By leveraging social media as a sort of game board... developers can attract a diverse audience and produce unique interactions between the players and the game elements at a lower cost of production.
The most common emerging transmedia product is the Alternate Reality Game. Verbotenous is NOT an ARG; it's instead an Integrated Reality Game (IRG) and although they both rely on transmedia elements to function there are critical differences. The most obvious is the making and using real world objects to further the story. Let me also describe what makes a game an ARG beyond just using multiple platforms for the experience.
Although there is some debate over the defining characteristics of Alternate Reality it tends to settle around the following basic ideas. The story takes place in real time across multiple platforms and evolves in response to player activity. ARG's shape the story through the use of NPC's (Non-Player Characters) and how they interact with human players.
IRG is more like the classical Dungeons and Dragons in that the story exists in a fantasy world with dominantly turn based rules. Those rules set the conditions for all players whether controlled by game designers or not. Both use a human to control the narrative rather than software. However, the deeper goal of any IRG is to develop real world talent and skills in the players.
It's more reality in the game and less game playing in reality. For example, unlike ARG it is strictly forbidden to use artificial random numbers in IRG. PC's just don't make the cut for natural randomness. For similar reasons Casinos still use real dice for big money games. A key element is to transfer as many real numbers into game play as possible. As much real world capitalism as makes sense for the story because it's ultimately the character stories and world they weave that an IRG produces.
Dice or flip a coin or radiation off a decaying chunk of Uranium is fine...but the use of any artificial means to generate a random number for any reason will corrupt the essence of any Integrated Reality experience. The easiest way to keep the game honest is to use a double blind die roll where the Game Master rolls and the user rolls and if the number the user rolls is within variable range of the GM's number then it passes. This at least guarantees one truly random number in the exchange which is enough.
IRG is sometimes mistaken for Mixed Reality where real world objects are part of a virtual reality experience; but is more focused on the results of using real world resources. In IRG real world tools aren't props. Instead, they are a necessary part of overcoming challenges and producing results.
In an ARG players "interact directly with other characters, solve plot-based challenges, and collaborate as a community to analyze the story and coordinate real-life and online activities". The rules are almost always unknown to players and are discovered through playing the game. I find this too arbitrary so Verbotenous has clear rules right from the start and all of us must abide by them, even the game designers.
This doesn't mean all rules are known to all players at all times. It simply means that as players advance into new sub-plots the rules are made clear as needed to play properly and they can be reasonably confident that those who came before them had to contend with the same conditions. Fair play. An IRG is more role playing heavy; the mystery is in the narrative not the functional experience. Clear rules are the foundation a player builds strategy and style upon. ARG leaves far too much to the whims of the "Puppet Master" in my opinion.
Integrated Reality takes the classical approach of using a Game Master rather than a Puppet Master because the world elements are the record of player activity. The player activity manipulates the game conditions shared by other players and game elements. Gaining levels and inventory; unlocking secrets and opportunities through decisions that effect every outcome. Out playing others by making smart choices; earning more and experiencing more premium content.
Play More...Don't Pay More!
The payment model for ARG tends to be promotional or rely on merchandise. Selling collector cards for example while the actual game remains free to play. Like making a movie where the toy sales are intended to eclipse the box office. This is why ARGs tend to be favoured by big studio's interested in a new way to advertise. Somewhere down the line is a product to sell on a platform they already have content for. The game is secondary.
IRG corrects this conflict of interest by using the Paywall publishing model to generate revenue. Critical game elements are placed in a platform where revenue is generated simply by a reader...reading. For Verbotenous we used Medium's Publisher Program to launch our own publication at verboten.ca. Again similar to D&D where you would buy a library of supplementary content to enhance the game. However, instead of purchasing a new book one simply reads a new article and we are paid automatically.
Monster manuals, devices, magic, anything that might make sense in the game world will require descriptions and rules and instructions for use. When a player needs these they read the documents and generate revenue for our Studio at the same time. It's passive income; yet significant enough to justify spending money and time on more content for the game. In theory there is no limit to what might be produced and made available to players. Unlike a traditional video game, we don't have to spend 90% of our budget on the technology. We can focus on the story.
No checkout. No credit cards. Just enjoy your Medium account as you always do and we'll take care of the rest. By using something like Reddit to centralize the plot Verbotenous doesn't require the use of telephones or email to pointlessly divide the content. We're publishers and we prefer a game that benefits from a thousand years of publishing success. We draw content from all related platforms across the web and link out as needed. When a player needs to go into the "real world" for something they can do so in which ever way works best for them and return the result to our main stream.
It's about imagination. The words are the substrate on which we produce our best ideas. We write to know what we think. The skills of its players; the opportunity to work in fields of interest that the real world just didn't provide. This is a unique opportunity to be something else. Integrated Reality is about writing fantasy to make something real. ARG is about using something real to write a commercial fiction.
Verbotenous is Canada's first mature Integrated Reality environment running across Reddit and beyond. Our business model is stable and doesn't interfere with game play. No up-sells or treasure boxes. No paying to unlock secrets or power up your character. All you have to do is play and before you know it...the fantasy becomes reality.
Are you Verbotenous enough to give it a try?