At the Games For Change 2008 festival in New York, the key topic was creating games as agents for social change - and included in events today was a panel on alternate reality games (ARGs), defined as collaborative, primarily user-motivated events that make the distribution of information into an entertainment experience.

You may remember World Without Oil, which invited people to visit a website to share fictional stories that imagined their lives in the event of a severe oil shortage. Player ideas were incorporated as part of the ongoing narrative on the site, and players could add photos or mail letters to the game operators. It's considered groundbreaking, because it was one of the first ARGs that attempted to address a real world issue.

So how much does it cost to make a game like that? Sounds easy, right?

According to World Without Oil writer Ken Eklund, the cost of developing the game was $88,000. That's a lot for a game that ran on user-generated content!

It was funded by ITVS, who normally works with documentary filmmakers who produce PBS specials. They wanted to move into the interactive and online space, and had allotted $100,000 for the internet game proposal they liked best — and that was Eklund's.


Incidentally, World Without Oil's began only a year ago today - and the first stage of its fictional fuel crisis scenario was gas prices over $4 a gallon, a number many analysts have suggested we might see as soon as this summer. Yikes.