Beast was first prototype of web-based storytelling

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by: Lynette Webb

I’ve been thinking about the “web as platform” trend recently. A lot of the focus so far has been about online storage or web based applications/desktops (eg: google docs, nivio, etc etc). But there’s another aspect which is the web as a storytelling platform. I think this quote is fascinating and gut feel I agree – The Beast (and other alternate reality games of its ilk) are prototypes for the future of web-based storytelling.

For those unfamiliar with it, The Beast was an online game to solve a mystery that was run as a marketing campaign for Spielberg’s film “AI”. It was an early example of “alternate reality gaming” (ARG), although to me the term ‘game’ as a describer is a bit of a misnomer. They’re not shoot-em-up’s, they’re not about creating avatars or using joysticks etc. They’re more like stories, in which you pretend you collude in pretending are real – hence ‘alternate reality’ – but that you collaborate and interact with via usual communication channels – be they web, phone, whatever.

There’s a really insightful article about ARGs and storytelling and why they’re different to other forms of games here: – it’s worth reading. (It’s also where the quote comes from).

For more info about the Beast, the game lives on in memory at the Cloudmakers site although it’s not really in a story form (years back there used to be an essay version of it but I can no longer find it – if anyone still has the link, please let me know).

Photo via Flickr CC thanks to Oimax

PS: There was a fantastic presentation about ARG’s at the recent PSFK conference by Dan Hon (then) of MindCandy, who was actually the founder of Cloudmakers – the lead player community for The Beast. It doesn’t yet appear to be up on the PSFK site yet, but in the meantime here’s my own jottings:

— Alternative Reality Games (ARGs) are a platform to tell engaging stories. "It's all about creating experiences that give very good effective suspension of disbelief"… kicking off in similar feeling to Michael Douglas in The Game, or Keanu in The Matrix (get a thing in strange package & suddenly it starts…)

—There are no controls you have to learn – it's role-playing yourself doing things you already do; and it gets you out into the world

—Most games also run live events – eg: 30k participants in recent game run co-branded with BBC at the music festival in Preston

—War of Worlds – Orson Welles radio play – the first ARG?? showed how much entertainment can move you if you believe it's real

— Recent examples of ARGs: Lost game, Heroes 360, AI The Beast, Microsoft Halo2…
9 inch nails Year Zero… when you play CD it heats up and when you take it out the heat sensitive ink printed on it reveals a special message that takes you into the game.

— Immersion breeds passion – narrative builds ties… Eg: players who handfolded paper cranes imitating a japanese ritual to commemorate death of a character. "Our players are very very driven… and sometimes a bit psychotic!"

— "Our audience lives eats and breathes Web 2.0" – Eg: they built a Wiki to track the story; they created a google map, they even collaborated to write a book that was printed on demand in order to pass a hurdle in the game. Right now they've built a system to crack a military code that would ordinarily need a supercomputer for, by running it across thousands of computers worldwide

— Perplex City stats: 40% UK, 40% US, rest english language markets; 50/50 almost 60/40 gender split in favour of women – think this is because it's got such a strong story, it's like following a soap opera. Average age 26 but ranges 14-70. Audience funnel: a small cadre who are seriously engaged and do everything, with larger majority who follow along on blogs etc

— Learning a lot from TV – how to cope with people coming in half way through (eg: short video recaps); doesn't have to end on a bad note provided it's written well.

— Marketing opportunities "Product placement on crack" … opportunities to showcase products within the story… opportunities to require people to interact with products in order to progress story (so great if require you to learn to use a new feature on mobile phone for eg). Driving foot traffic… eg: flashmobs to a retail store… Driving click traffic… they follow every link in depth.

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