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ARGs: When Games Meet Real Life

How Companies Like Blizzard Use The Real World As Part Of Their Games

Sombra from the Blizzard animated short, Infiltration

Some may remember last year when Blizzard first hinted about their newest hero at the time. On May 26, 2016, a newspaper appeared on Overwatch's Dorado map, asking a simple question: "Who is Sombra?" At the time, most thought nothing of the message, outside of a potential new hero. But when Ana's origin video was released, everything changed.

For a brief second at 1:16 and 2:11, the screen flashes white. When you watch the video normally, it's very simple to miss, but if you pause the video as the screen flashes, you find yourself in front of a series of numbers. These numbers led to a new hint, which led to more and more hints on YouTube, in emails, and on Overwatch itself. Sombra's game finally came to a close on November 4, 2016, when she was officially revealed at BlizzCon in an animated short.

So why did Blizzard decide to introduce her like this?

The Overwatch team used what's called an ARG, or Alternate Reality Game, to introduce Sombra. Fitting in with her hacker-esque character, an ARG is a game that usually relies on the player, or many players worldwide, to work with various clues and codes to slowly piece together a puzzle of some sort. In the case of Sombra, these clues all revolved around trying to figure out who Sombra actually was, though it instead ended with Blizzard just releasing her animated short to the public. 

The famous I Love Bees website, originally a promotion for Halo 2.

Blizzard's Sombra ARG is by far not the first one to ever be released, however. Outside of video games, they have been around for years, with the earliest recorded one being Ong's Hat around 1993, originating from the collaborate fiction of Incunabula. Arguably the most famous non-video game related ARG is Cicada 3301, which to this day has many controversies as to whether or not it was really ever solved. Some famous games to involve ARGs include The Black Watchmen (in which the entire game is an ARG), Halo 2 with its ilovebees.com, and, of course, Overwatch's Sombra ARG.

So why do companies use ARGs? Short answer? They're fun. The long answer is that they are an incredibly unique way to involve your fans with your game, and a great way to gain the attention from people who otherwise wouldn't notice your game. ARGs are great at bringing together a community to reach a single goal over and over again, since they're usually hard to solve on your own. Entire communities have been built to solve ARGs, the biggest of which is the Game Detectives. ARGs make for an incredible advertising medium, oftentimes much cheaper for companies to make than running normal advertisements.

Overall, ARGs are a fun, engaging way for companies to advertise their game and interact with their fanbase. They bring a community together for a single goal, and they bring many in who may not be familiar with what the ARG is about. So remember, ARGs hide in the subtlest of places, and you may find yourself joining one without even knowing it.

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ARGs: When Games Meet Real Life
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