest organisations – the government, the military, Google, etc. – to win this competition; but with the internet, it’s possible for millions of people across the world to collaborate on a single goal.

The Network Challenge is not the first to test the mass problem-solving abilities of online communities; open source projects see thousands of people work on extremely complex problems over long time scales. Some of the tasks in Alternate Reality Games (ARGs) have brought these problems into the physical world; in I Love Bees, thousands of people answered payphones across the US.

But the Network Challenge is the first to pose such a geographically-massive task in such a small timescale. Those red balloons aren’t going to stay up forever – they’re only going to be moored for six hours. And while they’ll be moored at ‘readily accessible locations and visible from nearby roadways’, the continental United States has an area of 8 million square km and 6.5 million km of roadways (4.2 million if you’re just counting the paved ones).

It’s a deceptively simple challenge that ought to be reasonably straightforward to solve, but gets extremely difficult and time-consuming when you think things through. Online discussions about the Network Challenge seem to think that you could win this just by following Twitter hashtags and Facebook. Far from it. That might do for a few balloons in cities, but not those by a desert road that no-one ever drives down; and believe it or not, but not everyone uses Twitter – and even if someone does, that’s no guarantee they might not keep the information to themselves for bargaining.

Given this, $40,000 seems like a pittance compared to the effort involved, but the small prize money is really a key point of the competition. It’s not supposed to cover any expenses – in fact, it’s probably as small a sum as they could reach without getting insultingly low.

The reason for the small prize money is because DARPA are exploring the different kinds of motivation that can be brought to bear on this type of problem. If a team treated the Network Challenge like paid work, $40,000 would buy very little time. However, if it’s treated differently – like a game, or like a citizen-science project such as GalaxyZoo – money is basically irrelevant. And it’s those non-monetary types of motivation that DARPA will be keen to evaluate – which works, and which don’t?

So, let’s get onto the fun stuff – how do you win the DARPA Network Challenge?

(Caveat: This is all assuming that DARPA is going to make this hard. If all the balloons end up in cities or by highways, it’ll be much easier). Continue reading “How to Win the DARPA Network Challenge”

Why Smokescreen is the Best Game Ever*

I just published a post, Why Smokescreen in the Best Game Ever*, on the Six to Start blog with some game design thoughts behind Smokescreen, our latest game. It goes into a fair level of detail about some of the interesting features in Smokescreen and provides the reason why we added them; if you’re into ARGs or games in general, I think you’ll find it interesting.

Over the next few weeks, I’m hoping to write several more posts going into more detail about the different aspects of the game (e.g. mission design, audio, story, interaction, etc), and we’ll also have posts by other people involved in the game as well! So this will be a good opportunity to see how we design games, and where our thinking is currently at.

A Metaphor for ARGs

In his keynote at the Netherlands Festival of Games in Utrecht, Elan Lee compared a successful game to a magnet. A good game pushes away most people, but still makes them aware of what’s going on; it pulls people towards itself; and it charges those who come closest, so that they become part of the game itself, entertainment everyone else.

I thought this was a nice and simple metaphor for games and ARGs. OK, I still don’t understand the push part of it, but the notion that the closest players become charged really nails a core essence of ARGs. 16 hours after Elan’s keynote, I was in Cardiff, talking to a group of writers about multiplatform storytelling. On the train there, I resolved to talk a little about ARGs in general.

(And also about Perplex City. Over the last couple of years, I haven’t spoken about Perplex City much, but hearing Elan talk about I Love Bees (2004) and Last Call Poker (2005) reminded me of how neat Perplex City was, and how I ought to highlight that.)

Initially, I considered simply stealing the magnet metaphor, and I got as far as drawing a little magnet in Keynote when I decided that:

a) I really ought to try doing my own metaphor before stealing someone else’s (with attribution, naturally)
b) I wasn’t sure whether I could pull off the ‘push’ bit when I didn’t fully understand how the mapping worked

So I decided on a new one, about football. Some caveats – it’s not a genuinely original metaphor, since I’ve heard Dan mention it before, and I’m sure the comparison to sports has been made many times in the past – but it’s new for me and perhaps new in this specific case.


Despite football’s massive international popularity, most people don’t watch it. This is true of almost everything; most people are not Christians, most people haven’t read Harry Potter, and most people haven’t watched Who Wants to be a Millionaire. It’ll also be true of your game.

However, even if you’ve never watched a single game of football, you’ll know about the concept. You’ll know that two teams kick a ball around, that they score goals, that Manchester United is a popular team, and that David Beckham plays. Through the efforts of its fans and players, football is at least comprehensible by pretty much everyone, which allows them to participate in the game, even in the most remote way (by watching celebrations on the news, or seeing jokes about it on TV).


One step closer in, we have football fans. This massive group encompasses everyone who actively follows football, from die-hard fans who hold season tickets and loyally supports at every away game, to interested outsiders myself who will switch on the TV if a particularly important match is on (say, the Champion’s League final).

The most hardcore fans are so dedicated, they’ll dress up at games; they’ll form a brass band that irritatingly plays the Great Escape theme tune at every England match; they’ll raise money for charity, and they’ll even buy their own clubs. These guys provide entertainment not only for their fellow fans, but for everyone. They often play football themselves in amateur teams.

If you considered the world of football fandom to be a game, then these hardcore fans would be the players. But I’m not. Because the players are actually…


It’s telling that when we think of ‘football players’, we think of paid professionals like Cristiano Ronaldo or Wayne Rooney. Of course, a football player is simply someone who can play football, whether they’re 7 years olds playing with a tennis ball at school, or a 70 year old in the local pub team. Wayne Rooney is ‘just’ an exceptionally talented player, the hardest of the hardcore.

He, and other professional players, are so good that people will pay thousands of pounds to watch them every year. They provide the energy and the spectacle that turns football from being a simple urban game about 22 people kicking an inflated liver in between two posts into a worldwide phenomenon, complete with its own community, fandom, fan fiction and commentary.

This is what your game can become, if you can make it so good that people dedicate their lives to mastering it, and if it’s interesting for other people to watch them.


Starcraft is a science fiction strategy game, in which you direct an army from above to blow up your opponent’s. In South Korea, Starcraft is a national sport. There are at least two TV channels devoted to it, and the top Starcraft players are celebrities who open shopping malls, have fan clubs, win lots of money, etc.

None of this should be surprising. Starcraft is a fun game to play, so much so that:

a) Millions of people have played it
b) Hundreds of thousands of people are obsessed with it
c) Hundreds of people are fearsomely talented at it

Just like football. So, naturally, Starcraft has become a sport.


This football metaphor worked well at the multiplatform storytelling workshop today, and a couple of people said they liked it. However, it has a few flaws.

Firstly, it references a game that has no story. You could argue that the actions of players creates a meta-story about injuries, rivalries, transfer windows, etc, but that’s not the point of football; the point is scoring goals. This is not so true of ARGs with stories – which is to say, most of them.

Secondly, the metaphor fails to capture the wide range of involvement that players have in ARGs. In Perplex City, some players bought  thousands of puzzle cards and came to every live event; others just visited a couple of blogs a month; but they’re both, technically, players. In football, you have 22 players in a game – that’s it. You can have multiple teams and multiple leagues, but there exists a sharp divide between the guys kicking the ball and the guys watching them. A good ARG recognises and encourages a continuum of involvement, because it allows people to choose what suits them best. So I think that this metaphor is just too general – it works for almost any game, whereas I would like something a little more specific to what I do.

Of course, any metaphor breaks down when you inspect it too closely. I imagine that this football metaphor is best suited to a general audience, rather than an expert one. If you have a favourite metaphor for ARGs or games, or if you have ideas on how to improve this one, please let me know!

(Also, I’ll be putting my keynote presentation about ‘Why Stories in Games Suck’ online shortly.)