Freshly triumphant from their most recent transmedia projects, Steve Peters of No Mimes Media and Jan Libby, recently of Levi’s G.O. IV Fortune campaign, took the stage at DIYDays LA to talk about their experiences designing Alternate Reality Games.
Steve and Jan began as players in the emerging genre that we call ARGs. Both made the transition from player to puppetmaster through their work on independent games, which led to careers for each of them in the newborn industry of transmedia entertainment. And both acknowledge that their roots in the player side of these games and experiences now inform their choices as designers. “Sure, we do this for money,” Jan said, “but our hearts are indie.” Whether they are designing an ARG for a client or for an indie game, they consider not only the story and its characters, the protagonists and antagonists, but also the audience. Jan views the audience as a character, one that will interact and possibly shape the story as it plays out.
As you may aleady know, Jonathan Waite has stepped down as owner and senior editor of ARGNet, after almost four years at the helm. Both Jonathan and ARGNet’s original owner, Steve Peters, have left some dauntingly big shoes to fill. Luckily, ARGNet still has an incredible staff of volunteers, and Jonathan will continue to run weekly shows at the ARG Netcast.
Many things at ARGNet will remain the same. ARGNet is still committed to reporting on alternate reality games, cross-media experiences, interactive storytelling, and projects that amaze and astound. And while you may notice a few minor changes to the website’s appearance over the coming months, ARGNet will remain largely unchanged. Here’s a preview of some of the changes you might be seeing in the near future.
ARGNet is actively looking for new volunteer staff writers. So if you’re enthusiastic about the genre and interested in writing an article for ARGNet once a month, let us know. The submission guidelines are as follows:
- Write a blurb-style article on any currently running game.
- Write a feature article on any of these topics: 1) a game, current or historical; 2) an interesting story or aspect of the ARG community; 3) a topic of interest to the ARGNet readership; 4) being a puppetmaster or behind-the-scenes game creator.
Articles should be clear and concise: we don’t pay by the word. In fact, we don’t pay at all. On the bright side, that also means that despite hard economic times, we haven’t been forced to cut writer salaries. Email entries to [email protected] by October 1 at 11:59PM EST. If you’re interested in writing a guest post, contact us with your proposal through our contact form.
It would seem that there is trouble brewing at the SXSW Interactive festival in Austin this week, and it’s a very persistent kind of trouble – protesters. On March 11th, Steve Peters posted the following on his Twitter account: Hmm, some group is protesting our SXSWi panel?? RT @StopTarpARG Alternate Realities are set to destroy our children. Visiting the Twitter account for StopTarpARG leads to their web site, stoptarparg.com. Once your eyes have adjusted to the multi-font experience at that site, the message sinks in: there’s a new ARG set to launch at SXSW, called TARP ARG 2009 for the kids, and according to StopTarpARG, it’s a government-sponsored attempt at brainwashing the minds of America’s children in the face of hard economic times.
Of course, the folks behind TARP ARG 2009 for the kids see it differently, claiming to be part of the economic bailout assistance program in the U.S. while promising to build a “direct interface with [their] targeted child audience.” Brian Cain’s name is all over this, and a simple Googling leads back to Campfire, the company behind many of the most popular ARGs of all time. Brian is going to be at SXSW Interactive on the same panel as Steve Peters, so we assume this is related to the hijacking of the panel Steve alluded to in the recent press release about his new company, No Mimes Media.
For those curious enough to sort through this madness, StopTarpARG has set up a phone number (866-397-7406) where Brian Cain’s apparent manifesto can be heard, while the TARP ARG folks have an email address where people can ask their questions. It would also seem that events are starting already, two days before the scheduled panel discussion, as our own Michael Andersen has outlined recently in the Unfiction forum discussion thread for Stop TARP ARG. In my opinion, this should be a fun way of showcasing alternate reality gaming, and I’m sad that I can’t attend the event myself. We’ll keep up with the Tweets and the shenanigans leading up to and following the panel discussion, so stay tuned.
While the news hasn’t been all peaches and cream in the world, what with companies finding themselves in financial trouble and the what not, here’s a feel-good story for fans of alternate reality games: a new start-up called No Mimes Media has been officially launched, and there are some pretty heavy-duty names attached to the “full-media company.” We received a press release late last night, and here are the details:
No Mimes Media is a collaboration between “[f]ormer 42Entertainment creatives Behnam Karbassi, Maureen McHugh and Steve Peters,” which will be based out of Los Angeles and Austin. The company bills itself as one that “produces engaging cross-platform narrative entertainment, popularly known as Alternate Reality Games (ARGs), to support a wide-range of projects including feature films, television, games and original content.” You may know the trio of Karbassi, McHugh and Peters for their work on large-scale ARGs like Why So Serious and Year Zero while under contract with 42Entertainment. You may also know Steve Peters as the original owner of ARGNet (then ARGN). Needless to say, this is a very experienced, savvy group of creative designers, and it appears that they have hit the ground running, as they are already reaching out to project partners for opportunities.
Perhaps by design, this announcement comes days before a panel scheduled at SXSW Interactive, entitled You’re Living in Your Own Private Branded Entertainment Experience. The panel includes Peters, who hints in the press release that the panel may be hijacked, commenting, “We’ll be announcing something that’s sort of an ARG wrapped in enigma wrapped in an ARG; and it’s not without controversy, let me tell you!” More controversial than a nearly naked man with temporary tattoos? Sounds juicy! Hopefully, we will have someone on hand to take in the panel and relate their experiences here in the days to come.
Editor’s note: Article title revised after initial publication.
This article is the third in a series, providing summaries of the presentations at ARGFest-o-Con 2008 in Boston
Steve Peters left ARGNet a few years back, but he still sticks around. Supposedly, he works for some company named 42 Entertainment that sponsored ARGFest 2008 and purchased tickets to The Dark Knight for attendees. In this Showcase Presentation, Steve Peters explained how to deal with Alternate Reality Gaming audiences using the Microsoft Vista-sponsored ARG Vanishing Point as an example.
According to Peters, there are Five F’s of Fantasticness necessary for every alternate reality game: Find, Focus, Fun, Freedom, and Fear.
The first step to every alternate reality game is the FIND: discovering the game. With Vanishing Point, 42 Entertainment targeted early adopters with puzzle boxes, puzzle graphics on Windows and technology blogs, and a taunting message suggesting that the readers wouldn’t be able to solve these. Solving the puzzles led to the main page for Vanishing Point, where, explains Peters, players found the ever effective and tantalizing countdown. So effective, in fact, that Vanishing Point included dozens of countdowns scattered around the website, each one culminating in a live event.
Which brings us to the second step: FOCUS. Players need to know what to expect when they’re entering a game. While you can pick up a book and anticipate the commitment it will involve by the number of pages, size of the font, and reputation of the author, the same does not necessarily apply to alternate reality games. Sticking to regularly scheduled updates helps generate expectations for the players. Setting more explicit boundaries through iconic touches to the websites can also help guide players and protect the developer’s sanity.
The third factor is both the simplest and the hardest: FUN. Under the direct assault of hundreds or even thousands of skilled players, puzzles often need to be difficult. However, they still have to be fun, and often building upon previous puzzles can help with that process.
Note: This article covers two SXSW Interactive 2008 events: Cross-Media Cross-Pollination: Mashing Up Video Games and ARGs (Saturday, March 8th, 3:30-4:30 p.m.), and its follow-up, Core Conversation: What Can the Video Games Industry Learn From Alternate Reality Games? (Monday, March 10th, 3:30-4:30 p.m.).
A last-minute change in programming on Saturday, March 8th, at SXSW Interactive 2008 brought together familiar faces from the Alternate Reality Games development community: Dan Hon of Six to Start, Tony Walsh of Phantom Compass, and Dee Cook, a freelance writer and designer who has written and developed content for games such as “The 4400” Extended Reality, World Without Oil, Unnatural Selection, and many others. Hon, Walsh, and Cook presented the panel “Cross-Media Pollination: What Video Games can Learn from ARGs”. The follow-up conversation on Monday afternoon with Steve Peters from 42 Entertainment, and input from Jane McGonigal, Ken Eklund, Hazel Grian, and others, rounded out Saturday’s panel.
Currently one of the most popular past-times world-wide, video games have an audience both extensive and diverse. Gamers are consistently asking for more from game designers – better AI, more content, more interaction, more story and narrative, more immersion. What can Alternate Reality Game designers learn from video game design and the needs of video game players (many of whom also play ARGs), and what elements of ARGs might video game designers consider when making games for gamers in a world of rapidly-evolving technology and techno-culture?
The panel opened with the question: what elements of ARGs might interest and engage video gamers? “I Love Bees”, a well-known ARG, tapped into the fan base of Bungie’s Halo video game by providing a glimpse into Halo’s (and its predecessor, Marathon’s) detailed backstory. Many Halo players enjoyed ILB because of the opportunity to explore more of that game’s mythology. The puppetmasters presented a Halo story that the players could interact with in a different way, affecting the game not by moving the controller but by problem-solving with other players, answering payphones, emailing the Sleeping Princess, and convincing an AI that they were, in fact, human, and one of her crew.
Perhaps, Steve Peters pointed out in Monday’s follow-up conversation, cross-media is one answer to a demand for more interaction and individualized response. A player’s progress through a game could be tracked, with content delivered not only through the console but also through SMS, phone calls, or even the post office! Similarly, Tony Walsh raised the idea that ubiquitous computing, the imperceptible integration of computing systems and functions into every day life, might indeed be the next game platform, heralding the end of the “couch-potato” gamer.