Nov 162011

Not the most concise title but I wanted to cover a bit of ground with it. I am leading a week long Multi Platform development residential lab next week in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales with some of the worlds leading mentors and Australia’s top projects – all linked to Screen Australia. This is followed by a one day seminar in Melbourne called ‘Idea to Market’ and top and tailing all of this, I have taken up the Executive Producer ABC Multi Platform TV role. More on each coming up.

054_Southern Highlands NSW Australia II 10 000 pixels wide!

Intensive Clinic

As you know last year I founded StoryLabs, a global transmedia IP development network, with 3 other individuals in Canada, US and UK. Then, new format funding body, Screen Australia who were looking for a very practical, production orientated rapid development structure for their Digital Ignition initiative, looked to StoryLabs.

Screen Australia has engaged transmedia collective StoryLabs to direct the first workshop, under the guidance of its key founder Gary Hayes. He is recognised as one of the foremost digital thinkers. An award-winning multi-platform producer, author, educator and director. The founding director of global multi-platform training initiative StoryLabs he has recently become Exec Producer of ABC Multi Platform TV. He was the director of AFTRS’s LAMP program for 5 years, was Senior Interactive Development Producer at the BBC for 8 years, and was a Social TV Producer in the US. Gary has designed and lead multi-platform/transmedia courses internationally and in Australia with AFTRS and Metro Screen. He also runs MUVEDesign (creating story based augmented reality, virtual worlds and transmedia) and the influential media and marketing site PersonalizeMedia.. Gary will be supported by up to eight high-calibre international and domestic experts.

“The Digital Ignition Multi-platform Clinic falls within the suite of support offered through our All Media Program, which seeks to ignite and strengthen digital understanding, expertise and activity within the Australian screen content sector,” said Screen Australia Investment Manager Mike Cowap. “We’re thrilled to be working with Gary and his StoryLabs network to make this as rich and practical a workshop as possible.”

Founder of StoryLabs Gary Hayes said, “We’ll deliver a highly structured program focused on all the important practical topics, including storytelling, user experience, design, technical, business and marketing. We’ll be using case studies and tried and tested exercises to hone participants’ processes, and ensure they leave with a tangible ‘bible’ and clear list of next steps for their project to get it off the ground.”

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Jan 272009

Seem to be in list/research mode at the moment and was looking for one place on the web that had a list of stats about the mix of male and females across the ‘game/virtual world’ space. I have actually found it useful to highlight many of the type of stats to clients who still believe console games, online ‘quest’ based games and virtual worlds are still the domain of twenty something, slightly overweight, couch potato, anti-social males. Nothing could be further from the truth. Read on, and in no particular order!

note: Cross-posted on MUVEDesign (my virtual world build site).

PDF report by Pew Internet. “Adults and Video Games”

  • More than half – 53% – of all American adults play video games of some kind
  • Independent of all other factors, younger adults are still more likely to play games.
  • Among older adults 65+ who play video games, nearly a third play games everyday, a significantly larger percentage than all younger players, of whom about 20% play everyday.
  • Gaming consoles are the most popular for young adults: 75% of 18-29 year old gamers play on consoles, compared with 68% who use computers
  • Computers are the most popular among the total adult gaming population, with 73% of adult gamers using computers to play games, compared with 53% console users, 35% who using cell phones, and 25% using portable gaming devices.

“Games Women Play” Sep 08 from the Edge

  • Online casual games bring in 150 million women every month– roughly half the population of the United States.
  • Nearly two-thirds of women casual players online are over 35.
  • Women play casual games 5 to 10 hours per day – significantly greater than the 7.4 hours per week by a survey by the Casual Gaming Association.
  • Competition, rather than simple relaxation or escapism, motivates them to play.
  • Female players who are 18 and older represent one third of the game-playing population while male players who are 17 or younger represent only 18 percent of casual gamers
  • Playing casual games is often the first thing women do after waking. They check their ranking and play for on average of 2 ½ hours every morning.
  • Women engage in trivia games with the family members but play action games alone.
  • Most women players are married or in a relationship and have children.

Online Gaming Popularity Grows Among Youngest and Oldest Female Segments in the U.S. ComScore report.

  • Significant user growth among teenage girls between the ages of 12 and 17 and women between the ages of 55 and 64.
  • Growth in the 12 – 17 age range was 55% compared to the total female online gaming audience rate of 27%
  • The over-55 age range grew 43%.

BBC 23 December 2008 “Battle of the Sexes”

  • It found that the most hard-core players are female, that gamers are healthier than average, and that game playing is an increasingly social activity.
  • Despite gaming being seen as a male activity, female players now make up about 40% of the gaming population.
  • The study (detailed link here from Wiley interscience) looked at gender differences in more than 2,400 gamers playing EverQuest II.

Industry Facts from Entertainment Software Association ESA

  • The average game player is 35 years old and has been playing games for 13 years.
  • The average age of the most frequent game purchaser is 40 years old.
  • Forty percent of all game players are women. In fact, women over the age of 18 represent a significantly greater portion of the game-playing population (33 percent) than boys age 17 or younger (18 percent).
  • In 2008, 26 percent of Americans over the age of 50 played video games, an increase from nine percent in 1999
  • Sixty-three percent of parents believe games are a positive part of their children’s lives.

Boy Gamer by Gary Hayes

Women Embrace Casual Games from RedHerring “Casual Gamers Anything But”

  • Spend as much as 20 hours each week playing their favorite games.
  • More than 70 percent said they play at night, and 58 percent have no children living at home.
  • Results from the Harris research reveal that 67 percent of the women over 40 who play games do so at least four times per week. Nearly half play every day.
  • Some 60 percent say they would rather play a casual game than talk on the phone or do projects around the home, while nearly 50 percent said they would rather play a casual game than go to a movie.

BBC 17 Sep 2008 “Online gamers are not unhealthy

  • The “couch potato” image of computer gamers is unfounded, with many in better than average shape, claim US researchers.
  • More than 7,000 players of the online game EverQuest II were quizzed about their health by scientists.
  • They found gamers’ body mass index (BMI) tended to be lower than the US average – with many taking “proper” exercise more than once a week.

Driving Force in Video Gaming: Women and Baby Boomers. Reported on PC World Aug 2008. IBISWorld claims that:

  • 38 percent of US gamers are women
  • The average player is 35 years old
  • 24 percent are over 50.
  • The percentage of female video gamers climbed from 33 to 38 percent in five years bolstered in part by Nintendo’s Wii, but also “interactive group games” such as Singstar, Rock Band, and Lips, as well as The Sims, The Movies, Nintendogs and NeoPets.

Demographics of the top 3 games on Facebook – from Bret on Social Games

  • Scramble which is the only game among the top three developers dominated by women(63%).
  • The age of Zynga players is spread more evenly among the three age segments, but with ~50% in the 22-25 age bracket.
  • Blake Commagere’s Monsters games also have ~50% of their users in the 22-25 age bracket.
  • They also have a fairly even male-female ratio.

Second Life demographics and usage – reported by Lost in Bananaverse

  • 83.79% of the population is 25 years and older, and the older users spend far more time in Second Life than younger users
  • Females spent nearly twice as long online in Second Life as males. Females make up 45.5% of the Second Life population.
  • Total user hours for April totaled 29,069,684 hours
  • Those 45 and older continuing to be the heaviest users on average.
    • 45 and older: 70.17 hours per user per month
    • 35-44: 66.06 hours per user per user per month
    • 25-34: 55.55 hours per user per user per month
    • 18-24: 37.84 hours per user per user per month
    • Teen grid: 24.67 hours per user per user per month

The demographics of World of Warcraft (useful but old 2005 data from Nick Yee)

  • The average age of the WoW player is 28.3
  • 84% of players are male
  • 16% are female. Female players are significantly older (32.5) than male players (28.0)
  • On average, they spend 22.7 hours per week playing WoW.
  • There are no gender differences in hours played per week.


  • 13 is the average number of years adult gamers have been playing computer or video games. Among most frequent gamers, adult males average 15 years for game playing, females for 12 years.
  • 59% of gamers play games with other gamers in person. This is a rise from 56% in 2007 and from 51% in 2006.
  • The average age of the most frequent game purchaser is: 40
  • 56% of online game players are male 44% are female.
  • What is the One Type of Online Game Played Most Often?
    • 12% Other
    • 47% Puzzle/Board/Game Show/Trivia/Card
    • 16% Action/Sports/ Strategy/Role-Play
    • 14% Downloadable Games Such as Bejeweled and Diner Dash
    • 11% Persistent Multi-Player Universe

Women are hardcore gamers from bNet in 2006

  • Electronic Arts’ casual game site draws 11 million unique users per month. Fifty-five percent of those are women.
  • On the subscription side, 75 percent of the more than 1 million subscribers are women over the age of 35.

Study: Women Gamers Outnumber Men in 25-34 Age Group – from GameDaily 2006

  • Consumer Electronics Association study found that 65 percent of women in the 25-34 age bracket play video games, while only 35 percent of men in that group said that they play video games. The key factor involved with these findings is the increasing popularity of casual games, especially among women. (These casual titles are typically found on web portals like Yahoo!, AOL Games, PopCap Games, EA’s and elsewhere.)
  • Women were found to be slightly less likely than men in the 25-34 bracket to play traditional console games on systems like PlayStation or Xbox.

Old (2000) but interesting item on ‘gender bending’ in games from

  • 6% of subjects play female characters for 25% or less of their gaming time
  • 24% play females for 26-50% of their gaming time
  • 15% play females for 51-75% of their gaming time
  • 42% play females for 76-100% of their gaming time
  • 12% did not answer this question
Sep 282008

Have we reached a tipping point – with many more user hours spent with games than films are they now more culturally relevant (as in our cultures are saturated with them)? With most films having ‘game-like’ story arcs and, at the last count, nearly 80 films with stories based on game titles in production I am starting to think so.

Game culture and their inherent stories are now absolutely mass media. In a low risk, and dwindling film business, creating stories around experiences that people have already spent 20-40 hours immersed in the story world, is a no brainer, so what we are seeing is a threshold now of game-like films but more importantly films based on games. Anyway more after the ten minute video – stick with it.

“Playing With Stories” THE CINEMATIC GAME. A Film by GARY HAYES

I am designing curriculum for cinematic games and virtual worlds at AFTRS but also doing another report on the market potential of this cross-media, gilm (game/film) landscape. In the process again I threw together a compilation video of notable examples (I know there are at least ten times this btw!) interspersed with tasty quotations. “The Cinematic Game” was initially designed to be a look at the cross-promotion and story development potential of this most powerful mixed-media marketing machine. But, during the process though I was staggered to see the number of major feature films in production based on new and existing game universes (listed in this post below and scrolling at the end of the video) – suggesting to me a tipping point.

Game story starts to lead film development?

TV and Cinema has already become much more of a background or escapist medium for larger numbers of media consumers. In homes around the world we are spending more time in online pursuits than glued to the content breaks, in-between the advertising slots of traditional TV. We are also immersing ourselves in the social and story ‘exploration’ of the current generation of PC and console games. So how will TV and Film survive in a world where social gaming and associated peer appraisal online is far more compelling? Also given the choice will we continue to passively watch the protagonist or ‘be/live’ the hero? It is interesting to see 8000 employee EA Games now developing major strategies whereby games are made to be easily adapted to comics, books, TV and Film. In the business week article “Morphing Video Games into Movies” they note how EA are trying to emulate small non-game companies have built mini empires on their ‘story IP”

The idea is to repeat the success of companies such as Marvel Entertainment (MVL) and Hasbro (HAS), which used their base of fans to transform from marginal companies into Hollywood players. After licensing Spider-Man to Sony Pictures for a string of hit movies, Marvel has created its own studio, with Iron Man and other films set for release this summer. The Hasbro-backed Transformers movie grossed more than $400 million in 2007 global box-office sales, which in turn boosted company sales of movie-related toys and games.

It is interesting to note that the music industry is also starting to ride the coat tails of the games world. Kotaku reported on a ‘run-in’ between Warner Bros. and Activision about Guitar Hero. Suggesting the music publishers should get more royalties from games that use music, Activision’s boss Bobby Kotick hit back at Warner’s and said the following (which implied as the Kotaku item said ‘Perhaps the record companies should pay us‘)

We’re going to favour those publishers that recognise and appreciate how much we can add value to their artists… in the case of those kinds of products, you should be paying any money at all and whether it should be the reverse.

Back to the main thread of the post, it does make you wonder how many screenplay writers are sitting in front of their XBoxPS3Wii’s looking for inspiration nowadays? Variety suggests that in fact ‘all’ games could be made into movies but I will be really interested in what kind of film comes from The Sims and already know the likely story arc of MassEffect having run through it a couple of times but many others on the list below will be of interest, especially World of Warcraft which has around 4000 story threads/quests – so which story will we be ‘offered’?Films of games have had a shaky past with only a few critical successes such as Tomb Raider, Silent Hill, Resident Evil (there are several on slide 75 of my game/story presentation below, that I did several months ago) but given the serious money and credible directors such as Landau, Lucas, Speilberg, Cameron, Jackson etc: plus a deep desire to properly reflect the integrity of the ‘interactive’ experience, the tide is turning. Being an avid machinima maker I know at first hand what it means to capture the ‘essence’ of game playing, adapt it, reflect it and, if you understand the culture of the game, interpret it – the good thing is A list filmmakers (as you can hear Peter Jackson say at the end of my video) understand it too.

I must again finish with a plug for a couple of unique courses at AFTRS and related to this post an article in one of its blogs RedSet called “What’a film, TV & Radio school doing offering courses in game design and virtual worlds?” makes the relevant point:

“AFTRS new game design and virtual world graduate diplomas will push students to go beyond the generation of clichéd actions and stereotypical characters, students of these new courses will be encouraged to step up and learn how to create meaningful interactive experiences for a variety of platforms informed by the expertise offered in all of the other creative disciplines taught at AFTRS such as directing, screen composition, screenwriting, sound design, production design and more. The field of game design and interactive experiences is equally as collaborative as the world of filmmaking, drawing together diverse specialists who together create the whole – writers, screen composers, programmers, animators, art directors – at AFTRS all of these disciplines are already housed under one roof – with a track record of cross disciplinary interaction and a staggering successful graduates.”

More about my video

A non-exhaustive compilation of story rich games or gamic films including in order of appearance: Contact, Indiana Jones, Heavy Rain, The Game, Burning Crusade, Max Payne, The Matrix, Heavenly Sword, Final Fantasy, Lord of the Rings, Ironman, Call of Duty 4, Simone, Rage, Tron, Bicentennial Man, SpiderMan 3, War of the Worlds, Tomb Raider, I am Alive, WoW Lich King, Indigo Prophesy, Jumanji, Desperate Housewives, Da Vinci Code, The Beach, Assassins Creed, Thomas Crown Affair, CSI, Halo, Resident Evil, James Bond, Sleuth, Afrika, The Godfather, The Cube, Narnia, Time Bandits, The Golden Compass, Half Life, Never Winter Nights, Silent Hill, Hellgate, Beowulf and interviews with George Lucas and Peter Jackson plus quotes from many film directors and games designers

My film contains some of the better hybrids, either films inspired by games, games inspired by films or just very rich cinematic, story or character rich games. I make no excuses that I have used a mixture of cut scenes as well as ‘real’ game play in the video – that is really to show where we are heading as game graphics continues to hurtle towards the real time equivalent of the likes of Beowulf and other ‘trickle’ rendered CG features. After the quotes and textual references from the compilation below, are more elements on this very exiting hybrid cross-story, cross-IP, cross-reality world.

I want gamers to be surprised by their own creativity. I want players to feel not like Luke Skywalker, but George Lucas Will Wright (Sims, Spore)

We’re way beyond the notion of game-as-brand-extending afterthought. Let the virtual world–the vibrant, living world that people inhabit–let that influence the movie. Let it feed back into the process and provide unparalleled riches and depth to what we’re doing
John Landau (Titanic)

Games are already good at creating fear, suspense, excitement, shocked surprise, and laughter. Much rarer are games that create genuine sadness … I have never cried during a videogame
Marc Laidlaw (Half-Life)

I think the real indicator will be when somebody confesses that they cried at level 17
Steven Spielberg

When I found out one of my guildmates had died, someone with whom I had fought monsters, explored exotic lands, shared moments of jubilation and defeat, I wept. In spite of having never met him, the knowledge that we would not continue the story together, brought me great grief.
Laurel Papworth

We had a notion to take the stars of the movies and have them play supportive roles in the video game and tell a story that is a companion story to the movies
Joel Silver (Matrix)

If done well, I don’t believe a videogame itself can detract from a film experience. Ideally, it would be a complement to the film and a way for fans to further involve themselves in a world once they leave the cinema
Peter Jackson, (King Kong, Lord of the Rings)

There are scenes that start in the video game and will complete the movie – ¦and fell like it’s a part and experience of the movie
Joel Silver (Matrix)

Games and MMOs in particular are providing such a sustaining experience that challenges us to make the theatrical experience better
John Landau (Titanic)

The next big emotional breakthrough in gaming is being able to tell a story that is consistent throughout the narrative. If the game is 15 levels, it’s just like 15 chapters in a story
Steven Spielberg

We’re trying to understand the language of the film, but diverge in ways that are right for the game medium.
Neil Young’ EA VP (Lord of the Rings)

Games sometimes can reveal things. To watch someone in movement, unconscious movement, can be very stimulating and revealing, whether they win or not.
John Turturro (actor)

People wonder why games don’t have the same emotional palette as movies. But that’s the wrong way to look at it. It’s like saying, ‘Why isn’t radio like reading a book?’ Games, inherently, have a different emotional palette, which is their strength
Will Wright (Sims, Spore)

Scroll at the end of the compilation:

FILMS BASED ON GAMES IN Development or Production 2008/9 (Wikipedia and IGN source)

Alone in the Dark 2
American McGee’s Alice
Area 51
Battle Royale
Biohazard: Degeneration
BloodRayne III: Warhammer
Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars
Citizen Siege
City of Heroes
Clock Tower
Cold Fear
Crazy Taxi
Deus Ex
Devil May Cry
Doom 2
Dragon’s Lair
Duke Nukem
Earthworm Jim
Eternal Darkness
Eternity’s Child
Far Cry
Fatal Frame
Fear Effect
Gears of War
God of War
Hunter: The Reckoning
Jagged Alliance
Kane & Lynch
Legend: Hand of God
Lost Planet
Mass Effect
Metal Gear Solid
Mortal Kombat: Devastation
The Neverhood
Nightmare Creatures
Ninja Gold
Paul Blart: Mall Cop
Rainbow Six
Resident Evil IV
Return to Castle Wolfenstein
Sabotage 1943
Silent Hill 2
The Sims
Soul Calibur
Sonic the Hedgehog
Spy Hunter
Street Fighter:
The Legend of Spyro
The Sims
The Suffering
The Unforgettable
Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell
Tomb Raider III
Warcraft (based on World of Warcraft)
Zombie Massacre

Mixed Reality Futures

As a lead into a post about to be published I have been talking for a couple of years now (The Mixed Reality Perfect Storm ) about the fantastic potential of the live and by implication shared TV experience to be enhanced by extending the world into online games. It is exciting to think where we will be in a few years once the ‘broadcasters & studios’ realise that keeping an audience involved in the ‘IP’/programme in-between airings or sequels is a good thing. Good for the story creators, the latent creative audience and of course advertisers who need eyeballs/hands/ears/minds and hearts.

A further afterthought there are several companies around the world developing Cross-Reality forms, one that I am heavily involved with‚ The Format Factory, are pioneering formats that bridge the space between compelling participatory TV/Film and online game worlds. They have a promotional video that metaphorically demonstrates some of the ’embedded’ world-within-worlds. A trailer video teaser for the mixed reality, inhabited TV formats being pioneered and piloted by The Format Factory.

Other posts on this topic:

ARGs in Virtual Worlds

 Posted by on May 27, 2006 at 10:21 pm  Add comments

Second Life ARGOk the title sounds a little ‘space cadet’ and paradoxical but bear with me on this one because the implications go way beyond the focus of this post which is a quick orientation and guide to non-scripted but organised ‘social play’ inside a virtual world and a great way to plan a Real World Alternate Reality Game – or run a special form one inside the vr world. As you may have read on my previous post “The Personalization of Second Life” there are a few shared, virtual spaces that are infinitely personalizable and customisable. Second Life is the leader in this area and so has become the focus of many activities that require represention – a sort of ‘real as it gets’ for doing real world-type things in – a place to create something representing the real world, our physical world. (As a tangent I personally believe we need to move towards creating new and non-representations of our real world as most folk in SL tend to midly enhance their RL existences, build precise replicas of the first life or a few enlightened ones are planning singularity! – I will not go into that rabbit hole as I posted about the Human 2.0 upgrade a few months ago).

Back to the post which in theory sounds complex. Inside Second Life people get paid for organising events and ARG puppet-masters will and should be part of that mix. We need to go beyond just concerts or dances or bingo – but whole in-world game-play, that has some sophistication and plays on the paradigms inherent in the space. Another rabbit hole of game within a game – but SL is not realy a game but a created society, which makes it ideal for what I describe below in the guide element of this post. So we have a real world in which to potentially do things with far more imagination but more importantly, at lower cost and more efficiently. It takes minutes to build a complex 3D structure and texture map it, hours to construct a building with multiple floors and seconds to travel anywhere. It is in this context and the imaginative aspects of this world that it dawned on me an environment perfect for alternate reality gaming.

Second Life ARG - streaming mediaI often think of ARG’s as similar in format to after dinner mystery games, a collaborative quest of a truth – but spread over months, and location. This is not to be derogatory about the form as real world narrative immersion can be profound and of course it goes deeper but it helps people get it. Borrowing from the earliest Greek mystery plays, theatre eg: mousetrap, 40s crime films, Hitchcock, 70s US cop TV plays, CSI, Lost, Da Vinci code, GoldRush etc etc “nothing is what it seems”. Form & genre evolved. Another way to describe them is to think of something like the X-files (which blurred reality and fantasy) played out in real spaces and media by the audience. A final stab at describing it – a search for the truth behind potential conspiracy, a quest for answers, a participatory game across many media types where lots of people help each other “get to the bottom of it”! It takes the mystery genre mixes in internet search and corporate culture sprinkles some console-like gameplay and adds a dash of real life constructs. The thing that seperates it from being a web quest is the physical element IMHO. So that is my version of ARG. There iare many and various definitions at wikipedia. But constructing any interactive service that requires a complex mix of story, multi paths and built, multiple, pre-rendered elements is hard work. MMORPGs, console games and web quests alike require a great deal of production planning and creation. It should be easy to recruit many folk inside SL to work together in creating ARGs (see below) that is part of the collaborative magic of the place. Making up a cross media game distributed across many platforms is a task not for the faint hearted. We have done a few very rough mini attempts as team building exercises at LAMP I run but they tend to be no more than murder mysteries with a few slim websites and real life role playing thrown in. The form needs a place where it is easy to create complex story structures and also have the real time element. So…enough preamble (yes I am typing this live into the wordpress box by the way!!) – even more worrying…

Second Life ARGSecond Life has all the raw ingredients for great Alternate Reality Game production and execution. FIRSTLY, though the basis on which all of this depends is that “the virtual space is regarded as being complete and of itself a self contained reality AND all participants have a shared perception of the space” – (note: participants who are agreeing to share a common narrative and not ALL residents yet). In other words, in this case, Second Life IS the world for the participants and everything that happens within it has no references (or shouldnt have) to the real world – the one your sat in now. This may be the paradox to some who would say that ARG’s by definition may contain a virtual game, not so here, this IS the world. So a fourth wall has to be created, the role playing by the characters in a piece has to be kept within the world, no references to the first world and so on. The challenge is getting everyone on the same song sheet – old SLifers have a completely different take on the world than newbies of course – and everything in between. More later. The story structure of the ARG must be closely aligned to the world of Second Life – because the narrative is suggesting something parallel or ‘alternate’ to the world, it should not also become too fantasy (more later). Because then we step into World of Warcraft, or Everquest territory – and that would be easy to do. No the story world here needs to play off the everyday world of Second Life (OK those who have not spent time here may think I have lost it or am reading way too much into, what many call a computer game…).

Second Life ARGNo Second Life is a very immersive and time consuming experience – it is both worringly addictive yet extends in the most compelling way ones “dreams & desires” – but I digress yet again. Themes that would be easy inside SL include conspiracies around property given the relative high cost of land. Others around the many locations and buildings in terms of history, and previous events that may have happened there. Much could be built into corporate take over, the large shopping malls and potential mafiosa regimes. There are many ‘real life’ characters inside SL(due to the fact that they are ‘in’ the world most days) that could be used as something to generate myth – these ‘regulars’ do in fact constantly role play as well so they could be used. Also as many activities such as building, lectures, dances, concerts etc take place – anything can be built to that. Another kind of theme which a few of us have been improvising around in public spaces already 😉 would be the bizarre concepts around a ‘revolution against the overlords that run Second Life’. Bear with me on this one – a kind of phythonesque, satirical, nonsense stab at the ‘system’ on which SL runs. Can the inmates take over the asylum, biting the hands that feed it, Neo escapes the matrix and so on. There are many themes to explore as the backbone of an ARG inside Second Life that do not need to resort to fantasy.


Second Life ARGSecond life has so many potential tools that designers of ARG’s inside it can draw on. It affords many things that are very difficult or nigh on impossible in the physical world, yet in SL are taken as granted. Here is a non-exhaustive list that from my experience so far could be used as virtual reality, alternate reality game tools.

Easy and always on communication: IM and chat is ubiquitous inside SL. So talking to characters in front of you and in parallel IM’ing distant ones is VERY easy. Also you can deliver out of band, in other words leave messages for others with guarenteed delivery – now think sms or even email in the real ‘global world and the multiple carrier, spam nightmare. This is where global players can instantaneously communitcate in-game.

Location, location, location: To get to anyplace in Second Life one simply teleports. This means the whole 200 000 people world can be readily explored and therefore distributed widely and not tied to a specific location. That is not to say one location could act as base with dense areas of gameplay.

Inter character exchanges: This is where any character can pass you objects, directions, teleportation coordinates, animations, notecards – the list goes on. A tool such as this really means clue discovery and passing stories between players is a breeze.

Grouping: To create teams inside SL is also very easy, and new members can be added on the fly. Members of your group can be tracked across the built in maps.

Orientation: SL has many ways to find things, people and know where you are. The built in search engine can point you at any person, event, place, object inside the world. So placing clues and red herrings etc: is also very easy. The mapping is incredible and zooming, scrolling across the many thousands of buildings combined with instantaneous teleporting on a double click means you can get anywhere from anywhere.

Second Life ARGScripting: It is incredibly easy to put script into objects in SL. I used some pre-compiled code last night and modified it to build a greeting object (one that talks back based on pre-set text input) AND an answer machine AND something that sends you notecards AND even got into scripting motion – so things can move to locations on input or follow characters. So bespoke elements can be quickly added into the mix.

Animation: Not an obvious element of the SL tool set to use, but well animated characters who are real life (inside Second Life) add to the sense of reality I think. Even though the character may look like Brad Pitt (just realised one of mine does a bit!) or some kind of cat woman, if the movements are fluid, then the world is all the more usuable and once immersed doesnt lead to sense of disbelief. True immersion should afford that. So get good skins (the texture around your avatar) and override (basic) animations using an AO (animation overridere) for your characters.

Identity: This is a great area to explore in ARG’s as characters avatars can change at the drop of a hat. In otherwords a surfer dude can change into an office worker in a split second in front of you (choose a rather ‘normal example’ for brevity!). But what that means is that one can really play on the ‘no one is who they seem’ mentality here. Great for conspiracy and diversionary tactics…

Virtual Cross-Media: SL allows movies and sound to be streamed via the web into the world onto screens and through objects – opening all sorts of possibilities. Also objects can contain sound bytes and have logic – so entering the right code into an object could produce a video on a large screen to appear, or a clue to be automatically sent to your inventory (the place where all your ‘stuff’ is held). There are virtual working radios, tv, phones (including ones that use the real world participants voice played through the character), obviously print, posters and so on. All the things a puppet-master (those who make traditional ARGs) would need 😉
Breaking the fourth wall: I would not do this myself but you can link to web pages – which boot an external browser – but dont go there.

There are many other tools believe it or not that I may add later when they become apparent…


Second Life ARGFinally one of the drawbacks of Second Life is that bespoke elements, objects and clues can only be placed on parcels (land) that the owner has allowed or placed there themselves. So in a distributed virtual alternate reality game (now that is a mouthful!) you will need a few recruits to both role play and allow physical clues or evidence to be pre-set. This should be an easy task as networks of like minded machinima, social design and others pushing the gaming element are easy to find inside SL, to communicate with and offer to help them in their pursuits – to reciprocate. Or as many do you can pay a small fee.


Without going too mcuh into the design process of a social game within a game-like environment primarily because I have things to do in real life now! The design of the game here should follow simple rules – test, do some test runs on virtual strangers to make sure they get some of the directional elements. Make sure that the real players have enough knowledge of the mechanics of the world (how to use it) so they are not locked out because they cannot work out how to teleport (as a simple example). Cover your backs – if a clue becomes to difficult to decipher make sure you have an alternate way for them to get to it, a character prod and so on. Then the design of the ARGamePlay – whether everyone has to get all clues OR some are given only to certain teams who have to work together OR more usefully a mix of both of those make sure the timing is carefully worked out. If some things are easier than others then you will have teams losing interest once they have done their bit, if things are too hard, they may give up. But these sorts of techniques are discussed elsewhere by far more capable people – this post is about moving the ARG into the virtual space both for easy of production and to use some create tool sets built in already. I/we will be creating a bunch of VARG’s (virtual alternate reality games) at AFTRS and LAMP and will keep you posted on how it goes which should dovetail with the machinima we are starting to play with. One of the real problems I can see (which many of you would have already spotted) is that the ‘way of life’, the grammar of existance inside Second Life takes a few days or weeks to grasp – and then the control mechanics too. To newcomers it is a confusing world and orientation is quite steep. So for an ARG to work well all participants must be fully ‘immersed’ and understand the shared space and so called SL normality – whatever that is. There are enough shared ground rules though for it to work in my opinion if the participant is given a week or so to be acclimatized.

As a post script: The point of this post as I suggested at the beginning is not just to talk about one kind of service creation inside a virtual space but to point out that once all parties are agreed that the ‘virtual world’ becomes THE world and nothing else exists outside it, many, many things become possible. Especially as I have been seeing already – the extention into things that are totally new and not representing our first life in anyway shape of form. But will leave that to another day. I am becoming more and more resistant to talking about the real world inside the immersive space as it truly inhibits real creativity – so if you see me in there at anytime, please be yourself 😉

Posted by Gary Hayes (Hazlitt) © 2006

Append: Looks like all great ideas come at once all over the world! Someone else with ‘ARG inside Second Life’ motivation no less than a day after this post 😉 – and who nicely refers back here. Cool – strength in numbers!