Perplex City was a long-form alternate reality game that took almost two years to complete. As opposed to other ARGs that are kinds of marketing, like I Love Bees for Halo 2, or viral campaigns to promote promote awareness of a particular subject, Perplex City was an ARG meant as a large puzzle game with an actual prize at the end. Season 1 ended with a player winning £100,000 after finding “The Cube,” a box that players were tasked to find through over 200 clues and puzzles. Also, unlike other ARGs, Perplex City required players to purchase packs of cards that had puzzles on them which could be solved online and the results entered to calculate a score for players.
Perplex City’s story revolves around an artifact called the Receda Cube that is from another world and was some how hidden on Earth. The Cube holds untold power and several non-Earth factions are vying for control over the Cube. Players had to find clues from the puzzle cards and from story elements that would be published periodically. The story elements were told through characters who lived in Perplex City and where attempting to help us mere Earthlings get through the complicated puzzles and find the Cube. As it turned out, the denizens of Perplex City thrive on things like puzzles, patterns, and backstabbing so there were plenty of moments in the game where players felt frustrated at not knowing enough to be able to see the bigger picture. Eventually everything came together to find out who stole the Cube, why, and where it was.
The game was obviously successful on some level since someone after two years was able to complete the puzzles and finde The Cube. Perplex City spawned many websites that range from listing all the puzzles to trying to tie all the disperate bits of information together into a cohesive whole. Another reason why I think it was successful is because several venture capital firms backed the company that was running Perplex City and directly funded the ARG. Though I must say that I find it completely odd that after such a success they put Season 2 on hold.
I have to admit that even though buying cards to play the game seems a little questionable, the idea of getting a real reward out of the game is a big pull. If Mind Candy, the company who created and ran Perplex City, had made the game perfectly free-to-play then there would have been a larger player base, not to say that they did not have a large enough player base. Also, if Mind Candy had made a better link between modern events and the game then there might have been more players. Something that did bother me is that even though Mind Candy is based out of the U.K., they made Perplex City into an international game. The prize was in England and had to be presented to Mind Candy in person for it to count so the company essentially ruled out those not from the U.K. or those without the expendable income to jetset around the world to find the Cube. At that point it becomes fruitless for someone to play if they know they cannot win or achieve the prize. Even though they had “events” in other countries it still seems like a underhanded move.
As a side note, they turned the ARG into a board game with absolutely wickedly hard questions to answer in a kind of Trivial Pursuit format. I would have played the ARG because I enjoy hard puzzles and that is what my friends and I do for fun on a regular basis. If the board game is any indication of the ARG’s difficulty then I think just being able to complete some of the challenges would have been rewarding in and of itself.