Looking Back On “I Love Bees”
I remember being obsessed with the development of Halo 2 in 2004. As an avid Halo fan, I would check the website of the game’s developer, Bungie Studios, almost every single day to get updates about the game’s progress. However, even though I remember reading about it, I never paid much attention to the underground promotion for the game called I Love Bees, and alternate reality game, or ARG. I remember people discussing it, but for whatever reason I just never looked into it. Now after studying alternate reality games I’ve decided to look back on what I missed back in 2004, and hopefully learn something new about the almost ten-year-old game.
I Love Bees was a promotion for the extremely anticipated Xbox exclusive Halo 2 in 2004. 42 Entertainment, tasked with creating a story independently from Bungie, spearheaded the project. 42 Entertainment also worked on the ARG, The Beast, which was designed to promote Steven Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence.
The plot of the ARG was about an AI that crashed on Earth and had to survive by transferring itself onto a server, which turned out to host a bee enthusiast’s website. The AI, named Melissa, must survive and repair itself while fighting a mysterious program that would turn out to be a Covenant AI trying to find the location of Earth. The ARG reveals a story of characters within the Halo Universe trying to help Melissa stop the Covenant’s attempt. However, they ultimately fail and the Covenant invades Earth. While this storyline is not considered canon, references to it are featured in other forms of Halo media such as the graphic novel.
I Love Bees first appeared in the first trailer for Halo 2, which briefly showed the ARG’s website, www.ilovebees.com, at the end. Visitors to the site would, at first, see a bee enthusiast website, but upon further inspection discover that the website had been hacked by an artificial intelligence. Beyond this initial clue, players were left to fend for themselves. They eventually discovered that the goal of the ARG was to find payphones, indicated by GPS coordinates featured on the website, all across the United States and wait for a call that was set to go out at a specific time designated by the AI in control of the website. Players would then listen to the AI’s pre-recorded voice which read a number. That number would then be added to a countdown on the website. Players also interacted via payphone with voice actors who revealed certain aspects of the storyline, and also more numbers to add to the countdown. The countdown ended on the day the Covenant would attack Earth. Participants in the ARG were rewarded with the chance to play Halo 2 before the launch date.
Although I Love Bees wasn’t the first ARG, I would conclude that it was the most well-known. This is most likely due to the fact that it was attached to one of the most popular, or at least recognized, game franchises in the world. The ARG was successful because players were curious about the backstory of the Halo Universe, which Combat Evolved left out for the most part. This eagerness, combined with the immersion that comes with participants of the ARG, made I Love Bees one of the most effective ARGs of all time, and set the bar for ARGs to come.
I Love Bees was very successful and won multiple awards for its effectiveness. It also went on to start other ARGs based on videogames and serves as a predecessor for Halo 3’s ARG Iris. While I was reading about the campaign, I couldn’t help but wish that I was older when Halo 2 came out because participating in I Love Bees seemed like it would be a lot of fun and a very immersive experience. After all, the main point of any ARG is to make players feel more involved in the universe, and from what I’ve seen I Love Bees did a fantastic job of it.