Ministry

‘Ministry’ is the name of the latest installment of G. W. Dahlquist’s The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters. These sixty page booklets have been arriving on my desk every Monday for the last five weeks, and there are still another five to go. It’s certainly a novel delivery system.

I can’t remember exactly how I heard about ‘The Glass Books’ – either it was from a weblog or from our lead writer, Naomi Alderman – but I didn’t require much convincing to pay £25 to sign up for the weekly installments. Whether or not the story was any good seemed immaterial, I just loved the idea that a publisher was releasing a book in this way, just like the old penny dreadfuls from over a century ago. Continue reading “Ministry”

lonelygirl15

Much as I hate to perpetuate memes like this, the whole saga of YouTube’s lonelygirl15 has just hit Metafilter. Basically, someone has posted a bunch of video diaries to YouTube purporting to be a young homeschooled girl with ultra-religious parents. She’s having drama with a boy, and she appears to be involved in some satanic cult.

If it’s not fake, I will surely print out this blog post and eat it. It’s too well produced, too ‘instantly popular’, too well written and altogether too pat. My top two theories are that it’s a promotion for a movie (follow the links on the Mefi post) or it’s an ‘original drama’ for YouTube. I feel slightly depressed that people would even entertain the possibility that the video diaries are genuine, but then again most probably aren’t as sensitised to ‘fake’ fiction as I’ve inevitably become.

I’ve posted a few times in the Metafilter thread with more thoughts – just scroll down to see them.

Mind Candy Wants You!

I’ve been at Mind Candy, developing Perplex City full time, for almost two years now. Sometimes I feel like I’m in a Bruce Sterling novel, jumping from neuroscience to a job which didn’t exist five years ago and is still difficult to explain to people. It’s obviously been a fun, if hectic, time, and it’s great that Perplex City is doing so well now, with almost 40,000 players to its name. A consequence of this success is that we’re expanding, and we’re now hiring for an Alternate Reality Game Producer.

Producing an ARG involves a byzantine combination of skills and experience, including project management, story-telling, web-savvy, a simultaneous willful disregard and healthy appreciation of previous games, and the ability to contemplate the impossible. It also requires having to think up solutions to seemingly disastrous situations in the space of a few minutes, so having a cool head is pretty useful. You don’t necessarily need a background in game design – technically, I didn’t, although I had been deeply involved in ARGs. You just need to appreciate and understand the concepts related to the genre. For some people, that comes from experience in RPGs; other people, from screenwriting. There are no set requisites.

You’d have to be willing to learn – to a reasonable degree of familiarity – odd and sometimes obscurely documented fields such as cryptography (of course), particle physics, celestial navigation and city planning. It really does help if you can pick up stuff quickly – what we do is often at the leading edge of technologies like printing.

You need to be able to take criticism well. Everyone who works with the ARG team is warned that their story ideas will be exhaustively analysed, picked apart and reassembled, sometimes in a completely unrecognisable form. We’re all good-natured though, and have a wide range of backgrounds, from playwrights to Orange Prize-winning authors; there’s a good reason why Andrea’s title is still ‘Ad Hoc Polymath’.

Alternate Reality Games are still young and there are a lot of possibilities. Sometimes you’ll take a chance on one of them, and fail. You have to be willing to fail again, and fail better. And eventually succeed wildly. It’s a funny old world, ARGs – full of contradictions…

For all of that, you get to develop a game that can go anywhere and tell any story, using the web and any medium available. There’s a lot of hard work, to be sure, and it’s not all hiring helicopters or creating fictional companies, but it’s absolutely fascinating and totally, genuinely unlike any other job in the world. There are only a handful of people who could legitimately call themselves ARG designers, and fewer still who would have access to the the audience, resources and independence that Mind Candy can command. Yet in one way, it’s a job as old as the hills – it’s storytelling, but in a way that speaks to people through the way they live, immersed in information, and with an opportunity to participate in and mold that story.

Plus, it’s a fantastic line to use at parties. Although I feel obliged to point out that you will rapidly tire of explaining, for the hundredth time (literally), what an alternate reality game is…

Anyway, if you’re interested and want to apply for the job, don’t email me. I’ll get quite annoyed if you send an application to my email address – there’s a dedicated one for that in the link above. However, if you want to ask any questions about the role, feel free to email, but bear in mind that I’m horribly busy for the next few weeks and in any case you can probably find answers to most of your questions on the web, with appropriate Googling. Good luck!

GameSetWhat?

Henry Jenkins, Director of the Comparative Media Studies Program at MIT and researcher into videogames talked about alternate reality games, among other things, in a recent interview. I quite like when Jenkins has to say most of the time, but I found his comments on ARGs to be bafflingd.

It’s perfectly true to say that ARGs incorporate some of the new trends that are appearing around us, which he calls ‘convergence, participatory culture, and collective intelligence’ (although this has been said by many other people before). But to talk about ARGs and have the only game you mention be Majestic is pretty awful, especially when you say: “[ARGs] are informational scavenger hunts which disperse information across a broad range of different media channels. This goes back to the pioneering work which Neil Young did for Majestic, arguably one of the earliest and most influential examples of this practice.”

The fact that Majestic is regularly cited (in private) as one of the reasons why EA and the mainstream games industry abandoned ARGs for several years seems to have passed Jenkins by. And no, it’s not because Majestic was unlucky enough to have been running during 9/11 (24 premiered around the same time and it’s still going strong); it’s because it wasn’t good enough to attract enough paying subscribers, and it suffered in comparison to what most would call the first true ARG, The Beast. I appreciate that Majestic and The Beast were essentially developed in parallel, but the innovative concepts demonstrated by The Beast eclipse those shown by Majestic by far.

That, and the fact that both the interviewer and Jenkins insisted on calling the genre ‘alternative reality games’ – something a cursory check would reveal was inaccurate – makes this even stranger.

Jenkins ends by saying, “So, yes, I think we are going to be seeing more alternative reality games. The movement is gaining momentum, though there is still not a fully developed business model for thinking about how to build on this trend yet, and so it is likely to remain in the hands of marketers on the one hand and amateurs on the other.” I find it irritating that someone in a position of authority in the games world would say this; it ignores all recent developments with cross-over games such as ReGenesis, The Lost Experience and the forthcoming Gold Rush, not to mention EDOC Laundry and Perplex City. Are we all supposed to be marketers, or amateurs?

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”

Sources:

“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”

Sources:

“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”

Sources:

“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”

Sources:

‘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”

Sources:

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


Lockjaw

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


Majestic

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”

Sources:

“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


Metacortechs

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

Sources:

“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 pxcforums.com.

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


Regenesis

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

Sources:

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

ARG SIG

All hail the Alternate Reality Games (ARG) Special Interest Group (SIG) of the Independent Game Developers Association (IGDA)! Yes, that’s the ARG SIG of IGDA. I’m happy to be a founding member, and I’m even happier to not be involved in the running of the SIG, given my vanishingly small amounts of free time. However, I’m looking forward to taking part, and I think that the SIG has the potential to truly improve alternate reality games. It really demonstrates how far ARGs have come in four years, that we have our own dedicated SIG for the genre now.

Through the Rabbithole: ARG Lecture

The proper title of this talk was ‘Through the Rabbithole: The history and potential of Alternate Reality Games’. It was presented at the 2005 Montreal International Games Summit and is an introduction to the alternate reality gaming genre.

Below is an essay based on notes that I prepared for the talk. It is not a transcript of the talk, and it differs slightly in many areas. I have undoubtedly missed stuff out and added other stuff in, but it is largely the same.

Before I launch into a definition of alternate reality games, I think a good way of learning what they’re like is telling you something that happened in a game that I’m working on, called Perplex City.

A couple of months ago in Perplex City, we had a live action text adventure event, which consisted of two developers pretending to be a computer for several hours. At the end of this event, we left a clue for our players. The clue was four words: ‘Manchester City Centre Sky’, and we thought it was pretty clear what it meant – go to the city centre of Manchester (in the UK) and look up at the sky. See, we were planning for a plane to fly over Manchester for an hour with banner with another clue.

Unfortunately, the players weren’t sure what the words ‘Manchester City Centre Sky’ meant – did it mean they were supposed to go to Manchester City Centre and look up at the sky (yes), or go to the Manchester City Sky Centre? (definitely not). On reflection, we should have probably checked for the existence of such a building, and so for a while we were worried that the players might go off to this Sky Centre and miss the aerial banner. Eventually, though, one of the players came up with unconventional solution. She said that she’d look into police records about the usage of the building. ‘Isn’t that illegal?’ asked one of the players? ‘Yeah, but it’s fun!’ she replied.

And to me, that shows what alternate reality games are about – they involve the creation of an immersive story universe where players work together to solve problems, often in unconventional ways.

There’s a whole bunch of stories like this, where players who crazy things. In ‘I Love Bees’, the promotional ARG for Halo 2, there’s the famous story of someone walking into Hurricane Ivan to answer a payphone as part of the game. The lengths that people playing alternate reality games go to is truly incredible.

Now, alternate reality games have a rather grand title, but not everything that they do is completely new. However, they deserve their own genre due to two unique characteristics.

1) Immersive, cross media, make-believe drama.

ARGs attract players because of their compelling story and universe that pushes as far into other media as it can go. Alternate reality games these days might start with a phone number that leads you to an email address that leads you to a website that leads you to a live event. And while most activity in ARGs takes place online, the use of other media renders the game much more believable and real; it also heightens the drama.

2) Highly social, collective action.

This has been a feature of many recent ARGs, where puzzles have required up to hundreds or thousands of players working together. These puzzles might be ‘distributed puzzles’, such as those in ‘I Love Bees’ which required players to answer payphones all over the US, or merely very hard puzzles, which require a very large player base in order to have someone with the requisite specialist knowledge to solve it. Interestingly, a recent ARG produced by the BBC called ‘Jamie Kane’ is single player and does not feature this social or collective action, and I’ll be coming back to it later on.

First, a brief history of alternate reality games. The first ARG was a promotion for the movie A.I. in 2001, produced by Microsoft and Dreamworks SKG. This game was called ‘The Beast’ and the entry points to the game – the rabbitholes – were as diverse as a fake name on the movie poster, or a code hidden in the movie trailer. As people explored these rabbitholes, they discovered a network of websites that all pretended that they were based over 100 years in the future and centred around the story of a man called Evan Chan, who had been murdered. The interesting thing about ‘The Beast’ is that at the time, no-one knew who was responsible – neither Microsoft nor Dreamworks owned up to being behind it.

The Beast was a great success and attracted an awful lot of publicity; unfortunately the movie itself didn’t do so well. Very shortly after The Beast, Electronic Arts released a game called Majestic. Majestic was produced in parallel to The Beast and was a very technically accomplished game, but it never really took off. There are a few reasons for this. Firstly, it suffered in comparison to The Beast; while The Beast was free to play, you had to buy a monthly subscription to Majestic. Partly as a result, Majestic didn’t involve the same sort of highly social, collective action that The Beast featured, although this was also down to the way the game was designed. A few months after its release, Majestic was wound up.

The failure of Majestic to attract a big, paying audience put a dampener on the genre for a while, and during this time it was kept alive by the thriving grassroots scene. Despite the fact that ARGs have a lot of fancy stuff like coded adverts in newspapers, live events, telephone calls and aerial banners, the only thing that you really need is web hosting – and of course, insane amounts of free time. Due to this low barrier of entry, some of the grassroots games were very good, such as Lockjaw and Metacortechs.

There were a few other ARGs during this time – generally promotional ARGs for companies like Sharp – but nothing that produced the same impact as The Beast. And then in 2004, a new ARG called ‘I Love Bees’ came out, as a promotion for Halo 2. I Love Bees was produced by the same guys who did The Beast, but at a new company called 42 Entertainment; like The Beast, it attracted a lot of players and involved the payphone mechanic I mentioned earlier. It also won the 2005 GDC Award for Innovation, which made a lot of people take notice of the genre. 42 began another ARG called Last Call Poker a couple of months ago, which is tied into Activision’s new ‘Gun’ game.

Also in 2005, the company that I belong to – Mind Candy – released Perplex City. Perplex City is different to many other ARGs, with the possible exception of Majestic, in not being a promotion for a game or a car or movie or anything like that. Instead, Perplex City is a standalone game that ties into a puzzle-based collectible card game. I’ll talk more about Perplex City in a little while.

So that’s the brief history of alternate reality games, but where are we now? What’s the significance of ARGs relative to the rest of games and entertainment? Well, ARGs are realisation of actual immersive, cross-media gaming, which no-one has really done before. Instead of just using the web and newspapers and radio and TV just for adverts, ARGs make them part of the story. Making an advert that is part of story of an ARG is difficult, but it can be very successful – people always prefer being part of story, part of adventure, than just being sold something – it’s better to treat people intelligently.

Related to this is the issue to interactivity and free will, which obviously features heavily in alternate reality games, with their dynamic, real time stories. ARG designers obviously plan the game and story in advance, but they don’t do it in high detail. If they do, events and players tend to have a habit of doing the opposite of what you want. So while designers might know the endpoint of their story, and checkpoints along the way, they won’t necessarily know exactly how they’re going to get there. That’s what the players do – by interacting with the characters in the story and solving problems and puzzles, they help create the story themselves.

Other media is creeping in this direction. Take Lost, for example. How many people here watch Lost? A lot. You probably know about the mysterious numbers then. The creators of Lost hadn’t intended for the numbers to play such a big part in the story, but after they saw the reaction of their viewers to them on all the internet discussion forums, they decided to increase their importance. They’ve also created a bunch of mini-websites online that pretend that the Lost universe is real, so there’s an Oceanic Airlines website, for example. It’s not the same as an ARG, but it’s a step in that direction. The most popular drama in the UK this year was Doctor Who, and they also created websites that were part of the story.

But this is a games conference, not a TV conference, so let me give you an example from there. For their game ‘Far Cry’, Ubisoft produced a travel booklet called ‘The Rough Guide to the Jacutan Archipelago’. Obviously no-one actually believes that the Jacutan Archipelago is real, but it’s a nice example of a videogame crossing over into another form of media in a way that isn’t merely normal advertising.

Alternate reality games are not first time people have created a believable fictional reality, though. Going back almost 4000 years ago, the most popular ancient Egyptian story ever, as measured in extant copies, is the Tale of Sinuhe. This story basically pretends that it’s a recounting of real events, and it’s told in the way of traditional official letters or records of that period. It’s possible that its popularity was because of this mimicking or subversion of ‘traditional media’.

Coming forward a few thousand years, the epistolatory fiction in 19th century continued on this theme, where authors would claim to have found a most extraordinary bundle of letters in their attic or cellar or whatever, and proceed to recount the letters in their book. Of course, they made the whole thing up, including the letters, but due to the nature of the story’s presentation as something that could be real, the stories becomes a lot more visceral and involving to readers.

Last century, radio provided a new outlet that had vivid, evocative real time access to comparatively naive mass audiences. The example that everyone’s heard about is Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds in 1938, but even 12 years before that, the BBC did something very similar. A normal talk show was interrupted with breaking news about Big Ben being destroyed by trench mortars and a government minister lynched in a revolution. Like War of the Worlds, a great number of people were seriously alarmed by the ‘show’ and there was a huge uproar in the press in the following days. Both shows worked primarily because they mimicked every detail of the normally trustworthy news broadcasts – not just the voices, but also the way that people stutter and interrupt each other, and the way that news reports are often confused and disjointed at first.

It would be tempting to think that War of the Worlds was a one off, but when it was adapted in 1944 for broadcast in Santiago, Chile, the governor of one province was convinced enough to briefly mobilise army units to repel the invading Martians.

In a way, radio is even more evocative than TV, because it’s so much more personal and leaves so much more to the imagination. That may be one reason why we haven’t seen dramas that are as dramatically believable or alarming on TV, although another reason might be that TV studios are just more nervous these days. The sort of ‘believeable fictions’ that have appeared on the TV tend to be straightforward hoaxes. Having said that, the Blair Witch movie did rather well out of pretending to be a true story and as you’ll recall, it used the web to push that idea even further.

And now we’re back up to the present again. So now the question is, why have alternate reality games only just appeared now? It’s not as if someone couldn’t have made an alternate reality game that used different media in the past, right? Or maybe it’s not that simple. While it would be possible to tell a story using TV, radio, newspapers and telephone in the past, the cost would have been prohibitively high for anyone bothered enough to try – how would you notify people about what part of the story was being told where? You’d need a dedicated source of information that could be updated instantly and cheaply, and that just wasn’t available. Not until the Internet.

The internet serves as glue and hub for all the different types of media involved in ARGs. It solves the problem of telling people what happens when, and it allows you to put up as much information as you want. Furthermore, it’s very easy to build in deep interaction on the Internet. Running things like live events in ARGs would be extremely difficult without the internet.

Let me show you an example of a live event we ran last week for Perplex City. (run VT).

At this event, we had about sixty players turning up in south London at short notice. This part of the story was fairly simple – the players were supposed to solve a treasure hunt/scavenger hunt in order to to find out where some secret agents were meeting. As you can see, there was a pretty remarkable mix of ages and genders.

This worked out more or less fine, and just as they were about to get to the meeting place, they realised it was a heliport, which was very exciting. Once there, players working in parallel online discovered that one of people among the players was the spy in question, working undercover! After his cover was blown, he ran off into a helicopter and flew off into the sunset. A rather rainy sunset – this was London, after all.

The reaction to the live event was great – I’ve heard the final sequence with the helicopter described as being one of the most realistic, most interactive game cut sequences in history. The players also loved the way that the spy had been watching and talking to them all day.

The current state of alternate reality games today is rather varied. You have the promotional ARGs for companies like Audi, Nokia, TV shows, videogames and movies. Then there’s Perplex City, which is a standalone ARG integrated into a puzzle-based collectible card game. Finally, there’s the grassroots sector, which is a great engine for innovation due to the low barrier to entry. What I’ll be talking about now are the challenges and potential for ARGs in the next few years.

There are a lot of challenges. The audience for ARGs is much smaller than that for videogames. A really popular ARG would be lucky to get an active player base numbering in the low six figures, as opposed the millions of sales that other videogames attract. There are a few reasons for this; the genre is new, and it’s hard to understand what an ARG even is at first. As a result, it’s not particularly easy to market, as EA discovered with Majestic.

Another problem is that the classic strength of ARGs being incredibly involving and immersive is also a serious weakness – many potential players are scared off by the large time investment that is apparently required. The pitfalls of a rich and fully realised, cross-media story universe is that it takes time to get into, let alone join halfway through. Of course, this isn’t a problem limited to ARGs – shows like Lost and 24 have very complex and intricate storylines that are practically impossible to get into after a few episodes. Yet TV does have some interesting solutions to offer ARGs for this problem, such as episodic storytelling.

Until very recently, ARGs had no replay factor. However, this is changing now; the Jamie Kane ARG produced by the BBC is completely replayable, but it’s also single player, so it loses out on the social aspects. A more traditional multiplayer ARG that was tied into the Canadian SF show Regenesis and produced by Xenophile Media – based in Toronto – is being rerun, and it’ll be interesting to see how that goes.

Some more problems: there are currently no reliable metrics to work out the success of an ARG. Do you count the number of hits? The number of registrations? At least with Perplex City, we have an ultimate measurement in terms of the number of puzzle cards we sell, but what about promotional ARGs? How do you measure whether a promotional ARG really does benefit the product it’s associated with?

Yet despite this – despite the small audiences, despite the challenges of getting people playing, the challenges of measuring success, people in the UK and around the world – many of whom are interestingly media outlets and TV studios – are very excited about the potential of ARGs. At a time when people are turning their TV off, or at least not paying much attention to it, ARGs offer a new type of richer, more interactive, more visceral entertainment that also joins people together.

Instead of ARGs merely being bolt-ons to products like TV shows and movies, it’s likely that the next generation will be built in from the start. This would allow players to actually influence TV show in a meaningful way other than voting by text message. We could see players become part of an epic story that would becoming affect and involve them more than ever before. We managed that with 60 people last week – the question is whether you can do it with 60 million people?

For games, the potential is even greater. At the simplest level, ARGs allow you to build and continue storylines in between games in a series. We’ve all been hearing how important original IP these days – ARGs are an engine for creating high quality stories and IP at the same time as marketing and extending your game to a wider, non-traditional audience. Making people care about your story and universe and characters is incredibly important, because that’s what makes it different from other games – it’s not just a coat of paint that you slap on a car as an afterthought. Story is the reason why Harry Potter and Star Wars continue to make billions even though there are plenty of novels about magic kids and movies about spaceships out there.

There’s the potential to use elements of ARGs in normal games, like Far Cry has already demonstrated. This is particularly relevant to MMOGs. The Matrix Online is almost perfect in its suitability; it’s a story where the real world is a computer simulation – what better ARG could there be? They’ve taken one or two steps towards that end by creating some fake corporate websites, but what about fake newspaper ads or TV ads. Imagine what it would be like to have Agent Smith knock on your door while you’re playing the game.

We’re only scratching the surface of what’s possible here, after four years after the first ARG. We already have a lot of different types of games, but there are so many more stories and possibilities to be played out, like romance games, crime games, humorous games. You could have games that are truly cross media, that involvine every method of getting information to the public as possible. And that has the potential of attracting not only a new type of audience, or a new type of story, but a new way of playing games – hundreds of thousands players collaborating together across the world, players being part of the story, shaping the story and becoming immersed in the story. It would generate a level of attachment and loyalty to a game universe that hasn’t been seen before. To me, that’s what’s exciting about ARGs.

Here are some useful links if you’re interested in ARGs:

The Alternate Reality Gaming Network

Unfiction

Last Call Poker

Perplex City

Cloudmakers

Montreal International Games Summit

NB: I’ll be putting up my presentation notes in the next few days.

As a game developer at the conference told me, “When people hear that I’m from Montreal, they think of two things. One, that we speak French, and two, that we almost separated.” They certainly don’t think that Montreal is a place where computer games are made; surely those French wouldn’t make such crude entertainments?

When I received an invitation to speak at the Montreal International Game Summit, I just thought of one thing – ‘Montreal?’. However, the conference’s two main sponsors – Ubisoft and EA Montreal – reveal the fact that there is a serious amount of talent in the city. Over 700 people registered for the conference, which is no small number given that it’s only in its second year, and of course, that it’s in Quebec. I was asked to give a talk introducing game developers to alternate reality games, and happily accepted.

I flew into Montreal on Saturday 29th October, which gave me a couple of days to look around the city before the first conference activity began on Tuesday 1st November. I’m not going to talk about the city at length here – you can read it over on the Middling column (when I get around to writing it). It’s enough to say that I found it an interesting place, unlike any other I’ve been to in North America, and with some decent and affordable food to boot.

So the first activity was the opening cocktail reception on Tuesday. This wasn’t too well attended, with maybe only a hundred people or so there, despite the availability of free drinks. I took the opportunity to get to know the other speakers and attendees. I was happy to discover that a lot of them already knew about ARGs and Perplex City; in fact, a couple of people were players. One of the interesting people I met there was Susan O’Connor, a writer who first found out about ARGs at the Austin Games Conference for Writers.

DAY 1 (see programme)

Opening Keynote
Warren Spector – Junction Point Studios

The conference began properly on Wednesday, with an opening keynote by Warren Spector (Deus Ex, Thief, System Shock). Warren’s talk could be summed up very simply – doom and gloom. Of course, it’s more complicated than that – he thinks that the industry is becoming marginalised in society, development costs are going up, developers’ quality of life is going down and innovation has completed stopped, meaning that there are still huge swathes of the population who are not served by games (females, ethnic minorities, elderly, etc). So, basically, doom and gloom.

He said there were two options. The first was to hunker down and wait for all the naysayers and old people to die, which would take a while but result in a happier future. The second was to start innovating and improving the games industry’s image in society. You can imagine which one he preferred. He also, like almost everyone else at the conference, proclaimed that content and original intellectual property (IP) is king!

People enjoyed Warren’s talk, as did I, and there were plenty of questions. My talk was fortunate enough to be scheduled directly after the opening keynote, which meant that everyone was still awake, but it did mean that it began 15 minutes late since Warren overran.

Through the Rabbit Hole: The history and potential of Alternate Reality Gaming
Adrian Hon – Mind Candy

My room was packed full with about 60-100 people, which was a great turnout. As requested, I gave people an introduction to alternate reality games and rapidly covered its history, current status, relation to other media, challenges, opportunities and future (you can say a lot in 45 minutes providing you don’t waffle). There were a few questions afterwards: one was predictably about ‘what if people get sucked in to the game?!’ and another more interesting one was about the potential use of ARGs as simulations for education and training. More on that later.

In general though, not that many questions. The audience just didn’t seem particularly inclined to ask much; it was the same for the EA talk and other interesting ones. Maybe it’s something to do with the Quebecois culture? Who knows.

In my talk, I took the unusual decision (compared to the rest of speakers) not to use dozens of slides with bullet points that I would just read from. Personally speaking, I can’t stand speakers who do that – the talks are invariably boring and the slides are distracting. I’d rather have people to listen to me than divide their attention between voice and screen. I understand that this is a personal thing and of course you need slides for pictures and be saying something interesting, but I’ve always found that the best talks are the ones without any slides – and believe me, I’ve been to a hell of a lot of talks and lectures.

After my talk, I met the CEO of KOG Studios, Won Lee. KOG is based in South Korea and makes a ‘mini-multiplayer online fighting game’ (he gave a talk about it later, unfortunately during my interviews). How many players does it have, I asked. ‘About 3 million’. Revenue stream? ‘Micropayments’. Stuff like this just makes me realise not just how different South Korea is, but how far ahead it is. I wouldn’t even imagine using micropayments for an ARG right now, let alone getting 3 million active players buying various bits of clothing and toys, Habbo Hotel-style. Although the idea would have legs in the future… hmm…

Keynote – Trends
Neil Young – VP and General Manager, Electronic Arts

Neil Young gave the afternoon keynote. He was talking about ‘How to create a next generation hit’, and the content was mostly bland, featuring some old PS3 videos that are already on the net. Neil claimed that there were three elements required to make a next-gen hit. The first is ‘good execution’ – that’s something you can’t argue with. The next was ‘1-3 innovations’. I found this idea of quantifying innovation rather mystifying, but Neil gave some examples of these ‘innovations’. One was the additional of ‘aspirations’ in The Sims 2. Another was the ‘GameFace’ feature in Tiger Woods 2005 (or 2006, who knows, they’re all the same). GameFace apparently allows players to manipulate their character’s face so it looks like theirs, and according to Neil, it was solely responsible for a $45 million increase in sales over the previous title in the series.

Suffice to say that I thought this was perhaps the most ridiculous statement in the entire conference – as if anyone gives a damn about that sort of stuff, let along $45 million worth. This so-called ‘innovation’ didn’t increase sales – it would’ve been better marketing.

Neil’s third and final element was ‘mass appeal’. The audience was notably silent on the whole ‘mass appeal’ thing, which they correctly translated as being ‘dumbed down and boring’ and later on a couple of people mutinously asked about the lack of EA innovation and its pandering to mass audiences.

So on the whole, he didn’t say anything wonderfully interesting, although the talk was a good window into EA’s priorities for the next 3 or 4 years, namely making next-gen hits and high-definition (HD) presentation and gameplay. He’s keen on getting over Zombie effect wherein game characters don’t look human. Obviously he’s not so bothered by innovation, but he did talk about making people cry and making players the actor (which no-one believed). Actually, the title of his talk was ‘Can a videogame make you cry?’, but a more accurate title would have been ‘How EA intends to make craploads more money over the next 5 years’.

What he *didn’t* talk about was very telling. He showed off plenty of demos from the PS3, but said nary a world about the XBox 360 or XBox Live, which is surprising given that it’s about to be launched.

As an aside, Neil had a lot of problems with his laptop, which delayed his presentation by five minutes or so. During this time, he made various Eddie Izzard-like jokes which I found annoying (only Eddie Izzard is allowed to do this jokes – they just don’t work with anyone else) but he got some weak laughs. All in all, I felt it was not a keynote-worthy performance. Honestly, you wonder why EA Montreal bothered stumping up the money for it – it certainly didn’t make anyone like EA more, which is what the primary purpose of any EA talk these days should be.

Various interviews

Next up for me was an interview with the Quebec equivalent of MTV, M.net. As with most reporters I talk to, he seemed genuinely interested in ARGs, Perplex City puzzle cards and the game mechanic. I tend to find that if I can talk to journalists for at least two uninterrupted minutes, I can get them onside and understanding ARGs well. During the interview, I had the odd situation of being asked my opinion about game trends and whether the XBox 360, PS3 or Revolution was better (Revolution, of course), what I thought the future of the industry was going to be, and so on. I imagine he asked all his interviewees the same questions, but it was fun being a ‘games industry figure’ for a while.

Frederic Gignac, the editor of Hardgamers.com, was my next interview. This was another interesting chat about ARGs. As usual, we talked about the possibility of people getting too far in and becoming addicted. We also chatted about innovation in the games industry in general – a fun few minutes was spent bashing Neil Young and his $45 million GameFace. It then turned out that Frederic was playing Civ4 and Age of Empires; he likened the addiction of RTSs and turn-based strategy games to ARGs. But where you are only typically addicted to such games for weeks, with ARGs, you could potentially be addicted for months. This isn’t new – World of Warcraft and Everquest were there first. I don’t think ARGs are at that point yet, not for a mass audience, but it’s something to consider.

Away From Keyboard: Designing Real-World Games
Frank Lantz – area/code

As I mentioned, I missed Won Lee’s talk due to the interview, but I made the 3:15pm talk, given by Frank Lantz of area:code. Frank is into real world gaming. This is a genre that is often confused with alternate reality games (most notably/amusingly by the BBC Culture Show) and usually features people running around cities shouting into mobile phones and chasing stuff. I already knew a lot of the case studies he mentioned, but there were a few good nuggets.

One was his description of a Japanese mobile Final Fantasy game called Before Crisis. A large part of the game is based around collecting ‘materia’ of different colours. The way you do it is by using your cameraphone to take pictures of colours, and the materia you get in the game is based on the predominant colour of the photo. Really clever stuff. Obviously a rather crude mechanic open to abuse, but it’s interesting to see the game mechanic involving real-world interaction, a bit like the recent Nintendo game that could tell whether you were playing outside or not by using a light sensor.

Another interesting indie game was called ‘The Journey’ by Mopius. It’s a text adventure game translated into the real world, where you move between different ‘rooms’ in the game by moving in real life. Due to the difficulties in getting positioning information from mobile phones (it’s much more finicky than you would think), they used the relative position of cell tower IDs, which is only accurate to a few blocks, but is adequate for this. Naturally I would love to run an ARG that could use reliable positioning information down to a few metres. Can you hear me, mobile phone operators?!

Frank’s students at NYU were also involved in that famous game of recent years, Pac Manhattan, which was a fun part of the talk. The final question was about the oldest of real world games, sports. ‘Do you buy football? Or Frisbee?’ his slide asked.

Of course, you don’t ‘buy football’, you buy a football. Ditto for frisbee. The rules are so simple, and the implementation so simple, and the IP isn’t owned by anyone, so no-one can charge anything. All three elements wouldn’t be true for an original, high-tech real world game. Plus certainly ARGs feature custom content, which is just more IP and thus more stuff to sell. Still, an interesting question.

NEXT GEN Character Design: A Psychological Approach
Katherine Isbister – Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

The last talk of the day was a packed session by Katherine Isbister from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. It’s a telling indictment of the games industry that she was the only female speaker at the conference, out of maybe 30 people. She gave a talk about “Next Gen Character Design: A Psychological Approach” in which she asked developers to try and make their characters more psychologically real; they should use proper body language, facial movements, good voice acting, that sort of thing. All sort of obvious, but almost so obvious that it gets forgotten or ignored despite its benefits. Anyway, the talk was a real success because this aspect of gaming never gets addressed and game designers and programmers are fascinated by new stuff like this, especially things that might give them a ‘next gen edge’.

Everyone was pretty tired after the talk, and there was still a ‘VIP Cocktail event’ to go to, which wasn’t particular VIP given that there was rather a lot of people there. As usual, met more people, talked about ARGs, briefly talked to Rich Vogel and Doug Church, then eventually went back to the hotel so I could get up early the next day.

DAY 2 (see programme)

Keynote – What we have learned from Nintendogs
Hideki Konno – Nintendo

Events kicked off with a keynote by Hideki Konno, the Manager/Producer of the delightfully named ‘Software Develoπment Group No.1’ of Nintendo. In case you don’t know what Konno has worked on in such an illustrious Group, he’s been involved in various incarnations of Mario Kart and most recently, Nintendogs. Nintendogs is really the flavour of the moment, in the way that it’s reaching out to non-traditional gamers.

There’s something hypnotic about listening to Japanese and hearing it translated a few seconds later. You’d lose the magic if you could speak it. I suppose it’s like listening to opera without knowing the words.

Unsurprisingly, we didn’t learn anything earth-shatteringly new from the keynote, but there was a lot of more subtle information there, about how Nintendo works. Apparently Nintendogs was developed in parallel with the DS hardware, so they were actually able to include the hardware guys with what they wanted their game to be. Konno also talked about the fact that the dogs in the game not only have to perform voice recognition (in order to understand commands like ‘Sit!’) but also voice verification – that is, telling one voice from another.

Some other interesting tidbits include the fact that not only did Nintendo count on girls playing Nintendogs, but also on guys playing in order to meet said girls. At one point they wanted to have 15 different versions of the game, with 15 different dogs, on sale at shops, with a special ‘petshop’ themed point of sale stand.

Despite the fact that the talk was entitled, “What we have learned from Nintendogs’, it was more like an extended plug for Mario Kart DS and the Nintendo Revolution (their next console). If this came from any other company, people would’ve been annoyed, but everyone loves what Nintendo does – they’re one of the few big companies left that actually seems interested in making fun and innovative games. Konno showed off the now-famous Revolution promo video, which I’m sure most of the audience had already seen but nevertheless responded with the most resounding applause in the entire conference – I’m surprised that no-one stood up!

He then held up a Revolution controller in his hand. It was a lot smaller and thinner than I expeccted. He also had a nunchuck-attachment with him – the cable looked to be about a foot long. And he confirmed that the nunchuck will be supplied as standard with the console!

On the whole, it was a pleasant talk, and the fact that he talked about the Revolution and Nintendo’s wireless multiplayer ambitions with the DS was a nice treat. For me, it was a real smackdown on EA’s ‘next gen hit’ talk, with its insistence on limiting innovation (in case players get confused) and dumbing everything down.

How to manage large-scale online gaming communities
Rich Vogel – Sony Online Entertainment

Immediately afterwards was Rich Vogel’s talk on managing large online gaming communities. Vogel worked for Sony Online Entertainment, and while much of what he said was pretty obvious and straightforward for any self-respecting online game developer, there were one or two bits of useful advice there. His talk was unabashedly practical and he implored people not to tell their players about his advice, most of which was very pragmatic. I’m not going to recount his advice here – not to keep his secrets, but because it’s not particularly interesting, and any self-respecting online gamer is bound to know all the tricks anyway (e.g. isolate and ignore serial complainers, give presents on holidays, etc).

Call of Duty 2: Post-mortem of a large budget, large team game
Grant Collier – Infinity Ward

I wasn’t sure which talk to go to next, because none were particularly related to what I do, and in the end plumped for Grant Collier’s post-mortem of Call of Duty 2, which concentrated on the practical aspects of managing a growing development team. I’ve never played CoD and I’m not into FPSes, but I know it was fairly well received. He had some useful practical accounts of the problems he experienced with the growing team, such as the difficulties of maintaining good relations and communications within the company. He was also (eventually) unusually candid about the things that went wrong – I can only attribute this display of honesty due to the fact that he was mostly pleased with the game, and that they’d gone gold.

The one really striking thing about the talk was that Collier had zero slides. I was very happy about this, and not just because it meant that I wasn’t the person with the least slides at the conference. Collier had a big audience, and he managed to keep their attention on what he was saying for the entire talk, and I think that wouldn’t have been as easy if he’d been constantly flying through charts and bullet points.

Some useful points: they had an in-house dedicated recruiter. Fostered a culture of excellence, and they had no mandated working on weekends (very nice). They concentrated on getting all difficult tasks done first, rather than putting them off until last. In a further black mark for Microsoft, he revealed that only 20 out of the 50 XBox 360 beta hardware kits they received actually worked.

Keynote – Making and Breaking Rules: Game Design As a Critical Practice
Eric Zimmerman – GameLab

The afternoon’s keynote was by Eric Zimmerman of GameLab, a sort of concept driven games company/consultancy that’s currently doing little web games. In the first half of the keynote, Zimmerman was a bit too loud and abstract for my liking – a typical neogeek person of the Cory Doctorow ilk. I recall sitting back in the dark theatre and thinking about an especially interesting problem as he gesticulated on the stage in front. He seemed like a good entertainer to me, at least. There was a lot of earnest talk about ‘What is a game?’ and suchlike.

We then engaged in a game of MMRPS – massively multiplayer rock, paper and scissors, wherein he got everyone to stand up and play a game against their neighbour. Losers sit down, winners keep on playing until no-one’s left. Nice idea. But it’s not massively multiplayer in the sense of games like Everquest – you might as well call the World Series of Poker ‘massively multiplayer poker’. Except that would sound stupid, especially when ‘tournament’ is a perfectly fine word as it is.

(I am informed that this trend of people giving lectures with ‘massively multiplayer [insert traditional game]’ is increasing – watch out at your next conference for this trick!)

After a bit more conceptual talk, Zimmerman seemed to blow a gasket or something and the talk flew off in a totally different direction, about a ‘Game Developer’s Bill of Rights’. Suddenly everything had turned deadly serious and he wasn’t joking any more. He compared it to the ‘Comic Book Bill of Rights’ that’s apparently been written a few years ago, and was convinced that coming up with a list of ‘alienable rights’ (say what?) would really benefit people.

The problem was that the rights were so biased against publishers and towards developers (like ‘Developers own everything they work on, and they have final veto on everything’) were so unrealistic that even if they were desirable – and in some cases they weren’t – they were totally unachievable. Evidently people agreed with me because after the talk, Zimmerman was subjected to a barrage of doubtful realists asking what the point of the Bill of Rights was. ‘It’s more of a guideline for negotiations,’ he claimed. But if they’re so biased and unachievable, what’s the point, others asked.

So, on the whole, a very odd and naive talk, I felt.

Tips/challenges of working with licensed IP
Don Daglow – Stormfront Studios

Two more talks until the end! The next was by Don Daglow, CEO of Stormfront Studios – they worked on Lord of the Rings. This was all about the joys of working with licensed IP. It’s worth pointing out that the current thinking is that developers should always try to develop their own IP, so this talk sort of bucked the trend. Now, there is no doubt that using licensed IP has its upsides, which Don clearly pointed out, but he did himself a disservice by ragging on original IP so much. Let me explain…

He said that original IP needs exposition, whereas if you are developing a game based on a movie or book, you save a boring two hours of introducing characters and settings. This argument is so mindnumbingly ridiculous I couldn’t believe it. Yes, if you happen to be a terrible storyteller, I can imagine it might be helpful if someone writes your story for you. But the suggestion that developing original IP is some terribly damaging burden flies in the face of games such as Half Life, Ico, Zelda, Ultima and countless others.

Another claim he made was that licensed IP – like Harry Potter – gives a game an unmistakably seal of quality. Once upon a time, perhaps it did – and maybe it still does, to clueless parents and grandparents – but not to informed gamers. Games based on movies have a terrible critical reputation that is only beginning to recover now.

Finally, the thing that bothered me most about this talk was the way in which Daglow kept on using ‘voices’ in his talk. You know, putting on the voice of an excited teenager or a slow-witted person. I don’t mind it in moderation, but not all the time. Clearly this is a subjective thing and some people in the audience found it funny, but it just drove me nuts. It was just distracting and facile.

Serious Games, Serious Opportunities, How to Crack New Markets for Old Skills
Ben Sawyer – Digitalmill

The final talk was one of the more interesting I went to, given by Ben Sawyer of Digitalmill, about Serious Games. These are not merely educational games of the Carmen Sandiego genre (which are more like books on computers than games) but training games and simulator games like SimCity. Sawyer’s argument was simply that an awful lot of companies and governmental organisations now want ‘serious games’ and they have a correspondingly large amount of money. Maybe not as much as you’d make with Halo 2, but a decent enough chunk of change as it is. This of course relates to alternate reality games and their potential use in education and training; people have made ARGs for corporate training and team building in the past, but nothing much beyond that, and clearly there’s a whole range of possibilities out there…

Surprisingly for such an interesting talk, I don’t have any notes at all, but I just put it down to being tired. Straight after the talk I had to head back to the hotel and then catch a taxi to the airport, thus missing the Game Design Challenge and the IGDA party in the evening.

THOUGHTS

I had a useful time at the Montreal Games Summit. While there were few talks directly related to alternate reality games, there was a lot of lessons that were applicable to what I’m doing. As usual, I met a lot of interesting people and the experiencing of speaking at a major games conference was fun. I’m not sure I’ll go again next year (unless I’m invited again) but I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the speakers and the venue.

Joystiq is sick of ARGs

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.

A New Post

Regular readers may have noticed some subtle change in the appearance of my weblog – yes, I have in fact posted a new article in the ‘massive’ section. It’s not very long, but people into alternate reality games might be interested. Basically, it’s an edited version of the extended abstract I sent into the GDC 2006 conference a few months ago. Now, I admit that the ‘All Games will be Alternate Reality Games’ title is rather hyperbolic, but I’m increasingly being persuaded that it’s the case for more and more games. One interesting piece of news I heard recently was that Far Cry published a short ‘The Rough Guide to Jacutan Archipelago”, a fictional place in the game. This is not a particularly new idea – I still recall the story goodies you used to get from games like Elite and Ultima – but it’s nice to see the concept return.