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MMO Money Magazine

Writings on the business of fun: Virtual Worlds and Real Money Makes Online Gaming a Big Business. My economic view on the world of online games - without the hype.

Author: Inktomi

Are Alternate Reality Games the Future MMORPG?

Posted by Inktomi Saturday July 18 2009 at 9:42PM
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 There is nothing like a good book on a sunny summer day, ice-t glimmering in my glass while I ponder the future in cloudless skies.

Ahhh, life is good.

I just finished reading Charles Stross’ Halting State, a 2007 spy-fi thriller that I would recommend as a gamer ‘have-to-read’. Set in Scotland, year 2K++; the main protagonist Jack, a 20-something, brilliant computer programmer, who gets recently fired and soon is arrested for drunken disorderly conduct in Amsterdam. Not surprised. Stross quickly builds into the game anthology as a leading software company’s virtual bank is robbed by, who would have thought, a band of orcs. While the author makes references to past video games while showing us a grim future of technology.

A very interesting array of new technology is displayed, from driverless taxis (that is not so far fetched), virtual keyboards, cell phones that do EVERYTHING and glasses that enable you to see into alternate reality. Actually the scary part is that the police have their own “Copspace” alternate reality while civilians have “Zone Technology” that runs off both their phones and hi-tech peepers. The police have live recording technology and cameras are placed everywhere, which sounds very 1984ish if you ask me.

As the story unfolds we see the female counterpart to Jack, Elaine, a young LARPer (live action roleplayer) who has been playing a game called SPOOKS. An ARG (alternate reality game) that puts players in the role of an Agent or Spy, Elaine gets creepy phone calls in the middle of the night to drop off DVD’s on strangers doorsteps. I found this very interesting since I always liked playing a good spy game from time to time. I played Deus Ex for a bit (now where is my copy?) and even have a copy of Uplink: Hacker Elite when I’m feeling really naughty. Both cheap games that will quench your thirst to become the ‘Spy who loved me’, or if you are the more hack’n’spy type, spies from Team Fortress 2 recently got a major overhaul.

Can anyone remember an old 1993 Bullfrog game called ‘The Syndicate’ that reportedly would call your phone at one point of the game, that’s rumor not confirmed. The Syndicate is being worked on currently by Starbreeze Studios for an upcoming EA release.

Also a little bit o’ googling and I discovered the BBC’s best kept spy secret, Spooks or also known as MI-5. The award winning spy-themed television show that has been running on British TV for 7 years now, while we are stuck with American Idol. )X

Unfortunately, there are no “Spy-themed” mmorpgs as of yet, which brings my attention to The Agency, due to be released in 2010. The Agency puts players in the role of an elite secret agent. Create your own agency and collect your own operatives while trying to shoot up other agents that are trying to disarm teh bomb that’ll blow up the world, or kill 10 rats and bring it back to the captain.

Remember playing Cops and Robbers as a child? You were playing an ARG. If you in the mood for some cops’n’robbers mayhem you might want to check out the upcoming games, Crimecraft and APB.

There was a few MMORPG themes in the book that I did like a lot, for instance all the different game shards are connected. The economy is connected and so is your magic loot that you can keep close to your heart by way of digital keys on your cell phone. Now you can never leave home without your <Force Reactive Disk>. Another concept is being able to keep your online persona visible by (gasp) digital implants or by your cell phone via 'Zone Technology'. At a convention players could see their surroundings and persona as being 'ingame' via glasses or goggles. Who doesn’t want to walk around in their orc suit 24/7?

Where am I going with all this, simple. MMORPG’s and RPG’s are set up to put the ‘player’ in a specific world outside of reality. Right, we know this. But what if the future gaming companies can finally break the mold of the mindless button mashing and controller humping to a more interactive state? While game publisher and designers blur the financial lines by changing to the micro-trans model, they should be trying to get players more immersed in their gameplay from the start.

The game that has got the internet abuzz, or at least their forums is Funcoms ‘The Secret World’ due 2012. Set in a real-time, modern setting Funcom has released an aggressive marketing plan for this upcoming game. From the start they got the online community involved with viral tactics, it started with an announcement. Then a cryptic website that has a ticker rolling off in some secret language, a creepy email sent to you followed by an online puzzle. And that if it wasn’t for the forums, I would still be figuring them out. Still to this day, players are still poring over photographs uncovering clues and trying to solve puzzles related to The Secret World. This is a game in itself!

Dream with me here, if we can connect the Wii controllers with Microsofts ‘Project Natal’ and put it all into the FC’s “Secret World” we might have the game of the century. That could ultimately be the…dun, dun, dunnnn…

Wow-Killer!

Ok, ARG’s might not be a wow-killer now and just a good way to market an upcoming product. But it did spark some interest in me, so I talked to my girl wiki about it. She said that along with the ‘Secret World’ there are some older ones, like The Beast, a popular ARG created by Microsoft designers to market the movie AI: Artificial Intelligence. There was also Halo 2’s I love bees and currently one is running on Playstations Home called Xi.

There are whole societies of people who enjoy playing roles and find entertainment in being personally involved in certain games as a type of actor or actress, there is a renaissance fair here yearly in Upstate New York. Some games require solving puzzles or completing specific tasks while in that role; live games that conjoin reality and sometimes blur the lines. Some common forms are LARPing (live action role playing), civil war reenactment and even cosplay is a form of ARG.

I remember when I was a wee youngster, riding around on scavenger hunt stealing lawn ornaments and signs. What trouble I would get into caught riding down the block with a pink flamingo under my arm. Hahahaha, I was playing an ARG and didn’t even know it. If I knew better, I would have stopped then.

If anyone knows of a good ARG going on currently let me know, I like to break the monotony every now and again.

Until then…

Play safe,

Ink

Senadina writes:

I believe the British spy show is MI-5, not M-15. It is the codeword for their government branch, kinda like FBI or CIA. They have MI-6 etc... Think it means "Military Intelligence".

And you really depressed me with the info that "The Secret World" isn't set for release until 2012! I can't wait that long...aargh!

Sun Jul 19 2009 2:00AM Report
Inktomi writes:

 Y'know what, I thought something looked funny when I was watching the youtube videos. Fixed!

Yes, I'm not too happy about 2012 either, and I hope the world doesn't end 3 days after release.

Sun Jul 19 2009 4:47AM Report
ghstwolf writes:

ARG is difficult.  Phone calls/texts, emails, cryptic clues on forums (not just their forums either) would be hard to do for 1000's of players long term at least as a major game component nearly impossible with current designs.

A game that truly breaks the forth wall, spilling out into the real world is a major risk.  You open yourself up to lawsuits, as some idiot will eventually kill someone else and blame the game.  Being fast moving and running everything through legal is an oxymoron (at least if you're doing anything interesting).

Don't get me wrong, I really dig the idea.  Being sent GPS coordinates to a local monument and some sort of cypher to recieve a message would rock.  Using books in this way would be alright too but it would have less impact IMO.

Mon Jul 20 2009 11:57AM Report
Inktomi writes:

 It would be like playing National Treasure in realtime. I understand the risks legally of a large-scale arg, people always have to take it to the extreme. However, I'd be happy with using motion detection technology and wii controllers. The only risk would be huriting myself,  which I would probably do. lol

Thanks for reading.

Mon Jul 20 2009 1:27PM Report

MMORPG.com writes:
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