For new multimedia spy game, it's pay to play

Start-up aims to convince consumers that "The Prague Files" and other mobile games are worth paying for.

A new company thinks it knows just how to get consumers to pay for multimedia cell phone games.

New York-based Live Games Network, which launched Wednesday, is banking on being able to convince players to pay $6.95 a pop to play games reminiscent of an increasingly popular genre known as alternate-reality games--and find this form of multimedia entertainment to be more compelling and a better bargain than going to the movies.

"What we're trying to (do) is make people feel like they're in a movie for two weeks, with characters and a three-act story arc," said Troy Benton, founder of the company. "The Live Games Network is meant to be a social hub before, during and after the game."

The company is planning to roll out its first game, "The Prague Files," in December. The game pits players in the United States and beyond against each other in a two-week bid to solve clues and battle for prizes including a trip to Europe and Xbox 360 and PlayStation Portable game packs.

"The Prague Files," and a series of other games that should follow in succeeding months, are reminiscent of alternate-reality games, or ARGs, like 2004's "I Love Bees." That multimedia game ran for several months and tasked players with solving clues both online and offline, answering pay phones that could ring nearly anywhere in the world and working together in teams. "I Love Bees" was a promotional effort for Microsoft's "Halo 2."

"The Prague Files" and the Live Games Network are the brainchild of Benton, an Australian who previously ran a similar game, "DeltaZero," which was played by 20,000 people Down Under who tried to "save" a fictional member of a clandestine group gone rogue. Benton and his team of around 15 people are hoping to convince players that paying to play "The Prague Files" and other games will be well worth their while.

Benton scripts the games to run over the course of two weeks. They follow a specific story line that requires players to check e-mail, cell phone text messages and the Web for clues. Community engagement is also an important aspect.

"I think any time you ask a large audience to pay money for content, you're going to lose some of that audience."
--Jonathan Waite, senior editor, ARGNet

"Prague Files" players, for example, will be immersed in a spy-themed story line and asked to spend a minimum of five to ten minutes a day solving clues--such as fiddling with a set of Web console dials that rotate two fingerprints until they overlap. Each new challenge rewards the fastest players with more points; the idea is to reach the end of the game with the most points.

Benton said top-ranked players will then compete in a showdown in which all scores are reset and only puzzles from that weekend will count toward the final score. Players below a certain point threshold will not qualify to play on the final weekend.

He also said players can get into the game with five or 10 minutes of play per day, but there is enough "Prague Files" content written to sustain several daily hours of play. And he suggested that while only players who dive in full bore will have a chance to win the game and the prize of a trip for two to Prague, even casual players will be given an entertaining experience.

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