Every bloody joule of effort we’ve put into the Portal 2 ARG has gone to waste. Valve recklessly played with our egos like they were playing GTA with cheats on. They’re behaving out of character, abusing our good will for the sake of a marketing gimmick.
Or, at least, that’s what some would have you believe about the past day of intense indie gaming, that to there minds was nothing but a cheap marketing ploy where the only reward at the end of the rainbow was a pot of fools gold.
After a fortnight of trickery from GLaDOS, the psychopathic star of the first Portal, Valve revealed a grand plan to release the hotly anticipated Portal 2 earlier than expected. Purchase and play a series of games, the 13 titles that collectively comprise the Potato Pack, a promotion that offered prodigious savings on some prominent indie titles, to speed up the “computation processes” necessary to release Portal 2. Not exactly the most subtle scheme of all time, but whatever.
Though the first hours were somewhat uneventful, as Friday wore on, some smart people made some smart comments and organized the community with surprising skill and efficiency to best assault this latest challenge. Progress sped up, and it appeared that in no time at all we’d all be basking in the warm glow of GLaDOS.
The first bump on the road occurred when The Wonderful End Of The World, a game similar to the PlayStation title Katamari Damacy, was “completed” to the gain of a measly 51 minutes off the original release date. This was greatly in contrast to some very optimistic calculations that had put the new release date as happening anywhere between “this weekend” and “fifteen minutes from now” and started to turn a chunk of the community off the ARG.
Most remained unnerved, however, and continued to tackle the other games on the list. With larger sample sizes to work with, and the mechanics of GLaDOS’ game now better understood, a few things were presumed. Only the “completion” of a game would effect the release date of Portal 2, that this effect would take the form of a lump sum of time that altered depending on the title, and that, based on this, it was best to focus on shorter games first that would have a tangible, if admittedly small, effect on any possible early release.
About this same time, the cynics started to come out of the woodwork and draw different conclusions from their own analysis of the ARG. A lot of it centered around this post, on the official Steam forums that raised the question of whether the release bar might be fixed. It was accompanied with a graph that alleged to show how the progression of the release bar had seen no change in speed no matter the relative number of computation processes going on. A Valve employee later popped up to offer a rebuttal with a graph that showed the progress bar was effected by the CPU’s, albeit not to anywhere near the rate that many expected, and thus many remained unconvinced of the company’s good intentions.
People now considered the implications of Valve releasing the game on Steam considerably earlier than the hard copies would ship and whether that would be something they would even want to do. Some considered the possibility that an early release date had been in the works all along and this latest stage of the ARG was only an act – any real change merely an illusion. To many this made sense as it allowed for the consideration that the console versions too would see an early release. But most of all, a number of people felt like they’d been dicked around in a fairly sleazy way.
I’m not about to call the game fixed, or say that Valve just ripped off their good guy mask for an evil corporation face, but I also don’t think it’s outside the realm of possibility to have a reasonable cause for dissent or distaste. On the one hand I think we all got a little over excited to think that Portal 2 might actually be released considerably earlier than planned, and thus of course Valve would plan the ARG to only allow so much leeway on a premature release. Even if the game is released merely a minute early they’ve still lived up to any promises made – but the exact extent of what that leeway entailed can color ones perception of Valve’s actions quite considerably.
There’s a fine line between having a little fun with the community and coming off as manipulative, and to cross that line on any level means you’ve probably made a mistake somewhere. The Potato Pack ARG was a creative way to hype the release of Portal 2, no doubt, but it was also a pretty cheap marketing ploy. Hardly a mortal sin in the business to be sure, but cynical enough that it kills the hype just a little for me.
Wherever you stand on the debate let us know in the comments section below, or if you have something else you wanted to say about the Portal 2 ARG be sure to check out our staff roundtable on the subject.