Chain Factor (Numb3rs ARG)
CBS commissioned area/code to conceive and develop an “alternate reality game” for an episode of the TV show Numb3rs. Working directly with the writers and producers of the show, the character of “Spectre” was born – a game designer gone bad. In the episode, viewers learned about a game called Chain Factor created by this villain and after the episode was over they discovered that the game actually existed and was playable at chainfactor.com.
Chain Factor represents a new way of blending storytelling and gameplay. The game itself is a “narrative artifact”, a fully-interactive piece of the fictional world of the show. Spectre’s plan was to lure millions of players into playing what appeared to be a simple, abstract, puzzle game, but was in fact an exercise in massively-parallel distributed computation designed to wreak havoc on global financial markets.
Players worked collaboratively to uncover the truth about Spectre’s plan by mastering the puzzle game, discovering clues, solving puzzles, and exploring the densely interconnected strands of the story that were woven through the game. These threads led out into the real world in the form of billboards and subway posters from Times Square to San Fancisco to Mall of America, fake banner ads scattered across multiple CBS websites, and :30 spots on primetime television.
Chain Factor extended the dramatic lifespan of the episode from a single hour to an epic 6 week experience that allowed players to interact with each other and the world of the show and brought over 500,000 players into the Numb3rs universe.