TV Un-Festival: Hazel Grian, John Williams – Alternate Reality Games

Alternate reality games. History is it was a marketing tool.

Meigeist, partly funded by HP, corss-media narrative, takes place on- and offline. Puzzles for people to solve, and they have to get otgether to get hte next part of the story. Need diverse players. Games like ILoveBees are complex puzzles that need people with diverse interests to solve it. Get passionate online community to solve it.

Story is a scifi one, but set in as much reality as possible. Totally free – funding was from Film Council and HP and other bodies. Eight week run. Main characters had own blogs, Eva McGill, main character was a student who finds herself mixed up in this extraordinary world. Video blogs, backdated to give it history. People could email Eva and she would email back. Level of interactivity was really high, lots of personal contact which people really liked. Answered messages, comments, sent things in the post, had an eBay auction of a toy that had a clue. Had as many platforms as possible, Live chats, set a task, mission is to help the main characters through her problems where she’s starting to have strange psychic happenings in her head. Players made films, and were rung up on the phone, asked to perform tasks, also received SMS messages although US people had a problem with that. Main thing was to keep up the level of interactivity – we could do that because we were doing it full time, role playing, and doing improvisation.

Had a live event in Bristol, had the actors hired for the day, did a mock symposium, had little adventures with the characters in town, so the players got to meet them in person.

Also had a sense of humour, so did characters who were investigating paranormal activities, based in Radstock, but their function was to be like the players to that they could drop hints, a bit like the Greek chorus, emphasising the key points. Developed another game using them.

Most impressie things is the communities that get involved, people from all round the world play. It’s not just 15 year old boys – 50/50 split m/f, age 14 – 47, all getting involved and sending emails. Different levels of interaction, so had lots of different ways to interact depending on people’s own comfort zone. 30,000 unique IPs logged. Want to look into demographic more in future, because it was using platforms everyone uses every day, you didn’t have to buy a different bit of kit or learn new skills. One of the key players was a woman called Sylvia from Ohio. Had a few thousand that gave contact details and about 50 people who got really involved. Quality not quantity.

Cost of project was £30k, for ten month project with two people.

People worked together through a forum. That was set up so that people could collaborate there and that was the hub of how they could communicate. Work people do is amazing. is a good place to start.

Q: What has the most successful ARG?

Well, lots are for marketing, so ILoveBees for Halo, but how do you class its success? Difficult to say how successful it was because it’s hard to say what the aim of each ARG is. Ours was very successful by our own aims, but it didn’t sell anything. We weren’t pitching it that way.

Q: Has it broken through to the mainstream?

Q: PerPlex City, by MindCandy, was bigger, company made quite a bit of money as people could to buy merchandise.

Doesn’t exist any more though. Made a lot of cash from merch, got a lot of investment and sponsorship, but caused so much pressure on MindCandy that it split them apart.

But we didn’t get any bad feedback at all – it was just “the best thing” that the players had done for ages.

Q: I played it, but you didn’t mention yet, the real-time chat channel by IRC, even just 5 – 10 people, but that was the heart of it for me.

Saw that as well, it was nice when something was released in the chat that there’d be a lot of buzz.

Q: Were you in the channels?

We were but we’re not going to say who we were.

You want to know what the audience things, and you have a live feel, you can see what people are thinking and feeling, it’s almost like stand-up comedy.

Q: In reference to early question, one successful one is CourtTV – it’s a story over 14 days of a woman who’d found her husband cheating on her, and it was a story that lots of people followed, but not a game. Another over, proper ARG, 8 days, 30k people playing, 6k got the solution right, all using online materials etc.

Looking now at Geocashing and Geodashing – augmented reality games.

Q: At the moment you are creating things ad hoc, would you imagine in the future would there be a more high-level thing that controls is, so you could create a website that is more automated?

Problem is the more you automate it, the more personal it is. If it’s really chatty, and personal, then it’s a whole different game, autoresponders are a bit cold.

Hazel is a writing on Kate Modern, a Bebo promotional thing. Getting that level of interactivity is interesting, all has to be answered online all the time. New level of this. What’s also interesting is how you fund, sponsor, set up these things. Should the BBC be commissioning these things? Same people as LonelyGirl15.

Technorati Tags: