The first Studio Cypher Case, Out in the Cold, was released last month when a Cypher field agent, Chuck Lehner, disappeared. Soon after the case launched, players started to receive postcards in the mail from Lehner which led them to his website and a blog that belongs to his friend Sue Terrini. The game, which ended yesterday, had some difficult puzzles, real world hidden caches and even an ingame band which seems to be the hip ARG thing to do these days. Players had been working to unravel the mystery of what happened to dear old Chuck and what mysterious brown pieces of clay had to do with it.
To many, the real mystery surrounding Studio Cypher is whether or not the pay-to-fully-play model is working on all levels. In order to fully participate in each case, players must become a Wakeful Agent for $9.99 ($13.99 outside the U.S.). Only Wakeful Agents will receive special content and can interact directly with the characters. Paying players also get access to game updates before the non-paying players. Those who don’t pay can still play along, but it still remains to be seen whether or not this limited access really allows players to immerse themselves in the story enough to want more and become a Wakeful Agent.
One player, Steffeny Muller (aka Magesteff), who didn’t pay said of the experience, “Not being a WA makes it difficult for me to follow along, and since I can’t contact the in game characters, or enter solutions, I really have not felt like I am involved with the game. The information that is flowing to the non-WA about the puzzles is difficult to follow along with since some of the information is coming from in-game characters, and only WA who have paid for the contact rights can e-mail them. Since Character Interaction is one of my favorite things, and I am really bad at puzzles, I’m not getting much enjoyment out of the game so far. However, I do wish the gang over at Studio Cypher the best of luck with their business plan. I am very interested to see how it works out for them and people new to the ARG genre. ”
Players who did pay seem to be thoroughly enjoying the experience. One Wakeful Agent, ilikepucks, said of Out in the Cold, “This is the first ARG I have actually taken full participation in. Usually I lurk through the forums solving puzzles here and there, but never really getting into the story with character interactions and so forth. I think Studio Cypher has done a good job so far, and I will definitely be taking more in-depth roles in future ARGs because of it… I think the fee was well worth it.”
Since Out in the Cold is only the first Studio Cypher case, it is difficult to predict whether or not the pay-to-fully-play model will work in the end. Hopefully, Studio Cypher will continue to release quality cases and more players will be able to join the Wakeful Agents and find out for themselves. The PMs behind the project are open to feedback and have a section on their forums dedicated to just that for those who would like to share their experiences.