Expanding the Universe

Or ‘How we can expect developers to make games more social into 2010 and beyond

Some time ago now I spoke at an event in Marlow called ‘Six Degrees of Social Media’ – I talked through couple of social media for business case studies (mainly those of my own), and made it clear to the attendees that if there was a place for an online outreach programme within their business, then they should do it.
Obviously, the explanation was a bit more detailed than that, but you get the idea.

Anyway, after the talk (and subsequent Q&A), I remember getting into a lengthy conversation about how you could use hidden elements within video games to drive the gamer’s experience further into other mediums. The result of which would, in turn, either unlock further gameplay features or maybe, just simply expand the online world within which you’re playing.

Which brings me to Batman: Arkham Asylum

Arguably one of the best games to be released this year, Arkham Asylum is not some lame attempt at a movie tie-in, oh no. Instead what we have here is a well thought out action adventure game set inside Gotham’s very own institute for the criminally insane. With an original (and remarkably well-written) story, Arkham is a game that stretches across many different genres taking inspiration from such games as the Grand Theft Auto series, Ultimate Spider-Man and even Eternal Darkness.

One of the best parts of the game is that of the character of The Joker. Maniacal, murderous and just plain hilarious, the clown-faced villain is always with you – – he’s taken over the asylum you see, and as such has access to both the asylum tannoy and video screens. At one point, towards the end of the game during one of the Scarecrow sequences, a Joker ventriloquist dummy appears on screen and happens to mention a very specific URL.

The script is from a cut scene and as such, I can’t go back and replay it. But I think it goes something like this:

“If you think you’re going crazy and are in need help, then why not try www.ithinkimgoingcrazyanddressedlikeabat.com/idiot – BAH HAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!”

See that URL?
Yes. That one.

The puppet says it so quickly (and so quietly), that if you’re not paying attention, you miss it. In fact, I did miss it the first time I played that section, but thanks to a rather unfortunate turn of events, I was forced to play through a second time.

Miss it again, I did not.

Leaning over to my Mac (I was 2screening, as usual), I typed the URL in from memory quick and was suddenly whisked away to quite possibly the most awesome website I have ever visited…

This, Ladies and Gentlemen, is – believe it or not – a user-generated ‘Easter Egg’. Possibly even the first ever UGC easter egg at that! In the website-owner’s own words:

“Many of you have written to say hello, and many more of you have written a few encouraging words… all the emails I’ve gotten have been positive and friendly. You’re a wonderful bunch of crazy bats!

.

The number one question seems to be, “Are you affiliated with Rocksteady or Eidos?” The answer is “no.” I’m just a fan who found this URL like any of you, except that when I went looking, the domain was still unregistered.

.

The number two question is, “How come Rocksteady or Eidos did not register it first?” The answer is, “I have no idea!” But I’m glad they didn’t, as it’s given me a chance to virtually meet and greet a lot of great people!”

Amazing.

So even thought Eidos went as far as to start such pre-sales online activity such as Arkham Care and Gotham City Digital, they actually managed to miss the one URL that appears in game. Astonishing.

Anyway – to my point…

One of my colleagues over at 1000heads recently blogged about the excitement born out of the ‘easter egg‘, the notion being that just by being ‘in the know’ about a hidden secret within something like a DVD or a video game (or even a fast food menu), you suddenly feel like being part of something incredibly exclusive.

Including such things in the video games of the future (given that we’re now talking about a multi-billion dollar industry), is only going to become more and more commonplace as we move into 2010.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait 😉

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14 thoughts on “Expanding the Universe”

  1. I regret to say I never even considered trying that URL. It, to me, seemed so completely random that I just fobbed it off, assuming that it was said purely as a joke. Much like the “bored.com, offtobed.com, imgoingforadump.com” comments I hear my friends regularly say, I never really take notice of it. Lesson learnt! (with regards to such things seen by the mass market, not my *witty* chums and there jokes)

    The fact that someone has gone out and set up the website dedicated to this, perhaps unplanned, Easter Egg is fantastic. Just goes to show what a small joke in a script can lead to. The power of the internet, eh?

    Most talked about game of the year, I know.. but Modern Warfare 2 has had a few secrets out there which has brought players together, even when not playing the game.
    For example, the Callsigns and Emblems, Infinity Ward released no documentation on what you had to do to achieve these prizes. From near enough the word GO! someone had set to work on this Wiki:

    http://callofduty.wikia.com/wiki/Callsigns

    Started up and contributed to, by the community.. for the community. I’ve been following and using this from the beginning and it’s amazing what a dedicated persons and the internet can do. It’s near complete and the game hasn’t been out that long!

    A wonderful thing, I think.

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  2. Easter Eggs own, especially ones that are throwbacks to earlier things in a series or just specifically for the hardcore fans.

    Didn’t catch the one mentioned though.

    Burnout Paradise has loads, as they’re a UK game developer a lot of there easter eggs are stuff that only people who saw a lot of 70s and 80s english tv would know, and in fact criteriongames latest blog post (last i looked) was encouraging people to track them down.

    I remember Perfect Dark 64 had easter eggs in the form of cheese hidden in levels, just a very small small chunk of cheese…no purpose whatsoever as far as I remember, but obviously one person must’ve noticed it on one level and spoke to someone who may have noticed one on another, and then eventually it became a big hunt to find them all.

    As for making games more social, I think XBOX do a good job of that, with there focus on parties and chatting and friends leaderboards, plus there integration of twitter/ facebook into there system they just need to expand further on it, so that perhaps they can be accessed in the background in some form as you do other things. I believe uncharted 2 (or some other ps3 game) allowed you to put in your twitter login details and the game would occasionally tweet regarding what you was doing (not sure if that was good or annoying though).

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  3. It’s not so much the hidden easter eggs in Arkham which I love – it’s the fact that anyone can play and enjoy it, but the more you know Batman from the past, the more extra touches you notice around the place. Loads of bits that don’t play any part in the plot at all, but are just cool when you spot them…

    I really do love this game – finished it on normal, working my way through the special missions, and then planning to go back through on hard!

    Easter eggs are great for building in some additional excitement/reward, and so many games have interesting ones – I tend to play through a game and then compulsively check gamefaqs or xboxachievements to make sure I haven’t missed anything…

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  4. @mossy You never considered it? But did you HEAR it? I bet you will next time round 😉
    Re: MW2. Dude, I’m jut trying to get through the damn thing ALIVE!! There are Easter Eggs too?! Jeez.. Will take another, closer look.

    Cheers.

    @kermit I didn’t even *think* about Paradise City, I haven’t played for ages. Like MW2, I’m going to have to play that again and start looking – or at least go and check Criterion’s blog post out. Cheers for that. Social games, yes – with Last.fm, Facebook and now Twitter integration – I reckon we’ll see much more of that over the coming months too.

    @Dan You and me both 😉

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  5. Great post, James!

    Other in-game Easter Eggs I remember:

    Killer Instinct – Brutalities, animalities, “babalities”, and even this infamous move by Orchid:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qZPf7-kdcwY

    Ridge Racer 64 – Bit of an odd one, but I remember that you had to do 100 laps on the hardest track without touching the sides and you got to play one level of Galaxian. Took me ages and the rewards really weren’t that great…

    Outside of video games, I love the recent ‘Welcome to Apple’ unboxing posts that went round. Perhaps not really an Easter Egg, but it still makes you feel part of the club:

    http://blogs.gartner.com/thomas_otter/2009/10/06/employee-branding-isnt-just-a-web-thing/

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  6. Ben, I had no idea you were *such* a gamer! 😀

    What do you play on now? PS3 or 360?

    Oh how I remember Killer Instinct, I still have my SNES kicking around somewhere with that on it – heh. Orchid, there are no words.

    I lost many, many nights of sleep to Ridge Racer 64 also.

    Grr..

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  7. Very cool! 🙂
    Perhaps they anticipated this… I hope so. Would seem strange if they hadn’t.

    Things like this are going to become ubiquitous in the next few years, I think – jumping off points for finding stories and games in other media, all expanding the universe of whatever the main property is: film, tv, game, etc. Lost has already made huge use of this – the Transmedia/ARG mentality is slowly seeping through into Mainstream Media.

    I think the excitement of looking for and discovering easter eggs is key to bringing interactivity to old media. It allows you to have the satisfaction of experiencing a carefully crafted narrative or experience, but then also engage immersively with it to keep digging further into the story world. And gives the audience multiple entry points.

    Excited by what you and Dan say about Arkham. Might be worth buying a console for – had to sell my Canadian one when I came back to London. This kind of detail and story experience is what I hope to find in games, and am almost always disappointed.
    Also… did you mean multi-billion? 😉

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  8. Also, would have been great if the guy who registered the domain wanted to do something more gamey/storyish/interactive with it than just have an email and an edited guestbook… bit of a 1.9 response, perhaps…?

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  9. Well, Rupert, maybe for *us* that’s a 1.9 response. But it’s better than nothing, non?
    I dropped the guy an email last night telling him how awesome it is that he secured that URL (I linked him here too, so maybe he’ll comment). Either way, I hope it opens up the way for more UGC easter eggs. That would be cool.

    Batman Arkham Asylum is awesome. If you’re planning on sticking around in London for a bit, then do go and get an Xbox. You can join our Twitter/Gamers Google Wave for organising XBL nights.

    ‘Transmedia/ARG’ – Yep. I like that, much.

    PS. Yes, I meant ‘billion’ – will change it now, cheers.

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  10. wicked. i will do.
    yeah, i didn’t mean to be mean about the 1.9 thing – it is cool – i think given time, the advanced response to this kind of thing might be to redirect the url to a social network page or a site that allows people to sign up & contribute. imagine how cool it would be even if it linked to a wiki or a Ning social network set up by the first person to find it, which becomes a place to share game chat, cheats & media.
    I was thinking that they must’ve left it open on purpose… but on reflection, perhaps they didn’t. It’s good fortune that the guy who did this didn’t have a darker heart. Could have been a commercial opportunity, a portal for spam / phishing, or something more Adult. thinking of the GTA Hot Coffee revelation, the media would have a field day with that…

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