Hello, I’m yatoimtop. I made the PBhere ARG, created mainly for TikTok but
uploaded on Twitter and YouTube as well.
I don’t have the greatest of memories, but I’ll create a rough timeline of events mixed with anecdotes that I think could help someone create their own ARG. I also don’t really remember the numbers of the whole situation entirely. My ARG lasted about 2 months, so events are fairly close to each other. And be prepared--this might be kinda all over the place.
I can say that I have never fully watched or participated in any ARGs for the most part, but I had watched videos and heard secondhand about a lot of ARGs. I’ve also watched clips and episodes from other ARGs. Additionally, I knew about a lot of ARG
tropes--glitching video, a horror tone, etc, but what I found most interesting in theory was audience participation.
I created PBhere in an extremely short time frame. My setup was simple. A character in a locked room. I created the character model, which was just using a really generic character design, and added the letters “PB” on a whim when I thought the characters’ jump suit looked a little sparse. If I recall, the only thing I had planned at this point was the solution to escape the first room. The rest of it was mostly unplanned.
This sounds pretty ridiculous in hindsight, but to be honest I hadn’t expected PBhere to go anywhere at all, really. I just uploaded the first episode to Tiktok. I think the first episode is important, so I’ll go into detail on it. I believe that Tiktok prioritizes your first upload on a new channel more than any other on your channel. I think it’s because they’re trying to figure out who your audience is, and they also want to hook you on the idea that you could go viral. Thinking this, I wanted to really catch people’s eyes. CG animation/ animation is not common on Tiktok as far as I’ve seen, so I thought my video could stand out. The setup is simple and makes you curious--Why is this character locked in a room? And there’s a call to action at the end, where PB asks the viewer to leave a comment.
I made two other videos on the same day, responding to questions to demonstrate that the series was live, keeping lore pretty general. I was shocked to see that the series was getting views. The way the arg was set up at this point made it easy to create new videos as well. I didn’t need to make new sets or new characters, and there’s only 3 body controls plus face controls to animate due to the camera POV. I don’t have to outsource any work to anyone else as well, so I can get it done as fast as I can make it. By this point, seeing the videos get views, I knew I had to start actually planning the story.
I started first trying to figure out what PB meant, and landed on “Perfect Being”. It’s hard to describe the thought process of thinking about how I created the world and story, but I started with the setup and worked backwards. What is a perfect being? Who are they for? Why is PB alone? Where is everyone? I start with one question and work to another, trying to make something that feels cohesive. This is also the part where I kind of show my hand a little. Pretty much all of PBhere’s events became planned in the early stages of the ARG. Viewers' commenting solutions still mattered, but to be honest, PB never really had a chance to deviate from my main path in any meaningful way. There was still audience participation in that the broken chair leg that PB carried was only there because viewers asked for it, the “music video” episode was partially inspired by viewers, etc. The smaller interactions and what was said was definitely inspired by viewers, but the broad strokes were not.
Since I didn’t plan a lot in the early episodes, sometimes I hadn’t made my mind up on some facts in the series, so there are small plot inconsistencies here and there. Also- funny note- people thought this ARG was SCP affiliated for a short while. And at some point, Tiktok featured PBhere on their blog which I loosely suspect somehow boosted the views for a month.
I also had help from friends- I would tell them my ideas, and they would tell me if it made sense. I was kind of working outside of my comfort zone with this project, in that I don’t write this type of story, I’ve never tried to pull off this type of voice acting, and I was still learning some quirks of blender's Eevee renderer (Notice the motion blur glitch when the front and back cameras are switched.) And I had to make these episodes almost every other day while I was in college full time. ARGs are huge time sinks to run and take a lot of you.
I purchased the website the same day my biggest episode came out, Oct. 29. I guess I wanted to include some more typical ARG aspects into PBhere, along with the regular puzzles in the videos themselves. Note- People will break into your site source code and find stuff too early- hide it better! Or just break the puzzle and fix it when it’s solvable.
From here on out, it was just a lot of work. I had my blueprint of the other PB, of the character switch offscreen, etc, and it was all about making it work. The series had gotten popular, and a discord started. As a maker of ARGs, I think it’s a good idea to keep an eye on the server. They often solved puzzles within hours of the video coming out, they created jokes and fan art and other really cool things. The name for the character of Cindy came from the discord, actually. I think my biggest mistake involving the discord was maybe looking at it too much? I never really let it influence the story excessively, but I started running at their pace, which meant casual viewers were missing out on a lot of smaller details.
This confusion for casual viewers was exaggerated by the fact that PB responds to comments on all 3 of the platforms, meaning a lot of details and facts were lost for many. AND there was story content posted to twitter that other platforms never got. Consolidate your posting, is what I’d say. And while I’m here, don’t start an ARG only on Twitter or any one service. PBhere got this title of being a Tiktok ARG, which for some meant it was probably stupid, and PB was flossing or doing dance challenges and lip syncs or whatever. I still would probably call PBhere a Tiktok ARG, since that’s where it was most popular, but it was also important to look at the twitter and youtube accounts.
Making the ARG also got considerably more complicated when PB left the room. There were so many new assets to create, so many new scenes, ETC. I started uploading episodes slower to compensate. It’s hard to show information when episodes average around 30 seconds, and it’s annoying when you spend 5 hours modeling a room and machine that shows up for ~40 seconds total. I spent a lot of time on PBhere, but even so there are so many little rendering mistakes and typos here and there that people noticed. It’s fairly frustrating. I could talk about how much work/effort it took for a while, but it’s more productive to move on! It was a great learning experience however.
A benefit of the large audience in this time was that maintaining the illusion of choice became really easy. With so many people commenting, I could manipulate the flow of the story easier. I do not know what the ratio of participant to viewer was, but for an ARG this size with simple puzzles, puzzles were solved in a day, usually. Puzzles were not really the point, anyways.
Finally, I just want to talk about the actual use of the story over any ARG aspect. I loosely based this on a 3 act structure--PB escaping the room ends Act 1, PB getting replaced is the end of Act 2, and the 3rd act starts around where the 3rd PB arrives. The emotional arc of the series took precedence over a lot of the other aspects of the ARG. I wanted people to get attached to PB so the replacement was more shocking. I wanted people to feel relieved yet sad that PB kind of came back, and I wanted the final choice to be one that felt hard to make. I think the most manipulative thing I did was place the music video bit right before the episode where the original PB is killed. I think that this emotional component is what really kept people engaged--so don’t overlook character in your ARG. People need something to get attached to.
In December I was greeted with the perfect storm of annoyance. I uploaded the episode where the 3rd PB arrives, technically naked. The video itself is very tame. You literally see the knee of a fictional animated character. And tiktok took it down for sexual content! I will never not be mad at this, as there are so many worse videos on tiktok. To make it worse, PB claimed they would delete the video after they uploaded it. In the universe of the ARG with the perpetually confusing extranet, the video is deleted on their end but should not have been on ours. Alas, the video was deleted 20 minutes after it was uploaded.
This also marked the downfall of PBhere’s views. I think the channel must’ve got flagged or something? Or it could be simpler, in that people were just losing interest. Regardless, I don’t think people knew how close to the end the series was. And honestly, in hindsight, I was waiting for the series to end at this point. I talked earlier about how ARGs are time sinks, but it also generally just drained me. I’m a scattershot person- I like to work on a lot of projects, so near the end here I actually started coding and working on my game Liminal Ranger. I don’t think the quality of the arg suffered too much here, but I’m just noting this as a part of making the ARG. I’m very thankful for everyone that liked PBhere, of course. I don’t want to sound dismissive of that.
Watching the discord after every episode was always amusing as well. If you were active on the discord during this time, the whole mole thing was super fun, and I probably read 75 percent of all of the messages on the PB related boards.
In the end, the final vote kind of went the way I expected it to. I was prepared for other options, but I thought most people wouldn’t delete the data. The ARG was over, and it lasted a whole month longer than I expected. I think it honestly ended in a quite underwhelming way, because it dragged on a lot longer than it should have. Also it had like 3 different endings, in that first PB says goodbye in the elevator lobby, then says goodbye while in the new home, and then there’s my final credits.
On getting noticed:
This is hard. I think it’s all luck, to be honest, but you also have to make sure that a first impression asks a question. And consider Tiktok, honestly. It’s one of the only social medias where people can’t pick what they’re going to see, so you actually stand a chance of getting seen. Just beware that tiktok wants constant upload and engagement, and you’re never guaranteed an audience even if you have followers! In general- just give people something to talk about. Also, add your ARG to the Night Mind Index!
PBhere was the first time I’d ever had any success like this on the internet. It was exciting, overwhelming, etc. A lot was made up on the go, and in my opinion, it mostly worked out. I think my final takeaway is that you need to make something that plays to your strengths, and you need to make it in a way that makes it even easier to create. Make limitations your strengths, and focus on the emotions that an ARG can give you. And do something that’s different, that you’d actually want to watch had you not made it yourself.
I’d recommend for most people who want to make an animated ARG to really think about their work ethic and method. Are you able to make this fast enough? Are you able to give enough time to it? If no, maybe wait to create something big, or readjust your parameters. If yes- Why don’t you just go for it?
Also, if you’re interested, I have a video showing off the 3d models and some processes: