The Vanished team sought to invite players during the lead up to the game through outreach from the Smithsonian and press. Player recruitment expanded organically as players pulled in their friends to join the fun, while the home-schooling community provided its own influx of players. There was significant international participation, despite the game’s US-centric design focus. Over 6,700 player accounts registered, plus an additional 3,000 watcher/adult accounts; over a thousand players remained active through to the game’s finale. The Vanished team attributed this high level of active participation to the tight player community that formed over the game’s eight week run.
One design goal for Vanished was to “squash the pyramid” by encouraging traditionally casual players to take a more active role. Typically, participation in high engagement campaigns like alternate reality games are expected to take the shape of an inverted pyramid, with casual players forming the base, supported by the efforts of the highly engaged few at the top. To encourage active collaboration, players at received one of 99 unique codes at the beginning of Vanished, and the players had to assemble every code to advance. Assignment was random, so players actively solicited others to speak up and become involved. As the game progressed, players received achievement points for their participation, which could be spent to unlock documents. Many documents required more points than any single player could afford, and so players had to pool their points together as a team. While presenting Vanished at GDC Online in October, Scot Osterweil and Feeley cited improvements to the traditional “90-9-1″ player percentages of casual-active-enthusiast to 69-25-6 – tripling the active participants, with a large number of players serving as heavy contributors.