Alternative Reality Games are something which lies close to my heart. I used to be extremely interested in, say, darker parts of the internet, be them fictional or not. Marble Hornets (it’s more of a series, but it has strong ARG vibes), NOC+10 are just some of the media which I was more than happy to delve into them. They were the reason why I’ve decided to incorporate parts of ARGs into some of social media profiles I manage. I’d like to talk about 3 cases, two of which were pretty good, while one didn’t perform as well as I’d like it to.
The most important thing you need to know about game design
Games are generally based on a simple principle – there exists an issue of sorts and it has to be solved by the player. Solution should provide satisfaction, rendering the whole endeavour worhtwhile. While it’s an overly simplistic explanation, it is good enough for making ARGs in social media.
There’s a functionality in Fishing Clash, which, I suppose, all F2P games should have – giftcodes. They are simple, fun, engaging and players often actively search for them. Because of this, they make for a great and almost instantly gratifying mechanic, which seems to have a lot of potential as a reward. However, codes are pretty straightforward when it comes to using them, as they are simply strings of letters and numbers. I needed to introduce an obstacle and I opted for codes, ciphers and other ways of obscuring the reward. They are also prevalent in the world of ARGs, so it’s not really a surprise I decided to incorporate them.
Case One – Fishing Clash Morse Code Giftcode
Morse code is a thing of the past, but its peculiar look make it an easily recognizable format, while still being uninteligible for the vast majority of people at the first glance. This was my safest bet for the first of such posts and I was also quite comfortable with using a background which kind of looked like a radar or sonar (both technologies are present in fishing), not only making work for Rita (my colleague, who’s a graphic designer) easy, but also, due to colour scheme, paying homage to one of the coolest ARGs I’ve ever seen, called NOC+10. It’s a series full of marine motifs. The other thing is that the code gave 25 sonars, which are one of the most useful items in Fishing Clash. Here’s how the piece of content looked:
It generated almost 30k reach, had a high activity index and, simply put, was pretty fun for the people who decided to take part in it. Of course, there were some, who were whining, but it’s not really weird, taking under consideration the fact that F2P players are extremely restitutionary and often complain even when they are given new content and free stuff. The code was redeemed more than 30k times, which is an interesting insight on how the information spreads – the code was redeemed more times than the image was viewed, because FC players started sharing the code in their clans and in Facebook player groups unassociated with Ten Square Games.
Case Two – Fishing Clash QR Code
QR codes are kind of weird. I remember when they were starting to be a thing and were marketed as a cool method of augmenting reality. The thing is, though, that it didn’t really work out. I mean, when was the last time you scanned a QR code, or felt a need to scan it? Yeah, most likely more than a year ago. Still, they are, just like the Morse code, easily recognizable and figuring out what’s written in them is easy, so I asked Rita to provide a huge QR code with a CTA and Fishing Clash’s logo.
The code worked pretty well and, even though it didn’t have the the same reach and engagement as the post with Morse code, it was claimed more than 34k times. Aside from the CTA, I decided to kind of hint towards the possibility of it being a giftcode, by asking an open question in the copy.
There was also another giftcode, which I published a short while ago, and it used the NATO alphabet format. Code was redeemed 43k or 46k times, I don’t exactly remember.
Case three – failed ARG Wild Hunt
This was the most ambitious ARG-like project I’ve made as a professional up to date. There was an ongoing Chinese New Year event in Wild Hunt and dragons started appearing in the game. The man in charge of the project asked me to provide a social media post about the event, but little did I know he had some plans as well. The dragon event didn’t exactly specify where would the dragons appear. Unknowingly to me, he decided to insert a CTA into the game, which redirected people to the post I made and it was encouraging them to share info on where to find the dragons. It was a pleasant surprise for me, since it generated a pretty big peak, leading a few hundred people to like the fanpage and actively share their findings.
Seeing how the post performed, I was asked by the Wild Hunt team to cooperae with them during the grand finale of the event, and I gladly accepted. We came to the conclusion that, because the dragon king Ilchulong will appear during the finale, we should share some tips on where and when to find him. He was going to appear in Colorado, on of the ingame locations, so we’ve decided to share these statements as hints:
- water (there’s a river in the location) written in Morse code,
- any bait will do (the game has a special mechanic – players can use bait for specific animals to appear more often, but any bait would increase the chance of Ilchulong appearing) written in hexadecimal code,
- sandstone (there’s an orange canyon in the location) written in Caesar’s Cipher with a shift of 9,
- tomorrow (hints were to be released a day before the event finale) written in Mongolian.
The post with a QR code leading to the first hint was posted on Wild Hunt’s fanpage and… It flopped. The hardest part for the people wasn’t figuring out what was said in the post, it was interpreting it. I’ve included a link to another clue, but it was also coded in Morse code. And It had a dot and a forward slash in it. Dots and other punctuation markers, ironically, aren’t really used in the Morse code, so people got stuck on the first clue. Some of them wrote about water in the comments, so I posted two missing clues in order to save the ARG the day after (I skipped the „tomorrow” one, since it would be obsolete at the time). Surprisingly, they were able to figure the Caesar’s Cipher out, but never got the message about the baits, since they apparently didn’t know what hexadecimal code is.
The other thing is that the post didn’t provide a saisfying conclusion, especially due to the fact that people still had to hunt the dragon themselves. And it was pretty hard.
ARGs are a fun and creative format for the social media. However, when you’re making them, make sure that they aren’t overly hard and that they provide a satisfying conclusion. How would you conduct a mini-ARG for your brand? Share your ideas in the comments below.