SXSW – ARGS and Games

Dan Hon, Tony Walsh and Dee Cook

  • DH: ARGS are a new way of telling stories, using all forms. People consume lots of different kinds of medium, there is a different kind of narrative and gameplay experience that you can give people. You don’t have to learn a different control scheme. Interactions are typically the same things you would do in everyday life. you use text and emails.
  • DC: There are no rules about what an ARG is, it’s like playing a murder mystery dinner theatre, for weeks and months, online, in person, on the telephone etc
  • TW: the players can be extremely voracious, hungry for content and always coming up with things that designers may not have expected, coming up with the new story lines.
  • Q: who are the players?
  • DH: the demo data (Perplex City) was 12-80 year old, 50/50 male/female. Live events were surprising, families, etc, the typical audience is not the hardcore gamer.
  • TW: there are different elements that appeal to different types.
  • DC: skillsets can be different for each game,
  • DH: they are a form of entertainment, so the broad questions can be answered in many ways – a broad classification
  • TW: videogame players are very different to ARGs…args can be research based
  • DH: there are differences between the types of gameplay.  ARGS can be more predominately storyline based, punctuated by game-like play.
  • TW: so what are they looking for in an ARG that they are not getting in a videogame.
  • DH: a lot of the successful ones have been toed in with deep brands, deep stories.  Halo 2 (with I Love Bees) can be looked at as a FPS or as part of a real deep story, really good world building. For those that buy into the world, they get passionate about finding out anything about it.
  • DC: In ARGs, people feel they can affect the game world, they can interact with a ‘real’ person. An ARG is often a one shot, have memories and history.
  • DH: WOW as a single player is a very boring game, but playing with friends is a completely different experience. ARGs is similar – large groups, social gameplaying mechanic.
  • TW: so can we talk about some early ARGS
  • DC: Majestic – EA, they started to advertise the game that played you, how it was going to become part of your real life, shut down
  • DH: the Beast – from Microsoft. tied into AI the spielberg movie. it set some principles which some people still think control what an ARG is. It did not say it was a marketing campaign.  The game created a universe online.  In terms of gameplay, there was not really any traditional gameplay mechanic in there. There’s puzzles and collaboration,.  the gameplay that tends to emerge is very social based, than conventional console games. 
  • DC: a big community builder.  
  • TW: the form is always evolving.
  • DH: ILovebees was more of a radioplay, that seemed to be the intention of the writers. it was an audiodrama.
  • TW: a promotion for Halo2. MS did try to do something with Halo3,
  • TW: there’s a huge grassroots community that produce their own games.  barrier to entry is a lot lower than computer and videogame development.
  • Q: what’s the reach and success of ARGS. What are the business models.
  • DH: a lot of the examples have been marketing for brands.  Majestic was a subscription model. Perplex City had a series of collectible cards, which would have clues etc.   I think that everyone is still trying to work it out, there is a lot of scope for brand sponsored content.  In terms of self-sustaining independent it is something that we are working on
  • DC: we still run into the internet should be free idea, so subscription based anything on the web is a dicey problem.
  • DH: it is possible to do so when people spend a lot of time.
  • TW: a lot of teens are looking at free to play games, that can be a model, say in Korean.
  • Q: is what teens expecting in terms of free to play, is paralleled by people wanting to find themselves in a game, eg Lonely girl
  • DH: it did not start out as an ARG, the whole suspense was ‘was to real’. the follow up is Kate Modern on Bebo. the back and forth of setting up tasks, and responding can add a lot of value to the entertainment.    Viral marketing will not get you your mass audience, you have to push people there [RC: it’s my understanding the ARG was started by a fan and then adopted by the creators]
  • Q: How are they useful
  • DH: with channel 4 we are doing an educational game, for 14-16 yos, around online identity and privacy. they can learn important skills.
  • Q: I research storytelling; I look at what is going on with ARGs, what concerns me, is the freakiness of ‘stalking’. blending reality with fiction you get into sueable area.  there is a huge community of susceptible people
  • TW: this question comes up everytime. there is are fine line.  It’s up to the game designers to think about how the game mechanics work. you can’t control, you also need lawyers.  It’s what insurance is for,
  • DC: you can’t anticipate everything, but you can be prepared to react.
  • TW: in videogames you can predict, but the more massive MMO become then less controllable. 

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