Like pretty much everyone in a creative field, ARG creators are chronically broke. The problem with our line of work, specifically, is that we often can’t reveal ourselves to our audience without breaking immersion. We can, of course, claim credit for our work in the aftermath, and some projects, with the right audience, don’t require such an extreme level of TINAG (This Is Not A Game) immersion, but the fact remains that it is harder to make money off of ARGs than most other creative endeavors.
The other problem here lies in the fact that many good ARGs require financial investment, in addition to the time and talent investments inherent to the genre. How can you make an ARG that is good, captures the interest of the audience, and maintains the illusion of reality without spending a fortune on it? It all comes down to where you choose to spend your money.
Where To Spend
If you have limited funds, but really want to make an ARG that stands out and carries a lot of realism and immersion, the first place you want to invest is in a website. There are many webhosts that will let you make a site for free, and for many ARG creators a free site is enough. But if you need that extra level of realism, a custom domain goes a long way, and doesn’t cost a lot. Purchasing a hosting package through whatever webhost you choose will also help, by getting rid of those invasive ads that they plaster all over free sites. Having your own domain and hosting also opens up the option of getting adspace and monetizing your site, if this is something you want to be online for the long run. I’ll include a list of free webhosts with pros and cons to each at the end of this article.
The next place you might want to invest depends on the format of your ARG. If you’re going the webseries route, or if your ARG is just video-heavy, investing in some good editing software may be a good route for you. Alternatively, you could utilize freeware but invest in a subscription to a stock footage site, to give you access to a wide variety of high-quality footage to use in your videos. (The more legwork, like filming, that you can avoid doing, the more time and effort you’ll have to invest in other areas. Some original footage is pretty much mandatory, but the people filming stock almost certainly have better equipment than you do.)
The same ideas apply to audio as well, though freeware for audio editing is more abundant and more versatile than that for video editing, and stock audio tends to be or higher quality and easier to find than stock video. If you have an audio-heavy project, my advice would be to make an investment in your hardware. A good mic and good headphones go a long way.
If you don’t have a team, or your ARG ambitions outstrip what your team has the means to create, any remaining funds you have after covering your web hosting, video, and audio needs would be paying people to create things for you. Whether this manifests in the form of art, video, video editing, logo creation, voice acting, or what have you, it can definitely be a valuable investment. Also I should note that, if you get your team or your friends to create things for your projects, and those projects later make you money – PAY YOUR ARTISTS.
Where To Save
Conversely, there are plenty of things I would suggest a new ARG creator not bother spending their limited funds on. If you’re some sort of rich philanthropist or Fortune 500 company funding the creation of an ARG, you are, of course, encouraged to spend your money where you like. But for the average ARG creator, especially one starting out for the first time, there just isn’t enough cash to throw at everything you might want to.
First and foremost, don’t spend money on pre-made props for any videos or photos you may want to shoot. I promise you, as nice as those pro-grade props or costumes might look, as simple as it might seem to just buy something ready-made from the hobby store, the internet can teach you (for free!) how to make it yourself for much cheaper. And if you don’t have the materials or the talent to make something, there’s probably someone you can borrow it from. Find a Facebook group for artists in your community and ask around if someone has the thing you’re looking for that you could borrow for a day or two to shoot some videos and photos with. They’ll likely let you have it for free, or at least for much cheaper than you could buy it.
I know I already espoused the virtues of paying your artists and locally-sourcing things you don’t know how to do yourself, but I can’t express how much value there is in learning to do things yourself. The ARG creator must be a jack of all trades, because of the very nature of ARGs. Transmedia means that you must be able to work in a variety of media, and this requires a wide variety of skills. The more things you know how to do, the better and deeper your games have the potential to be. The internet is a veritable treasure trove of information on how to do just about any skill you could ever want to learn.
- https://www.wix.com/ – Wix sites are super easy to make. They’ve got TONS of great templates, or you can build your site completely from scratch. It’s easy to make a site look gorgeous and professional, without having to spend time learning code. They’re super robust, you get tons of storage space for images and video, and you can password protect pages for puzzle purposes. This is my top pick.
- https://www.yola.com/ – Yola used to be my go-to before Wix came around. It’s got a simple drag-and-drop interface like Wix does, and is actually easier to use in some ways, but the sites don’t look quite as polished and modern, and aren’t as easy to format for use on mobile as Wix sites are. They also seem to have imposed a cap on number of pages for free hosted sites since I made my first sites with them, so if you need more than a few pages, you should probably look elsewhere.
- https://www.squarespace.com/ – Squarespace sites look great, they sponsor tons of awesome content creators online, and if you’re looking to pay for hosting there are TONS of discount codes floating around from pretty much everyone they sponsor. The downside is that their web editor is so robust that it lags horribly and sometimes won’t load at all on older computers (like mine). So if you don’t have newer tech, this is not the host for you.
- https://unsplash.com/ – My #1 recommendation for stock images. Everything is HD and royalty free, no artist credit needed. The pictures are gorgeous and diverse. There is literally no downside to Unsplash except that they’re used by lots of large-ish companies, so people may have seen the images floating around the internet before, which can potentially break immersion. But if you edit them enough, that shouldn’t be an issue.
- https://pixabay.com/ – Pixabay is a good second to Unsplash. If I can’t find something specific I’m looking for, this is the second place I go. Everything that applies to Unsplash also applies here, there’s just a smaller selection and the quality isn’t as consistent.
- https://www.freeimages.com/ – The quality here varies WIDELY, but you can also find a lot of really strange things that you might not find elsewhere.
- https://www.videezy.com/ – This is my go-to for stock video. There’s not a huge selection, but everything there is high quality and free to use without credit. Good and reliable, as long as you don’t need super weird stuff.
- https://freesound.org/ – Great resource for sound effects and background ambiance.
- http://www.purple-planet.com/ – Great stock music of a wide variety of genres.
- https://simbi.com – Simbi is fantastic for sourcing weird niche skills without having to spend money. No money is ever exchanged for anything on Simbi. You either trade your skills for their on-site currency, or directly for someone else’s skill. It’s great. Highly recommend.
- https://www.udemy.com/ – There are TONS of free courses to learn just about anything imaginable on Udemy. If you’re willing to spend a little money, it opens even more content up to you. You can seriously learn almost anything, and you even get a certificate for completing a course so you can put this stuff on a resume.
- https://www.fiverr.com/ – It’s not free, but it’s amazing the kinds of things you can get done for you on Fiverr. Not everything is actually $5 of course, but you can get a crazy amount of stuff like voice acting and video editing done for you for extremely cheap.
- http://voiceacting.space/ – A great place to find voice actors looking for work (or to find work yourself if you have voice acting skills).
- https://www.behindthevoiceactors.com/casting-call/ – Same as above, great VA resource.