Feb 012009

What may save TV may also truly grow Social Virtual Worlds. As online audiences continue to ignore TV and vanilla/social virtual worlds suffer from a lack of direction, perhaps the marriage of the two will save both from irrelevancy? A report by Gary Hazlitt in various TV branded virtual world spaces.

twinityspiritThere have been several forays by TV properties (gradually losing their audience and associated ad revenues) into social virtual worlds over the past two years. I don’t just mean branded one-off events but actually setting up shop, building a familiar and representive space for the ‘users’ to play in. These forays range from at one end, simple branded spaces pushing episodes on screens through to actually running variants of the TV format to be played out by participant avatars in a detailed build -with many points in-between. But before the meat of the post (a couple of new entrants) here is a quick list to give you an idea of some of the shows and channels that have tried, had some success or failed. As I have been involved in a few of them and visited all, I have listed ones I think have had most impact (engagement) through to those who didn’t quite get it (reversioning).

  1. NBC’s Gossip Girl
  2. MTV’s – Laguna Beach on There.com (also Hills, PimpMyRide etc)
  3. Big Brother – PersonalizeMedia detailed report & at launch
  4. Showtimes The L Word
  5. CBS -  CSI:New York and from TechCrunch
  6. Weather Channel – Info, simulations and Extreme Sports area
  7. Australia’s ABC TV Island – Channel & some programmes (eg: Librarians)
  8. NBC Universal Media Island – Channel & concerts & events
  9. London Live – the first music show to appear on the cyberchannel: Virtual Life.TV
  10. SkyNews Island – News Set role play
  11. The Money Programme BBC screening
  12. Channel 4 – Radio Station
  13. Sundance Channel – Virtual screening room
  14. Inhabited TV 1997! – BBC, BT, Illuminations and others
  15. many more…0ver to you and comments!

twinityspirit01There is a rule of thumb regarding TV execs and virtual worlds or serious games initiatives – do not let the TV folk take control as they have too much ingrained baggage around non-participatory media and the resultant compromise is often of no use to anyone – get people who understand game play (and be aware that often excludes traditional game developers) and social media involved or face the consequences. The ones above that really worked allowed the participant audience to really ‘live’ in the shoes of the characters either by having activities similar to the protagonists, meeting the ‘fictional characters’, a social space that resonated with the shows aesthetic or a great set with game-like elements. I have talked a lot about Mixed Reality Entertainment in the past and how one of the most innovative uses of virtual space is to extend the TV or Film property into a 24/7, participatory environment. The main reason for doing this is to drive traffic to the TV but also to keep existing followers loyal to the branded property. As an example there is more detail about the reasoning on my post on Big Brother (good and bad) in Second Life (Witnessing the Birth of an Entertainment Form) as well as posts nearby on CSI in Second Life and many of MTVs properties in There.com (TV Property Branded Virtual Worlds – The Beginning). There are moves around the world including BBC and many European broadcasters who are creating worlds alongside and in some cases in front of the TV episodics and this is the important point. Promoting films with games or virtual world spaces has a very limited life span, forging a strong link between virtual world events and TV episodics is to me a virtuous circle – especially considering the 200 plus worlds populated by the youth audience who are typically turning off TV – teens and tweens. Earlier there were many experiments of TV/World hybrids and I was involved, as mentioned before, in the Mirror. Here is John Wyver (then Illuminations) talking about that (remember this is circa 1997!).

The other key element that contributed to the success of The Mirror, much as in real life, was the provision of regular “hosts” for the space. These needed to be frequent visitors who spent a significant amount of their time in the world, and whom users could have some reasonable expectation of encountering when they logged on. These hosts would greet new entrants, introduce people to each other, point out activities and generally help people around. More than this, however, over time they became the core of the community of the world, encouraging people to return and beginning to develop the particular language and culture of The Mirror. Needless to say, they were the saddest to see it turned off after seven weeks – although a number of relationships begun virtually have continued in the real world – including at least one marriage and one recently born child.

Recent company start-ups or collaborations also suggest that there are moves afoot. Icarus studios are squarely aiming at the TV/VirtualWorld hybrid and about 18 months ago Endemol & EA teamed up to create Virtual World TV formats (VirtualMe) based on Deal or No Deal and Big Brother. Also there have been a plethora of immersive film launches (play-in-the-set-type builds) across the metaverse and I Legend, Digital Hollywood, Iron Man, Quantum of Solace and Transformers spring to mind as I write – but as I said this post is more to do with a continuous, what happens on TV resonantes into the virtual world and what happens there is reflected into the TV episodics. (I regularly consult on this specific area so won’t go into any more detail!)…


So, it is interesting to see this trend continuing as new world Twinity starts to do more experiential ‘film’ property marketing and even more ‘demographically focussed’ the current series of Heroes being extended into Habbo

The agreement was brokered by the William Morris Agency and marks the first time ‘Heroes’ has partnered with a virtual world.

..but not in the usual way. As reported by LA Times “‘Heroes’ hops on to Habbo’s virtual world” they will be introducing a virtual-only character Syn Anders who will act as a bridge or guide to the TV series. NBC themselves give more detail here.

While following directions from a mysterious virtual messenger, the new character will take the audience on an adventure as she discovers the history of ‘Heroes’ through a journey that travels back and forth between Habbo.com and the ‘Heroes’ Evolutions site. “We’re excited to work with Habbo to introduce a new character that will extend the enormously popular and Emmy® Award winning ‘Heroes’ interactive story beyond the official Web site on NBC.com,” said Stephen Andrade, senior vice president, Digital Development and General Manager, NBC.com. On Habbo.com, fans of the show will be able to interact with the new virtual hero through a variety of in-game activities. Habbos participating in a weeklong quest will discover their own special powers and will be recruited as new heroes. Those who successfully complete the mission will be awarded various virtual prizes. On the ‘Heroes’ Evolutions site, the new virtual hero will be woven into several of the in-universe, interactive extensions of the on-air show, including a character profile, the Primatech Paper Assignment Tracker and new chapters of the ‘Heroes’ graphic novels.

One of the more obvious links between TV and film of course is simply to broadcast a seed back story as a series, animated makes most sense to keep a strong visual link and then run a MMOG alongside it. This extends, involves the audience more in the narrative and allows them to personalize the experience. We are seeing this about to play out (in Asia at least) with Fusion Fall on the Cartoon network.

This is a great use of virtual worlds and it also shows that you don’t need richly rendered environments to be able to engage with participants in these spaces. Also in terms of the ‘linking’ paradigm, it is close to ‘my’ level 3 wikipedia cross-media definition

Excerpt “Cross-media 3.0“ Bridges. – The truest form of cross-media where the story or service structure is specifically authored to drive the audience using strong Call-To-Actions, across media devices to continue the journey. The content placed on the other platform is critical to staying in touch with the experience and the narrative bridges tease you towards investigating or moving to another media form/platform. Obvious examples include a TV show that ends suddenly and gives you a URL to explore more. It may be an SMS that teases and points you towards a live concert in a city square which then leads you to a TV show, then to a podcast then to subscription emails. The trigger, or bridge, is the critical component of this in motivating the cross-media action.”

twinityspirit02Onto Twinity and the images here and above are me playing around in the pre-build set of the recently released and not universally praised film The Spirit. Although it grossed $10 million in the first 4 days it was pulled up for being unemotional and 2D. Well part of the problem generally with many big features now is that audiences have changed and want something more experiential – especially with ‘comic-noir’ films – why not let them ‘live’ in the story environment (my wikipedia item)? Twinity though have teamed up with Will Eisner studios to do this event (not in any way my ideal episodic but potentially a way for the Twinity user base to ‘create episodic, comic-noir’ machinima on-going?

CineStar Spirits you Away to Another World – CineStar’s CUBIX cinema in virtual Berlin is the premiere address for all movie-related events in Twinity. The cinema is currently showing the trailer and other exciting movie material from the upcoming premiere of The Spirit, a movie based on Will Eisner’s cult 1940s comic book series, which will be coming to a cinema screen near you from 5 February.  Fans of the movie can get their hands on exclusive Spirit merchandising: including posters, standees, and an incredible Spirit mask that lets you see special visual effects inworld. Find more information here. Save the date and come to the opening party!
Date: Monday, 2 February
Time: 17:00 Berlin, 11am NYC, 00:00 Singapore
Where: CineStar CUBIX

twinityspirit03Twinity (by Metaversum, the German created virtual world) are a long ways from a mature stable platform, hence being in beta for the past 12 months or so, but are already exhibiting the best ‘world-led’ event-based, user activation. This in my mind is high on the list of reasons for likely success over many of the areas that over-hyped Second Life suffered from in the early days. OK the world is quite big and empty and many ‘social’ tools are not yet available inworld but the kind of activity quoted below (calling for videos, images, stories etc: attached to some well know brands) is great first step community building and more importantly getting a growing community to market for you. Even I had a go at one a few months ago – video embedded below 🙂 BTW Metaversum you really need to improve the video tools (detached camera please!).

Submit Your Artwork and Win! – Take part in The Spirit Screenshot and Machinima Contest and win an exclusive film poster signed by cult film director Frank Miller or The Spirit action figures.
Things Are Looking A Little Different Around Hereos
Wear the mask and see Twinity through the eyes of the Spirit! – Use Twinity’s screenshot and recording tools to create incredible Spirit- inspired images! To be eligible to win the contest, screenshots must be created while wearing the Spirit Mask and its visual effects must be demonstrated in your machinima. Screenshots may be submitted in jpg, png or gif formats.
Sensational Prizes – You have the chance to win sensational The Spirit prizes! Three prizes will be given out to the lucky winners of the Screenshot and Machinima Contest:
* 1st prize: The Spirit action figure and film poster signed by Frank Miller
* 2nd prize: The Spirit film poster signed by Frank Miller
* 3rd prize: The Spirit action figure
To take part in the contest, all you have to do is:

  • Submit your screenshots together with your Twinity name to quest@twinity.com or
  • Upload your movie to a video sharing website, for example “YouTube”, then submit the link to your uploaded video together with your Twinity name to quest@twinity.com
  • Competition deadline: 28 February 2009

We’ll celebrate the winning entries with a Winner’s Gallery party in the CineStar Event Hall! Artwork will be displayed in the CUBIX cinema during The Spirit promotion. Keep an eye on Twinity’s Event Calendar for further details!

Of course I would encourage all TV producers to think about their current audience and whether they want to reach them this way. More importantly you need to think of the appropriateness of creating inworld characters or environments for them to exist in – serious games (from documentaries) and childrens episodics are hot ones at the moment . The real effort is more about having great characters that are persistant in the space but beware of bots or NPC’s (non player characters) pretending to be real, this can have a strong counter productive effect. More later.

Oct 042006

A Cross-Post from my Second Life POV blog JustVirtual

In this world it is amazing what you find on your doorstep, literally. I have been building my sky platform at 400m over the past week and noticed just across the way a large, black monolith build. I was naturally curious. Little did I know inside was a complete city simulation, an under belly of bio society, for us avies to act out and role play both innocence and deviance. You can see how close this is to my land which has vertical elements of course – that is my sky pool, dance room and cinema. I visited the city at first by actually jumping inside from my sky platform and after a few visits quickly learned the secrets within.

Sky Platform and Midian

I spoke briefly to Baal Zobel the creator (and author of the story text below) who said the whole build only took four weeks because the rich textures were all pre-prepared.

“I did the bulk in a week and just spent two messing with the details. I did have all the textures which is two thirds of the work. Its for other people to use”. Baal the name Meaning Master or Owner. In ancient times, Sun, Lord or God, A fertility deity, Son of EL, High god of Canaan. The cult of Baal celebrated annualy his death and resurection on mount Saphon where the children of Baal danced around the altars chanting frantically, cutting themselves to inspire his attention and compassion. The form, a mask, to face the world

He has an altruistic vision for his creation and this post will hopefully give you a feel for his dark, engaging and altogether immersive world. I visited several times and as instructed acted my part when confronted by a range of characters. Here is the welcome area and some of the instructions:

Midian City Welcome Area

Welcome to Midian City. We hope you enjoy your stay. Enter, follow these, or never leave. STEP 1. Read the rules. Ignorance is no defence in the eyes of the MPD. Then grab a role. That’s STEP 2. You need one to RP 😉 STEP 3. Force Sun to Midnight. Midian City was made to be played in the dark.

Midian City Roles

Read the carefully to learn about the group titles available to inhabitants of Midian City, which will help you define your role and allow others to know your intentions. You should wear one of these group titles AT ALL TIMES while in Midian City. Reading the description of Midian City below will help you understand the roles and better choose one.

As you walk into the black mist door the city is slowly revealed as it fades out of darkness, you are on the main street.

Midian City Main Street

Strange characters hide in the darkness, there are secret back alleys at all turns, the sound is deep wind, creaking doors, eerie.

Midian City Gathering

Graffitti, decay and litter are everywhere – here is a description of the story world of this dark and dangerous place.

They say that Midian City never sleeps, and the souls that linger there never rest. The country ignores it, and the world has forgotten it; a foul example of what can happen when crime, corruption and decay finally take their toll. The accumulated sins of men and beasts have smogged the entire city into an unyielding night of shifting shadows and flickering lights. And at the dark heart of this forsaken place stands Sector 6.

In this deranged corner of the world, there is no hope, there is no laughter, there is no peace. There are only the hunter.. and the hunted.

The craven who have managed to tear themselves away from the Midian City’s sordid grasp with their sanity still intact have long spread their stories of the factions that rule it. More than gangs, less than brotherhoods, these factions form a delicate balance of hostile peace that keeps the city moving. Although, the direction to which it moves is anyone’s guess.

The story continues to permeate ones brain as you crawl in the sewers or get lost in the subway, metro station. When I descended onto the main platform once a man had cornered a lady, trapped on the tube train with him, he had a knife.

Midian Metro Station

Midian Metro Platform

Midian Cornered on a Train

The story of Midian City continues:

They tell of THE HOUNDS; a spectrum of beings who live for the chase. In fact, without the thrill of the pursuit, they’d have no interest in their quarry at all. If you become the object of a Hound’s affection, it will step up to you and utter a single word: “Run.” Every fibre of your being will be inclined to escape, but this is a mistake, because anyone who’s encountered the Hounds will tell you this: they will chase, they will catch, they will play, and they will feast.

And they also tell of the SHADOW STALKERS; another spectrum of beings who take a different approach to the hunt. The Shadow Stalkers do not play games with their prey like the Hounds do. They wait in the shadows, and are behind every corner, under every fire escape. They are patient, they are determined, and when they spot a favoured prey, they pounce, grab, and drag it into the darkness with them. What happens after that is often unspeakable, even within the city itself.

Then there are tales of a gang of felines seldom seen on the streets, from which they are banned by law. These “CATWALKERS” can be found perched high above the city on the many catwalks, upon which they are forever roaming, watching, and waiting for a chance to pounce. They love to toy with their prey. Frequently jokesters and easily amused, they just as readily squash those things that come to bore them. They are jokers and night creatures and just love to play, just like the cats they resemble.

I visited some of the seedier areas of Midian, the snake pit dance hall and the various peep shows scattered around. All of them had an air of sex, danger and a lurking terror that made my wings crawl. I gave Erika the dancer a tip and made my excuses.

Midian City Snake Pit

Midian Peep Show

Women of the night are both prey and predators and they move in and out of the shadows. Occassionally the MPD, Midian Police, prowl the streets, keeping order but following their own laws. No one can be trusted. A scream is heard in the distance. After several wrong turns I find the twilight zone club. Larissa and Clarita jig the night away, off duty maids keeping an eye out for the vampires that frequent this dance hall.

Midian Jigging

Midian Twilight Zone

After the club I took a wrong turn and got lost in the sewers.


The story continues:

And beneath the city streets in the maze of ancient decaying sewers stories tell of the NIGHTBREED. A gang of vampires and other dwellers in darkness that feed on the flesh and blood of their victims, those foolish enough to dare the dark slime covered tunnels where even the Midian police have lost control and seldom venture. Here in the cool darkness the Breed Queen suckles her brood, waiting for the night when she will leads them up and out into the streets to feed.

And at the top of the pyramid lies the MIDIAN POLICE, most currupt of all.. because at least the Hounds and the Shadow Stalkers are honest, the Breed and Cats are at least true to their natures. Although the smallest group of the faction, they are the self-proclaimed “elites”. Enforcing their laws on a whim and arbitrarily serving justice as they see fit, the Midian Police are suspected of connections to a rumoured underground cult to maintain their sphere of power. But nobody knows, they could be neither.. or something worse.

Midian City is a place of even further rumoured darkness, secret society activities, prostituition, cruel experiments, sinister motivations, and ancient evils that go beyond the base desires and instincts of the gangs, or the hedonism of the Midian Police.

Somewhere in Midian City, somebody knows the truth. But those who do aren’t telling, and those who don’t should do well to leave it alone.

One of the most terrifying areas I visited was the toilets and the Medical Centre with blood scattered on the walls and barbaric instruments on the floors. What deviance goes on here?

Midian Medical Centre 02

Back on the streets there are many dark alleys that only a black angel would dare. On the catwalks above the sounds of stilettos clunking on cold steel, a muffled shout and silence.

Midian Back Alley

Midian Dark Times

After all this excitement with heart pounding I try to find the main street again, the smell of death and onions and hot dogs fill the air.

Midian Tubbys Hot Dogs

For sanctuary the most social place in Midian City is the famous Sushi bar. It is here that lost lives are discussed, where the innocent newly undead and unaware visitors drift and face their demons. I sit and chat here with many residents of the city, the passers-by, all charmed and intoxicated by the potential of our own fears. I have met individuals who are totally engrossed in their role, who cannot remember their true avie character, who have been possessed by others, lost in the darkness. Others talk of unworldly happenings, some are looking for victims. Midian City, a place to visit more than once, but be careful you may never get out. Here is the obligatory SLURL to go there if you dare!

POST SCRIPT: For some reason only known to Baal he decided to ‘ERASE’ his creation, the whole city. This is a real shame as many residents were enjoying the experiences here. I hope he will reinstate it one day.

UPDATE Dec 06: Baal has rebuilt Midian City bigger and stronger on its own island, simply type in Midian City on the map tool and explore 4 times what I describe above!

Midian Sushi Eating

Posted by Gary Hazlitt from inside Second Life – aaaarrrgghhhhh!