How To Make An Alternate Reality Game: Post-Production

Post-Production Tips On How To Make An Alternate Reality Game

Andy Petroski, Emerging Technologies Leader and Author, is allowing our readers to read portions of his work. This article comes from his book Alternate Reality Games: Gamification For Performance.


This is the fourth and final part of a 4-part article series about developing an ARG. We’ve already explored initiation, as well as pre-production and production. Let’s now discuss the phases of Post-Production, Go-Live, and Debrief.

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During the phase of post-production, the development team begins by assembling various elements developed during production. Special consideration is given to how each component will affect the user, and if needed, improvements can be initiated.

This is also where the creative teams move from crafting to refining, which can be a difficult transition. With the wide range of possibilities, it is impossible to list all of the activities that might take place during this phase, but here are some common activities:

  • Build ARG story websites; live site, post-event site
  • Acquire and populate social media accounts
  • Regularly conduct functional and integration testing
  • Subdivide written and visual content into usable chunks
  • Move written, visual, and auditory chunks of content to a content management system [1] or other digital storage system
  • Beta test digital integration
  • Develop "Go Live" script
  • Run complete "Live" test with new users
  • Document revisions


Before your project goes live, a final round of user experience testing should take place.

During this ‘soft launch’, inexperienced users are given an opportunity to play through all, or as much as is practical, of the game experience. The goal is to put your masterpiece into the hands of people who represent your target audience and, in preparation for going live, to further educate the team on how the audience will approach the game’s challenges and activities.

Starting The Game

The direct method for starting your game involves announcing the game’s existence and preparing the players. This may require a registration process or simply gathering everyone in one room for the pronouncement. Rabbit Hole events, on the other hand, serve as an indirect method for introducing players to the game world.

In either case, ARGs have a go-live date and time. Even those managed by digital systems should indicate a moment when the development team and experience managers can expect to see traffic indicative of user interaction.

Monitoring The Experience

As the game is underway, technical and creative teams are “on duty” monitoring the game's activities. These individuals are known as “puppet masters” because they manage the resources and game systems from behind the scenes, unbeknownst to the players and often removed from the environment.

Puppet masters are crucial to running a successful game. Their duties include shepherding actors, analyzing web traffic, answering player emails, monitoring social media channels for inquiries and cheating, checking servers for malicious activities, and policing physical clues. But they can also have more hands-on duties in the role of the game’s mole or saboteur.

Some teams also employ “game masters”. Where puppet masters are “behind the curtain” serving as allies and adversaries, game masters are in front of the curtain being a direct line of support to the player. These individuals help the game along by providing direct support to the players. Answering questions face-to-face, making general announcements, settling disputes, and keeping everyone happy are just some of the duties associated with this role.

The Pocket ARG: An Example

During "The Pocket" ARG we had several clues posted around the conference hall.

These were basic 8.5x11 sheets either taped to a wall or in small plastic easels sitting on tables. These sheets were white and printed with codes or odd instructions, which were important to players, but expected to be ignored by non-playing attendees. Day 1 of the event went well. Participants were easily able to find the codes, complete activities, and progress their avatar on the game board. But, overnight some clues went missing and Day 2 started with complaints from many confused players. The on-site game masters found that the cleaning crew removed many of the wall-mounted clues, thinking they were remnants of events from Day 1. Luckily within a few minutes of the first complaints, the team was able to print replacement codes and remount them in the conference hall. Once the event was concluded, the team debriefed the incident and it was documented for future ARGs.

Ending The Game

Event-driven ARGs usually have finite start and end dates. As the experience comes to a close, the team monitoring gameplay has the luxury of preparing for a gentle end of gameplay activities. However, some ARGs are created, released, and take on a life of their own, existing well beyond the game's timeline. The game’s websites and physical media are still available to be found by new players to experience.

For the release of their fifth studio album, Year Zero[2], Nine Inch Nails and Entertainment released an ARG that focused on particular US government policies of 2007. The ARG criticized the government by illustrating how these policies could affect the world of 2022. This was essentially a 3-month ARG. The events played out over the time span with players joined in whenever they stumbled across one of the many Rabbit Hole events.

In some ARGs, the end of the game is the start of the analysis phase. Businesses and institutions use this milestone to start assessing the game’s ROI and to start a formal analysis of collected data. This information is used to determine the efficacy of the participation activities and the overall success of the project.


The goal of a debrief session is to review the team's experience with designing, producing, and executing the ARG. There are many corporate examples of conducting this type of review.

Currently we are following a modified version of an “After Action Report” used by the U.S. Air Force. This one or two session meeting is meant to discuss outcomes of the ARG. The goal is to improve the production process and reflect on the results of the actual event. The following questions are used to structure the conversation:

  1. Evaluate the ARG’s goals
    • What were our intended results?
    • What were our actual results?
    • What caused our results?
  2. Identify the team’s strengths
  3. Identify areas of improvement

This discussion is conducted with the entire team in an informal setting, usually involving food. During these meetings, participants are asked to refrain from pointing fingers, but instead discuss the issues in terms of what took place, identify opportunities for future improvements, and celebrate the successes. Simply working together on the ARG won’t guarantee success on future projects. This activity helps identify strengths while providing an opportunity to self-correct and enhance individual performance.

Final Word

This 4-part series of articles has described the way in which teams work together to craft the story throughout all phases of developing an Alternate Reality Game. An ARG is built around player goals and objectives, but is often fueled by the story.

The depth and breadth of the story can vary, and the importance of the story to the player may vary throughout the ARG experience. But, there’s no doubt that the ongoing storyline in the game is what makes ARGs different from other learning and performance improvement formats. So, in upcoming articles, we’ll explore what you need to know about storytime in ARGs.

Stay tuned!


  1. Content management system
  2. Campaign timeline of Year Zero