Carolinas first ARG, ShBANGE (Should Brandon and Nicole Get Engaged?), concluded on Monday, February 8th. It ran for two weeks starting on Monday, January 25th with a launch event in The Pit on UNC Chapel Hills campus. See the video of the launch event.
Im very proud of the work of the development team (Karen Crenshaw, Libby Evans, Chad Haefele, Emily King, and Brian Sturm). The storyline and characters were engaging and very three-dimensional. Our two main characters were played by Brandon Lloyd Hicks (playing the character Brandon) and Paula Schmitt (playing the character Nicole). We also had four models (Skyler Brown, Kyle Murray, Allison Powell, and Samantha Tropper) to portray the parts of other characters as shown on a Photobucket website. Puzzles were challenging and fun (so our game testers told us). We gave out prizes along the way and concluded the ARG by asking students to solve a final puzzle, the answer to which was the place and time for a celebration pizza party.
Students solved many of the puzzles but not all of them were solved. Also, the students who solved the final puzzle did not appear at our celebration finale. This puzzled us yes, pun intended. We had players but we dont know how many. We dont know how many students just lurked but didnt really play. Why is this so? Because there was only one website were players collaborated and shared hints to puzzles; and many of them used a pseudonym to access the site. Other websites invited students to comment (such as the character Brandons blog) but again pseudonyms were permitted. We felt it was important that students not be forced to disclose their identities. But unfortunately this leaves us with really only one way to determine how many players we had the celebration pizza party, which none of them attended. It was most disheartening, also because we had some good ole pedagogical stuff planned for this event.
Probably the biggest lesson learned was about advertising. We had attempted to do this well, especially after the Duke students who created two ARGs last semester warned me that advertising was an issue for them as well. However, we could have done a lot better. I realized in the middle of the first week one thing that we shouldve done advertised in some way on Facebook. When I was busy posting the launch event video on YouTube.com, I noticed the The Pit Breakup video. Some time back, some student staged a break-up in The Pit. In the video, there were what seemed to be hundreds and hundreds of students there to watch. We didnt get this kind of turn-out for our launch event. The Pit Breakups advertising success was due to viral marketing on Facebook. Some students posted stuff about the impending breakup on their Facebook accounts, it seems; and then other students picked it up and it spread all across the campus via Facebook. We shouldve looked at this video before the game started and asked several undergraduates to help us out.
Our advertising definitely piqued interest, as I am told by students. Emily King made a wonderful flier (and we painted one of the cubes that appear in the main quad near the Campus Y in its likeness). The flier was simple. It asked, Should They? and presented the date/time/location of the launch event. It was clever (should they get engaged?) and mysterious; but unfortunately we might have been too mysterious for busy undergraduates. You see, some students told me that they didnt know it was a game, and they thought it sounded interesting but they had other things to do, and it probably didnt pertain to them anyway (so they thought). The trick is that most ARGs are launched in a veil of mystery and part of the fun is figuring out that it is a game. However, usually the people who play ARGs are familiar with the genre and so the mystery isnt as likely to elude them. I now surmise that most undergraduates have not played an ARG and may not even know what one is. Perhaps we should have learned a bit more about our population; and we probably shouldve given some hints.
If our advertising plan had been better, it is possible that we might have attracted more students than we did and that there would have been more activity on our websites and more students would have showed up at the finale event. But you live and learn and next time we would know better. I would be curious to see if the ARG (done maybe a year from now, lets say) with better advertising (taking into considerations the lessons weve learned) would be more of a success.
I do, however, consider the ARG a success. All of us learned a lot and we had a lot of fun. The ARG itself is really quite nice the development team, actors, and models all did an incredible job. And we did have players who played through most of the 2 weeks of the game. We may not have had a lot but we captivated interest and held it. Thats good. Better advertising may make up for the rest. Who knows?