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.