We’ve discussed a number of ways web series creators try to collect viewers, but how about the possibility of discovering buried treasure if you watch? On July 31 of last year, almost exactly a year ago, a group of puppet masters aired the first of eight episodes of We Lost Our Gold, a series in which puppet pirates (and one ninja) speak in code, clues which lead to a buried treasure in New York City.

On the one year anniversary of the show’s launch, I thought we’d take a look at the unique concept, and whether incentivizing web series in this way is a valid way to build an audience.

The last episode of We Lost Our Gold aired on September 10, and the treasure, $10,000 in dollar coins, still hasn’t been found. It also appears that many people have given up the search. Did they make it way too hard? Did they get what they wanted out of the experience? The creators have chosen to remain anonymous, and the last output from them was this past May on their Glove and Boots channel on YouTube. The makers of We Lost Our Gold maintain, however, that everything needed to find the treasure is in the original eight videos and not anywhere else.

Here’s the original premiere episode of We Lost Our Gold:

They had some publicity, an appearance on MSNBC just before the episodes began airing, and forums shot up dissecting the clues once they did. Episode 1 tells viewers to start in Central Park, and a clever use of Morse Code tells them where in Central Park to begin. Episode 2 seems pretty straightforward as well. But when the pirates visit Larry King in episode 3, the hunt begins to get a lot more difficult. It’s here where viewer interpretations begin to taper away from each other.

This might be where the hunt’s New York setting makes the job nearly impossible. A city rich in history, landmarks, and famous people make a number of clues point in several directions. By the final episode, there’s a good chance you have no idea where you’re supposed to be, no matter how well reasoned your attempt.

And it’s not like a lot of smart people haven’t tried to make everything make sense in their own way, all sounding completely right, but still unable to find the treasure chest. We Lost Our Gold’s Unfiction forum has quite a few people tackling overall explanations, all different, all could be right, but with the money not found, where did everyone go wrong? One of the problems is the limitation of how many people can search for it. You pretty much have to live in New York or have a lot of vacation and resources to look for it as a tourist.

Taking a look at forum now, you can see interest beginning to wane towards the end of 2010, to the point now it goes weeks without a post. Once active on Facebook and Twitter, the conversation has begun to wane. It’s almost like most people have thrown their hands in the air and said, “All right, guys, you got us. We don’t care that we can’t find it anymore, just tell us where it is and put it back in your bank accounts. We just want to know.”

So what do we have here? Is it successful? Well, if you want people to watch your web series over and over, We Lost Our Gold has accomplished that. People have poured over these videos looking for clues they might have missed or misinterpreted. It helps that the eight videos are very well done. Good writing, voice acting, puppeteering, and editing make the series something worth watching even if you’re not searching for the treasure.

And it’s possible the creators wanted to get some mileage out of their Glove and Boots site, which is noble, but the channel has been dormant until just recently. Glove and Boots did have a viral hit last month, though, with their 10 Reasons Why We Hate Facebook video:

If they wanted publicity for their work, well, they got that as well, with major news outlets covering We Lost Our Gold over the last year. But now what? We probably shouldn’t hold our breath for any more videos related to this hunt. Perhaps the idea of a treasure chest being undiscovered for years appeals to them, although maybe they thought this would easily be found and they would be on to their next project by now. And there doesn’t seem to be much gain in all of this being a hoax, either.

It’s a great idea for a web series, anyway, and one that perhaps in the future can be built upon and made even more popular. It’s a socially-interactive way to produce a series, one that not only inspired a hunt, but perhaps got New Yorkers and vacationers to get to know the city a little better. If anything, We Lost Our Gold is an early model for those looking to make a series matter outside of the comfort of your own home by providing incentives for viewers to get involved. Despite the waning interest and uncertainty left behind, We Lost Our Gold remains intriguing for future web series trying to find an audience.