In light of the new Overwatch ARG, I decided to look at two ARGs from the past, and talk about why I don’t like them as a whole.
What is an ARG, you ask?
An ARG is an Alternate Reality Game, and is usually supplemental material to a popular game where players discover a puzzle in a mixture of real life and in-game secrets. The two examples I will be using today are from the games Oxenfree and the Binding of Isaac. ARGs can be a fun experience, but if you use them wrong, like Binding of Isaac did, you might as well slather yourself in honey and jump into the nearby company bear pit.
Oxenfree is a supernatural thriller game by Night School Studio. It revolves around a couple of teenagers who end up riling up the neighborly supernatural beings and have to go on a good ol’ spooky adventure. The ARG was about unlocking the true ending for the game, and started with in-game secrets, which led to a telephone number, and so on. The game was released in January, and the ARG concluded on June 11th.
This might sound pretty normal, but honestly I think the Oxenfree ARG is the best that will ever exist. Being a niche game, there were only 100 or so people working on the puzzles, and the puzzles led neatly to the end. The developers would drop hints regularly if the ARG-ers, as I will now call them, were on the wrong goose chase, or questioning the significance of a graphical error that pops up two-thirds of the way through the game. The point is, it went off without a hitch, and added to the story in a meaningful way. I might, under heavy duress, even say that it gave people closure and was an important part of the game.
Binding of Isaac, Rebirth
I have always, and will always be a fan of Binding of Isaac, but the ARG I am about to explain left such a bad taste in my mouth it salts every other ARG I’ve seen. This ARG goes along with a DLC (you pay money to get more content). Right at the beginning there were issues. Binding of Isaac is not an easy game, and people who play it like two things: more content, and acknowledgment from their parents that they are good at something. Just me? So imagine the player’s surprise when a DLC advertised as adding 100 or so new items to the game added 46! It was like Elvis came down from above offering you join him in the ultimate party and then slapped you in the face with his stupid hair.
Angry comments and death threats flew through the air like nuclear bombs, and the development team, who obviously took a couple of days off after working on this game for the last 6 months of their life, were none the wiser. Claims of taking the money and running were rampant, and the player base destroyed. I can really just imagine the devs coming back and letting out a weary sigh with a shrug looking at the mass of screaming people conglomerated into the worlds angriest meatball.
Well, here’s the thing: there were 100+ items, but some were hidden by an ARG. The ARG was time-locked so it would start after a certain amount of hours, which, as a joke, was the same amount of time it took for people to unlock the biggest secret of the last game, by looking through the code.
From here, the ARG was alright. The problem was that people weren’t doing the ARG for fun, they wanted their promised items ASAP. Fueled by rage, about 1,000 people were all combing the game and internet for anything secret related to the ARG. Everybody who thought they found a clue but didn’t was chastised and kicked out of the club. The ARG lasted less than a month.
I don’t get why people make ARGs. The idea is to bring the community together, but god forbid you screw up at all, or that community will be brought together against you. If I were you, which you should be glad I’m not, I would rather take a chance with the bears.