>> Respect the community, Value the experience

This was the first ARG that many of us on the PM team had worked on, and certainly the first together as this team. As such, we were both learning and creating at the same time.

Given that factor, we had to be careful to avoid putting more value on the learning and experimenting itself, at least without the players’ or community’s knowledge. Mistakes could have some drastic consequences. This project was not intended to be experimental or educational, but it often felt that way simply because our plans kept changing, and we were essentially incorporating ideas off the cuff, hoping they would fly.


As our timeline and story content grew more drawn out and complex, and before the prologue really found its ‘groove’, we began looking weekly for ways to keep things moving and interesting, to keep people wanting to come back for the next update rather than lose interest. This translated to a lot of last second attempts at new things, such as the GPS Missions discussed previously. We were consistently patching and expanding, pushing along a timeline and a plot line that while growing more defined, also grew more complex.

The problem with that strategy was that the focus primarily on the experience and wrapping it in the story framework led to increased quantity of content, not necessarily quality. We were increasingly trading deep, lasting connections for more chances at more intense, shorter bursts of attention. Deeper connections and loyalty take longer to build within a community, and while creating quick, attention grabbing content is great, it’s really just temporarily toying with the community’s attention.

As deeper experiences were overshadowed by quantity, appreciation for the ARG in the eyes of the community also seemed to waver.

Trying new ideas is wonderful, but getting so enraptured with it that focus and respect for community and the individual’s grander experience loses its priority is quite detrimental. Attention to the community’s experience should always be first and foremost, regardless of the community’s size.

Whether or not the experience is flawless, there’s a greater chance invested players will respect the ARG more if they feel respected and valued as players.

Player-made content isn’t an on-demand feature

One hope for the project was to get to a point in its story where players felt personally invested enough to be creatively inspired, and that at some point they’d be willing to create something themselves to demonstrate that connection. With such a relatively small community though, and without an opportunity that wasn’t presented in the form of a “task”, it was hard to achieve that natural progression.

At one point we created an opportunity; but it was vague, didn’t really have a feasible reason for existing in the plot, and ended up being too presumptuous. We assumed that players were sufficiently emotionally connected with the child AI character that they’d create and share things that would help to cheer her up, of their own accord, when we made her sad. We assumed too much. That isn’t to say that there was no connection, that no one took up the creative challenge, but this phase was essentially presented as if to state “if you care about her, you’ll do something to cheer her up!” That’s quite a provocative and arrogant statement to make in a limited community with many players who are struggling to care much at all.

What ended up happening was that a few players submitted a couple of items they created – images and video – which of course was certainly encouraging to see, but was an uptake far less than we’d hoped. As Krystyn pointed out while recapping her GPS Missions: “It felt like I was being made to run around in circles for the pleasure of a character I don’t currently feel much of a meaningful connection with”.

For players to generate content, to invest of themselves, they should either feel there’s a good reason for it and willingly choose to undertake it to progress the story, or have the ability to choose for themselves when and where they want to create. Inspired creativity cannot be something forced on anyone. Not, at least, while also creating a positive emotional connection to the task. But, when they do create of their own volition, it’s a wonderful thing!

Our attempt to provide an opportunity for player-made content was, once again, another disconnected compromise implemented in the midst of last-minute gameplay strategies. We merely provided a reason, instructions and a method, rather than letting it be a natural result of character interaction. Better would have been to reward players’ offerings of encouragement to the character, and hope to see that evolve at the community’s pace into something bigger, by their own choice and will.


As noted earlier, the original plan for this project (which wasn’t an ARG) was to release a periodic stream of updates that would lead in to the actual ARG while it was being developed. That changed early in the creation process and it evolved into the scope of an ARG itself. However, that expository content wasn’t shelved with the original idea. The prologue became drawn out over weekly updates, growing in complexity with the story being fleshed out and expanded.

Because of this, it became a 37 week fully interactive experience based on a dynamically evolving narrative.

Too much, Too long

What began as tidbits of periodic content grew into a complete story with many characters, regular interaction, many many pieces of plot segments to piece together, and a great deal of content spread over many locations. Had it been more organized or linear, it may have been easier to follow, connect with, or to introduce to people. As it was, all of that detail was spread out over so much time with regular extended gaps that it was easy to lose attention or interest. Many people didn’t seek character interaction, let alone follow a story only gleaned from periodic information shared by those who did.

We made compromises to our approach. We made thewaytheirworldended.com a meta game hub with in-game content and character activity. From an in-game standpoint, while Sys couldn’t truly recognize the existence of all the front page meta content (eg, development notes and the welcome message), on the same page Sys would update its archive of primary story elements which people could use to catch up. The front page became a confusion of information, a location we made to attempt to both provide an immediate resource for new visitors to catch up and find out what had already happened in the various story arcs, and also imply the grassroots nature of the project.

Later in the prologue, eventually a player wiki was created containing a slightly more detailed account of activity through to the ARG’s conclusion.

Because of the initial weekly update schedule of the project, it made the resulting 24 hour periods of live interaction, the game events, and the project itself feel very slow and drawn out. It was an arduous task for us just to keep players’ attentions, let alone find ways to capture those of new visitors.


With the ever evolving strategy of the prologue’s execution the vast majority of what ended up in the prologue was conceived and developed after the ARG launched. The more complex the weekly interactions and narrative became, the more work was done each week to effectively keep up with where it was going, to keep momentum. The amount of development work needed began to creep up on the amount of time available for the team to work on such short notice, and in some cases some elements got pushed or delayed, drawing the project out even longer.

However, while the lack of pre-planned content and creation made it a very stressful and time-consuming project, it certainly had the benefit of making the story very dynamic and free-flowing, and based heavily on community interaction. The story itself evolved greatly because little was pre-written, and there was a wealth of player interaction and input to draw from.

Best laid plans…

There was in fact a twist that we had not expected with a character. While it can’t be compared to the epic betrayal in ILB of the Sleeping Princess by the player Weephun (rat bastard), this unexpected action threw a wrench into our plans for the character “Eridanos” (whose story, by the way, is far from complete). When the player Anaerin reported to Sys that Eridanos was a potential threat to itself and the AI Essy, we had to drastically alter the relationship between them.

Eridanos, who intentionally had an aura of distrust in his character, being secluded and secretive, was never intended to be a threat to Sys. He meant well, yet his actions while interacting with Sys were seen by players as potentially malicious, rather than as efforts to be helpful. Anaerin’s warning to Sys about Eridanos had to be addressed – so Eridanos was effectively excommunicated, practically vilified. We then had to find a way to make amends and prove his loyalty to the community.

This unexpected vilification of Eridanos led to another minor adjustment to the plot that we incorporated in an attempt to redeem him and re-build his rapport and respect within the community. Fortunately, this ended up being a positive alteration for a number of reasons – as explained later in this case study.


The Intimation Prologue never truly concluded.

Typically at the end of a production there are credits, or something that essentially breaks the 4th wall as a form of narrative closure. But even after our characters effectively said their farewells, because of the nature of this as a prologue and our plan for the upcoming primary ARG to be a continuation of the story, this ending never truly happened.

We decided, due to some player comments and questions that were awaiting answers throughout the prologue, to compromise yet again and provide a post-game Q&A opportunity for the community. Under the guise of the SFTA, we attempted to form a sort-of-in-game method to provide behind the scenes answers to questions about the project. We presented the answers in a way that sustained the alternate reality of the ARG – the “VEIL Initiative” – implying that all the events were still real events, and the answers given (by the puppetmaster team) were merely supporting the idea that they were fictional events told in the form of an ARG, just as Iris and ILB had been “presented”. Like a character on film might appear to look at the audience through the camera, we were looking at the players through the 4th wall set in place by the ARG.

…Is this case study a real case study about a grassroots ARG? Or is it a facade, a fictional explanation concocted by the SFTA by some of its members partnered with 4D Fiction to mask Intimation’s events as a fictional ARG?

Our philosophy of remaining entirely secluded and anonymous for the sake of the 4th wall was simply making things more muddled and confusing. What’s in-game? What’s meta? Is this real or is it part of the ARG? The goal of all that we continued to do, trying to indicate the end without actually saying “THE END”, was still too vague. We kept the SFTA going when all else ended purely to maintain a fictional thread, a means to tie the prologue to the rest of the project, whenever it would be ready to launch. And because it never truly ended, people kept asking if there was more.

We soon realized that this was just making things worse for the community, who simply wanted clarity and closure.  Being the prologue, we didn’t want to tie off every loose thread. So the best we could accomplish for this closure was to provide, on a meta level of course, hidden behind-the-scenes easter eggs from the prologue; these were discovered hidden and encoded within that final Q&A newsletter that we’d created to explicitly answer players’ questions.

Even after all that, and already far too late, we felt that we simply needed to end the prologue completely. No more active tying in to or hinting at future events — we had to just let it end already!

And so we can say definitively: Yes, the prologue is complete.


THE STATS: Breaking it down