An Easter egg is a special treat hidden in something, (a comic book, a web site, a DVD) as a reward for the person who finds it. Since an Easter egg presumably requires extra effort to find or recognize, it represents a reward for the more 'hardcore' fan.
Easter eggs: threat or menace?
Easter eggs are generally enjoyed by most fans... when used with restraint. Dreamwave was notable for its frequent unrestrained use of Easter Eggs; often Japanese logos on Cybertron or obscure toys and background characters.
Unfortunately, the frequent use of such Easter Eggs resulted in some confusion. Is the Empty near the Old Slave Trails (at right) actually Devcon... or did the writer/artist simply throw him in as a fanwank to cause 20-something fans to go OMG! I rcgniz taht 1! and experience near-orgasmic nostalgic delight quite independent of what's actually going on in the story? This could be compared to a "walk-on cameo" by an actor previously associated with the franchise, like if William Shatner appeared in a crowd shot in Star Trek: Enterprise... except in this case Shatner would be dressed like Captain Kirk, but not intended to be him, which is really more weird than pleasing.
First Encounter, the pilot for the Armada cartoon series, has a scene wherein multiple "lookalikes" of Generation One characters appear... but are not supposed to actually be those characters. It is considered by some to be the highlight of an otherwise plain episode.
The problem of intentionality
Possibly the best example of the problem of unrestrained Easter-egging is in Dreamwave's G1 ongoing #3. In a large meeting-hall scene, several Japanese and Generation 2 Transformers are used as crowdfiller. Most of the Transformers in attendance can be assumed to "be" themselves -- but there is a problem with one of the Generation 2 Cyberjets. Specifically, the character this toy represents (Air Raid) is both on Earth and dead at this point in the ongoing story. As it can not be Air Raid, we are left with three choices;
- It is actually Aero Raid, a Japanese character that, despite having one toy (this one) identical to Air Raid's, is a separate character.
- It is a previously unknown robot identical to both Air Raid and Aero Raid.
- None of these robots actually represent any particular character -- they're just throwing in the likeness of obscure characters to thrill readers, they're not actually supposed to be those characters.
Option #2 means that we cannot trust anything we read/watch to tell us anything meaningful about the Universe. The non-speaking robot we assume is Gears in the episode Day of the Machines may in fact be an unrelated identical twin.
Option #3 means that Devcon was not Devcon -- and Gears may not be Gears (after all, the script probably didn't name him by name, he was just added to fill in the background of Autobot Headquarters!) A character is only "there" if they are intended to be there by the writers.
Option #1 means that it was Aero Raid in the crowd, even though the writer/artist almost certainly intended it to be Air Raid. This is an argument against author intention, essentially saying "the story says what it says, and if Bush didn't know what he was saying... well he still said it."
By default, a limited version of Option #1 is used on this Wiki. Easter eggs are treated at face value unless it makes no sense to do so.