An Open Letter to the IHC

Imagine you’re a part of a soccer team. Your coaches have decided to make your games a little more fun and have set up a series of semi-random bonuses to people who complete the tasks set out each week. Because of the type of player you are, you either don’t have the ability or inclination to complete these tasks (and thus be rewarded for the week). But that’s okay, because, overall, you consider yourself to be a team player and it is more important to you for your team to work together and get a win rather than get an individual reward yourself.

This goes on for several months, and although at times you might be slightly jealous, you never really feel left out because you’re becoming quite the player on the team. Your teammates notice it and your coaches have quietly given you kudos on the work that you’ve done. The fact that you haven’t won an individual prize doesn’t mean much since you never actively tried to win one.

Finally, the season comes to a close and the coaches have announced that they are going to be having a final award ceremony, where more prizes will be given out, including some for the most valuable players. You become pretty excited at this because you know, your teammates know, and your coaches know that you are one of the best players on the team. Although you hadn’t expected any sort of reward at the beginning of the season, you can’t help to feel like now it’s your turn and that you’ll finally get something tangible for your efforts.

The night of the award ceremony comes. The coaches announce a lot of names for rewards. You notice a lot of the people already won one or more of the weekly rewards, but that’s okay because they still played the entire season and deserved a final reward for sticking it out. Then the time comes for the MVP award. You’re so excited because you’ve seen some of the kickass gifts the others have received tonight and you figure you have to be getting something like that. You and three other people are called up to the stage. Your names are announced. The coaches thank you for a job well done. Then they give you a pat on the back and send you back down to your seats empty handed. Thanks for playing and goodnight everyone.

You leave feeling extremely upset and insulted.

The above scenario is pretty much how it played out during Sony’s Institute for Human Continuity ARG for the movie 2012. After handing out prizes to people who were quick enough to become Ambassadors at Comic-Con, who were lucky enough to live in (or near) specific cities for the dead drops, who were randomly selected members of the press or at-home Ambassadors, the game seemed poised to be ready to reward those players who had actively played the game up until the end and made some significant contribution to it.

So I’m going to send copies to just a few of you that I’ve grown to trust. Keep an eye on your mailbox for the next few days.

That is what the character called Corruption Theory said on November 6, 2009. When I first read that, I concentrated on the words “you that I’ve grown to trust.” I know now that what I should have been focusing on was “just a few of you,” because it seems that only a relatively small number of people got the final mailing from Corruption Theory. I wasn’t one of them, despite solving 7 out of the 11 Project Naaczaal puzzles, being recognized by another player as being one of the main puzzle solvers and being one of 4 names Soren Ulfert had written down before he died.

I need to point out right now this is not about the swag. I really don’t care that I didn’t get a specific piece of swag, like some pictures or a poster or camera or e-reader. What I do care about is being left out of the final set of rewards when a: it was being presented as a reward for contributing to the game and b: numerous people who got the final package had already gotten prizes during the game. And I also care that I was not the only one to be ignored in this manner. At least two other people who were fairly active (by my estimations in the game) also didn’t receive any sort of final package.

This is unacceptable. It’s one thing to send out rewards to players for randomly being the first to show up at a location or respond to a tweet. There at least the method of ‘winning’ is stated and players can accept that as just being the nature of the game. It’s another thing entirely however to suggest that ‘prizes’ will be given out based on merit and then distribute them seemingly at random. There was zero transparency as to how these final packages were given out. In fact, from my perspective, it would appear that if you had already been one of the Ambassadors and received a prize that you would then also get the final package as well. Whether or not this is in fact true I can’t tell, but more than one person who posted in the Unfiction thread stated that they had been an Ambassador and had received something previously in the mail.

I do know that not all the Ambassadors signed up on the IHC website received packages, because I had signed up after Comic-Con when the link to apply to become an Ambassador was posted. I never received the poster that was sent out to some Ambassadors by Barbara Lewis-Penn. At the time I wasn’t upset at the slight as I hadn’t been a very active Ambassador and figured there was probably some minimum sort of activity threshold that I did not pass, but now I’m curious if mailing was conducted in the same way as the final package mailing was, where some people who were deserving got passed over. There certainly is precedent with that considering the controversy over who should have been included in the final 12 11 candidates for the Leader of the Post-2012 World.

Most of this blame I lay on Sony. I’m sure they had some huge list of rules that were drawn up to ensure ‘fairness’ in who was rewarded throughout the game. But seriously, those rules didn’t have some sort of clause that stated if someone ‘won’ a prize that they would be excluded, or at least put at the bottom of the list, from any future prizes? I’m not trying to take anything away from those who were rewarded more than once, or saying that they didn’t deserve the final prize. I’m just saying spread the love around a little.

But I’m guessing that spreading the love around wasn’t in Sony’s game plan. After all, not only did they give out prizes to a small subset of those who actually played their game, an even smaller subset of those final package recipients got an extra prize – a Sony Pocket Reader. I really can’t figure out the reasoning behind this, unless Sony just had a bunch of Readers laying around the office that they had no idea what to do with. Because I’m sure it didn’t even cross their minds to produce more posters and printouts to send out to more deserving players instead of expensing $200 readers to a few individuals.

While Sony and whatever marketing executive presumably drew up the list of players who would get prizes get most of my contempt, the Puppetmasters who ran the game also deserve some of the blame. Unless they were absolutely clueless as to how Sony would reward players with the final package, the PMs could have communicated better the fact that packages would not necessarily go out to the ‘most deserving’. Even a line as simple as “I’m randomly mailing out packages to people through the IHC” would have been sufficient since it a: alerted players to the random nature of the package recipients and b: that only those people who signed up through the IHC would be eligible. Certainly not perfect since I’m sure there were many deserving people who played the game yet never signed up via at the IHC, but still better than nothing.

Alternatively, the PMs could have learned from the example of Who Is Benjamin Stove or the Levi’s Go Forth game where the first X players to complete a puzzle could submit their information for a prize. Not only would this have allowed a different set of players to excel (puzzle type vs location based) but it also would have allowed anyone who followed the game through to the end to have a chance at a puzzle – instead of just someone who might have signed up at the beginning of the game and then dropped it later.

I have had a lot of time to think about what happened with the handling of the final packages.. Although my indignation has somewhat calmed, I still feel decidedly insulted by Sony and the Puppetmasters of the 2012 game. I have no idea of the number of players of the game, but I do know that the number of heavily active and participating players is extremely small. I base this on the fact that for me to solve so many, relatively easy, puzzles – sometimes over 12 hours after they had been first published – that there certainly wasn’t a huge base of players eager to get the glory of being the first to solve. Add in the fact that the live events seemed to have an anemic number of participants (from what I can tell, no one even showed up to the Miami event) and you can tell that this game didn’t have an overabundance of players – in contrast to ARGs like Something In the Sea or Why So Serious?

As I said before, it’s not about the swag. The fact that I didn’t get a Sony Reader isn’t what makes me so upset. Jealous maybe, but not upset. What gets me upset is that it doesn’t seem like I mattered one bit to Sony. The Puppetmasters at least acknowledged my contributions on News Done Right, but it still feels rather hallow. I looked over all of my 2012 stuff and realized that I never got a single, personalized, in-game piece of correspondence. Not even a quick little email from a character saying “Nice job on the puzzle solves.” Even that would have meant more than seeing my name appear on the in-game websites, because that would have taken more effort than a cut & paste into the [Insert Solver #1’s Name] on a pre-written blurb.

So what could Sony possibly do to make any of this better and not leave such a bitter taste in the mouths of its dedicated players? First of all, they could send a token of appreciation to all of those other players who didn’t receive anything. At the very least they should have a bunch of packages left over from the unclaimed dead drops. Would it really break the budget to put at least the print-outs in an envelope and mail them out? Not only would you be using items you had already paid for, but you’d also make a lot of players happy with feeling like the were actually included.

For me personally, at this point, a swag package isn’t what’s important and I would forgo it if meant that one more person who participated in the game would get something physical through the mail. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t want anything. Instead, I would rather have some personal correspondence with whomever decided on the final package distribution scheme to begin with, so that they could explain to me their reasonings behind what occurred. An actual, physical letter with a stamp on it sent through the USPS would do nicely. Prove to me that my contributions were at least worth 44 cents of your gaming budget. If you’re reading this open letter on my blog, then it shouldn’t be too difficult to find my contact information if you are unable to find it in the multitude of times I submitted my information on the various IHC websites.

There’s one final issue that should be addressed in this post: Will I go and see 2012 in the theaters? If I can find the time to get to the theater, then yes, I will go see it. However, I also happen to be a believer in Karma. If Karma somehow dictates that I should accidentally buy a ticket to another movie when I meant to see 2012, I will still see 2012 but I don’t think I’ll take the time to correct the mistake. After all, I’m sure that other movie would probably be just as deserving of my $10 as 2012 but I would be sure to give 2012 a shout-out because that’s all that matters, right?

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