alternate reality game (ARG) designed by the writers and producers of Lost to engage fans and expand the storyline of the show during the hiatus between Season 2 and 3. It was the first Lost ARG, although it was preceded by the launch of ABC marketing department's viral marketing website oceanic-air.com. The Lost Experience began in May 2006, during the broadcast of the last few episodes of Season 2 in the United States (mid-season in the UK and Australia), and ran through the hiatus until just before the start of Season 3. It would later be followed by smaller-scale ARGs bridging the gap between Seasons 3 and 4 (Find 815), and Seasons 4 and 5 (Dharma Initiative Recruiting Project), as well as an online multimedia experience through Seasons 5 & 6 called Lost University.
The Lost Experience was co-developed by three TV companies: America's ABC, Australia's Channel Seven and the United Kingdom's Channel Four. The main writer of The Lost Experience has been identified as Jordan Rosenberg by Carlton Cuse , while writer Javier Grillo-Marxuach also apparently had some input on the narrative (as well as starring in the game as one of the main protagonists). All in-game websites (with the exception of the sponsor sites) were developed by UK Design Agency Hi-ReS!, who had previously created the acclaimed Lost: The Untold interactive website for the United Kingdom's Channel 4 company.
The narrative for the The Lost Experience was designed to be a parallel story line not part of the TV show. Considering the deep mythology to LOST, the Experience acted as a way to cover some background that could not be feasibly addressed in such depth on the main show. In particular, TLE developed the backstory to the DHARMA Initiative and its parent company, the Hanso Foundation. It also established some clues about the Island and the true meaning of the numbers. Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse first mentioned the ARG in the official podcast, concerning the Hanso Foundation website, which was offline for several months (or in their words, "down for remodeling"). (Official Lost Podcast transcript/March 28, 2006)
International launch dates
The launch of the game coincided with various episodes of Lost.
- May 2, 2006 in the United Kingdom, coinciding with the episode "".
- May 3, 2006 in the United States, coinciding with the episode "".
- May 4, 2006 in Australia, coinciding with the episode ""
- (Advert was repeated 11 May in "")
- May 15, 2006 in the Republic of Ireland, coinciding with the episode ""
- This participation was limited to showing the Hanso Foundation TV ad, without the phone number.
According to a New York Times article, the game was envisaged as "a multimedia treasure hunt that makes use of e-mail messages, phone calls, commercials, billboards and fake Web sites that are made to seem real."
Channel Four in the United Kingdom released a short four minute documentary on the Lost Experience, which also succinctly summarizes the game (see below)
Furthermore, the online agency Hi-ReS! outlined the Lost Experience on their website as follows:
The Lost Experience was a multi media marketing alternate reality game developed by Channel 4 to support Season Two of LOST.
The marketing campaign was designed to unite LOST fans from around the world in an alternative reality game developed as a spin-off from the TV programme. Working closely with the writers behind LOST, the Lost Experience revealed the ‘back-story’ of the Hanso Foundation, the shadowy organisation behind the fictitious Dharma Initiative which sits at the heart of the TV series. A detailed combination of TV adverts, fake websites, call-centres, blogs, chocolate bars, video and flash mobs were co-ordinated to enable users to follow the story of Rachel Blake, an ex-employee of the Hanso Foundation trying to uncover the truth behind the company’s sinister activities. In the UK alone over 30,000 unique users regularly interacted with the alternate reality game.
The first stage of the game centered around the "official" Hanso Foundation website and involved players in discovering clues hidden within the site left by a hacker known only at the time as Persephone. These clues cast doubt on the Foundation's claims of benevolence towards the human race, and introduced other characters in the game. This stage of the game was promoted by Hanso Foundation Commercials airing on ABC, Channel 7, and Channel 4, as well as co-sponsorship deals with Sprite, Jeep, Verizon, and Monster.com. Additionally, a conspiracy-minded radio host DJ Dan joined Persephone's fight against Hanso.
A tie-in novel, Bad Twin, was published in May 2006 under the fictitious author Gary Troup, who (in the show) was aboard Oceanic Flight 815 and whose manuscript was discovered by Hurley, read by Sawyer, and burned (at least partially) by Jack. Video interviews with Troup were scattered across the web, containing references to Troup's out-of-print "nonfiction" book The Valenzetti Equation. The exact relationship of the novel's story to that of Lost isn't clear, but the timing of the book's publication, as well as the 'scavenger hunt' sensibility of the interview clips, suggests that Troup and Bad Twin were another piece of The Lost Experience puzzle.
- DJ Dan
- Gary Troup
The second stage of the game began with the shutdown of thehansofoundation.org in response to Persephone's hacking. A URL hidden in the sourcecode of the site forwarded players to the blog of Rachel Blake, a seemingly innocuous journal concerning her travels around Europe. However, when entering a secret code into the blog, another site was revealed: Rachel's real site, http://stophanso.rachelblake.com. This site featured a video blog of her attempts to discover the truth about the Hanso Foundation's operations, and expose their sinister deeds by tracking down the executives in Europe, especially mastermind Thomas Werner Mittelwerk.
Through the course of the stage, players learned that Rachel Blake and Persephone were one and the same. Players also found that the Foundation, now under the sole management of "Dr." Mittelwerk, was involved in suspicious activities in Iceland, using their Vik Institute to secretly run the Valenzetti Equation using a group of autistic savants.
Blake followed Mittelwerk to Italy, where he boarded the container transport Helgus Antonius, bound for Sri Lanka. Blake was assisted by Darla Taft, a Hanso associate who discovered some of their questionable dealings. She and her lover Hugh McIntyre were killed, presumably on Mittelwerk's orders, but left Rachel instructions on how to follow Mittelwerk to Sri Lanka with the assistance of the mysterious Malik.
The third stage of the game was announced at the 2006 San Diego Comic Con during the Lost Q&A panel where Rachel Blake stood up and accused the show's creators of conspiring with the Hanso Foundation. Near the end of her irate speech she intstructed for all who "want the truth" to go to hansoexposed.com.
Stage 3 was based around piecing together of the video Blake filmed while in Sri Lanka that was to "tear the Hanso Foundation apart." The video showed Mittelwerk talking to a small group of people, announcing his and the Foundation's plans, presumably for the Spider Protocol. In the course of his speech, Mittelwerk showed an orientation video from 1975 narrated by Alvar Hanso, explaining the origins and purpose of the DHARMA Initiative, the Valenzetti Equation, the numbers and the island. Blake had gone into temporary hiding, placing glyphs online, in advertisements, and via podcasts to find each of the 70 parts of the video that, when arranged in the right order, showed the video in its entirety.
Stage 5 was the finale of The Lost Experience. It came in the form of a DJ Dan podcast and a final video from Rachel Blake on September 24, 2006. The video showed Alvar Hanso talking to Rachel. He revealed that he was her father, that Mittelwerk was keeping him prisoner and was behind all the atrocities. This press release confirms this. On the September 25th, thehansofoundation.org was updated with final messages from both Alvar Hanso and Thomas Mittelwerk. Some of the players behind the game also came forward and revealed their identities, although this probably isn't an official part of Stage 5.
In order to solve the intricate clues as part of the game, fans needed a range of skill sets. These included:
- Web browsing and research competency, including knowledge of source code.
- Aptitude with Adobe Photoshop or equivalent.
- Understanding and ability to apply basic and classical cryptology skills, such as substitution ciphers, Morse code and anagrams. Ability for critical thinking also important for unique ciphers created in the game.
- Understanding of computer and mathematical coding and how to translate them, such as hexadecimal, binary and base64
- Familiarity with classical mythology and religious themes.
- Fluency in a number of languages including Korean and Danish.
- Access to certain publications where clues were published (e.g. Entertainment Weekly), as well as ability to travel to areas around the globe from Sydney to London in order to find clues hidden in 'real-world' locations.
Note: These are the tools used by the The Lost Experience community to solve the puzzles. The expectation was not that one individual working alone could or would solve all the clues by themselves.
Buddy.tv: One thing that’s a bit of controversy in the fan community is whether or not any of the information from The Lost Experience game is actually a factor in the universe of the show. Is that something you could clear up for us?
Carlton Cuse: I think that for us, yeah, I mean, all of Alvar Hanso and his relationship with funding the DHARMA Initiative is part of the mythology. The details of the Hanso Foundation’s demise…it’s tangential to the show but it’s not unrelated to the show. We sort of felt like the Internet Experience was a way for us to get out mythologies that we would never get to in the show. I mean, because this is mythology that doesn’t have an effect on the character’s lives or existence on the island. We created it for purposes of understanding the world of the show but it was something that was always going to be sort of below the water, sort of the iceberg metaphor, and the Internet Experience sort of gave us a chance to reveal it.
Damon Lindelof: I would say in terms of all the… background that we did, in terms of the Valenzetti equation and explaining the formation of the Hanso Foundation and doing the other films…we’d consider that stuff canon to the show. Where there’d have to be wiggle room is the Rachel Blake story where she’s in the real world, in the outside world as we define it, the show Lost might be defined in an entirely different outside world so we can’t vouch for the overall fit ability and veracity of everything that Rachel was doing. But we can say that all the factoids that she was uncovering were vetted, in fact many of them were written by us personally so they are canon.
BuddyTV: Is there going to be another Lost Experience at some point? Will those characters be revisited?
Carlton Cuse: I don’t think those characters would be revisited. As to whether there’s going to be another Lost Experience, there’s been discussions about it and I think it would only happen if we found another story that again, felt like it was worth telling but that we weren’t going to get around to telling it on the mother ship.
Talks of a sequel to The Lost Experience were initially quashed by both the writing team and actors involved. For instance, Entertainment Weekly's Doc Jensen wrote in January 2007 that those behind the scenes had denied the return of another alternate reality game during the following hiatus between Seasons 3 and 4 . In April 2007, actress Jamie Silberhartz, who played main protagonist Rachel Blake, stated that she had heard nothing about a sequel. However, she did say that she would be willing to return "in a heartbeat" if the decision was made to continue the project. 
In a forum thread on popular Lost site The Fuselage, Gregg Nations said that there would not be another ARG due to a lack of sponsorship this topic. However, it should be noted that his wording was "this time round" in reference to the Season 3-4 gap, suggesting a possible continuation in the future. He also stated that it had been difficult to find sponsorship, implying that the writing team were interested in continuing an ARG project.
At Comic Con 2007, it was confirmed by the writing team that there would be no Lost Experience during the Season 3-4 hiatus, but that it was "looking good" for continuation in some way during next year's hiatus instead. They also stated that they were in discussion about "a couple of book deals" that would tie into the mythology of the show directly.
On December 31 2007, a new Internet ARG did emerge entitled Find 815, though it had no connection to the storyline or characters established in The Lost Experience. This game was more straightforward than its predecessor, with codes and clues that on the whole required little advanced skill or collaboration amongst players. It was also much more cinematic, with little attempt to create the 'alternate reality' image. It was also much shorter, lasting five weeks until Season 4 began airing in the United States, with little international promotion unlike in TLE. It has also been identified as mostly non-canon, having minimal input from the Lost writers in contrast to their major involvement in The Lost Experience.
Between Season 4 and 5 was another ARG called the Dharma Initiative Recruiting Project. This project was more similar to The Lost Experience in the sense that it had Lost writer input, but has been described as a purely promotional viral campaign rather than one focusing on expanding the show's mythology. The "Project" ended suddenly due to reported financial issues, casting doubt on whether there will be subsequent Lost ARGs in the future.
- What was the Spider Protocol?
- Where are the last 2 clips of Gary Troup's book interview (though stated by Javier Grillo-Marxuach as an accidental red herring)?
- Is Enzo Valenzetti alive as Rachel suspected, and if so where is he now, and why did he fake his own death?
- Were there significant reasons for why the Foundation was illegally harvesting organs in third world nations for their research facilities, or was this purely a device to add the idea of corruption to the Foundation's image as part of the storyline?
- Why did the Hanso Foundation plan to release a controlled virus in Sri Lanka to help them solve the Valenzetti equation, and why was a death rate of 30% so imperative that any more or less would mean failure?
- How did Rachel Blake's mother die, what was her illness (which the doctors kept from Rachel, causing her to hack their records), and why did Alvar Hanso launch the Mental Health Appeal (which Malick said was set up to "save a loved one")?
- What was the abnormalities in Alvar Hanso's bloodwork that were hinted at by Dr. Eliza Vasquez, and why did Mittelwerk undergo a full blood transfusion before going to Sri Lanka?
- What significance, if any, was the Project Sumo subplot during the game to the overall narrative?
- Why was the Missing Organs folder storyline set months before the actual game? Was it the impetus for Rachel's quest to destroy the Foundation (aside from wanting to meet her father)?
On the web
Confirmed in-game websites
- Gary Troup's website, mostly about Bad Twin - http://www.garytroup.net and http://www.garytroupbooks.com
- The Hanso Foundation - http://www.thehansofoundation.org
- Persephone.thehansofoundation.org (subsection)
- Hole2.thehansofoundation.org (subsection)
- Hole3.thehansofoundation.org (subsection)
- Hole4.thehansofoundation.org (subsection)
- DJ Dan - http://www.djdan.am
- Sublymonal.com - http://www.sublymonal.com
- Letyourcompassguideyou.com- http://www.letyourcompassguideyou.com
- Hansocareers.com - http://www.hansocareers.com
- Retrievers of Truth - no longer a Lost site, domain is currently for sale
- Rachel Blake - no longer a Lost site, domain is currently for sale
- Mandrake Wig - http://www.myspace.com/mandrakewig
- Valenzetti Equation - no longer a Lost site, domain is currently for sale
- Hansoexposed.com - no longer a Lost site, domain is currently for sale
- Apollocandy.com - website now an adult site
- WhereIsAlvar.com - no longer a Lost site, domain is currently for sale
These were sites that are not necessarily part of the game universe, but do connect the players to the puppetmasters. These sites provided subtle guidance (such as confirmations of sites that are out of game) and the occasional product push, but would remain "in character" at all times. They appeared to all exist as part of the Websites of the networks that broadcasted Lost in major international media markets (the US, the UK and Australia, so far).
- Inside The Experience (US Blog) hosted by Speaker (link)
- The Other Girl (UK's Channel 4 Blog) (link)
- The Lost Ninja (Australia's Seven Network Blog) (link)
- The Lost Experience Clues
- The Lost Blog
- The Lost Experience Storyline Only (For NonPlayers): An Illustrated Guide
- TLE: A Walkthrough
- 4815162342.com The Lost Experience ARG forums
- Lost TV The Lost Experience forums
- The Lost Experience Gaming Group: Play along with other fans
- The Lost Experience Overview @ The Lost Podcast Wiki
- theLOSTexperience: A fan's guide to the game
- The Alternative Lost Game
- A fan's blog on the Lost Experience
- The Lost Experience Unfiction Forum
- Lost in Portugal - Tudo sobre Lost e Lost Experience em Português
- Lost Journal
- The Lost Experience Explained
- the JoshMeister's Lost Experience coverage (read from the bottom up)
- The LOST Experience coverage (in Hebrew)
- Lostpedia Forums - The Lost Experience sub-forum