Gamers were flocking to these locations to find out if there were any hints or clues about the fifth season of "Fortnite," which was released in July 2018. That’s because each season of "Fortnite" is vastly different and it's kept top secret until its release date. There are new themes, new sites to explore, new character skins and there are new weekly challenges.
This time, Epic Games, which publishes "Fortnite," decided to tease the new gaming universe by putting these features into the real world.
It’s a viral marketing method known as an alternate reality game or ARG. (Not to be confused with virtual reality, where you're immersed in a computer-generated world, or augmented reality, where computerized images are projected on top of real-world video.)
ARGs of prominent franchises create an immersive and enormous scavenger hunt for fans. Microsoft’s "Halo" franchise had an ARG which sent jars of honey to gamers. Those jars provided clues that brought gamers to a site called “I love bees.” The site sent gamers to look for clues around the country to solve the site’s puzzles. Once those were solved, the site told the origin story of the game’s antagonists leading up to the game’s release. That ARG reached nearly 3 million players and helped drive sales for the game to $125 million on its first day.
No two ARGs are the same, but ARGs based around movies, TV shows and games have common traits.
They begin with a mystery where fans are motivated to find clues. They often have multiple fake websites that unlock clues to others. They also have tons of hidden or coded messages. Movies like "10 Cloverfield Lane" hid coordinates in different trailers for the movie. Most importantly, ARGs have scavenger hunts that get fans out in the real world, looking for clues that were planted in public spaces.
According to 42 Entertainment, the ARG for the film “The Dark Knight” had more than 11 million participants from over 75 countries. The global scavenger hunt lasted for 15 months leading up to the film’s release. It also generated billions of impressions in the media.