Friday, September 26, 2008

Alternate reality games (ARGs) - if they've got it why not use it?

OK, I've decided on that title because I think it sums up what I know of ARGs and how they fit into the grand scheme of the universe.

Let's face it, if you live in the first world and are a movie going, popcorn eating, consumerist then chances are you have one (most likely ALL) of the following: email address, mobile phone, Internet access, and possibly even fax and a home phone (oh and two eyes for the real world).

OK, so like a good recipe we have have listed the ingredients. But what are we making? An ARG - I told you! A what?

OK, so ARGs, what are they? Here we go...

People today are becoming more and more connected through plethora tools, gadgets, publications, you name it. So, like the title says, if they've got it, why not use it?

Game makers/entertainment agencies/movie studios are now more and more using this convergence of media to communicate a message to you, basically hogging your eyeballs (eyeball, a good ol' ad term). But the question is, how to keep you engaged?.

This is where ARGs step in. ARGs are basically games that are played out over various media. Keeping you intrigued is the name of the game. A game might start our with an email or a visual clue in the real world. This might lead to a website or a phone number or discussion board. Through these clues the story will be drip fed to you, keeping you intrigued, ultimately leading to a goal - maybe an answer, or maybe just more questions! They key to the entertainment is that all the different media link the story together in the real world.

These types of games have been used well to hype up movie releases. 42 Entertainment, an 'immersive entertainment' agency, for example, has created ARGs for the movie AI, Windows Vista, Disney, and more. More recently one of their successes was with the release of Nine Inch Nails Year Zero album. Wired has documented this project well. The initial clue for this ARG was in the T-shirts on NINs world tour. This led to a website and phone number and so the game began.

ARGs are prized for the attention they demand on a certain subject. While the actual thing being sold (a movie, book, software) might not be advertised throughout the game - the message is. Throughout the game you get to understand the plot, you understand background stories and of course, hopefully, fingers-crossed, you become a fan.

Currently there are a few games being played that I've found through ARG sites such as ARGN and Unfiction. One is Operation: Sleeper Cell, designed by ARG developers for Cancer Research UK (it's not all big business that needs eyeballs after all!), another is, which is *presumably*possibly* for a new movie Blindness.

Coming up, Freshchat has pointed me towards Superstruct, an ARG that the Institute for the Future has developed and is calling a 'Massively Multiplayer Forecasting Game' as the aim is to use the ARG format to get ordinary folks like you and me to forecast the future by essentially playing out what we would do in future scenarios.

ARGs, are they the future of entertainment or just elaborate games for movies/businesses with 'too-big' budgets? They're not for everyone and you'll find that the eyeballs you get are generally few, but the few you get spend a hellofalottatime in the game. And isn't that the point anyway? Get a few advocates to spread the word and instant marketing success?


Props must also go out to Christy Dena, an Aussie expert in the field, definitely someone that has opened my eyes to the variety of cross-media applications!

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