Majestic Lessons Learned

Posted on January 21, 2008, 6:28 pm, by Elizabeth LaPensée, under Design, Games, INSPIRATION, RESOURCES.

Majestic has been called a great failure, and I’m with that line of thinking. Christy Dena, who is working on a PhD and researches largely in the area of cross-media entertainment, pointed me to two references: Dave Szulborski’s ‘A Majestic Failure?’ in This is Not a Game (2005) and Carol Handler Miller in ‘Digital Storytelling’ (2004). I’ll quickly point to the factors both authors referenced, on the negative and positive side…

Postponed – Not only did it launch after the expected date and thus lost marketing drive, but it also launched after The Beast and was thus compared a great deal. On top of that, it released after 9/11 (‘nuff said).
USARG – It was only available in the US, also an issue for the post 9/11 atmosphere.
Mystique – They were out about being a game, which may have ruined believability.
Mon’ay, Mon’ay, Mon’ay! – There was a subscription fee. To be specific, a $10 fee per month for an average of 15 minutes of gameplay per day.
Inflexible/Inactive –They ran in a disjointed episodic form that insisted on being linear, despite time lapses in gameplay.
I Feel Alone – It was single-player.
I Feel Invaded – Some of the play was too invasive, like phone calls at home.
I Feel Useless – The player had no collaborative effect on the story. The puzzles were difficult and there was little reward for solving them.
I Feel Confused – Interface elements mixed fictional and real links, and features like chatbots that weren’t actually real.

Shiny – There were well-produced game assets.
I’m Shiny Too – Players made numerous fan sites, including biographies and sub-ARGs.
Not Too Inflexible – Some fan fiction was used in the plot of the game.
I Feel Enlightened – The plot, although linear, had interesting twists with a mixture of reality and fiction.
I Think That’s Real – The chatbots did feel realistic and inspired later work in bot engines.

Overall, the game failed commercial, but it also failed in balancing the game design in terms of pace and story to keep both “casual” and “hardcore” players involved equally. A developer of Majestic, Greg Gibson, speaks more on this in a blog comment, which Andrea Phillips linked me to. He is an invaluable resource for understanding ARG design. Even though, yes, Majestic was a failure, it was a great one. The lessons learned help those of us developing ARGs now.

I am currently working on a project for the Aboriginal Media Lab, which, since it’s an ARG, I can’t say much about. I am very aware of concerns with the Aboriginal community, such as creating a safe environment that other players can’t take advantage of to cause any harm during gameplay. We plan not to be so invasive, but rather use email, web sites, Facebook, and YouTube to integrate technology. Primarily, we are concerned about our live events and the activities we are having our players get into for the game.

Puzzles are often a hindrance in ARGs, so we’re simply dropping those. There’s nothing directly to “solve,” but rather mysteries and clues that will permeate Vancouver, British Columbia and spaces online in relation to the story. Squamish language will be used, but we see this as integration with the storyline, not as language puzzles that need to be solved in order to progress the plot. Rather, the plot will move as we do with players influencing the progression of the story but not of the major events. I know that players of Majestic felt they didn’t influence the plot enough, so this is a point of concern for me, but our audience will largely be unique from typical ARG players. We’re targeting community member (both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal), city planners, college students, and hope to satisfy the ARG playing community online.

Essentially, this ARG is based around non-profit fundraising and demonstrating how the ARG model can be used for facilitating Aboriginal knowledge and community development in the areas of health, economy, and education.

All of this sounds very dry since I’m not giving out the theme or content, but we’re putting a lot of good ol’ NDN humor in there. It’s all about having fun in the name of promoting Aboriginal knowledge in plants, medicines, good food, and all their traditional uses. Grandmother plants and grandfather rocks getting attention in Vancouver and hopefully in other areas depending how far the internet-focused gameplay extends. The collaborative creation of the technological medicine wheel, inspired by the work of Squamish herbalist and new media artist Cease Wyss.

One thing’s for sure—no subscription fee.

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