Six to Start

Putting the 'Game' back in ARGs

At this year's SXSW conference, I gave a solo session about putting the 'game' back in ARGs. The talk was basically a very frank look at the state of Alternate Reality Games now, where they sit on the hype curve (spoiler: right at the nadir), why they've failed to live up to our expectations, and what they need to do to become more popular and successful.

The session itself wasn't recorded, but I've done a screencast of the talk which you can watch below:

As an 'Intermediate' level talk, it assumes that you've played or read about ARGs before, although you may not have made one. On the whole it was received very well, with lots of great questions about the role of marketing ARGs, smartphones, RPGs, and LARPs in future developments; I also got to see some sneak peeks of upcoming 'mobile ARGs' by indie teams, which were extremely exciting.

If you don't have the time to watch the talk, here's a summary:

Like every other new product, experience, or technology, ARGs are following the hype curve. The technology trigger came in 2001, with cheap broadband allowing a critical mass of players to easily communicate and collaborate online. Excitement peaked around 2005 with games like I Love Bees and Perplex City, both commanding budgets of six to seven figures. Since then, we've been on a precipitous descent since we haven't attracted the millions of players (and dollars) we expected.

Why the disappointment? In short, it was difficult to scale up player numbers without losing the 'magic' personal interaction and multiplatform nature of ARGs; we got hung up over the 'This is Not a Game' (TINAG) mantra; and the friction of moving between different platforms was too high for casual players (no matter how cool it is to go to live events or get post in the mail).

The answer is to reduce friction, by means of converged devices like smartphones, and single sign-on mechanisms like Facebook; to get rid of TINAG and just make the games more transparent to consumers; and to steal/borrow ideas from other game genres on how to make games accessible and sticky without creating impossible amounts of content.

I feel like we're definitely turning a corner in the ARG/transmedia space this year; I'm very enthusiastic about what's coming up!