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Feature: 'Elan Lee's Alternate Reality'

In today's Gamasutra feature, 42 Entertainment vice president and alternate reality game designer...
In today's Gamasutra feature, 42 Entertainment vice president and alternate reality game designer Elan Lee (I Love Bees, The Beast) discusses the future of this unique genre, 42's business strategies, and alternate reality's secret origins in a Beatles album. As creator of alternate reality gaming's biggest hits, including launching the concept far into the mainstream with its I Love Bees campaign, Lee discusses, among other things, just how an ARG designer can be sure the public will respond to such subtle stimuli: "GS: When you first got started, before there was really any precedent for this kind of game, how did you know people would play it? For example, The Beast kicked off with notches in a date on an AI movie poster. How could you be sure anyone would catch on? EL: Absolute luck. I wish I could say there was this science, this beautifully formulated equation, but, no, we just guessed, and we got lucky. There’s a lot of psychology involved in games like this. No one’s done this before, so we can’t go the library and check out a book or find a reference on the internet, we just have to say, I would think that’s cool. GS: Have there ever been symbols that the players totally missed? EL: We’ve had tons. On the AI project, we wanted to embed a puzzle inside a map, and so we said, all of the physical locations of everything we do in The Beast, if you blocked those out on a map, it would spell a word across the United States, and that would be really cool... Yeah, no one ever saw it. We had such high hopes. You know, I say whispering is more powerful than shouting. Well, sometimes it’s too quiet of a whisper. GS: Are there certain kinds of messages that get picked up and kinds that go under the radar? EL: We’re sort of learning as we go. I wish I could plot out this graph, because the way it actually works is the more subtle the message the longer it takes for people to discover it. So it all really depends on your time frame. If you have a year-long entertainment experience, then you can afford to be really subtle, because there’s this wonderful “a-hah” moment when somebody says, oh my god, this has been in front of us all along. If your project is two months long, two weeks long, you’ve got to a lot more obvious. It’s a balancing act." You can now read the full Gamasutra feature on the subject, with much more from Lee on how you orchestrate a nation of payphones, the ethics of in-ARG advertising, and how Lost the TV show ended up a more successful game than Lost the ARG (no registration required, please feel free to link to this column from external websites).

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