Cathode Tan - Games, Media and Geek Stuff
logo design by man bytes blog

Friday, July 28, 2006


The commercial’s voiceover intoned: “Since the dawn of time, man has been curious, imagining all that is possible. The Hanso Foundation: reaching out to a better tomorrow. Discover the experience for yourself. Call 877-HANSORG.” If the intrigued were able to get past the busy signal, they came across several obscure Lost-related references (Widmore Corp., Geronimo Jackson) before their touch-tone navigation led to a warning from Persephone, an anti-Hanso activist who had hacked in to leave the password “breaking strain” to get into protected areas of the Hanso Foundation website. The Lost Experience was off and running.

This intricate and interactive alternate reality game (ARG) is about blurring the line between fiction and reality. But it’s also a bold exercise in viral marketing for a medium desperately in need of a new business model now that so many DVR-owning viewers fast-forward through advertisements. It’s no coincidence the game’s first clue came in the middle of a commercial break.
-- Media: Lost In Alternate Reality Gaming

To date, most successful ARGs - ilovebees, Lost Experience, etc. - are really advertising. Is this fair, though, in the case of Lost Experience, which ties online media to tube media? Well, yes, because they're still tying you into Jeep or or whatever. Jamie Kane is possibly the most successful ARG I can think of that wasn't tied to any single brand (except for the BBC). Course - Kane was pretty odd ... mostly mini-games and singular experiences with chatterbots as opposed to the communal sleuthing with "traditional" ARGs.

It poses plenty of unanswerable questions - can ARGs create a sustainable revenue stream for next gen media? Can they ever replace the forced space of regular ads? Are ARGs sustainable without being hitched to a advertising revenue?

I also wonder if all the back and forth the interliterati crowd has on structure and format is sidestepping ARGs as a viable platform for new interactive stories. They're not overburdened by complicated AI or emotion routines. They're completely capable of support complex narratives (which can be adjusted for player actions). They're probably a lot cheaper to produce than Facade.

tagged: ,


Greg Tannahill said...

I think we'll know the (current) answer to most of those questions when we learn whether PerplexCity are signing up to a Season 2 or are closing shop once the Receda Cube's found.

I maintain that the next Magic: The Gathering is just around the corner, and it's going to be an ARG. The question is not how to make a successful ARG that can capture a mainstream audience, but where to siphon off the audience's money.

Josh said...

Exactly - ARGs are almost akin to television in that you know you can get someone to watch ... but how do you get them to pay? Either having or being advertising is an obvious choice. You're right though, PerplexCity might provide a reasonable example for pay-to-play.

I wonder what the BBC got out Jamie Kane. It was pretty low on the advert scale. I suppose it was mostly self-promotion.