ARG Dystopia?

Syp wrote a post with various concerns about ARGs. It’s fair, they aren’t perfect. But there aren’t that many out there right now so this is fairly early in experimenting with what is possible. It would be like evaluating the future of MMOs from only examining Ultima Online.

I think concerns about “the world” not being ready for an ARG are overblown.

16 years ago there was a steady drumbeat of articles about Everquest players ruining their marriage, careers, failing out of college, etc. I geocached back then too, and there was concern about trespassing, the danger of wandering around, hiking and getting lost, people being stupid by burying and digging caches, etc.

Not to trivialize the risk, but it has always been there. Sure, there is more risk wandering around outside than there is sitting inside and playing – however there have been plenty of tragic cases of people dying at the keyboard after multi-day binge playing.

With 45 million people playing Pokémon Go in July, there will be issues such as trespassing since even if  99.99% of the playerbase are conscientious, due to the massive numbers there will still be thousands of morons out there playing.

The most exciting thing I see Pokémon Go bringing into the genre is an interesting revenue model: sell “lures” which cause Pokémon to spawn, thus drawing players/customers to that location. If this catches on, and is worthwhile for the businesses doing it, this might help solve the revenue problem many MMOs have: how to get a steady income when the two choices seem to be 1) charge a subscription fee, which many players are reluctant to pay; 2) force the game into a B2P/F2P/micro-transaction model. Instead, how about trying to get some money from businesses that might benefit from increased foot traffic! Now that’s innovative. Of course, this only works if the game is played on the real world map – let’s just say it would be much harder to drive traffic to your restaurant by placing a treasure in a traditional MMO dungeon. “Woot, the boss dropped an epic weapon and a coupon for pizza!!”.

Syp’s other concerns about designers being locked into rigid existing designs or risks with players creating content… these strike me as an example of letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. I can’t imagine it is worthwhile to solve all possible problems in advance before rolling out content. Gotta try something different, let this model experience some growing pains and see where it goes – we’ve seen plenty of studios trying to crank out clones, expansions, clones of expansions, etc.

As for me, I’m having a lot of fun playing Ingress, Niantic’s game before Pokémon Go. It is fundamentally an territory control game, and I could make an analogy with Eve Online where the playerbase also battles over territory in a sci-fi universe. Eve offers a lot more to do, but right now Ingress is absolutely perfect for the amount of time I have, the level of social activity I have time for, integrating well with my normal outdoor activities, etc. I’m bummed I didn’t start playing earlier!

While I do find Pokémon Go interesting in general, the gameplay is so lame right now I only play it while I’m waiting for an Ingress portal to reset. There just isn’t much of a game there and I get bored very quickly. There is potential and I’d like to see Niantic roll out some fleshed-out gameplay, because even the die-hard fans will get tired of flicking their fingers up their smartphone screen.

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