BBC: Multi-Platform Alternate Reality Game Launches; More Criticism

The BBC has launched an alternate reality game (ARG) to support a Radio 1 music festival this weekend. The game centers on Paul Denchfield, supposedly a BBC new media freelancer fired after suspect messages began appearing in his output, who has been using a blog, Flickr, Twitter, YouTube and other video sharing networks for the last month to document his effort to uncover an apparent mystery.

Tongues started wagging in the blogosphere that the episode was an elaborate marketing campaign for the Big Weekend festival, now Radio 1’s publicity head Nick Caley has confirmed it’s all just a charade designed to drive engagement: “This is a truly modern, thoroughly live multi-platform game. Far from being passive listeners, the British public become important, influential players right at the heart of the story’s action. It’s the first of its kind for the BBC, bringing alternate reality games into the mainstream.” ARGs thread gameplay in to real-world, everyday settings; gamers will points or prizes depending on real-life actions. BBC staff met ARG researcher Justin Hall prior to the game’s launch last month.

Criticism: Another BBC alum has added to this week’s criticism of the corporation’s current pace of innovation. Ben Metcalfe, a BBC developer of six years who left in June 2006, said much of the problem stems from tighter government regulation imposed in the wake of the Hutton Report surrounding Iraq war reporting. He criticized top-heavy management and forecast the iPlayer VOD project “will fail”. BBC director of future media and technology defended the corporation’s record of innovation earlier this week.