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Alternate Reality Gaming Research Proposal


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Research proposal for Woedend! by Lennart Pieters

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Alternate Reality Gaming Research Proposal

  1. 1. ALTERNATE <br />REALITY <br />GAMING<br />A Research Proposal for WOEDEND!<br />By Lennart Pieters, student nr. 308612<br />Subject: Trends and Strategies in the Creative Industries<br />Date: January 15th 2010<br />Management summary:<br />This research proposal offers a partial answer to how Woedend! can create a blend of the different forms in order to activate, connect, entertain and facilitate people. The solution I have put forth in the following text is to create an alternate reality game is which the nature of the media product as a game is obscured. The audience will be offered a choice to play, participate, observe or refuse the game play at a predetermined moment that depends on their level of ‘contextual awareness’ (whether or not they realize it is fabricated reality). I discuss some techniques that will help Woedend! determine what the content of the alternate reality game should be. Also I discuss manners to maximize attention of the potential audience by explaining the dynamic relationship between producer created ‘tiers’ and player produced ‘tiers’ (tiers being different points of entry in to the game). I conclude this paper with a research proposal that will help Woedend! determine the right consumer groups and brands and/or companies to collaborate with in order to realize a successful alternate reality game. <br />Introduction<br />In this research proposal I will address the question posed to me by Bas van Berkestijn, director of Woedend! He had put forth the following challenge: Create a concept or a conceptual case in which different types of media blend together and where the audience is activated, connected, entertained and facilitated. Within this concept there have to be opportunities for the marketing of a brand. The way this questions is formulated left me with a large number of possible interpretations and provoked me to reshape my previous assumptions what of media products consist of and how they come to fulfill their functions. <br />Looking at recent trends in the rapidly changing media landscape, there was one trend that really grabbed my attention. Alternate reality gaming seemed to have the necessary characteristics needed to activate, connect, entertain and facilitate an audience in ways that are yet to be fully understood. This concept has proven its potency for reaching large audiences (1) whilst it is not yet considered to be a main stream marketing tool. Because Woedend! is involved in the production of games, mobile phone services/applications and advertising, this mixture of entertainment and marketing is a realistic business opportunity for them to consider. <br />Still, due to a very limited timeframe and limited resources I will not be able to present a clear cut concept for Woedend! to adopt. Instead I have focused my efforts to sketch a framework for understanding the preconditions for creating a successful alternate reality game. My new research question is the following: How can Woedend! create an alternate reality game that activates, connects, entertains and facilitates audiences? Alternate Reality Gaming is categorized as a form of pervasive gaming, alongside reality games, trans-reality games and cross-media games. (2) As I will explain in the following text, these concepts can overlap and there are not yet any clear boundaries to what is possible. Due their nature of being scattered amongst the different media and the variable roles and levels of awareness amongst participants, analyzing this alternate reality gaming is highly complex. The concept is little over a decade old and still very much work in progress, so the entire subject needs to be researched more thoroughly in general. Also to create a concept that enables Woedend! to market a brand effectively, more specific research has to be performed. I will include a proposal for further empirical research I consider required to further this goal. But first I will review the currently available literature about this subject. <br />Defining alternate reality gaming<br />To illustrate how alternate reality gaming is departing from previous gaming forms both experienced alternate reality game maker Dave Szulborksi (3) and scholars like Montola et al.(4) refer to Salen en Zimmerman’s concept of the Magic Circle of Game play. This circle is a metaphor describing a voluntary structure limited in time and space in which persons agree playful activities take place. Huizinga’s original text dating from 1950 states that: <br />Summing up the formal characteristics of play we might call it a free activity standing quite consciously outside " ordinary" life as being " not serious" , but at the same time absorbing the player intensely and utterly. It is an activity connected with no material interest, and no profit can be gained by it. It proceeds within its own proper boundaries of time and space according to fixed rules and in an orderly manner. It promotes the formation of social groupings which tend to surround themselves with secrecy and to stress their difference from the common world by disguise or other means. (5)<br />Szulborksi claims that alternate reality games have none of those elements, and that even for traditional gaming there are several conflicting or competing definitions. How then are we to define what an alternate reality game consists of? <br />Montola has created a conceptual framework by looking at which design features of pervasive games systematically work their way out of the magic circle of game play. He mentions three levels on which games can expand out of that circle: In space, in time and socially. <br />The first is called spatial expansion. It indicates that the socially constructed location of the game is unclear. For people who are playing alternate reality games, it is exactly that uncertainty on what locations are gaming areas that are found captivating. The possibilities are endless. Alternate reality games can expand from cyberspace into the public space or the other way around, but the game has to be affected by the players spatial context to truly be spatially expanded. This has a downside though. Sometimes it may become unclear whether casual events are related to game play or not.<br />Secondly the games can expand temporally. Where a gamer used to be able to define a game session, now the game and ordinary life are mixed. Games can remain dormant until new assignments are given to players. Games can try to confuse players when the game started or whether it will even come to an end. Players can even be unaware whether or not they are playing a game at a certain moment. This also has a downside. The game might require too much attention, or at the wrong time of the day, conflicting with daily routines. <br />Thirdly a game can expand socially. This is the most controversial but often also the most rewarding break from the magic circle. Blurring the boundaries of who is playing and who is not makes for a new way of game play. It can be done in a wide variety of ways. Outsiders may be used as game elements. Actors can interact with non-players to influence the storyline. Outsiders may shift from audience to unknowing participants or when aware of the game, they can create a community of spectators. This is where marketing opportunities lie, but also the risk of drawing unwilling people in the game play. (2) Another daring step is to make the players co-producers of the game, allowing them to alter the story line or by altering the storyline depending on their progress in solving the main mystery or assignment. <br />The process of creating an alternate reality game<br />Woedend! as the Puppetmaster<br />Woedend!’s business model is based on social networking, as well as development of games, mobile services and advertising. In the assignment that was posed to me in the video message, Bas mentioned there has to be a possibility to expose a brand. According to Ots, media firms have to take in account the dual market aspects of branding.(6) Advertisement has a dual revenue model. So a media product should encompass ways to earn income from both the sales related to the media products’ audience as well as income from selling their audience attention to brands. It makes sense that to maximize income on both sides of the revenue model, the reached audience has to be as large as possible and the alternate reality game (from now on referred to as ARG) has to draw as much attention as possible. There are a number of techniques that help in captivating an audience. I will now discuss some literature to give some initial insight into what techniques Woedend! must use to become good ARG producer. <br />This is not a game!<br />The conceptual framework of Montola makes clear that there are many options for a game maker (also referred to as ‘puppet master’ in ARG language) to consider when creating an alternate reality game. One concept that has to be applied according to Dena is TING-ing a game: “To TING a game means to explicitly deny and purposefully obscure its nature as a game”. She quotes McGonigal claim that “Without the ‘immersive aesthetics’ of “TING” (…) a player is not able to fully immerse themselves in the game, which then reduces their desire to continue the game.” (7) <br />This leaves the puppet master with a problem: How do you involve people in playing the game if the game denies itself as being a game? Or as ARG designer Elan Lee explains: “ARG’s are games with an identity crisis. ‘it doesn’t know it’s a game’.”(8)<br />I will further discuss this below.<br />Participant roles in socially expanded games<br />How do you involve people in pervasive games? Or how do you socially expand the game? According to Montola and Waern this depends on the different levels of contextual awareness the audience move through. There is a pattern of stages people move through when becoming aware of an ARG these are the:<br />- Unaware state: The game experiences go unnoticed or are interpreted as<br />‘everyday’ phenomena.<br />- Ambiguous state: The experiences produced by the game are too obvious or too closely related to each other to be ignored; still there is no frame of reference that would reveal and confirm the fact that it is a game, which we will refer to as the gameness of the experience.<br />- Conscious state: The game context is accessible to the person.<br />Montola, Waern (9)<br />The critical stage is that of ambiguity. This stage has to be designed carefully because there is a risk that people will misinterpret in-game events as being part of reality. If this is designed right, people should become aware of the events as being part of a ‘reality game’. Pieces of reality are fabricated as part of a game that does not reveal itself as such. The critical function of a reality game is to entertain the participant or to provide an artistic experience. It is clear that problems might occur if some players perceive a game as real and some are aware of its true nature. Especially if the story plot involves a missing person, conspiracy theories or even an alien invasion (remember ‘War of the Worlds’). The puppet master should therefore carefully design the transition between stages and analyze what kind of people arrive at which stage at certain points. When this is clear, the audience has to be presented with a choice which is also called a ‘role offer’. Montola and Waers (9) define four types of these offers:<br />• Invitation to play: The game offers active participation as a player.<br />• Invitation to participate: The game offers active participation, but not in a<br /> direct player role.<br />• Invitation to the spectatorship: The game offers spectator opportunities.<br />• Invitation to refuse: The game offers the option to ignore the game.<br />These invitations can take place in various ways. A common way is called Down the rabbit hole. This is when hints or messages are hidden in ordinary life that lead interested persons into the game. Smalls signs of fabricated reality can be placed like off details such as website dates that lie in the future. Players can also players invite other players ‘viral-wise’. This should be pursued for the purpose of marketing. Another way of increasing exposure is to have players perform a mission in the public sphere like a flash-mob. Bystanders have been known to join on-street dance sessions. This adds to the media exposure and overall participation of the ARG. <br />How to reach that critical mass: different forms of tiers.<br />Of course not everybody has enough time on their hands to emerge themselves so deep in an ARG. Yet, for Woedend to increase the chance of their ARG to become profitable, a maximum number of players, participants and spectators should be strived for. Therefore there should be many ‘tiers’ or ‘POE’s’ (points of entry). Dena explains that this can be done by creating a large number of ‘tiers’. This is best explained by a rather lengthy quote from Dena (7)<br />“Tiering describes the various points-of-entry (POE) into a world or work. This does not refer to the internal variation our minds afford. The levels are found inside the work or across various works; they can all be materially observed. (…)Tiers at the world level address different audiences with different works. In this context, a ‘world’ denotes the sum of productions that are set within the same fictional universe.(…) <br />Fundamentally, the logic behind this approach is that producers provide works in different media platforms and art forms to address audiences with persistent and alternating preferences for, and access to, media platforms and art forms. (…)The work level refers to separate content within a single work that is designed to appeal to different audiences. ARGs provide completely different challenges and game content for different audiences. <br />To ‘play’ an ARG, therefore, is not to engage in any homogenous content supplied by the producers. Indeed, due to the multi-platform expanse and plethora of content, this is an impossible task. Instead, players are targeted with different segmentations that they can engage with as an individual or sub-group.” (Dena, 2009)<br />Simply put: To appeal to a wide variety of people, a wide variety of challenges has to be given to the audience. Some hard-core players like complicated puzzles or hacking, some people want to be sent to unfamiliar places and some people like to solve historical or literary riddles. It is the job of the puppet master to balance content and difficulty to: On one hand keep people intrigued, and on the other to make sure people are not put off by the sheer complexity of the game. One thing is for sure: All activities have to be linked to a central theme or storyline to ensure coherence and certain sense of direction and purpose of the assignments. This storyline has to be well conceived and may be used to steer the audience towards predetermined (media) products such as game or movie releases. <br />Producer triggered player production<br />If the producers creates a good variety of tiers for different kinds of audience this should, according to Dena result in the production of player produced tiers. Apart from producer generated tiers, there will be content produced by players such as. <br />-New media tools to use during the assignments <br />-Instructions on how to solve puzzles <br />-New websites with links to other relevant websites<br />- Forums to organize cooperation <br />-‘Recap’ websites (or in ARG wording: ‘Story so far’)<br />- Forums and blogs that report on the progress that is made in solving the mystery.<br />And it is with the creation of these tiers that the real value creation takes place. According to Jones (2005) in the ARG ReGenesis only 10% of all players became hard-core players. The means the rest of the people just followed the unfolding of the storyline by reading player produced blogs that feature players’ individual stories of how they experienced the game play. This corresponds with the findings by Kim, Allen and Lee (1) about the very successful ARG ‘I Love Bees’. There were 100.000 active players in this game, across the U.S. and U.K. but the number of unique visitors to the ILB website reached a stunning 3 million. <br />A wide variety of tiers has another positive effect. The web site survey held after the ARG ‘The Beast’ showed that the gender distribution was 50% male and 50% female. This means ARG’s appeal to a broader group than just the regular digital gamers (80% male, 20% female). Still most ILB gamers belonged to the group 16 to 25 year-olds. This should be taken in account when Woedend! decides on what brands or products are to be pushed via ARG gaming. <br />Two final positive bi-products of player created forums and blogs is that it enables the puppet master to keep track of the players’ progress in the game. It can help in making decisions about when new assignments or twists in the story plot should be timed. Also these forums further collaboration and this adds to the experience of ‘collective action’ amongst players. Creating a feeling amongst players of being part of a community with a shared goal, is something that characterizes good ARG’s <br />Proposal for further research<br /> The literature review I have performed so far is mainly focused on how Woedend! can create a successful alternate reality game. I have discussed some ARG creating techniques that can be of help in captivating an audience with a wide variety of interests. ARG’s can be made to unfold in many ways. It can be highly organized or predetermined and on a more spontaneous or accidental manner. It can include all different types of media or electronic devices. It can be played basically anywhere by people on different levels of commitment and awareness and during an unlimited amount of time. It all depends on Woedend!: and how far they want to take it.<br />What is of most concern to Woedend! is further research on how to decide what kind of audience they wish to target and what their skill and interest level consists of. This is necessary to enable Woedend! to create tiers that are relevant for the target groups of the brands or products they are advertising for. Of course they will also have to decide which brands and products to push. Should it be one of their own game productions? Or should the whole storyline lead everybody to participate in an event like for example a music festival? And if these choices are made: How can Woedend! incorporate brand names into the websites, media packages, messages and events used during the game? <br />Research should be done in how strategic alliances can be made with game producers, websites, film or TV production companies, broadcasters, producers of handheld electronic devices and other brands. This can be done by researching the ‘best-practices’ in ARG’s during the last few years.<br />Financial Proposal <br />As a researcher I recommend a ‘holistic’ approach to the creation of an ARG by Woedend! The process of creating a successful ARG not only includes doing proper consumer and market research, but is also very much a creative process. These different aspects should be performed simultaneously instead of in a following order. I suggest that a team of two researchers should be formed that will closely cooperate with Bas. Bas should be involved in the process in the early stages, for he is the creative force behind Woedend! and he will be a key factor in deciding which brands to advertise and with which game-makers or screen writers we are going to work with. <br />I will perform research on how to maximize brand exposure through ARG’s. <br />I will do this as a junior researcher for an hourly fee of €25.-. I will have to be accompanied by a senior researched with a sufficient level of expertise in the field of consumer behavior, preferably specialized in the media industry. His or her hourly fee will be €35.-. <br />Based on a 35-hour workweek for the duration of 3 weeks, the first stage of creating an ARG in which different types of media blend together and where the audience is activated, connected, entertained and facilitated will costs €6300 ex. T.A.V. This is amount may vary depending on the fee asked by the senior researcher and is therefore open for negotiation. <br />If in response to this preliminary research you would like to know more about this subject or if any information requires more explanation, you are free to contact me via e-mail on: <br /> <br />Critical note for academic purposes:<br /> In this paper I have tried to do right to the complex nature of Alternate reality gaming, but there are some other aspects that I should mention as well. Due to the nature of the assignment I have largely ignored the possible negative social impacts that this form of gaming might have. Moral matters such as the unwilling participation of bystanders are also subject of current research. The high complexity of the ambiguous state of players and the TING-ing of a game may result in moral critique, for deliberately misleading a large number of people for marketing purposes can be considered immoral by some. <br />Also there are a lot more instruments a puppet master can employ to let the audience immerse. Only one of these, but a very interesting example is called LARP. Live Action Role Playing is the ultimate participation game, in which people assume the role of another person and play out a directed storyline in either enclosed or public space. It would be very interesting to also explore these opportunities, but this also brings about a lot more moral dilemmas and thought provoking debates on what in the future will be real life and what will be entertainment. I would like to venture down this path, but this would have led me too far away from Bas’ his assignment. <br />And a minor thing I feel needs explanation. I have used 8 scientific resources, instead of the required 10. These are simply the articles that I found that were relevant to do the assignment. I could list a few more for the sake of meeting the standards, but these 8 simply sufficed for what I wanted to explain in this paper. <br />List of used literature:<br />Kim, J. Allen, J.P. Lee, E. 2008, Alternate Reality Gaming. Communications of the Ach pg. 39, 40<br />Montola, M. (year of publication unknown), Exploring the egde of the magic circle: defining pervasive games. University of Tampere. pg. 1<br />Szulborski, D. 2005, This is not a Game. Newfiction Publishing. USA pg. 2. <br />Montola, M. Jonsson, S. Waern, A. Ericsson, M. 2006 Prosopopeia, Experiences from a Pervasive Larp. ACE publishing, Hollywood USA. pg 2<br />Huizinga, J. 1950. The nature of play from Homo Ludens. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Copyright 1950 by Roy Publishers. Reprinted by permission of Beacon, Press and Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd. pg. 3<br />Ots, M, (year of publication unknown), Media and Brands: New ground to explore.(publisher unknown) pg 5.<br />Dena, C. 2008, Emerging Participatory Culture Practices: Player created tiers in Alternate Reality Games in Convergence. Sage Publications. U.K. pg. 48<br />Montola, M. Waern, A. (year of publication unknown), Participant Roles in Socially Expanded games. Swedish Institute of Computer Science. Sweden pg. 3<br />