Construction of an Alternate Reality Game
A pitch to attract applicants to the Game Design & Technology Master’s programme
Bachelor’s Thesis in Computer Science and Engineering
William Andersson Karim El-Nahass Oscar Forsyth Katri Lantto Ludvig Lemner Sara Stråhle
Department of Computer Science and Engineering CHALMERSUNIVERSITY OF TECHNOLOGY
The Missing Student:
Construction of an Alternate Reality Game
A pitch to attract applicants to the Game Design & Technology Master’s programme
William Andersson Karim El-Nahass
Oscar Forsyth Katri Lantto Ludvig Lemner
Department of Computer Science and Engineering Chalmers University of Technology
University of Gothenburg
© William Andersson, Karim El-Nahass, Oscar Forsyth, Katri Lantto, Ludvig Lem- ner, Sara Stråhle 2022.
Supervisor: Pauline Belford, Teacher, Interaction Design and Software Engineering division, Department of Computer Science and Engineering.
Advisor: Michael Heron, Senior lecturer, Interaction Design and Software Engineer- ing division, Department of Computer Science and Engineering.
Examiner: Thommy Eriksson, Researcher, Interaction Design and Software Engi- neering division, Department of Computer Science and Engineering. Director of Master’s programme Interaction Design and Technologies.
Bachelor’s Thesis 2022
Department of Computer Science and Engineering
Chalmers University of Technology and University of Gothenburg SE-412 96 Gothenburg
Telephone +46 31 772 1000
Typeset in LATEX
Gothenburg, Sweden 2022
Department of Computer Science and Engineering
Chalmers University of Technology and University of Gothenburg
The master’s program Game Design & Technology at the University of Gothenburg wants to try new ways of marketing the program to potential students and has created this Bachelor’s for that purpose. By advertising using a game, one reaches people that are already interested in the area and by having an interactive adver- tisement such as an Alternate Reality Game (ARG) one can have the target group interact with each other further solidifying their interest. This Bachelor’s thesis aims to create such a game that is both ready to be used and modular enough so that it can be re-used between years. In this context the target group would be people who have a Bachelor’s degree relating to software engineering or similar areas.
The ARG was created using React and a Node based server with the use of JSON to store all resources and carefully programmed sites in order to keep it modu- lar. During development the separate puzzles were tested by internal and external testers with good feedback. With the feedback that the puzzles were fun to solve we draw the conclusion that marketing through the use of an ARG could be successful depending on the level of involvement of the players.
Keywords: ARG, Alternate Reality Game, Marketing, Advertisement, Master’s pro- gram, Game Design, Modularity
1 Introduction 1
1.1 Background . . . 2
1.2 Project Scope . . . 3
2 Method 5 2.1 Design . . . 5
2.2 Technical aspects of the project . . . 6
2.2.2 React . . . 6
2.2.3 NodeJS . . . 6
2.2.4 Node Package Manager . . . 6
2.2.5 JSON and JSON Schema . . . 7
2.2.6 Python . . . 7
2.2.7 Chat Engine . . . 7
2.3 Development . . . 7
2.3.1 Code . . . 7
2.3.2 Server . . . 9
2.3.3 Chat . . . 10
2.3.4 Modularity . . . 10
3 Game Description 11 3.1 Story Description . . . 11
3.2 Blog Website . . . 13
3.2.1 Main Story Puzzle . . . 14
3.2.2 Skyline Puzzle . . . 16
3.2.3 Auxiliary Puzzles . . . 16
3.3 Company Website . . . 17
3.3.1 Home Puzzle . . . 19
3.3.2 Our Work Puzzle . . . 19
3.3.3 About Us Puzzle . . . 19
3.4 Company Intranet . . . 20
3.4.1 Document Puzzle . . . 20
3.4.2 Console Puzzle . . . 20
3.4.3 Cipher Puzzle . . . 22
3.4.4 Encrypted Archive Puzzle . . . 22
4 Testing 23
4.1 Test Results . . . 23
4.1.1 Blog . . . 24
4.1.2 Company website . . . 24
4.1.3 Internal website . . . 25
4.2 Flaws . . . 25
5 Discussion 27 5.1 Marketing . . . 27
5.2 Testing . . . 27
5.2.1 Testing Environment . . . 28
5.2.2 Difficulty . . . 29
5.3 Obstacles . . . 29
6 Ethical Considerations 31 7 Conclusion 33 7.1 Future work . . . 33
A Template for testing puzzles I
B Tests III
B.1 Tests for blog puzzles . . . III B.2 Tests for company website . . . XV B.3 Tests for internal company website . . . XXII
C Guide to the Alternate Reality Game XXXI
D Blog Documentation XLI
ARG is an acronym for Alternate Reality Gaming. It is a category of games which combines several types of media online and clues in the real world .
Difax is a fictional company working with artificial intelligence and surveillance. It is a part of the story of the game. Further information can be found in section 3.1.
Puppetmaster is the name for the company or the individuals working behind the scenes of an ARG . Usually, they monitor game progress and can change the story or provide hints as necessary.
Rabbit Hole is the term used for the entry point of an ARG . This could be anything; clues on posters, emails with pleas for help or advertisements for a reality show.
Red Herring is a false clue which misleads the players from the true objective. It could lead to dead ends or side tracks.
This Is Not A Game is usually shortened to the acronym TINAG and is the philosophy that ARGs should blur the line between reality and content from the game .
Transmedia is a kind of digital narrative which merges different media forms .
Transmedia could be interactive, but that is not a necessity.
Alternate Reality Gaming, commonly known by the acronym ARG, is also known as immersive gaming and viral marketing . ARGs use participatory storytelling to create an immersive game for the players to explore and enjoy . This is often achieved by interweaving real life and online game play into the fictional universe created by the game . By using Transmedia, the technique of spreading a story across several different kinds of media, the effect of blurring the line between re- ality and game is created. This blur of the bounds has been shown to encourage constructive controversies between participants and has become an integral part of many ARGs . However, it has also led to a degree of immersion so complete that players have been regarded as a cult and the crime of breaking and entering has been committed in the hope of continuing the game . The principle of obscuring the point where the game ends and reality begins is usually called ’This Is Not A Game’
(TINAG) and is something many ARGs follow. To maintain the illusion of the story being a real event and not fictional, the creators of the game, or Puppetmasters, often remain anonymous until the end of the ARG.
As Alternate Reality Games are not limited in which media to use there are many ways they can develop. However, it always begins with a Rabbit Hole. This is the initial clue for the game and might be something peculiar in the end credits of a movie, an email or an announcement of an upcoming reality television show among many others . After this first clue, players encounter several puzzles. Puzzles in an ARG need not be limited to the game and could require the players to find clues or assets in the real world. The players are provided pieces of the story or unlocks more material when the solution is found. As an example, solving the puzzle of the Rabbit Hole could give a player access to a website set in the fictional world of the game.
The goal of an ARG is often to involve players in a story and connect them to each other in the real world . The mentioned puzzles usually require collaborative efforts to be solved which encourages interaction between players and is therefore helpful towards this goal. Another important point towards this goal is that ARGs are almost exclusively free to play and thus everyone can participate.
Alternative Reality Games are a relatively new genre of games and the starting point is debatable, as there are different opinions within the community . Some argue that Ong’s Hat: Incunabula, which was mainly played throughout the 1990s, is the first game. Others claim that it is Publius Enigma, a promotion in 1994 for an album by Pink Floyd. Usually, though, the ARG the Beast is regarded as the beginning of ARG:s, as this was the first game to become widely popular .
This section will shortly describe the history of ARGs through the games the Beast (2001), Majestic (2001) and ilovebees (2004) as they were significant turning points for the genre before discussing what ARGs are used for today .
The ARG the Beast, a game to market the movie A.I., was launched by Microsoft in 2001 . The game began with a clue found in the credits of a movie reading
’Jeanine Stella, Sentient Machine Therapist’. By researching this name players could find the web pages set in the world of the game. As the game continued, the story started to spread everywhere and was mentioned in news channels such as CNN, The Guardian and The New York Times . The news discussion was mostly concerning if the marketing yielded results worthy of the cost of the ARG.
Around the same time as the Beast concluded, another ARG, Majestic, was launched by EA . There were a lot of players interested in playing this new game after the success of the Beast, but few continued playing when it launched. A reason for this is that Majestic was the first ARG where the players had to pay a fee to continue and many players did not want to do so. Eventually, the game was discontinued.
The result was EA losing much of their investment and a doubt if ARG:s could be popular again after the Beast .
The revival of ARG:s occurred in 2004 with the coming of ilovebees, which aimed to advertise the video game Halo 2 . This was an ARG that moved out of the virtual world to mainly tell the story through players answering pay phones all across the USA. The ARGs success and high popularity resulted in many other games being made. Today, there are several more successful ARGs made both with companies and individuals as the creators. The interest in the genre is rising, as seen by the number of games created each year . A couple of examples are RainbowLeaks (Ubisoft, 2017) and the more recent Cyrano story (Alice & Smith and Funcom, 2021).
As seen above, the reason for making ARGs is often marketing but there are ARGs used for education and health being created [4, 10, 11]. While research for ARGs used in health were promising, more concrete examples of the genres influence can be found in education. For example an ARG to teach middle school students about cartography, cryptography and the interpretive process behind history, was success- ful in its endeavor . Although some students expressed frustration at not only having to reiterate facts from textbooks, it was found that the students were no longer simply memorizing the contents. Instead they started questioning and ana- lyzing facts. In addition it engaged students who usually participate less in class.
This increase in interest is not limited to ARGs, but can be commonly seen with
gamification used for education . The genre of ARGs is especially successful when used for educational purposes in the subjects of student induction and lan- guages [10,13]. However, while it is agreed that ARGs can be academic, it is far less discussed if the environment provides suitable education .
Highly popular ARGs have shown to unite many players in their search for answers and this can be utilized in various ways . It is difficult to gather groups of people together for a purpose and ARGs are a way of doing this. There is the possibility of mobilizing volunteers and generating word-of-mouth marketing among others. The many players come from different walks of life and form a wide audience reachable with the use of ARGs. This is one reason why it could be used as an alternative way to promote a product or an organization . Another argument is the fact that ARG:s sometimes allows interaction with the marketed product and the players interest in it may increase compared to other kinds of advertisements .
Despite the ups-and-downs of its popularity, ARGs are now becoming a more promi- nent and well-known type of entertainment, as discussed in this introduction. There are claims that interactive experiences like ARGs may replace passive entertainment and thus become all the more widespread . Furthermore, as research states tra- ditional marketing may not achieve the desirable effect, ARG:s could also be used as an alternative marketing strategy . With the increasing popularity and pos- sibility for marketing an ARG could be used for recruitment as well.
1.2 Project Scope
The purpose of this thesis is to create an ARG that attracts students to apply for the Game Design & Technology Master’s Programme. A student who is interested in this masters programme will be able to play the game which will show them what Sweden, the city of Gothenburg and the University of Gothenburg (GU) has to offer and inspire students into applying.
The program itself focuses on providing students with skills required in the game industry. In many cases universities recommend enjoying games and puzzle solving as part of the students personality [17,18]. This is precisely what is needed to play ARGs as well. A curiosity and the characteristics of liking puzzle solving is what a player needs both for ARGs and studies in game design. Thus it is reasonable to use an ARG as a marketing tool for educational programmes about game design.
The game should be solvable, albeit through joint effort, from anywhere in the world as its purpose is to attract students to the master’s programme. This means that while most puzzles will be confined to the internet a few can be set locally leaving it to the players in Gothenburg to solve those parts. The solving of puzzles should progress the story in a logical and reasonable way while at the same time making it entertaining for the players, so they continue playing. The puzzles and corresponding information must be modular and easily interchangeable for the Puppetmasters, this is to allow for easier creation and maintenance of each ARG session. All of this while at the same time keeping the amount of involvement low for the Puppetmaster.
When starting development we decided to make text and other resources easy to
switch out rather than to create easy ways to create new puzzles and challenges, which could have been made through functions to scramble text and images. We also decided to not place energy into making the webpages and design easy to change as it’s simple enough to do with just a little bit of web development skills. As such the focus was placed on creating a finished game with puzzles and resources that could easily be switched out if necessary.
Now that requirements, limitations and purpose have been discussed one can more accurately set a project scope. The scope is to have created an ARG that is modular, teamwork based, mostly internet based and most importantly presents a realistic story in a believable way. So, by following the set project scope the minimum viable product that should be delivered is a prepared story, a couple of modifiable puzzles, and accompanying websites.
This chapter will discuss the method used to create the ARG. It will first include a section discussing the design choices, followed by more technical discussion of the development of the game.
The first step in designing the ARG was to produce a story. The story is a vital part of an ARG  and acts as a base for the structure and design of the puz- zles. Having a student as the main protagonist in our story builds relatability with our target audience . Research states that an effective way to get people to participate in an ARG, is through a mystery. The research continues to describe that a common narrative convention is having in-game players ask for help as well as providing expository information . The constructed ARG takes inspiration from this research by creating a mysterious and shady company as well as a main protagonist that, indirectly, asks the player for help. To create a sense of urgency the player is informed of the fact the the main protagonist is actively being tracked down and hunted by this company.
Incorporating the real-world into a story, makes the experience of an ARG more believable and immersive, it blurs the line between reality and fiction . To blend in the real-world in a similar way, our ARG has puzzles that have the player traveling to different locations with the help of silhouettes. An essential aspect according to research of an ARG is to have a ’through-line’, this is the connecting theme or plot in any media . Our ARG’s connecting theme is solving the mystery of the company and finding the main protagonist. Through the players journey they will find and receive relevant information to this theme. Read more about the story in chapter 3.1.
Another critical design feature that the aforementioned research paper noticed was the importance of ’gaps’. These ’gaps’ consist of an absence of narrative informa- tion that lets the player think for themselves and motivates them to ask ’what if’
questions. The paper continues to describe it as, ’an inflection point ripe for player intervention’ . To incorporate this into our ARG we inform players that they must find the missing student. However, large vacuums of information are created in between puzzles, as to leave the discovery up to them.
The main objective of the three websites, which will be discussed in chapter 3.1, are
to act as a front for the puzzles. The company website had to look as professional as possible as to not break the players immersion that this was in fact a real company.
This website was built so that a fictional customer would not be able to stumble upon a puzzle without thoroughly investigating each page. On the other hand, the blog website displays both solved and unsolved puzzles hinting at the fictional writers interest in puzzles as well as the fact that there are puzzles yet to be solved.
2.2 Technical aspects of the project
The technical background section will briefly explain the different technologies used in the project. Both front- and back-end technologies used in this project will be described.
NodeJS is a server used to execute code outside the website. This can be used to store login information for example. The difference between a Node based server and a traditional server, is that a Node server provides a higher performance, which is one of the main reasons this server was chosen to work with .
2.2.4 Node Package Manager
Node Package Manager (NPM) is a package manager, which allows the use of pack- ages and libraries by importing them into the code. This makes it possible to use preexisting resources to aid the construction of websites, making it easier than hav- ing to create everything from scratch. When importing some libraries, the only
thing needed to make it function are some properties which specifies how it should be tweaked to fit the user’s expectations. For examples a slideshow was created using a library called react-slideshow-image, where the only things required were the images used in the slideshow along with some properties on how the transition between images will be.
2.2.5 JSON and JSON Schema
A JSON Schema is a format for what JSON data is required in a JSON file, it also specifies which types and other properties that are required to be followed. Usually every JSON file has a corresponding JSON Schema to make sure that the JSON file has correct strucure, to avoid any errors or broken code.
Python is a high-level programming language and one of the most popular program- ming languages in the world . Python is used when creating websites, analysing data and can also be used used in all kind of algorithms, such as machine learning.
It helps automating processes in simple programming language.
2.2.7 Chat Engine
Chat Engine is an API used to create a chat service. Instead of creating the chat service from scratch, one could use this API to start a chat and then alter it to fit the website.
The development section consists of both implementing the design and functionality to the websites. The code, tools that were used and structure of the websites will be further described in detail in this section, as well as the modularity of the server which is vital in this project.
Figure 2.1: A representation of how the company website consists of three com- ponents
Figure 2.2: The Slideshow in the Company website
A Node based server was created for communication between websites and the client such as news and updates. Another reason that a Node based server was chosen to work with is that Node uses the same language as React. Because of this the same packages and type of packages can be used and the learning process becomes significantly reduced since we did not have to learn any additional languages.
Some websites should only be accessible by specific users, such as administrators and employees. This can be done using a login, where the player has to input correct credentials in order to access said website. The server was also used to store login information from the users, which can be later accessed to enter secured websites.
Since React is locally hosted, a workaround to contact the player was needed, which could be done using e-mail. An e-mail listener is implemented within the server, which takes care of automatic responses between the employees and players when a player sends an e-mail. It also checks the content of the e-mail received from the player and based on that decides what is sent back to the player. The e-mail listener was implemented using an NPM package within React.
By implementing modularity, it makes it possible to easily alter and extend the website in the future. Modularity was implemented by collecting all the variables that is used for each website into a combined file, one for each website. Throughout the project nothing that could be changed was hard-coded, such as variables, images and text. The variables that could be altered are for example the data the player receives once the puzzle is solved, or information the player needs to output to advance in the puzzle. Instead of having to go through the code and modify every occurrence of it, a single variable can be modified and every occurrence of it will be updated. By making the puzzles and the websites modular, this makes the story modular too, which means it can be altered to fit the Puppetmaster’s demands.
Once the game is run in the future, there will be a Puppetmaster that makes sure that the puzzles are available and functioning and that players have the necessary information to finish the puzzles.
This chapter discusses the created ARG game called ’The Missing Student’. It begins with an overview of the story, before describing each major part in detail. In addition, the constructed puzzles that are part of the story will be explained.
3.1 Story Description
The story begins with the Rabbit Hole, advertised both with local posters and posts on several different websites such as Reddit, Imgur, and Quora. The purpose is to have it available in forums that contain the target audience. The Rabbit Hole is very flexible since the information is platform independent and thus the Puppetmaster can choose the platforms of their choice. The main character Edwin Fairchild will use these platforms to ask for help.
Edwin is an exchange student who has recently gone back to Great Britain after spending a year in Sweden. His best friend from Sweden, Wilfred Malm, has gone missing and Edwin does not know what to do. Edwin invites everyone he can think of to help look for Wilfred and see if he can be found. This is the start of the game where the players will begin to investigate Wilfred’s disappearance. Edwin mentions that he and his friend made a blog together and that it might contain some clues on where he has gone. Edwin explains that Wilfred likes puzzles and that he might have hidden some clues on their blog about where he has gone. Edwin points to Wilfred’s latest post, about his work for the summer, as a possible clue and mentions that due to Wilfred liking puzzles he does not clearly state where he is employed.
Instead a puzzle has to be solved to find out where Wilfred works. To read more about the blog and the puzzles therein, see section 3.2.
When the puzzle is solved, an address to a website is found. This is the address to the company where Wilfred worked, called Difax. This is a fictional company created for this ARG so that greater freedom could be allowed in the utilization of a company website. Difax is a company focused on technology, mainly artificial intelligence and surveillance. They develop and research these technologies and provide services to protect and surveil buildings for their customers. Their main clientele consists of companies, though a few select individuals use Difax as security for their homes.
Investigating the company website, the player comes in contact with the character Lyra Bell. She is the web designer for Difax and is suspicious of the company
she is working for. She is also, notably, someone who has interacted with Wilfred previously, as mentioned in one of the blog posts. She has hidden several clues on the website to anyone sharing her misgivings to see if they can find out if there is truly something wrong or not. By contacting her the players might find some clues regarding how to solve the puzzles on the company website, although she will not give straight answers since the players are complete strangers that have not earned her trust yet. After finding the hidden clues and solving the puzzles, the players get access to another website as well as a username and password to be able to login.
For more information on the company website and the puzzles therein, see section 3.3.
The new website proves to be an intranet that Difax uses among it’s employees.
Several different puzzles can be found here as well and after solving all of them, some data is received which proves that Difax is committing crimes. After sending the data to Wilfred it is released and Difax experiences severe legal consequences.
The players are informed of this by a downloadable page of a newspaper. The front-page article will be one explaining the company’s crimes and the consequences thereof in which both the players and the characters in our game which helped bring these crimes to light are thanked for their help. Finally, the Puppetmaster as well as the purpose of marketing is revealed. This Bachelor’s thesis and project are mentioned together with a page of information about the master’s program the ARG was made to advertise.
Figure 3.1: Page 1 of the newspaper at the end of the ARG.
Figure 3.2: Page 2 of the newspaper at the end of the ARG.
3.2 Blog Website
The blog, created by Edwin Fairchild and Wilfred Malm, is the first of three major components of the ARG. The blog is called Daily Thoughts and has been running for around six months by the time the players are introduced to it. It is mainly a place for Edwin and Wilfred to share their thoughts and opinions on everything and anything they encounter in their life. It is also a place for Wilfred to showcase and express his interest in puzzles. He frequently adds puzzles in posts that sometimes are semi-hidden and which have some fun or interesting result.
Both Wilfred and Edwin prefer to be anonymous on the internet and thus have online handles that they use instead. Edwin is Fexjo while Wilfred is Robot1311213, often just shortened to Robot. These handles are actually one of Wilfreds first puzzles, where their online handles are a variation on their real names. For more information about each specific puzzle on the blog, see appendix D.
The blog consists of several different pages, each accessible through a top-bar visible at the upper part of the screen. There is the Home page, see figure 3.3b, that will show when first entering the website. This consists of a welcome message, a link to the later discussed About page for help of new users, the website logo, as well as a series of jigsaw puzzles that can be solved for fun.
The main page of the blog is the Posts page, see figure 3.3a, that displays all posts that Edwin and Wilfred have uploaded and shared during their time on the website.
There are some navigational buttons to the right, as well as their avatars and a
short message from each of them. On the majority of the screen is where five posts are displayed, with the newest posts displayed first and the older posts reachable through the navigational buttons on the right side of the screen.
An important part of the blog is the Chat page, see figure 3.3c, where users can interact with both each other as well as Edwin. All that is necessary is to create an account and then the chat is free to use. A few default chat rooms are available as soon as an account is created that discusses some previously solved puzzles and also includes some other interactions to make the website seem more alive. Further chat rooms can be created at will by any user, and then the creator of that chat room can add any other user that they please. Allowing not only the players to communicate but also the Puppetmaster to help the players without revealing themselves.
One perspective of this is how Edwin and Wilfred also interacts in this chat. This gives a different angle of Wilfred and Edwin than simply from their posts. The players will be able to have contact with Edwin through the chat in case hints are necessary or the Puppetmaster decides that interactions would be advantageous.
The last two pages on the blog are the About page, see figure 3.3e, and the Quotes of the day page, see figure 3.3d. The About page displays some important information and also some FAQ questions and answers. The Quotes of the day page shows a quote that either Wilfred or Edwin found inspirational. These quotes change after a set period of time and move randomly through a list of pre-written quotes.
3.2.1 Main Story Puzzle
The main puzzle on the blog is the leading link to the next major component of the ARG, the company website of the created company named Difax. The solution to the puzzle will give the URL for the company website.
The puzzle mainly consists of the latest post from Wilfred. In this he explains that he has recently gotten a job at a company. In style with his preference for puzzles he does not give the company name directly and leaves it up to the players to figure out where he works. This being the last post before Wilfred goes missing is quite telling that this could be something to investigate.
The post consists of some text describing that he started working, as well as four different pictures. One depicting a Jigsaw Sudoku with some spaces containing colored circles. Another is depicting a package of Mexican snacks referred to as Duros de Harina, which Wilfred references in his post and describes them as Mexican Wheels. The third image depicts a hand drawn image of two Ichtyosaurus dinosaurs.
The last image depicts a computer with some simple code describing an eternal cycle of drinking coffee.
There are also several other posts that are helpful to solving the puzzle. These are all indicated by having a different month in the date. The default month for all these posts, including the last post from Wilfred, is 80A, which is quite obviously different from regular months.
The helper posts all have their own content, but they’re each helpful for solving the puzzle. Some of the helper posts have some content that relates to the solution,
(a)Posts page of the blog website.
(b)Home page of the blog website. (c) Chat page of the blog website.
(d)Quotes page of the blog website. (e) About page of the blog website.
Figure 3.3: Figure showing the Posts page (a), the Home page (b), the Chat page (c), the Quotes page (d) and the About page (e) of the blog website.
or a process that leads to it, while some other posts have text with the color of the background giving helpful hints on how to proceed. This text can be read by highlighting it with a cursor or copying the text and pasting it somewhere else with a different color. This could also be viewed by inspecting the page. For the full solution to the main puzzle on the blog, see appendix D.
3.2.2 Skyline Puzzle
The other major puzzle is initially contained in a single post, with additional minor hints that can be gleaned from other posts. It then leads on to separate hidden pages of the website. The main idea behind this puzzle is to get the players out into Gothenburg physically, as well as provide a distraction from the main puzzle.
The post contains some minor text challenging the reader to figure out the puzzle, as well as six images. Three of these images, on the left, show silhouettes of three different locations in Gothenburg. The three images on the right show symbols and shapes with some additional mathematical operators, like a plus for addition and a cross for multiplication.
To solve the puzzle the player will have to find and travel to the locations indicated by the silhouettes. These locations can also be viewed online through tools like Google Maps. Worth noting is that the actions taken were designed to be difficult to accomplish when not there in person. Depending on the service used the pictures could be of little use as well. One of the three locations when checked in Google Maps was not updated and thus lacked a pivotal structure to the solution of the puzzle. Once they have traveled to the location, the players will need to compare and figure out what the symbols and shapes for each corresponding silhouette depicts and then arrive at the answer in the form of a number. The operators that exists are separate from the meaning of the symbols and shapes. One example is to count the green parts of Kuggen and then combine the amounts with the operators provided.
The number found can then be inserted in the URL of the website in the form of
’WebsiteAddress/Posts/number’. This will lead to a memory puzzle that contains interesting facts about exchange studies and the master’s programme. After solving the memory puzzle another page can be accessed that contains the texts that the excerpts in the memory puzzle originated from. Finding the errors in these texts with the help of the memory puzzle will lead to the final page that will display a congratulatory message. A reward is also mentioned of being able to request a change in the color of the website. This could be both an enjoyable reward as well as a minor help in the main puzzle since the hidden text would be visible after a color change. For a more detailed explanation of the entire puzzle, see appendix D.
3.2.3 Auxiliary Puzzles
The blog contains a series of additional puzzles of varying difficulty and complexity.
The main difference of the auxiliary puzzles compared to the other puzzles on the blog are that these puzzles have solutions available in the chat of the blog. Thus these puzzles have a purpose more aligned to support and augment the story and
the realism of the website.
A number of fake personas have been invented and acted out in the chat. Both with general chatting as well as solving the auxiliary puzzles. These conversations give a feeling that the website has been active and interactable for longer than it actually has. This would increase the believability and immersion of the story itself, which conforms to our design goals, see section 2.1. The auxiliary puzzles that have already been solved has also garnered reaction from Wilfred and Edwin and thus have some of their interactions in the chat as well.
These puzzles give excellent examples of additional or alternative puzzles to be added if the ARG should be edited. Another great way to add content is to simply remove the solutions from the chat and thus get more content and problems for the players to figure out. It has been made so that there is a separate chat room for each auxiliary puzzle. Thus a removal of the solution would be as straightforward as deleting a chat room. For a more detailed explanation of the puzzles, see appendix D.
3.3 Company Website
The official company website of Difax is the second major component of the ARG.
This website is the public face of Difax and without any context is supposed to look like a normal website that advertises and promotes its’ company. For this reason the puzzles are well hidden and not easily accessible without thorough investigation or hints. Before accessing the website the player will have received the information that Wilfred’s mentor’s name is Lyra Bell. This is the key to progressing and navigating through the website. Lyra Bell designed and produced the website, as hinted in the footer, so she knows where the puzzles are hidden. However she cannot reveal major details to the player because of the risk that the one getting in contact with her is an employee at Difax. This is why when the player emails her she responds with a cryptic riddle that only gives slight hints as to where the player must look. This way Lyra can deny being involved if anyone asks.
The website consists of three different pages, each accessible through a top-bar visible at the top of the screen. Basic contact information can also be found in the footer at the bottom of the screen on all pages.
The first page seen when entering the website is the Home page, see figure 3.4. This gives a brief introduction to the company with a few placed images and accompany- ing text. The second page is the Our Work page, see figure 3.5a. This page explains shortly the kind of work the company performs and gives some examples of how they can provide their services. This is displayed with images and accompanying text, as well as a five page slideshow. The last page is the About Us page, see figure 3.5b. This page talks about the company’s goals and sustainability practices. It also introduces some important staff members, including both the CEO and the website developer Lyra Bell.
On each of the three pages is a puzzle to be solved. By solving all three the player will receive a URL, as well as a username and password. The URL leads to the
Figure 3.4: Difax Home Page (the company website).
(a) Our Work page of the company web- site.
(b) About Us page of the company web- site.
Figure 3.5: Figure showing the Our Work page (a) and the About Us page (b) of the company website.
intranet which is the company’s own intranet and the login credentials are those of a former employee of Difax whose account was never deleted.
3.3.1 Home Puzzle
The Home Page puzzle’s purpose is to provide the player with Wilfred’s email.
Wilfred will respond to any email with information saying that Lyra has hidden the intranets credentials somewhere in the website and that they must locate them and get back to him with the appropriate login details. If the player responds with the correct details then Wilfred replies with a link to the intranet.
To find Wilfred’s email the player must navigate to the browser console and click on the first image. This outputs a series of numbers that corresponds to which sequence the images at the bottom of the page must be pressed. This is hinted by the labelling under the specific images, 1 through 3, as no other image on the website is labelled. If the player completes the former step they are provided with another series of numbers but this time separated in sets of three. This specific sequence is a hint in itself as this corresponds to the widely known ASCII character encoding standard. When decoded the ASCII string outputs Wilfred’s email.
3.3.2 Our Work Puzzle
The Our Work puzzle is meant to be slight more difficult than the Home Page Puzzle. The key object on this page is the slideshow. Each image in the slideshow, beginning from the first, contains a hidden number. This hidden number refers to which slide the player must navigate to, one by one, finding a new hidden number that takes them to the next image. The player continues until they have found every hidden number on all slides and once completed, a username is printed out in the console.
3.3.3 About Us Puzzle
This puzzle is meant to be significantly more difficult than the others since it is the final step in the company website and the last safeguard before accessing the sensitive information that exists on the intranet.
To start the player must realise that Lyra Bell’s photo stands out from the rest.
This is hinted in multiple ways, first hinted by the fact the Lyra is Wilfred’s mentor and designer of the page, secondly by the unusual dimensions and lastly by the hint given by Lyra herself when emailing her. Once the player has narrowed down their search to Lyra’s image they must ask themselves why this image has these oddly specific dimensions. Each number of the images’ dimension represents the index to a word and when completed reveals a hidden sentence inside the paragraph. To continue the player must take the length of each word and repeat the previous step on the next paragraph. Once the hidden sentence is found the player must again take the length of each word and this string of numbers is the password to get into the intranet.
3.4 Company Intranet
The intranet of the company Difax is the third and final component of the ARG.
It is where the staff members can communicate with each other as well as get get information through their company.
The website consists of several different pages accessible from a menu at the top of the screen. There are the Home, Company, Documents, Human Resources , News, and Quiz pages, see figure 3.6. Each of these currently displays a minimal amount of information. The Home page gives a short welcome to the website in the form of a single sentence. The Company Page shows the current stock rate for the company. The Documents page gives five buttons which each leads to a separate policy document for the company. The HR page shows the human relations appointed staff members and the way to contact them. The News page gives a short feed on the recent company news for the staff members. One example of this is how the company is going on its annual retreat. The last page has a short quiz that staff members can perform and earn a reward at the end of the week.
3.4.1 Document Puzzle
This puzzle is using underlined keywords in the different policy documents which is used to open up a small console window by pressing certain keyboard keys or letters in the title. In the console window, codes can be entered. When the correct code is entered it unlocks and takes the user to a new page with a big console window.
The correct code can be found on the quiz page.
3.4.2 Console Puzzle
The puzzle is a continuation where the document puzzle left off. It is similar to the standard windows console . It has different commands the player can use to show different information. The puzzle is that the player is first supposed to unlock admin access by typing in the admin command with the admin code. The code can be found in one of the news posts.
After unlocking admin access a new command can be found ’/changePassword [user]’
where the player can change the password of selected accounts. After typing this command with the CEO account name, the player is required to first answer 3 security questions before being able to change the account’s password. The answers to these questions are spread out across the different pages of website.
The first question ’Name of pet’ can be found in one of the questions on the quiz page. The second question ’Name of favorite movie villain’ is related to the company name Difax which is a Latin word meaning ’two-faced’ referring to the villain Two- Face. The third question ’Hometown’ can be found in one of the pictures in the news page. The picture shows the hometown of the CEO. Using google reverse image search the user can get the name of the city.
(a) Home page of company intranet web- site.
(b) Company page of company intranet website.
(c) Documents page of company intranet website.
(d)HR page of company intranet website.
(e) News page of company intranet web- site.
(f)Quiz page of company intranet website.
Figure 3.6: Figure showing the Home page (a), the Company page (b), the Doc- uments page (c), the HR page (d), the News page (e) and the Quiz page (f) of the company intranet.
3.4.3 Cipher Puzzle
This puzzle is quite simple to understand. It only includes a cipher that has to be solved when trying to login into the CEO’s account. The user has 60 seconds to solve before a new cipher is shown. The cipher is based on a Caesar shift cipher it is a type of cipher in which each letter in the message is replaced by a letter some fixed number of positions down the alphabet. For example, with a left shift of 3, D would be replaced by A, E would become B, and so on.
3.4.4 Encrypted Archive Puzzle
After the user has logged into the CEO account, the documents page now has a locked archive text and accompanying lock image which when pressed presents a small console window where a key is requested. This key can be found inside the CEO profile picture. By downloading the image and opening it using a file manager such as ’winrar’ it shows that it contains a txt file named ’key.txt’ where the key is stored.
Testing is vital to creating a successful product . It balances the most important aspects of the ARG: the difficulty and level of fun. One puzzle is not supposed to take hours to complete nor seconds, rather somewhere in between. This aspect is very difficult to get right on the first iteration, so testing is needed if we want to attract as many people as possible. Since there will be a need for lots of frequent tests, our solution was to separate the project group into multiple smaller groups that each create their own puzzles. These smaller groups then test it with the other groups. This provides us with very fast feedback which is important as the scope of the whole project is large and time efficiency is critical.
A list of questions and answers will be used to keep track of data obtained during testing. The template for this survey can be found in appendix A. All questions will remain the same during all tests to keep the data as accurate as possible. The answers we get back from our group members will affect how the puzzles evolves or if they need to be removed. The puzzles had to be tested to make sure that they are as bug free as possible, to ensure that the puzzles were well tested, testers from outside the developing group.
4.1 Test Results
Tests were done by individuals or small groups of friends and course mates which meant that part of our demographic was tested. The tests took between half an hour to 15 hours to complete. The optimal amount of time for a test to take would be fifteen minutes or less . As the testers were course mates they were all to some extent familiar with programming or web development as well as ciphers. This of course affected the tests but considering that most of them fall in our demographic we deemed that this was deemed acceptable.
All three websites were tested in this way in multiple iterations and were gradu- ally improved based on the feedback of group members, individuals, and groups of testers. Many changes were made based on the feedback. First the programmers did functional testing to see that the tests were solvable, later testers were brought in to identify problems in the structure of puzzles, lack of clarity, and misleading hints. The details of all this can be found in appendix B.
The first rounds of tests were functional tests to assess whether the product works properly without bugs and has solvable puzzles. Usability tests were then used to
test the difficulty level, time required to solve the puzzles, and the experience of the testers with enjoyment and user friendliness with both hints and design .
An example of an iteration on the blog website was the reworking of hints in the form of transparent text. The wording of the hints gave testers the wrong directions and misled them from the intended paths. This in itself could be a good part of a puzzle. To include Red Herrings, another word for misleading information, in the puzzles could be an interesting addition that could increase the difficulty. However, the hints were supposed to guide players towards the correct path and thus were not functioning as intended. Therefore they were reworded.
During testing it was clear that most puzzles were placed at a good level with the tests generally being ranked as fun. The tests that stood out were tests for puzzles which required real world interaction as the testers found it enjoyable to get out in the real world to search for clues. The tests being ranked as fun and not too difficult, especially to find and start, at this stage is good as it allows players a soft start to get into the game - as most people will not have played an ARG before starting this story. 
4.1.2 Company website
The company website is the public face of the company. This means that story-wise it made sense to keep the puzzles more hidden, to both keep up with the increasing difficulty of the game, as the story reaches a sort of climax while the players explore Difax . In our tests individual testers often got stuck not knowing what to do as they did not receive enough help getting started. Therefore more encouragement and tips were given in the starting emails sent by Wilfred and Lyra. However, as mentioned it is expected for the difficulty of the ARG to progress .
The Home Page puzzle is designed to be easy so the player can quickly get in contact with Wilfred. Many testers found it to be too easy. However testers with less computer knowledge found it difficult. This type of division is to be expected and emphasises the importance of players solving this ARG together. However, what was apparent was the confusion in what to do. Testers commented that the connection between images and string of numbers was vague. To adjust for this each image was labeled to make it more clear what the numbers hinted at.
In order to keep to the This Is Not A Game principle it was important to not make the puzzles obvious. However the importance of giving breadcrumbs became apparent when testing Our Work puzzle that had to be completely overhauled, as it was inaccessible and impossible to know whether you as a tester were on the right track before finishing most of the puzzle. The puzzle was related to clicking images multiple times and testers were first assumed to be able to see directly from the image how many times to click, after feedback mentions of the items hinting on the amount of times to click were added as captions .
Other puzzles such as the About Us puzzle were created specifically to reinforce the
importance of collaboration. No individual tester were able to solve this puzzle, but it was solved by a group of testers who received multiple hints. Considering that the group size of testers were much smaller than the amount expected to later play this game it was deemed appropriate for the group to need multiple hints, as the puzzle is meant to be difficult and therefore no single user should be able to solve it on their own.
4.1.3 Internal website
The internal website has mostly had functional testing simply because some things did not work in the beginning for all testers. Some limited puzzle testing has been made, overall feedback has been good and the puzzles were found to be enjoyable.
One puzzle worth mentioning is the Document Puzzle. It created problems in the beginning for certain testers when testing from certain keyboards. This is because the test used keyboard key presses to be able to progress through the puzzle. Press- ing down several keys at the same time does not register on a large amount of laptop keyboards. This meant that the puzzle had to change to allow singular key presses in the correct order instead of all presses at the same time. So, the conclusion from this is that the developers always has to take in mind what equipment the majority of players have.
The majority of all external testers were friends to some of the internal group mem- bers which may have created a positive bias towards enjoyment or difficulty grading for each puzzle, as friends often are not as harsh when evaluating something done by a friend . As most of these friends also study the same programs within the fields of Computer Science or Information Technology, people outside of these confines have not been tested for. However, this is not as bad as the target audience mostly consists of similar people studying for, or have, a bachelor’s degree in related subjects.
The masters’ programme does have a bit of a wider acceptance criteria, which our testers do not entirely fulfill, including a bachelor’s degree of 180 credits including an independent project (degree project) of at least 15 credits or equivalent within the field of Software Engineering, Computer Science, Information Technology, Infor- mation Systems, or equivalent . This means that our testers backgrounds don’t entirely accurately display the experience of our target audience since it isn’t as broad.
Discussion and reflection is important when creating a product. So, in this chap- ter we will discuss the marketing elements of our project, testing experience and obstacles that we had along the way.
During the planning of this project two main points were discussed to create an ARG with the purpose of marketing. The first was that we should include information about Sweden, the University of Gothenburg and the master’s programme. The second point was that there is little purpose for this information if no-one plays the game and sees the marketing, so it should be a game you want to continue playing.
The story of the game was structured in such a way that most of the marketing information had to be in blog posts. Most of the information is at least somewhat disguised to not make it apparent that the information is there for marketing pur- poses but instead fun to read. However, this runs the risk of not getting the point across so we solved that by using some puzzles that require acquiring information about GU that is not presented on the site. This means they have to use Google or similar database to find the relevant information. Which in turn exposes them to a lot more information about GU. It is hard to tell how much effect this information will have as this is not something we could test within the time constraints of this project. Instead it was possible to test the second point, if what we have created is an entertaining game, and according to the test results, the players enjoyed it.
In summary, marketing information has been included. Yet this is limited to the first website of the game and may have a limited impact. On the other hand, testers enjoyed the game and this is the foundation on which marketing can be built. There is also the possibility that they wish to do something similar and at the end of the ARG the possibility of doing so at the master’s programme is mentioned in the newspaper article (see figure 3.2).
The most important thing we learned was through player testing and that was the difference in how multiple people go about solving puzzles, even between the internal
members of the group. There are a lot of different ways to see the world, this also applies to puzzles. Since there are no direct guidelines on how to tackle a specific puzzle or if it even is a puzzle, it creates a large set of different possible ways to try to figure out the hidden information. For the puzzle creator it is quite hard to put oneself in the place of the tester since the solution is known and therefore only one solution is thought of. This makes the puzzle feel obvious from the creator’s perspective and challenging for the tester.
5.2.1 Testing Environment
From feedback from our testers, we learned that the game was engaging to play and that many would like to continue doing so. The response was positive overall but it is hard to be certain if this will be the case during the run of the game. One part of the problem is that many of the testers were friends or relatives to the writers of this report. Apart from a possible personal bias on the testers’ part, this makes our selection of testers limited compared to the people we wish to attract to the masters program. It is possible to apply for this program with different bachelor’s degrees than computer science, as long as you have the required credits in the field . It is not possible, on the basis of our testing, to know if these different backgrounds affect the engagement of the story and thus makes other potential candidates less interested in playing the game.
Now afterwards we realise that we should probably have tested with more unrelated people since we have no good way to measure the possible positive bias. Since if more testing were made with unrelated people, possible positive bias would have been easier to discard.
It should be noted that no tester has played the game from beginning to end but has instead tested individual websites. While those tests were successful regarding the interest, no conclusion can be drawn for the entire game. To accurately simulate how the ARG would be played requires extensive resources. This involves having twenty or more participants actively solving an ARG that could possibly take days.
This itself is hard to organize, however it is not impossible. The true difficulty lies with the websites and game. The game has to be bug free from start to finish as one single error could lock out all players from progressing. The websites need to be hosted on a live server which requires funding from Chalmers since free web hosting mostly comes with additional address names like for example "blogspot.difax.se"
which breaks the This Is Not A Game principle. However, since this project was not certain to go live, we did not ask for funding.
This means that the remaining options for testing were to do local versions or hosting ourselves. Since we did not know how to host a server until the very end, we went with local versions. This requires the installation of multiple packages and files on each individual computer and if not already very familiar with this process, then it can quickly become unappealing which could result in the player losing interest.
However, at the end we figured out on how to host on our own computers which made testing way easier but only one of the tests was done this way.
One additional aspect that we noticed was that there was a clear difference between individual versus group testing. The experience between individual testers and group testers are very different because for individual testers, puzzles can not be discussed and different viewpoints on how to tackle a specific puzzle are not there. This means that the perceived difficulty may be much higher for individual testers.
We have learned that a puzzle may have a large set of possible solutions but the tester may feel like some solutions are much more likely to be the correct ones which makes the puzzle easier. How likely each solution feels to each tester can of course be very different. It essentially depends on the testers previous experience in solving puzzles. Since the testers first has to figure out what is and is not a puzzle and then figure out what the puzzle is asking for or trying to mediate. This made us realise that we as creators can become quite blindsided towards the amount of plausible solutions, that we forget on how other people might tackle a problem since we already knew the solution.
This can be summed up as: the difficulty of each puzzle is the set number of possible solutions that one can try and how likely each solution is. This insight is quite important when designing and implementing puzzles to be able to accurately create the right difficulty for each puzzle.
During development we encountered some obstacles, one of them was the diverse set of skills required for this project. This obstacle was not obvious going into the project. However, it quickly became apparent once development started. To create the ARG we needed to create enjoyable puzzles and accompanying websites that uses these puzzles. To create enjoyable puzzles requires deep knowledge of the target audience. When all of this is done, potential players have to be introduced to the game. All of this requires skills such as front- and back-end development experience, human resources abilities and marketing skills. Having such a broad range of requirements is not necessarily a negative, however everyone in the group wanted to be part of building a website because this was the main focus of the project. This led to other aspects of the project such as time management, testing, marketing and information gathering being underdeveloped.
A central theme of ARGs is the concept of This Is Not A Game, where the purpose is to attempt to convince the participant of the game that they are not acting out a fake scenario but instead that what they are doing is real and grounded in reality.
This does present some ethical issues, in that the central idea of the game is to mislead people and deceive them. Some results have shown how ARGs have led to a ’Blurring of the line between reality and fantasy’ .
Due to the theme of the story involving a person in distress one has to consider whether it is ethical to convince people to believe someone is in distress:
• Would people put down more time than they can afford if they believe someone is in distress?
• Is there risk of us causing emotional distress to the players themselves if we make it seem like another player is in danger - or present others as being in distress over a disappearance.
Having the players communicate with the person seeking help relatively early helps mitigate that as the Puppetmasters can decide on the level of calm which the fictional character exudes. Furthermore the ending which clearly shows that the missing per- son wasn’t in actual danger but rather just taking precautions should alleviate those worries, together with the fact that the game ends with Difax facing consequences should bring a level of pride and accomplishment to the player.
’Ethics isn’t always about the risk and liability issue but also about the quality of your intention behind doing it.’
Giles Lane highlights the issues with ARGs used for marketing in a seminar about ethics of ARGs . The issue being the risk of people feeling distress is bad as the players themselves have little reward for playing the game, as such one could argue that the risk in a sense outweighs the reward.
One could argue that our moral obligation to not risk making people feel emotional distress or stress is more important than our duty to attract players to the master’s programme. However, one must also take into account that most people play ARGs for fun and do realise that the characters are fictional even though the ARG is played by the This Is Not A Game principle.
As always when designing a game, especially one of skill, one has the risk of causing a divide in the players . However, we will also have built in another divider into