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ARG Panel at VWLondon


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Notes from ARG Panel at Virtual Worlds London,

  • I listened to this talk when it first went out, at which time I was secretly producing Xi, the first ever ARG based in a virtual world (Sony's PlayStation Home). There was so much I wanted to say but couldn't at the time - but now Xi has come to an end so I finally feel able to chip in, late as it is...

    Much of the talk focused on *choosing between* creating an ARG or a virtual world. It's possible to do both, and get the advantages of both, but you also suffer the disadvantages.

    A key disadvantage is the issue that Foe raised (around 19:30 in the talk): you're stuck with the technology of the virtual world you're working with. Working on Xi, this was a real challenge, because the technology behind Home was still in development as we were creating our game - in fact, Home remains in open beta and is becoming more sophisticated all the time. So developing our own game and our own spaces in Home meant working very closely with the Home development team and sometimes being the canary down the mine as we discovered the technology's limitations first.

    But there were also huge advantages. Home had an established user base, which we could build on. It was a natural medium for hundreds of thousands of people already, and could be picked up easily by newcomers (as long as they had a PS3). And it had an established infrastructure which we could use for player registration and tracking, which took a lot of the technical pressure off us. (By us I mean, the start-up studio creating Xi for Sony.)

    However, being tied to this one platform - the PS3 - limited our potential audience. Therein lies the dilemma. A targeted audience such as PS3 users are, in marketing terms, fish in a barrel. But there was a whole ocean of potential players who were much harder for us to reach and whose barrier to entry was almost insurmountable.

    As someone used to creating platform-agnostic ARGs, I found this hard to digest. But really, our brief was to attract people into Home and keep them there, building a community. Foe talked about the locked-in, non-portable community that developed in the Virtual Magic Kingdom (25:30) - that's kind of what we wanted to create. Now that Xi is over, there are thousands of people who have got into the habit of visiting Home and chatting to the friends they made during the game. They can take the conversation elsewhere if they like, but every community needs a focus, and that develops through habit and repetition as much as anything else. There might not be quite as much activity in Home and on the Xi forums as when the game was live, but the baseline of activity has been raised. Mission accomplished.

    On the issue of replayability, I think Dan and I learned the same lessons when at Mind Candy and thinking about Season 2 of Perplex City. If you make an ARG replayable, it isn't really an ARG anymore because you can't build in the vital community aspect - it's very difficult to form a cohort of fellow players who are at exactly the same point in the story as you. Spoilers will abound, and you don't have the same sense of being able to influence the outcome.

    The compromise we've found with Xi is to keep some of our Home spaces open now that the live game is over. These spaces include the most 'game-ish' and replayable aspects of Xi, as well as an 'Alumni Hub' where former players can hang out and newcomers can see videos and slideshows summarising what they missed. I think that's an important legacy, leaving behind a focus for the community we built and not entirely abandoning them with nothing to do and nowhere to go.

    There are a dozen other things I want to say about all this, but hell, this comment is long enough already. Great talk, fascinating stuff.

    David Varela
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ARG Panel at VWLondon

  1. 1. ARGs and Virtual Worlds Dan Hon CEO Six To Start Foe Romeo Head of Digital Media National Maritime Museum Kim Plowright Production Mgr Oil productions Roo Reynolds Portfolio Executive, Social Media BBC Vision
  2. 2. ARGs and Virtual Worlds ARGs (Alternate Reality Games) have become a hot topic in recent months. It's hard not to think of an ARG as a virtual world in which the interfaces (including websites, email, text message, even telephones) are those we know from everyday life. Is there even more to them than that? Recent franchise tie-ins raise startling questions about business models, while war-stories about user engagement will be of interest to any virtual world designer. Do virtual worlds have anything to learn from ARGs?
  3. 3. Dan Hon • CEO, Six to Start • alternate reality game and cross-platform entertainment production company • Since 2001, the Beast (MSFT promotion for AI) • COO at Mind Candy for Perplex City • We Tell Stories for Penguin • The Shadow War - Puffin • Spooks: Code 9, Liberty News - BBC (Kudos)
  4. 4. What is an ARG? • intersection between story and game play • story + narrative + game design • platform agnostic (online is the glue) • immersive entertainment experience that uses any platform it can get its hands on
  5. 5. Kim Plowright • 10 years in television, web, games, drama • production manager at Oil Productions • an interactive entertainment studio • studio rather than agency • large educational ARG for UK broadcaster • previously:, BBC
  6. 6. Why do people play ARGs? What’s the appeal? • combination of challenge and delight • surprising yourself and letting yourself play along • unexpected and transporting experiences • cerebral pleasure
  7. 7. Foe Romeo • [Head of Digital Media, National Maritime Museum] • produced Disney’s Virtual Magic Kingdom • produced Science of Spying at Science Museum
  8. 8. ARGs are in their infancy • not many people have played ARGs • breadth of interactivity • new ability: interact with fictional character as if it was a human being • natural interfaces • the internet is the glue
  9. 9. Having people in the process • designing an experience using technology is constrained • experience which uses people (staff or players) is flexible
  10. 10. User Generated Content in ARGs • a game gives a reason to participate • book-writing example from Perplex City • story and gameplay as a driver for UGC • adding purpose
  11. 11. Incentives do you need a prize? • reward is helpful as a PR hit • all about the experience • in players’ interest to recruit other players
  12. 12. ARGs vs VWs • depends on the virtual world experience • ARG is on-rails (e.g. a game, an MMO) • social VWs reward habitation • ARGs construct a narrative thread • flexibility of an ARG to reach people where they already (and will) hang out
  13. 13. ARGs vs TV • ARG as scripted TV show • narrative closure • seasons • using the right interaction method for the story • example: ‘we’d love to use QR codes’ • use the platform in most natural way
  14. 14. Endings ARG (can) have a finite nature • finite investment; time-bound • for both investors and players • something very sad about the slow death of a community • easier to manage if there’s a narrative
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  17. 17. Replay • most experiences are ‘live’ and over when they’re over • how can we make them re-playable? • how can we jump to the best bits?
  18. 18. Metrics • always interest in metrics, especially from broadcasters • we can show engagement • the Department for Culture, Media and Sport moving to system of peer-review • moving from quantitate to qualitative
  19. 19. (Brand) Engagement • something powerful about fleeting moments, narrative epiphanies • moving moments used to ‘fix’ the message • example: Superstruct ( • ARG players are playing as themselves, not a character • carrying the experience with you
  20. 20. Re-Telling of ARG has anyone done a re-telling of an ARG? • no • model: epistolary novel • there is fan fiction • live nature means no retelling • re-play, yes. re-telling, not yet
  21. 21. Alternate Goods could there be ARG assets with RL value? • Perplex City ARG from Mind Candy • collectible card game with rarity model • value in the IP: franchise, characters • artifacts in instantiations • intangible assets: sell your leveled-up char? • could you sell your experiences?
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  23. 23. Thank You