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Alternate Reality Gaming
June 16th 2003, 21:23 CEST by m0nty

A new kind of "game" genre is evolving out of the wreckage of Electronic Arts' Majestic. It's called by many names, but the most popular seems to be Alternate Reality Gaming. Like Majestic, the game is "played" not just on computers, but every other conceivable communications medium. The "gameplay" involves interacting with AIs and real people to solve puzzles and advance a storyline written by so-called "puppetmasters". I'm over-using the quote marks here for a good reason: most of the ARG events that have happened so far are thinly disguised forms of marketing.

According to reports I've seen, the progenitor of the genre was created to publicise the movie A.I. A short history is explained here. The genre has its own portal site, from which it can be seen that the movement has been noticed by BBC, Slashdot and the New York Times. The BBC article concentrates mostly on Collective Detective, which is the closest thing in the genre to a clan structure.

Science fiction fans will no doubt be able to draw parallels with the major plot point of William Gibson's latest novel, Pattern Recognition. The narrative revolved around the search for the authors of a series of video clips by subscribers to a fan site on the Web, and the machinations of an ambitious marketing guru to cash in on the marketing techniques apparent in the distribution of the clips. Whether Gibson knew about the A.I. game or Majestic before devising the plot is an interesting question, but the book provides a detailed account of how such a project works in practise.

Now, we all know that Majestic was a commercial failure. People didn't like their lives being intruded upon by telephone calls at all hours of the night, or visits to their letterbox by unknown assailants. That seemed too much like modern forms of marketing, not to mention parallels with stalking by paranoid delusionaries. Nevertheless, ARG seems to have garnered a following numbering more than 10,000 Web users, despite the fact that all the "games" consist of are teasers and snippets of advertising for a product. The genius of ARG, I guess, is to make spam palatable enough for you to swallow it.

What I want to know is, why is it working at all? Are Internet users so bored that they would waste time in figuring out what an advertising executive thinks is a mind-bending brain teaser just so they can have the privilege of having an advertising message shoved down their throats? Can we expect more ARG projects to replace standard forms of advertising, or will non-moronic people start a backlash against this insidious form of marketing? And where do they get off calling this a "game"?

And what's more, ARG illustrates the problem of the blurring of the lines in fan sites and forums between genuine fandom and subtle manipulation by undercover marketing agents. Is all the talk of DNF on this and other forums really an example of ARG, where the alternate reality is one in which DNF actually gets finished?
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#1 by Neale
2003-06-16 21:24:54
neale@pimurho.co.uk www.pimurho.co.uk
Love the obligatory DNF joke. It's so edgy

You can't derail this train of idiocy, Shadarr. Not even with a big fat cow of logic on the tracks. - Bailey
#2 by OmegaFoRCe
2003-06-16 21:27:11
There is no spoon; there is only spork.

#3 by Bailey
2003-06-16 21:29:47
Dinosaur humor.

I guess the real question is as to why I can't wake up with the gin already in me.
#4 by Phayyde
2003-06-16 21:30:43
This is an awful idea.  Nobody is going to pay good money to be bothered by trivial bullshit during the day.

Beat to fit, paint to match.
#5 by UncleJeet
2003-06-16 21:34:19
Nobody is going to pay good money to be bothered by trivial bullshit during the day.


Yet most of us still go to work every morning....

I'm fighting terrorism by playing violent video games!
#6 by UncleJeet
2003-06-16 21:36:05
I realize that doesn't make much sense now, in the context of the "paying good money to...." bit, so I'll quickly try to rationalize and justify my statement.

Tolls and Gas and Food and Taxes.

Funk.

I'm fighting terrorism by playing violent video games!
#7 by Bailey
2003-06-16 21:36:38
Funk?

I guess the real question is as to why I can't wake up with the gin already in me.
#8 by VeeSPIKE
2003-06-16 21:37:10
Jeet is channeling Funk now??

The media doesn't educate, it sensationalizes. That's why there's no learning curve, just repeated bouts of gross stupidity. Bailey
#9 by VeeSPIKE
2003-06-16 21:37:28
dammit

The media doesn't educate, it sensationalizes. That's why there's no learning curve, just repeated bouts of gross stupidity. Bailey
#10 by Chunkstyle
2003-06-16 21:37:37
Damn, now Funk will have to start talking about Mario and Mickey.

I like cheese.
#11 by mgns
2003-06-16 21:45:09
Oops. :P

At night on them banks I'd lie awake
And pull her close just to feel each breath she'd take
#12 by UncleJeet
2003-06-16 21:50:03
I was just trying to curb my obscenity tendencies by cleverly spelling Fuck with an N instead of a C.

It really was highly ingenious, I can assure you!

I'm fighting terrorism by playing violent video games!
#13 by Caryn
2003-06-16 21:54:13
carynlaw@pacbell.net http://www.hellchick.net
#0 "m0nty"
What I want to know is, why is it working at all? Are Internet users so bored that they would waste time in figuring out what an advertising executive thinks is a mind-bending brain teaser just so they can have the privilege of having an advertising message shoved down their throats?


It's working because they're enjoying it. You all know I'm a marketing goon, so feel free to put me on the Scott Miller pyre, but I for one think this was a fantastic idea when they came up with it for A.I. You don't have to play the games if you want, but if people are willingly spending the time to play them, it works out for both groups -- the companies get the product in front of consumers and the consumer is enjoying themselves playing a game rather than frantically clicking off a banner.

Should they call it a game? *shrug* I don't really care. It fits the definition, and I think it's elitist to whine that it isn't. The post seems more like it's complaining that marketing is actually trying to engage people for once instead of glutting them with unavoidable ads. God forbid.

The truth is, marketing is a necessity -- to argue that it isn't a separate issue -- and people aren't sheep enough to watch a banner ad or a television ad. So marketing evolves. If it evolves in such a way that it's going to engage people and they enjoy the experience, then what's the crime? They might REMEMBER THE PRODUCT. Heaven forbid that happen.

It's not like this marketing campaign is tying people down and shooting them with heroin. They can walk away from the game. If they choose not to, it must be interesting to them, and if it's a promotion for something and they know this, what's the problem?

SNIKT!
#14 by mrbloo
2003-06-16 21:55:26
mrbloo2000@hotmail.com
You could change it to "funk dis" or "get the funk outta here" to avoid confusion.  They are both v. cool as well.

#15 by G-Man
2003-06-16 22:01:03
Television shows were originally created by advertisers directly. Compare and contrast.
#16 by Duality
2003-06-16 22:09:49
Dualipuff@yahoo.com http://stratoscape.ath.cx/
Didn't Majestic allow you to choose when and how you were contacted about the game?  I assumed it allowed the player to tailor it for their own playtime.
#17 by Your Friend
2003-06-16 22:19:19

I realize that doesn't make much sense now, in the context of the "paying good money to...." bit, so I'll quickly try to rationalize and justify my statement.

Tolls and Gas and Food and Taxes.


Yeah but this is an investment with an expected ROI by way of your pay being higher than the expenses.

Anyway this is a non-topic.  You can find 10,000 idiots who will do just about anything in this crazy world.

"Take Two needs to STFU imo." - G30rg3 Br0uzz4rd
#18 by UncleJeet
2003-06-16 22:20:56
No slight to Caryn, but very few "ideas" in marketing have ever made me think that any particular campaign was anything other than sheer common sense.  Occasionally a clever new marketing scheme will hit the world, but more often than not, clever in marketing is just another way of saying someone finally opened his/her eyes to what was painfully obvious.

I don't find marketing types to be the dynamic creative sort that many would like to think themselves to be.  Most of the marketing people I've met come in one of two molds:  a cookie cutter MBA with delusions of creative grandeur, or someone just shy of being the Real Estate mom you see on semi-reflective lawn signs at night.  (If your headlights hit them just right, you can reveal their demon form.)

That's not to say that there isn't clever marketing, because there is - but there's a difference between cleverness and common sense.  When Sega took up the call to be the "bad boy" of videogaming with the Genesis, it wasn't terribly clever.  The marketing just filled the niche of what was needed opposite Nintendo's squeeky clean family image.  Where's the beef?  Not.  Whassssup?  No, thank you.

Is this new Alternate Reality stuff clever?  I'd say yeah - it is.  Why?  Because it's new.  It's not just hammering a jingle into your head.  It's not just the result of pouring over endless amounts of demographics research data.  It's something clever because it's a new way that someone has come up with to get product into your head and keep it there - and, for the people affected by it, it works.

What about My Pal Mickey plush dolls?  These things are brilliant - and I say that not just because I'm a complete victim of Disney marketing.  These things are little plush Mickey dolls that you can buy for $50 or rent for $8 at the Walt Disney World resort in Orlando.  Sensors have been placed all around the resort, at each theme park.  As you walk around, say, the Magic Kingdom, Mickey will talk to you.  He'll chirp in with a bit of trivia about what you're standing near.  He'll tell you "insider" information about the ride you just exited.  He'll keep you entertained with triva about the ride you're in the queue for.  He'll tell jokes, play games, etc.  All of this is fine and dancy, and will make a goodly amount of money for the resort - but the real gold mine is in realtime, hard data on guest movements throughout the park.  For the first time, park management can follow, exactly, a single guest or party through the day through the entire resort complex.  Eerie?  Slightly, yes.  Brilliant?  Undoubtedly.

Granted, every marketing scheme wants to think it gets its product into your head and keeps it there, wanting to buy it - but let's be honest....would you stop drinking Coke if the company stopped showing those cute polar bear commercials at Christmastime?

The revolution will have mouse ears.

I'm fighting terrorism by playing violent video games!
#19 by G-Man
2003-06-16 22:28:45
Duality in #16 said:
Didn't Majestic allow you to choose when and how you were contacted about the game?  I assumed it allowed the player to tailor it for their own playtime.
It did. I played the trial and sort of enjoyed it mostly for the novelty of it. I chose to receive the phonecalls but you could opt instead to be sent emails with links to streaming mp3s. The reason people didn't play the game wasn't because it was too intrusive, it was just too boring. The "puzzles" weren't really puzzles at all. It was usually something like: Get an IM from an AI which doesn't respond to you telling you to go to a website. You go to the site and follow a link there. On the linked site you need a password to enter some portion of it, and the password can be found on the first site. Or you need to wait for an AI to contact you via IM/email/phone for the password. Rinse, repeat. Once you finish a few puzzles of this sort (which takes an hour or so) the game is basically put on hold untill the next day so you have little to do but wait.

The only really interesting bit of the game was the ability to contact other players. The game interface consisted of a sort of browser which displayed ten or so IM profiles, some of which were other players and some of which were game characters. I spent more time griefing the other players by pretending to be an AI than I did actually "playing" the game. I think if they had required more teamwork on the part of the players it could have made for a more interesting experience.

The reason why the AI (the movie) game was so popular was because the puzzles were genuinely very hard. I'm too lazy to browse for it right now, but there is an archive and explanation of the entire AI game out there of multiple sites. I remember reading about it before Majestic came out and being impressed. It reminded me of those web-based "hacking" challenges that used to be popular.
#20 by Duality
2003-06-16 22:35:34
Dualipuff@yahoo.com http://stratoscape.ath.cx/
I would like to see a game like that one hacking sim-type game using real Internet nodes running virtual / emulated Operating Systems.

I just thought of that idea.  I like it.  Someone go make it.
#21 by UncleJeet
2003-06-16 22:37:22
Ok.  I'll need some modelers, texture artists, level designers, some programmers, and a couple of testers, some content writers and, oh yeah, a sound guy.

I'm fighting terrorism by playing violent video games!
#22 by G-Man
2003-06-16 22:43:01
AI Game.

Hacking challenges.
#23 by Your Friend
2003-06-16 22:43:05

clever in marketing is just another way of saying someone finally opened his/her eyes to what was painfully obvious.


How is that different than other fields?  There are plenty of concepts in math, science and literature/poetry that seem painfully obvious once someone else has led the way.  That doesn't mean there was no talent or insight involved in being the first to discover and present the idea.

"Take Two needs to STFU imo." - G30rg3 Br0uzz4rd
#24 by Shadarr
2003-06-16 22:45:23
shadarr@yahoo.com http://digital-luddite.com
YF is just upset because his chosen profession is being casually denigrated.
#25 by G-Man
2003-06-16 22:45:38
Er... a better link for the AI Game.
#26 by Your Friend
2003-06-16 22:51:05
Eh?  Chosen profession?  I don't even own a single marketing book!

"Take Two needs to STFU imo." - G30rg3 Br0uzz4rd
#27 by Warren Marshall
2003-06-16 22:53:29
http://www.wantonhubris.com/
Eh?  Chosen profession?  I don't even own a single marketing book!

You don't say?

#28 by Matthew Gallant
2003-06-16 22:55:30
http://www.truemeaningoflife.com
#27 Warren Marshall
Eh?  Chosen profession?  I don't even own a single marketing book!

You don't say?

Whoa, look out Don Rickles.

"Underdog theme sampled in WuTang's WuTang Clan Aint Nuthin To Fuck Wit"
#29 by Your Friend
2003-06-16 22:56:06
I do say!

Don't you keep up with marketing?  You gotta act like you don't market.

It's like Sprite.  They spend millions of dollars a year on ads telling you that ads are worthless.

It's hip, it's edgy!

"Take Two needs to STFU imo." - G30rg3 Br0uzz4rd
#30 by Shadarr
2003-06-16 22:58:06
shadarr@yahoo.com http://digital-luddite.com
Eh?  Chosen profession?  I don't even own a single marketing book!


I was referring to your 'Crap job of stating the obvious.
#31 by Your Friend
2003-06-16 22:58:55

I was referring to your 'Crap job of stating the obvious.


Oh.  Yeah that's my job here.

"Take Two needs to STFU imo." - G30rg3 Br0uzz4rd
#32 by Dawn Keedik
2003-06-16 23:47:10
http://www.thedonkeyshow.com
Tolls and Gas and Food and Taxes.


Don't you mean BIZARRO Trolls and Gas and Food and Texas!

Putting Yours to Shame Daily!
#33 by Warren Marshall
2003-06-17 00:41:28
http://www.wantonhubris.com/
Whoa, look out Don Rickles.[/quote
So bitter.  Tell us another DNF joke, Matthew!  Those are always so warm and fresh ...

#34 by Warren Marshall
2003-06-17 00:42:01
http://www.wantonhubris.com/
urk -this- motherfucker!

#35 by Phayyde
2003-06-17 01:19:55
Don Rickles was (and may still be) brilliant.   His last name should be verbed when he dies.

Beat to fit, paint to match.
#36 by Funkdrunk
2003-06-17 01:27:36
jflavius@bellatlantic.net
#10 Chunkstyle
Damn, now Funk will have to start talking about Mario and Mickey.


Oh hell no!

Funk.

When the great lord passes, the wise peasant bows deeply and silently farts ~Ethiopian Proverb
#37 by Chunkstyle
2003-06-17 01:45:21
Drat.  I thought maybe we were all going to switch off.  I wanted to be Ryslin.

I like cheese.
#38 by m0nty
2003-06-17 03:26:10
http://tinfinger.blogspot.com
Caryn, the problem I have with this is that it blurs the boundary between games and advertising, and it could be the thin end of the wedge. If ARG takes off, I can easily imagine ARG-atyle product placement in MMORPGs, so that when you fight your way through the Temple of Leets, your reward is a +12 Lyre of Metallica's New Album Out In Good Record Stores Now (cue AVI). I don't know, maybe people wouldn't mind having $20 knocked off the price of Dungeon Siege 2 if it means they have to sit through a Windows Longhorn interstitial whenever they pick up one of the Seven Shards Of Billzebub. Personally, I like having gaming in one area, and advertising in another, but maybe I'm in the minority.
#39 by UncleJeet
2003-06-17 03:44:20
I seriously doubt that if any of that happened, m0nty, that we would see any sort of price drop.  The only time you lower a price is when you aren't selling anything.  If you are selling, the only change you make is to raise the price.

CD's will be cheaper than cassettes!  MIGRATE!  - I still haven't seen the savings.

CD-ROM's are cheaper to produce than floppies.  Game prices will drop!  MIGRATE!  - Bleh.

I wouldn't mind product placement in game - if it took the place of me having to pay for the experience.  If I have to plunk down 50 bucks, then if it's a MMORPG, another 15 or so a month - I don't really want to see Pepsi anywhere in it.  A consumer can only be raped so hard for so long until he starts to get a little sore.  Companies having their cake (my purchase price plus monthly fee) and eating it too (kickbacks from product placement) make my bitterness quotient rise.

I'm fighting terrorism by playing violent video games!
#40 by OmegaFoRCe
2003-06-17 03:48:27
I dunno, I could put up with "in-game" advertising as long as it fits in the game without taking away from it. Car ads on billboards in a racing game could be one way of advertising without taking the player outside of the experience. Like the original Need For Speed for example: all cars had their little videos showing how cool they were and had spec sheets about them. Game objects such as skateboards could have manufacturers names on them; perhaps make real-life MSRP and product details available during the item selection screens. The same idea could be applied to almost any X-Game sport.

#41 by Bailey
2003-06-17 04:32:39
It's probably worth noting that the first MMOG that tried this, Project Entropia, was an unmitigated failure. I think There! did something similar, and lower production values could be argued as something of a "success" in that regard, but we won't get any real feedback on the medium until a "good" game tries it.

I guess the real question is as to why I can't wake up with the gin already in me.
#42 by UncleJeet
2003-06-17 04:37:55
Like Nocturne?

I'm fighting terrorism by playing violent video games!
#43 by Your Friend
2003-06-17 04:40:27
Like Sims Online?

 Like Super Monkey Ball? (Mmmm Dole Bananas!)

"Take Two needs to STFU imo." - G30rg3 Br0uzz4rd
#44 by Bailey
2003-06-17 04:55:11
Valuing your opinions at the appropriate degree they merit.

I guess the real question is as to why I can't wake up with the gin already in me.
#45 by Mank
2003-06-17 05:12:50
*shrug*...Is this really any different that what the Movie industry has been doing for at least 10 years now concerning product placement on the big screen? Many recent movies have been partially funded by giving prime screentime to certain products in exchange for advertising dollars. Consumers dont seem to mind in this case, because it's not done in an in-your-face manner, but I'm having a hard time believing that people would willingly sign up for a game where they knew they would be subjected to continuous advertising...no matter how subtle or unobtrusive it might be.

I gotta agree with M0nty on this one. This really paves the way for possible abuse, and the entire gaming industry could suffer as a result. The gaming industry is still VERY young as a medium, and for advertisers to be this interested in games as a vehicle to promote their products doesnt bode well for the consumer. I mean heck, we're having trouble even now getting a good selection of worthy gaming titles on the shelves for gamers. For pete's sake, let the gaming industry mature for a few more years before you go experimenting with this in-game advertising shiznitz.

"A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep."
#46 by LPMiller
2003-06-17 05:37:13
lpmiller@gotapex.com http://www.gotapex.com
10 years? Newsflash, movies have been doing it for decades, and it's not exactly new to video games either.

I believe I can fly......urk.
#47 by Phayyde
2003-06-17 06:02:56
I'm enjoying a tasty Coca-Cola right now.  Coke, it's the real thing.

Beat to fit, paint to match.
#48 by CheesyPoof
2003-06-17 06:08:58
Is it addictive?
#49 by Phayyde
2003-06-17 06:17:19
Product placement marketing?  Yes.

Beat to fit, paint to match.
#50 by Phayyde
2003-06-17 06:18:45
Non-addictive Coke.  It's the sort of mundane thing.

Beat to fit, paint to match.
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