By Dee Cook, March 17th, 2011

Image courtesy of John Mark Josling

My visit to South by Southwest Interactive took me to a lot of talks on Transmedia – a term, by the way, that was the most overused and under-understood of the conference (Felicia Day even went on a particularly apt rant about it on Monday). Most of the “Transmedia” panels just didn’t seem to get it – there was no takeaway, there was a lot of gobbeldygook, and in one bizarre case, there was a futurist who seemed to be discussing how in 6-10 years we will all be watching programmed television. But I digress.

I ended up going to an exceedingly dry-titled panel on a whim. I couldn’t bear to attend another Transmedia panel because the term had lost any meaning to me, and “Having Fun Yet? 10 Usability Heuristics For Games” sounded like the presenters had a good handle on their topic, at least. But what I found there completely blew me away and this panel took the crown for my favorite panel of SXSW Interactive 2011. These design maxims may be old hat for programmers, but I have never heard them applied together like this for ARG development, and there they are highly relevant.

1. Increase interaction speed over time.  Repeated tasks should get quicker.  Make frequent transactions more easily available. There was a recent game that had information that was only accessible if you entered a username and password.  The way the webpage was coded, the browser did not ask if it could save the information for you, so every time you wanted to check for new content (which showed up regularly) you either had to memorize the login or search your email for it.  Not good design.

2. Avoid conceptually conflicting inputs.  Be conceptually consistent throughout the game. This means that the evil genius hacker organization probably wouldn’t be using simple substitution, folks.

3. Provide immersive cues – ambiguity makes the connection between the player and their world less immersive. If you want a player to call a telephone number or email someone, telegraph that to them.  Don’t make them fearful to contact your characters – “Is this in-game or out-of-game?” is not being immersive!

4. Distinguish active from inactive.  Provide cues so that players know what they need to touch. If they’re supposed to be hacking into your character’s email, fine – make that clear.  But if they’re not, save yourself some trouble by making that clear ahead of time.

5. Prevent surprise errors – and if the user does fail, make sure they understand why. Allow them to undo errors. The first part of this rule can be helped with careful vetting and playtesting.  The second part, say if a player thinks that they need to email Character A with information when in fact it’s Character B they have to contact – simply have Character A nudge them in the right direction rather than ignore them completely, so your player isn’t shouting into the wind.

6. Be game-state aware.  Provide the correct data to players at the correct time, and let them dig deeper to the areas that they want to find out more about.  Practice progressive disclosure. Don’t be absolutely rigid in your game design.  Some of the best and most memorable ARG characters started out as throw-aways, but players got attached to them, the designers realized that attachment, and they wrote much larger roles for the characters, creating a much richer experience for the players.  Listen to your audience and adjust accordingly.  As well, don’t overload them with all the information right away.  Just as you read a book chapter by chapter or watch a movie a minute at a time, you don’t play an ARG all at once.

7. Reading is easier than remembering.  Make objectives clear and memorable; don’t overburden with information.  Reduce the players’ cognitive load. In an ARG sensibility this can be said as: provide a player summary site, and keep it current.  ARGs are notorious for being complex, deep, and sometimes impossible to keep up with for all but the most dedicated players.  Will you be the one who can come up with the system that lets the casual ARG player join in?

8. Remember real life.  Provide quick and easy exits.  Consider the environment your game is played in. Another game recently had a live feed that displayed for 24 hours.  The designers did it because they wanted to include a global audience.  But for those players who started watching the feed at the beginning, it was very hard to turn it off and go to bed.  Even a small, tongue-in-cheek card to change viewer shifts would have helped the viewers realize that they could switch off and let someone else take their place.

9. Maintain flow.  Minimize content breaks and cognitive dissonance.  Does it all feel like one system?  Don’t make content breaks feel like punishment. Some games release content on a set schedule and there’s nothing at all wrong with that.  But it should be with a small sense of closure that the last item of the chapter is released, so that players don’t receive something highly provocative and have to wait a week (or whatever the timetable is) to receive answers.  If they’re punished by time for seeking answers, soon enough they will stop seeking.

10. Ask, “What could I remove?”  Don’t include information that’s irrelevant and don’t let bells and whistles overwhelm your project. In other words, consider the principle of Chekhov’s gun – never put a loaded rifle on the stage if you’re not planning on shooting it by the end of the play.  One red herring?  Maybe.  A dozen?  Not so much.

As you can see, these principles adapt extremely easily to ARG design, but I think they can branch out into many other fields as well. I’d like to give many kudos to Corey Chandler and John-Mark Josling for a terrific, old-school SXSW presentation that gave much food for thought.

Slideshare here.

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Posted in ARG design

Dee Cook was elated to discover the world of interactive storytelling because, at that moment, she finally discovered what she wanted to do when she grew up. She has written, designed, and consulted on a score of alternate reality games and campaigns, most recently Focus Rally America, True Blood, and World Without Oil. Find out more about her at

By Haley Moore, March 17th, 2011

Last week, on Transmedia Talk Episode 21, we spoke with Julia Pontecorvo, Noah Workman and Patrick Rousseau from Iris MediaWorks about their transmedia concept The Rodshire Archives. It was an interesting experience unlike any of our previous shows. Usually, we speak with a creative team after they’ve launched their initiative. In the case of Rodshire, we were kicking off a workshop to help shape the development path of a nascent intellectual property.

Julia and team first presented their plan at Power to the Pixel in London this October. You can read Julia’s assessment of the experience here.

The concept for this IP is such: A town populated with residents who act as origin stories for superstitions, popular myths and legends. Anything from Bloody Mary to “7 years’ bad luck” for a broken mirror is fair game.

Here’s what we know:

Iris MediaWorks’ primary experience is in film. In fact, they created an evocative mood video that conveys their vision for the town of Rodshire.

They’d like to create multiple stories about the residents, and expand these tales (while generating new ones) with the help of the audience.

Each story should function as both origin story and allegory.

While the main media type will be video, the team is considering a budget-conscious way to create immersive, but not over-complicated, web browser and mobile application experiences. These would act as both content hub and audience contribution platform.

Iris MediaWorks is interested in monetizing this experiment.

Everything else is up for grabs! And maybe even some of the aforementioned items. If you listen to the podcast, you’ll hear us discuss some basics and ask a lot of questions for about an hour.

What we’d like to do is check back with the RA team every month or so, while continually developing the project together at the Workbook Project. The comments section of this post is where we’ll kick off the convo. Hopefully, we’ll all learn a bunch, some creative and technology people will impact the project with their contributions and The Rodshire Archives will move along swimmingly.

But keep in mind, this is a total experiment for all of us. Keep it constructive. Keep it interesting.

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Posted in ARG Transmedia Talk cross-media

Haley Moore is a newspaper reporter, artist, and playwright based in north Texas. She has worked on several indie, fan and commercial Alternate Reality Games.

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By robert pratten, March 17th, 2011

Welcome to Transmedia Talk, a new podcast covering all things Story. Transmedia Talk is co-hosted by Nick Braccia, Dee Cook, and Haley Moore and looks to shed light on the topic of transmedia storytelling with commentary, interviews and tips on how storytelling is moving into the 21st century.

In this special edition from SXSW 2011, Robert Pratten talks about our multi-screen future with Brian David Johnson.

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NB: If you’d like to give  us feedback, recommend yourself as a guest or suggest topics to cover – please email us at or Tweet away with the hashtag #tmediatalk

Robert Pratten from
Haley Moore
Dee Cook from Dog Tale Media
Nick Braccia from Culture Hacker

Special Guest

Brian David Johnson, Intel Futurist and author of the book Screen Futures

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Posted in Transmedia Talk podcast social media storytelling television transmedia video

robert pratten Robert Pratten is CEO and Founder of Transmedia Storyteller Ltd, an audience engagement company and provider of Conducttr, an pervasive entertainment platform. He has more than 20 years experience as an international marketing consultant and has established himself as a thought-leader in the field of transmedia storytelling. He is author of the first practical book transmedia storytelling: Getting Started in Transmedia Storytelling: A Practical Guide for Beginners.

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By Haley Moore, March 17th, 2011

Welcome to Transmedia Talk, a new podcast covering all things Story. Transmedia Talk is co-hosted by Nick Braccia, Dee Cook, and Haley Moore and looks to shed light on the topic of transmedia storytelling with commentary,interviews and tips on how storytelling is moving into the 21st century.

Download Adobe Flash Player.

Download | Subscribe with iTunes

Running Time: 1:15:03

Nick Braccia from Culture Hacker
Haley Moore
Dee Cook from Dog Tale Media
and Host Emeritus Robert Pratten from Transmedia Storyteller

Special Guest:

Patrick Rousseau, Julia Pontecorvo, Noah Workman from Iris MediaWorks join us as we workshop their piece in development, The Rodshire Archives Project.

The Rodshire Archives project was chosen as a finalist in Power to the Pixel’s 2010 Pixel Pitch competition. In thispodcast, we get a feel for the project and begin to discuss how to bring the town of Rodshire to life.

From This Episode:

Workman and Rosseau’s Sundance web series The Captive.

The Rodshire Archives look and feel slideshow video.

Urban Mythology, the site Dee Cook curated for the ARG Urban Hunt.

The iPad/iPhone app Strange Rain.

Arcade Fire’s experience The Wilderness Downtown

The Haunted Majora’s Mask ARG.

Brian Chirls’ OK Go video project in HTML 5.

Mongoliad, a cooperative writing projectby Jeremy Bornstein, Neal Stephenson, Greg Bear, and the Mongoliad community.

Dionaea House

Ted’s Caving Page

Charles Mauro’s cognitive analysis of Angry Birds.

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Posted in Transmedia Talk design experimental podcast storytelling transmedia

Haley Moore is a newspaper reporter, artist, and playwright based in north Texas. She has worked on several indie, fan and commercial Alternate Reality Games.

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