Who ever thought we’d witness a cryptic alternate reality tie-in with one of the biggest, if not the biggest, video game releases of the decade? Well, that would be the smart folks at Samsung.
Last month, I wrote about an emerging ARG scavenger hunt that, by all accounts, started on Reddit in the form of a strange audio file. Initially, it sounded like a chorus of chirping birds, but if you follow the ensuing forum thread, you can read how players began sending the audio through something called a spectrogram, which creates a visual representation of signal frequencies.
As you’d might imagine, curious and intelligent individuals ran with said chirping, and well, it naturally progressed from there.
A whole lot of internet sleuthing and snooping later, we have an ending in sight: The contest culminates tonight, November 17, live on Twitch at 10 PM Eastern. Five finalists, competing in turns against a running clock, will throw down their hacking skills remotely for a grand prize of a wickedly cool and very custom Cyberpunk Samsung QLED TV, Xbox Series X console and a copy of Cyberpunk 2077.
According to Samsung reps, there have been over 11,000 participants in the ARG so far, and the final livestreamed show will be “part e-sports event, part CTF [capture the flag], part real-world puzzle involving manipulating robot arms with laser cutters (literally) and locking doors/ mechanisms.” You read that right—this is some real Mission Impossible/Ocean’s Eleven stuff.
Also, I’m told that there will be respectable prizes given away to a select few lucky watchers, so make sure you tune in to Samsung’s official Twitch channel.
Yesterday, I had the pleasure of speaking with Grace Dolan, VP of Marketing for Samsung Home Entertainment, about the whole promotion. And really, it seems that this Cyberpunk 2077 collaboration has been a long time coming. Samsung and Xbox originally partnered up back in 2016 with 4K TVs and Xbox One X on the horizon, and recently, the teams were looking to come at things from a fresh new angle.
“When Series X was launching, we were like, oh gosh, what are we going to do differently?” Dolan said. “I think we all were kind of like, let’s move away from the traditional marketing model of advertising—here’s a launch, we have a great TV, we’re so powerful!—[and instead] celebrate the gamers. We have this dope IP launching this year with Cyberpunk 2077. It’s not next-gen, and that’s fine, because when we’re celebrating the gamers, it’s about what they want to play.”
Quite a celebration it will be tonight, as the grand prize is locked up in an actual huge box inside an actual warehouse somewhere in California.
“Here’s what’s so excellent and so amazing and also so sad,” Dolan bemoaned of the event’s isolation, “is that there is a physical, ginormous container in a warehouse in LA, and it’s amazing, with lights and steam and robots cutting lasers. It’s so dope! And literally nobody will ever go there, except for our production team that created it. It’s backwards. Damn COVID!”
I asked if the Cyberpunk 2077 contest was originally supposed to culminate in a live event with an in-person audience, rather than solely a Twitch livestream. Dolan assured me that the experience was always created to be this way, although there might have been a little more celebration had the pandemic not been a factor.
“What would have been really fun, I think, is if things were moving in the right direction, maybe one day we would have gotten the winner to that space,” Dolan said. “Like flown them out or done something really fun for them.”
Another contest casualty resulting from the virus was a previously intended, and possibly much larger, scope. “I know that early on in the process, they had considered the idea of having multiple of these containers scattered around the country and having people actually go find locations,” Dolan added. “But that was a world before COVID.”
Talking to Grace, as well as Brian Choi, Director of Home Entertainment Consumer Marketing at Samsung, it was apparent that the team has really enjoyed watching the ARG unfold across various pockets of the internet.
“They created their own little mini communities across Discord, Reddit, Instagram and Twitter,” Dolan said. “They pulled together, and they started sharing and cross-sharing. Then they broke into the prize URL. They hacked it. They were so advanced and so excited about it.”
Dolan then laughed while outlining the Inception-style twists and turns the team employed to incorporate the online identities of those who were participating. “We did a ‘gotcha’ on them, and started putting their names into the code,” she said. “So the usernames of the hackers got put into the code, and when they finally discovered the prize URL, what they found in there was a whole other series of code they had to go through, wherein they realized that we had been watching them in all of their communities. It was so meta!”
“The [community] at Discord clearly lost their collective minds,” added Choi, chuckling. “It was amazing.”
So even if you’re not one of the five finalist hackers, tonight’s Twitch stream should be a lot of fun to watch, and you may even win something special, perhaps notable gaming hardware, while you hang out. Honestly, it’ll probably be worth it for the lasers alone, and the steam.
“I think for us, we just wanted to do something that was entertaining beyond what was already out there, and I think we succeeded,” Dolan said of today’s result. “I think we surprised people.”
She concluded, highlighting the need for no-strings-attached entertainment: “I think they were thinking [the ARG] was maybe from Cyberpunk, and then potentially from one of the consoles. Then when it came from Samsung, they were like, oh, okay, so they kind of get us. [The participants thought] they’re not just selling me a TV, because we weren’t. We were selling them nothing. We were just giving them an experience that was intended to delight them.”
Well, it all seems rather delightful to me, because I seriously can’t wait for Cyberpunk 2077, and witnessing robot arms slice open a secret vault to reveal a gext-gen custom TV is my kind of Tuesday night. If I only I could figure out how to hack the hackers and win that sweet QLED for myself…
Let’s see what happens in a few hours once the final round of festivities begins. Huge thanks to Grace Dolan and Brian Choi for the nice chat. That is, unless you were both part of the ARG and my reality is now shattered.