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.

Nov 172008

Another selection of my items cross-posted from another of my original blogs, lamp watercooler.

The Ulitmate Mashup Launches – Sport, MMOG & Social Virtual World – 16 Oct 08

Football Superstars is the world’s first Virtual Football World. An entire online virtual world designed by football fans exclusively for football fans, where you can enjoy a massively multiplayer experience on your PC.

A service that I have been keeping an eye on because of it’s skill in combining passionate sporting fan behaviour with sticky gaming and persistent virtual worlds is Football Superstars. As well as the EA sports game type component there is the ubiquitous inworld micro-economy, buying virtual sporting goods ala Second Life and it has enormous potential for advergaming, cross branding, sponsorship and of course cross-reality (real footy alongside virtual – and combined leader boards etc:). I was one of the ones on the beta group and a few days after launch, there are 3000 registering every day with 100 000 already using it. This has been in the planning stages for 4 years and the team of 80 developers are about to make a big splash methinks! From the UK Telegraph

Football Superstars is a cross between Second Life, the virtual world game, and traditional football games such as Championship Manager and the Fifa football series.

Players can download the game and develop their football skills before participating in full 11-a-side games and, if they become sufficiently skilled, being picked for representative games and eventually international tournaments.

Off the pitch, players will be able to socialise and spend their wages in a virtual world of restaurants, bars, clubs and shops.


The Nottingham-based startup, has invested more than £5m over two years in creating Football Superstars with a team of 80 programmers.

Although the game is free to play, players will also be encouraged to spend real money on virtual clothes, boots and cars.

All the players on the pitch will be controlled by real players and they will be able to call to one another in real time using headsets and using 3D sound technology.

An unlimited number will be able to play at any one time.

The game will be another addition to the profitable Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOG) market. World of Warcraft, a fantasy virtual game, is the most popular and has almost 11 million paying players worldwide.

More than 100,000 people have registered and the company yesterday claimed that new registrations were running at more than 3,000 a day.

Games such as FIFA 09, produced by Electronic Arts, have recently introduced online elements that allow players on opposite sides of the world to compete against one another.

iPhone as Serious Musical Instrument? – 7 Nov 2008

There have been a few iPhone apps that suggest where things are heading, not necessarily with the iPhone as musical instrument (it is still a small toy) but with musical instruments of the future. The multi touch, inertia driven interface at larger scale is going to be very interesting as well as the proximity and connected element to those around you. I have been using toys like the realistic guitar and various drum machines and percussion effects for over a year now, but do like the new crop of instruments such as the free uFlute and the Ocarina from Smule. The video below shows the ocarina being used in ensemble mode, I am still learning the key combinations to get a decent range on it, but it is starting to feel, musical! Back to my ‘non virtual’ harp, soprano sax, guitars, aftertouch keyboard midi controllers, clarinet etc: yes the real ones!

I must say though one of the fantastic features of Ocarina though is the global view ‘lurk’ mode. When I activated this it started to feel a little like the opening of the film contact – a distant globe rotates and around it hovers music from individual players (in countries around the world) who are using the Ocarina in real time, and given the dreamy, reverberant sound it began to feel like humanities call out into the void…quite special. The video I did above captures a sense of it and it reminds me forcibly of Twittervision and the like.

Ocarina is the first true musical instrument created for the iPhone. Both experts and beginners will be amazed by this innovative player. Ocarina is sensitive to your breath, touch and movements, making it even more versatile than the original. Unlike other musical applications, there are no pre-compiled riffs so musicians will find unlimited opportunities for self-expression. Advanced options allow you to choose between diatonic, minor and harmonic scales. Or channel your favorite video game adventurer with Smule’s Zeldarian mode.

Also, like most Smule products, Ocarina is a social application. Tap on the globe icon and you will see and hear other Ocarina players throughout the world. The globe view will highlight the source of the music. Rate your favorite performances so that others may benefit from your judgment. Name your Ocarina if you want listeners around the world to identify your performances. With this robust application beautiful music is created, appreciated and shared.

Japanese Street Ads Detect You – 26 Oct 2008

A bit Minority Report Advertising beta 0.9a – Using motion detection on the street in Tokyo to advertise a Swedish Reality TV program called Big in Japan. I love the idea that your motion past a full length ad hoarding causes the image to come to life (well it starts flashing cameras and makes you the star) but that incessant screaming – please! No! It wasn’t clear if actual pictures are taken of the unsuspecting pedestrians, but heh it doesn’t really matter – they were famous for 5 seconds at the local bus shelter.

These billboards are equipped with motion detectors and speakers. As people go by they set off crazy japanese fans, cheering and taking pictures of them.

Ad supported A-list Web Programming at NBC – 9 Oct 2008

NBC have taken a bold step in making it clear that it is ramping up quality programming exclusively for the web reported by AdAge. Although the episodes are in the 4-5 minute range they will have high production values as if made for prime time TV. The whole initiative is seeking key advertisers to be there at the outset to fund some of the costs. From the article…

Big-name talent
Brent Weinstein, CEO of 60 Frames Entertainment, said having more big-name talent attached to more web-based projects has enhanced the appeal of these shows to advertisers. “Given the choice between really good content and really bad or average content, more often than not, consumers are choosing the good. And advertisers are learning it’s a more important way to reach their intended consumers,” he said. Added Mr. Death ( VP, NBC Universal Digital Studio): “Perhaps 12 months ago, A-list talent wouldn’t jump into anything in terms of a web series. But now it’s OK, and in fact they’re coming to us with ideas and projects.”

and it seems like they are attracting big names in heritage media circles pulling top script writers into this new medium which can only be a good thing as in truth the further we move from wannabees or web designers writing stories for the web the better – now onto games 🙂

But unlike a lot of web-based TV shows, NBC.com’s offerings use name actors and TV-quality production values. The lineup, co-produced with 60 Frames Entertainment, includes everything from reality competition series to scripted dramas from high-profile writers such as “The Bourne Ultimatum” scribe Scott Burns (comedic drama “Love at First Sight & Other Dangers”) “Oz” creator Tom Fontana (crime drama “Men With Guns: The Assassins”) and “Big Fish” screenwriter John August (quirky comedy “The Remnants”).

LOST Extends Virtually into Second Life – 24 Sept 2008


There have been a few TV shows that have offered new and immersive experiences into collaborative virtual worlds notably MTV with Laguna Beach, The Hills, Pimp My Ride and others into There.com as well as CSI and BigBrother (that I wrote about 2 years ago) into Second Life – and lots more. The latest entrant looks far more suited as a match for Second Life, as it more naturally reflects the story environment – being a rather deserted, desert island.

As it says in the video about this more experiential extension to LOST – “explore the island by yourself” – “or with other fans” – “find secret places” – “live like a lostie” – “or help the dharma initiative” etc etc: Couldn’t see a lot of story in this build so I suspect created by a small peripheral team?

More info at SL Lost.