ARGs Are Dead, Long Live nuARGs

14 08 2008

It gets tricky when you’ve been conferencing for three days, when it’s sunny outside, to muster the energy to get to that last session. So it’s a testament to the high quality of Margaret Robertson’s ‘Why You Should Care About Alternate Reality Games’ talk that, even though I arrived late, I was riveted until the end.

The crux of the talk was this: ARGs are cool, but they’re only cool for a very small amount of people. So, although they’re cool, they’re not really doing much other than that. The engagement curve is often referred to as this:

But there’s actually a steeper drop off, since the amount of people willing to decode complicated puzzles or actually go out to the countryside/desert to look for a buried cube/Land Rover is, unsurprisingly, not very many. In fact that amount can often be in the low tens, making the graph above look more like this:

So what do nuARGs do differently? “They’re overt, and there are no puzzles.”
They last, and they’re creative and playful. no over complicated puzzles. They stick around so that others can enjoy them after they’ve happened. E.g., World Without Oil. Archives and views mean you can go back and see the story unfold.

Margaret gave lots of great examples, some old and some new. One that I particularly liked was Kingdom Of Loathing. You can get objects that you pick up in the game actually sent to you in the post (for a price).

With nuARGs, even the people who haven’t played (or don’t have the time to) can see what’s going on and enjoy being part of it as a witness. There’s added kudos for the people who crack the codes that progress the story for everyone, the benefits are shared.

The talk finished with a view to the future, Robertson putting it out there that location based gaming is the next big thing. But it’s important not to make the mistakes of old ARGs and exclude people by relying on them being kitted out with a certain level of technology in order to play the game.

(CC image by przemion)



4 responses

14 08 2008

KoL – Kingdom of Loathing in SO AN ARG!!!! It is an RPG – role playing game.

14 08 2008

I’ll second Pixie’s comment. I’ve played and made many ARGs. I’ve also played KOL and many other RPGs. KOL may have used an ARGlike technique by mailing out real world items, but that doesn’t make it an ARG. Parker Bros could send a guy in a Mr Monopoly costume to the front door of everyone purchased the board game, but that doesn’t make it any more than just a board game.

14 08 2008

Gah! “everyone who purchased”. Silly iPhone and it’s tiny screen!

15 08 2008

They are fair comments PIxie and varin, I didn’t mean for the article to claim that Kingdom Of Loathing was an ARG. It is clearly an RPG. In my opinion though, a game that makes real the objects that you find within it has it’s (the game’s) reality augmented, kind of making it an ARG at that point (or in Margaret’s words a nuARG) despite it’s style of play or genre.

I think a more ARG-like thing for Monopoly to do would be to park a giant silver top hat outside someone’s house and get them to try and get £60 off it.

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