Using Alternate Reality Games to Market Your Movie

Last week I listened to the "This Conference is Being Recorded" podcast from filmmaker Lance Weiler. The subject was a creator of Alternate Reality Gaming (ARG), or internet sites that pretend to be something real, but are actual games with various clues (in various formats) to decipher. It's a very interesting form and can be very immersive as you sink deeper and deeper into artificial worlds.

This can be a wonderful movie marketing tool. With a world already created in a screenplay, a natural extension is the video game. Since most filmmakers don't have the money to fund a console game (which would exceed the budget of their movie), ARGs offer a simpler experience, but one with no less power if done right. The big budget Transformers has a Sector 7 (the mysterious government agency featured in the film) site, filled with "evidence" about the existence of giant robots. Of course you need a password, but that's what Google is for. See how you're "playing" already?

That site is strictly consumption (all you do is watch stuff), but there are others that demand user interplay. World Without Oil presented a weekly scenario, then had users create content that fleshed it out. People would submit videos, blog posts, pictures, and audio which related "personal experiences" during the mock oil shock. It reminded me a lot of the game where you sat in a circle with your friends and each improvised a (usually funny) story, telling one paragraph each. World Without Oil is the same game on a much larger scale. Very interesting.

One thing I really like about these games is that they act real, and don't blatantly advertise a product if they are hocking one. Sites look authentic, and if a phone number is seen--call it! It will work, and have some meaning in the context of the game. Details like that make for interesting crossover into the "real" world. Sector 7 has lots of video clips of supposed robot activity, but never once do you get a popup of "Transformers! Opening July 2nd!" The content of the site does all the talking. I like that.

This is something I'd really like to try when I start marketing my upcoming indie sci-fi flick. Create an ARG covering several manufactured websites across the web. Create a trail for the user to follow, ending with the site for the movie. Or follow the WWO model and get people to fill the holes in your world with original content created by them. Shoot scenes not featured in the script (like backstory) and work it into the game somehow. Spread it all over the place and make sure it all leads back to your movie. There are all kinds of things you could try.

I like these ideas as they can be very fun as well as beneficial toward getting the word out about your film. For more information on ARGs, check out ARGnet, Unfiction, and the Wikipedia entry on this topic. They will get you started on current games and recall the more famous ones of the past.

How else can we use ARGs to propel buzz about our movies? Leave a comment!


WriTerGuy said…
One aspect of World Without Oil that's not been noted as much: it links player with gamemaster vs. a problem or issue, instead of the more common player vs. gamemaster. So in WWO, the players and the gamemasters were all very equal in power, working together to get a grip on what was happening as the oil shock went on. In other ARGs, you typically see the gamemasters holding all the power, and players trying to get some (usually by solving puzzles).

It's worth some thought to see if you can find a way that you and the potential fans of your movie can collaborate. In sci-fi, I think the obvious target is that nugget of backstory that sets up the premise of your movie: "robots become humanlike" or "the government knows everything" or whatever. Have people help you find reasons to believe in your premise, and I think they will be motivated to see your film.

Ken Eklund, writerguy
World Without Oil creator
Scott Eggleston said…
That's a great idea, Ken. Not only will you create an audience of participants, but they will actively promote a movie they helped create.