Exocog’s Jim Miller

Did you wholly control the development yourself or let your writers run with their own ideas?

Somewhere in between. There was definitely a detailed story outline (which all the writers had), and they got specific but somewhat generic assignments that were consistent with the story point being advanced by the entry — "Anders needs to report having a vision about Sarah being captured — not in imminent danger, but restrained". But all the writers were encouraged to stretch out within their assignments, and I think they did a great job of bringing in new ideas within those assignments, and enhancing the story and characters. It's important to have a carefully-thought out story plan and to stick with it, or you can find yourself with people in two places at the same time, or on two different sides of your conflict. So one of my roles was "consistency checker", making sure that al the entries were all in line with where the story had been and was going. But it's also great to have multiple writers, so that your characters can have distinctively different voices, and so you can get a span of ideas on how the story should evolve.

You mention in your curtain call that you were interested in what the commercial possibilities might be for this genre, specifically in entertainment marketing. Do you think there is a viable business model there?

Good question, and I'm very interested in the answer to it. The movie/TV tie-in is certainly one approach, where you're funded as part of the marketing campaign for the property. For this to work in the long term, now that we've gotten past the novelty value of web campaigns, we've got to be able to demonstrate that the studio's ROI on a game is as good or better than they'll get from a TV buy or a print ad or whatever. There's a lot of detail in server logs, but turning that data into useful information that everybody can agree on is still something of an evolving science. The obvious alternative to this — direct funding from the players, either through a flat fee or by subscription — is also tricky. Majestic tried both of those models and wasn't successful, but there were a lot of mitigating circumstances there. On the other hand, Everquest is a very different sort of game, but it's been wildly successful on a subscription basis. It's one of the few examples on the Internet of people being able to make money with per-month charges. So, overall, I think the jury is still out on this question, but there are too many opportunities here to not try to find a model that will work. I have a few other ideas kicking around, but let me hold onto them for now….

Is there anything you would have done differently in Exocog, knowing what you know now?

Other than trying to get more sleep? The main thing I would like to have done was to have planned out the events of the game in even more detail than we did. There's no question that some of the details will change once you get into the heat of the game, but the closer you can come to knowing exactly what's going to happen — or what you think is going to happen — every single day, the better off you'll be. We did okay, but there were still times when we tweaked the story in the morning, finalized the content at noon, and took it live at 1:00. Too much of that will burn you out pretty quickly.

Are you planning any future alternate reality games?

I'm regrouping at the moment, and figuring out what to do next. These games are huge fun, but they really do take up your entire life when they're in play. Finding a way to do them while also putting some bread on the table would be great.

Do you have any suggestions or tips for potential puppetmasters? Was there anything you would have liked to have seen from the players, but didn't?

  • Be ready for a very intense experience. An easy day is when you only work 12 hours.
  • Perl is your friend.
  • Story and characters. Story and characters. Story and characters.
  • Whenever you do something with the game, especially something that involves interactivity, think at least four moves ahead. It's one thing to put up an e-mail address and have an autoresponder ready to catch the mail, but then what? What have you implicitly invited your players to do by putting that address out there, and how will you respond to their responses? How does that invitation change over the duration of the game? You have to be ready for anything, because you'll get it.
  • The first appearance of a technology determines how that technology will be perceived by your players throughout the game. This caught us once or twice. For instance, most of our e-mail addresses, and all of the early addresses, had rather simple autoresponders, and they were in fact declared to be autoresponders in the messages they returned. Debbie, however, was quite different. Her responses were generated by pasting together randomly selected strings, so that every message was slightly different (although they all said pretty much the same thing). Plus, Debbie "had other responsibilities" and "worked real hours" — if you sent her mail, you wouldn't get a response right away, but maybe a half-hour or so later. And, if you sent her a message outside of work hours (9:00 – 18:00, M-F PDT), you wouldn't get a response until the next morning. Very clever, I thought — this'll get the board talking! Unfortunately, Debbie didn't get enough mail for the players to discover any of this cleverness. Everybody assumed it was just another autoresponder, and never found the subtleties. This almost got us in trouble when we put out the cell phone message from Jason suggesting that people ask Debbie about MacClaine. Sending a message to Debbie containing the words "Jason" and "MacClaine" would get you a special message, but, by then, most people had assumed that Debbie was just a dumb autoresponder, and why should they bother sending another message? So be careful when you plan how different technologies will get introduced during the game — the first appearance is critical.
  • Pages: 1 2 3