An alternate reality game (or 'ARG' for short) is an interactive story that makes use of various media including websites, blogs, videos and the 'real' world itself (remember that place beyond your screen?)
ARG-specialist Patrick O'Luanaigh describes them as "fascinating puzzles which drive a large community of players forward, revealing the story, and eventually reaching a big finale." As the former Creative Director of SCI/Eidos responsible for games like Tomb Raider Legend, and currently CEO of nDreams Ltd, he should know.
TechRadar, keen to know more ourselves, quizzed him a little more.
"Essentially, they're a very exciting but challenging new form of media, still in their infancy. They've only been around for seven years, since 'The Beast' was launched to promote Steven Spielberg's movie "A.I".
"But they're growing fast – the biggest ARG in the last 12 months, Vanishing Point, cost around $2.5 million, and involved a huge video sequence on the water fountains at the Bellagio Hotel in Vegas as well as a prize of a trip to the edge of space.
A panel including Dan Hon (CEO, SixToStart, and former director of Mind Candy), Alex Fleetwood (Producer, Hide & Seek festival), David Varela (Writer/producer of Perplex City and producer at nDreams) and Yomi Ayeni (director of Expanding Universe, a new ARG developer) who have been involved in major ARGs over the last few years, plan to explore the future for this varied genre at Edinburgh.
iPhone and GPS-enabled gaming
"We'll be looking at issues such as business models – most ARGs are currently funded by advertisers at the moment, so we're all keen to look at various routes for creating stand-alone commercial ARGs. We'll be talking about why some ARGs are hugely successful (reaching millions of players who watch videos, browse websites, visit real-life locations and follow the twisting puzzle trails for many months), whilst some sink without a trace."
O'Luanaigh is particularly keen to talk about the iPhone and the rise of other GPS-enabled handheld devices, "which provide very exciting possibilities for future ARGS to base gameplay on knowing where players are. The recent book Halting State by Charlie Stross has been very influential in this growing community, as it highlights a thrilling vision of where ARGs might be in the future."
It's the fact that there are influential people there from so many different industries, and from such a diverse number of companies. For me, that's priceless – I don't get to mix with TV execs anywhere else!
Meeting the fat controllers
O'Luanaigh is a big fan of the Edinburgh Interactive Festival, mainly because there are "influential people there from so many different industries, and from such a diverse number of companies. For me, that's priceless as I don't get to mix with TV execs anywhere else!"
And finally, where does he stand on the 'are games art?' debate?
"Yes they are. Bioshock from last year is a great example. Ico is another good example... The stunning, unique worlds that they have created, the feelings they produce and the rich storylines combine to make something that I'd definitely call art."
If you want to know more, you can hear Patrick speaking more on Alternate Reality Gaming at this month's Edinburgh Interactive Festival.