Halo 2′s “I Love Bees” Alternate Reality Game
The story of I Love Bees proved to be slightly confusing at times, but the gist of it is this: Beekeeper Dana had a site which was attacked by some sort of virus; a countdown was placed on the site which spawned endless hours of speculation as to what the hell “System Peril Distributed Reflex” represented. Besides looking at the odd snippet of information through corrupted pictures and jarbled text, all the players could do was wait on tenterhooks until July 27th, on which “Network Throttling would erode…”
Sure enough, come noon July 27th, ilovebees.com is updated. Someone was mad at Dana and posted pictures of her all over the site; Dana freaked out and decided to flee the country.
The next major plot advancement came August 10th, when “the medium has metastasized”. A lot of information was posted on the site- the most important being GPS Coordinates. 220 were posted in total, all of which pointed to locations the length and breadth of the United States.
On August 17th, to the dismay of some, the coordinates changed- now there were 210 in total. However, there were now specific times telling people when to be at a particular coordinate- which proved to quell a lot of confusion. The importance of being at the “axons” was further emphasized when Dana added to the excitement by implying on her blog that we really should get to them! All players could do was kill time, and many found the night of August 23 to be a sleepless one.
So what happened when the axons (pre-determined payphones in large cities) went hot?
At the time mentioned next to the coordinates on ilovebees.com a phone will ring, and if the correct “codeword” was given, the transmission was considered successful and a sound-file was then added to the I Love Bees page for all to hear. The soundfiles had something to do with Melissa broadcasting messages to her crew with regard to her accident, in the hope that they could help repair the damage, and served as a medium to further advance the story.
The axon locations continued to be updated, and it took players just under a month to unlock the required number of axons- 777. After this threshold was reached, a message was placed on I Love Bees which read “Critical threshold achieved. Authorized personnel be ready for axon spike rendezvous.” There was something interesting about that sentence- it drove me to go to an axon over six-hundred miles away, never reached the axon- my car broke down! Isn’t it fitting, that at some of the axons players were given the opportunity to engage in live conversation with Melissa- a very nice touch. The prospect of doing so drove players back out to the payphones, and as a result nearly all of the “new” axons were answered.
Axons continued to be added to the pages to advance the plot. On October 12th however, there was a new twist: Melissa required that you photograph yourself at an axon, and if that wasn’t difficult enough, you had to meet certain criteria before your picture was accepted. Axon-answering continued for a while, until eventually players had it narrowed down to the final seeking axon.
The story ended – with Melissa cornering the “rogue process” (the Sleeping Princess) that had been eluding her, only to discover that the princess was really the remnant of the human memories of her former self. And that was that. To reward players for taking part in I Love Bees they were invited to “Combat Training” at four locations- New York, Chicago, Austin and San Francisco. “Combat Training” was an opportunity to play Halo-2, a fitting reward since that’s what I Love Bees was all about.
What I liked
Who would have a guessed that a seemingly innocent FedEx package would prove to be the gateway to what many regard as the largest and most interactive game in the history of our genre since The Beast.
I Love Bees spawned mainstream interest when a link to www.ilovebees.com faded in at the end of a Halo 2 theatrical trailer, cue a mass influx of new players; little did they suspect they were skimming the surface of the ARG World. Many found their way to the Unfiction boards, and the rudimentary “HALO 2″ threads manifested in abundance.
I Love Bees continued where The Beast left off. Sure, there were other ARG’s along the way- dammed good ones at that (and a special mention to my fav- Metacortechs!) but none really captured the essence of the beast. In terms of players I Love Bees wins hands-down. Admittedly, this was partly due to the previously mentioned Halo-2 trailer, yet as we all know- a game can have a massive following and still be susceptible to meltdown.
It must be emphasised that I Love Bees was far more than a Bungee viral-marketing campaign. It managed to take a following of thousands, and immerse them in a universe of axons and Sleeping Princess’s, and keep the vast majority on the edge of their seat for the rest of the game! The diversity of I Love Bees followers makes this achievement even more remarkable. I Love Bees managed to appeal to an incredibly extensive fanbase, a tiny section being of Hardcore ARG’ers, mainstream gamers, cryptologists, traditional puzzle solvers, matrix fans, Sci-Fi lovers, and of course, Halo Fanatics.
Dare I say it; the axons were responsible for much of I Love Bees success. They allowed players to meet face to face the beekeepers they had spent endless hours chatting to online. At the axons they discussed a plethora of topics, exchanged ideas (and phone numbers ;)) While bringing players together, the axons were also accountable for a large part of I Love Bees publicity. Those unversed into our world were intrigued by the thousands meeting up at phonebooths nationwide, and decided it would make a cool feature.
Finally, the story itself was very well thought out, and most importantly enjoyable to be a part of. Can’t really complain about it.
What wasn’t so good
Despite I Love Bees being enjoyed the world over there was still some things that could have been done better. First on my list is the “thank-you” event at the end of the game. Originally I had thought that this was exclusively for the people who had played I Love Bees. It turned out it wasn’t. To add insult to injury, many, if not all, of the staff at the function I attended had never even heard of I Love Bees and believed it to be nothing more than a “Halo-2 demo-day”. Many players thought they were going to something exclusive for I Love Bees players, and felt downhearted when it turned out they weren’t recognised.
Also, many ARG traditionalists felt the puzzles were a little too easy and that not enough emphasis was placed on the solving of them in relation to the advancement of the story. In defense of the creators, you have to look at their target market, which consisted of mostly ARG virgins. They did not want to lose half of them with mind-bogglingly difficult puzzles. Even although I personally would have liked to see more challenging puzzles, I concede that the puppetmasters were aiming for a market mainly consisting of new players, and thus decided for a more story orientated approach.
Finally, is too many too much? Before I Love Bees I never thought I would hear myself say this, but did the game attract too many players? The chat room #beekeepers became so cluttered that it was almost impossible for us to filter any important information through the myriad of unintelligible data. While a lot of great discussions took place in the forums, it was of great annoyance to find countless posts detailing events that were discussed to exhaustion in the post before.
Nonetheless, you can’t have it both ways, and if it came down to the wire between there being too many players and not enough players- I would most certainly opt for the former. I would do so because in general a successful genre generally relies on a large fanbase and if the maximum number of players equalled 900, we wouldn’t see ARG’S going anywhere in the future. Instead, I Love Bees has shown to marketers that this form of viral marketing really can work, and I wouldn’t be all that surprised if similar campaigns manifested in the future.
From start to finish, I Love Bees was incredibly entertaining, engaging and most of all- Fun. It introduced many to the previously unheard of genre that is Alternate Reality Gaming and opened up a new world to the uninitiated masses, while proving to be equally enjoyable for more experienced players. In it’s entertainingness it was also innovative- the puppetmasters were not afraid to take a different angle on things, and for this they should be commended. The whole idea of players meeting up at “axons” was ingenious, and also was the focus of most I Love Bees media coverage. Albeit, I Love Bees was not perfect- the end-game events could have been aimed at beekeepers only, the axons became a bit repetitive towards the end, the puzzle difficulty for the most part was a little on the easy side and maybe if there were a little less people playing it, those who did so would enjoy it more.
But don’t be put off by my whines; these are merely cosmetic complaints, from a self-confessed-perfectionist. The things I listed did not really detract from the overall experience at all, and if given the opportunity to play I Love Bees again I would do it in exactly the same manner as I did. Except maybe with a new carburetor.