Jan 022012

Originally published (& cross translated?) Oct 2011 in Wired Magazine ‘Change Accelerators‘ by Gary Hayes 5 of 5

Image by Gary Hayes

“Anyone up to battle aliens at the local museum tonight?”

It might sound like a farfetched idea at the moment, but this question may soon be another option rather than the old invitation to go see the latest 3D blockbuster at the Cineplex. The previous four posts talked about major experiential paradigm shifts, where more and more people desire to be ‘inside their entertainment’ —literally. The need to watch a show or read a good book in isolation will never go away, but right now, a new form of immersive entertainment is taking hold that sees users hyper active online and more and more participatory outside of their homes in unique, social story locative experiences. These shifts leads us to confront some basic questions, like, “What is an experience?” and “Are some experiences more engaging than others?” as well as some not-so-basic ones, the all-important, “Who will create all these new experiences?”

Designing any new media format is challenging, especially when the goal is to create highly engaging pervasive entertainment, that is more compelling than what already exists. Since the grammar has not yet been invented, for many, it presents a quantum creative leap. Right now, there is still conflicting opinion about what to call these new types of distributed stories—and let’s not mention the transmedia wars!

One of the greatest challenges for professional storytellers, who are accustomed to traditional linear plots, is to transition into a new platform. Rather than writing straight lines to be delivered from a stationary stage or studio, they are now being pushed to create content for a shifting stage or multiple shifting stages at once— often in different cities or time zones. Given the growing appetite for this type of connected, collaborative, dynamic content, the well-established line between audience and producer is becoming increasingly blurred. Right now it remains to be seen if conventional storytellers will adapt to these new demands, or if they will be outpaced by users themselves. User who are as voracious (and in some cases as adept) in creating content as they are in their insatiable consumption of it.

I was trawling the web the other week looking for a good description of levels of experience and how to design for them. What I discovered, however, is that, much like the missing lexicon, there isn’t a lot of science to this yet either. To fill the gap for now, I created a diagram to explore increasing levels of experience or engagement: It begins at the first level of physicality as the least complex and builds its way up through mental engagement, then social inclusion, and finally the emotional and spiritual levels. These last two being the hardest ones to deliver. Narrative games, like L.A. Noire and the earlier Heavy Rain and Indigo Prophesy, are brave examples of games trying to develop emotional, interactive responses (albeit skipping most of the real social & physical elements).

For audiences in the developed world, 3D and 4/5D cinema is gradually moving into the home and has the potential to make box office visits unnecessary – not worth the added effort. Audiences are starting to expect more value and more payoff for their play time (and trouble): For many, a trip out of the house to be entertained is a transmedia experience in itself. This forces new entertainment providers to seriously take these “audience journeys” into consideration. Likewise, since marketers have begun to tell more interesting stories across places and platforms, traditional writers need to get up to speed on these changes as well. Take for example, a recent holographic product display for Lego. These types of interactive promotional events work to increase the expectations across the board for what is possible in terms of entertainment.

However, film is also slowly catching up. The internationally renowned artists’ group, Blast Theory created a locative cinema project called A Machine to See With, which is a good early evolutionary example. Less about sensory immersion and more about a healthy combination of imagination and locative storytelling, the project allowed viewers to “live” inside a cinematic story unfolding on the streets of Brighton, England. According to the San Jose Biennale last year, the experience mixed documentary material, stolen thriller clichés, and the films of Jean-Luc Godard to let participants walk through the city and receive phone calls, stepping into bit parts or leading roles.

These steps are evidence that now would be a good time for these types of indie projects to start receiving the big-budget attention that clunkers like Phone Booth did. Entertainment is truly moving toward a variation of the infamous Star Trek Holodeck, a complete surround experience that fools our brains into thinking “this is really happening” or “we are really there.” Experiences can either be delivered through layered digital storyworlds, or peppered your everyday life through fragments and bits so that your real world starts to become the storyworld.

Parallel to this transmedia trend, there are complete virtual screen environments of game driven and socially focused spaces known as MMOGs (massively multiplayer online games). These alternate “worlds” are host millions of peoples ‘minds’, melded into the characters they are playing. Many approach a game with the same gravity as a method actor taking on a new role, wholly losing themselves in an alternate reality. The way people interact with these virtual selves is also rapidly changing – making new interface technologies like the Xbox Kinect and iPad/tablets some of the fastest-selling items in history.

These new forms of entertainment will require creators to become writers of place and time, creating relevant and game-like personal experiences. Let’s imagine a simple future? You are at home watching a story experience teaser on your surround 3D head mounted display. You decide to rent it with some friends and project it on your wall-size, AR home cinema screen. It sets up the challenges; you all become the heroes. You all don in-earphones and sporty AR glasses, which have tiny cameras connected to a 6G network that point out and down, tracking the external world, as well as body movements and speech.

You undergo a physical and mental training exercise in your home to prepare for the outdoor challenges. You walk outside and start to explore your city. The open park becomes a fully rendered fantasy environment; urban streets and buildings are layered with story and critical game information. You have X-ray vision; you can see inside coffee shops and stores. Past and future scenes play out before your eyes. You talk to digitally rendered, artificially intelligent characters who respond to specific questions. You work as a team and add your own story challenges. An iBrain scan afterwards let you record your experience for others in 3D.

Welcome to your personal experiential entertainment Holodeck. Of course, you can turn it off at any time and read a good book or watch a film. But that’s so 2011.

Dec 292011

Originally published Oct 2011 in Wired Magazine ‘Change Accelerators‘ by Gary Hayes 1 of 5

Image by: Gary Hayes

We all do it.  We sit in our local multiplex waiting for the latest blockbuster film to start. The room darkens and minutes later your world has disappeared. The seats and people around you evaporate and for the next hour or so, you are living vicariously “through” the heroes in front of you. You have an out-of-body experience of sorts.

And so it has been for the last century, cinema and other large group events have fulfilled a need to be somewhere or someone else. But pervasive “surround us” technology has been quietly maturing in the background and our entertainment needs and desires are shifting. Audiences have turned into users. They want, to be part of the show, have the game surround them, influence their media, have their voices heard, and share the experience with friends—they want to not just see, but be those heroes. Because now they can.

We are living in experiential times and mass entertainment is in rapid transition. We, as producers of this content, are clearly marching down a road toward a personal entertainment Holodeck. Once the sole domain of theme parks every part of the media landscape is becoming experiential and there is a good deal evidence over the past few years of this behavioral and content media shift.

  • Cinema and home entertainment is evolving, becoming hyper-sensory, extending our sense of disbelief. There is also mass audience 3D, now with added scratch-and-sniff, smell-o-vision 4D.
  • 3D virtual game worlds are being mapped over real space. Examples such as Parallel Kingdom on smartphones or Flying Fairy and others on Sony Vita are moving outdoors.
  • Transmedia, sophisticated multiplatform storytelling embeds us into imaginary fictional story worlds. By surrounding us with a sea of content it reaches out to us across (the trans bit) our plethora of personal digital devices and channels.
  • Personalized life-games where your world and everything we do in it becomes gamified. From loyalty points to leader boards we are drawn in to a parallel, participatory social game world.
  • Augmented reality storytelling—early stages of immersive digitally layered worlds. Layers of Augmented Reality viewable on our smart-connected-camera devices surround us in media, information and story—bringing contextual entertainment to anywhere and everywhere we go.
  • Social and Live events encourage us to share our views, to extend the experience outwards into our personal networks. From Social TV through to the “look where I am” check-in apps to sticky social games and even theatrical experiences such as LARPS (live action role playing), we become part of the participatory, viral web.

Advertising is known to bring experiential marketing to new levels—surrounding us in the real world with 3D projection mapping, locative advergames, and branded flash-mobs. This shift is being driven by business too. The experiential economy has taught us that people view digital media as free, but they are willing to pay top dollar for an exclusive, all-consuming experience at a live event.

These emergent forms of media are starting to touch on virtuality, singularity, and even transhumanism as we choose entertainment that fools our minds into out-of-body, matrix-like experiences.

All of this will raise other questions such as:

  • Will heritage mono media such as print media be around in five years time?
  • Why go to the cinema when you can be in the film at home or out and about living the story?
  • Will broadcast TV become just a window on live events or will social elements evolve it?
  • Will our real world be submerged beyond recognition in layers of digital overlays?
  • Who is going to make all this stuff?

In the following four articles this week, I will try to answer some of these questions and drill down deeper into how our media world is forever being altered. From social transmedia storytelling through to pervasive all-around us locative experiences to augmented reality entertainment, I look briefly at the paradigm shifts ahead and how we as experiencers will evolve as well.

Are you experiential, yet?

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 222008

OK you should have spotted quite a few characters living on this post :)  Originally there were ‘video-real’ talking, salesy character centered on the page courtesy of CLIVEvideo but I still talk about them more below.

A few months ago I blogged about the new kid on the intranet block, those  ‘layered’ social virtual worlds. Quite simply they are communities of pseudo 3D avatars layered over the 2D web (browsers). I noted that these services are a transition to a ‘live’ collaborative web 3.0 world as this is more of a “let them dip their toes in” before committing to a higher bandwidth, more fully rendered 3D world such as many of those on my sticky video of the 08 metaverse.

I certainly think is the best approach for large numbers who wouldn’t be seen dead or alive in something like Second Life. This is another quick whistle stop tour of a quickly evolving player, Rocketon and also a recent Aussie company who have an alternative approach -  ‘live action’ video layered over the 2D web CLIVEvideo.com. (Incidentally if everything is working you should have had a person talking to you in the middle of this post – if not it may be many months later and things have broken OR some other technical reason I cannot ponder at the moment – IE!). Even though I start by talking about Rocketon and it’s implications, having the privilege of playing with the demo of CLIVEvideo for a while I realised many points are relevant to both – bar the ‘big’ nay huge fact that Rocketon is social (shared, real time and partly pulled) and CLIVE is pre-rendered, pushed and fixed (although they tell me they are working on being a bit more web 2.0).

I have been beta’ing and playing with Rocketon for the past few weeks trying to see how it fitted in with my normal zillion web 2.0/3.0 application lifestyle and finding out where the real attraction is for large numbers to adopt this hybrid paradigm. Firstly it I noticed that with Rocketon in minimize mode, every web page I visited it seemed to be doing something in the background, watching? Spying? Regardless every hour or so it gave me a present – some pixel jewelry, a funny avatar – I have a massive collection of stuff now – what to do with it all and how does an emerald relate to me browsing a ‘map of sydney site’? I have still to work out what is going on with general browsing but two killer apps are evident with Rocketon after a few hours tinkering. 1 – Making existing branded websites fun/sticky and 2 – Making web surfing more social, gamelike and challenging.

The first image you can see above is me and SilkCharm being silly so and so’s dropping Burger King pixel toys on MacDonalds sites (only we can see it of course), but with a larger group like the top image, it starts to have significance…if only in the ‘power’ to do so and the fact that pictures/videos are taken and put on blog posts/flickr/YouTube (ah the old rippling impressions). I also made a quick film of a few of us invading the SMH webpage, partly Laurel and myself showing how ‘communities’ can and will make ‘statements’ – much the same as we do in group based social situations in the real world. The potential for positive product placement, interactive toys, loyalty benefits and so on will not go unnoticed by readers of this post!

But the more interesting element of Rocketon for me is where the community are given the tools to create quests, puzzles or games for each other. To demonstrate the potential of CCG (community created games) the Rocketon team set up a simple quest with pretty easy clues. The process, you are given a mission, you read clues, travel to websites (with the Rocketon layer activated) come back to a base and so on.

The thing I really like about this simple example is that you can embed pixel ‘treasure’ or goods on websites, without any recourse to the website owner of course. (I am sure Rocketon are thinking hard about the legal ramifications of hundreds of RTons heading off to litigeous sites to find inappropriate items and then posting the experience!). Anyways you can see in these two images I have been given a secret envelope and sent to ebay to collect a parcel to post and then await further instructions. Suddenly a couple of web pages turn into a scene from The Thomas Crown Affair.

I have quite a lot more to say about Rocketon and it’s distant cousins such as weblin but time is pressing and lots more to get on with. For the moment though all I can advise them is to enable tools for the community to develop their own fun or for marketeers to start to offer quite tricky quests for real world prizes – I am sure this is happening, it is the only path to really get the numbers up.

So to CLIVEvideo. I have literally been playing with this for less than an hour today after Scott from Maxy’s grabbed me on twitter! It looks very promising. I have seen many variations of this over the years but the implementation of this particular technology is pretty accessible and is squarely aimed at ad agencies, SMEs and larger companies and those who want to differentiate their website and make it a little more viral. As with the points above about Rocketon the real value of having layered personalities over the webpage is to build bridges between the layers (the avatars or video peops relating to what is below them) – or why be there in the first place. CLIVEvideo.com have some great tools to build ‘key’ed’ (invisible backgrounded people) sequences and to also add in sequence applications (person, flash demo, person, page link, person, product video demo etc) and are focused on sales or corporate messages at the moment.

But imagine a future where the keying is from 4-10 people, a webcam community, who start to act a little like we have been doing with Rocketon. Doesn’t have to be full body necessarily, but why not – webcam pointing at users in front of a green or blue screen in their office/bedroom. Then you really have some potential to make the 2D web much more fun and sticky. The applications for marketing, socialising etc start to kick in when you can (like some video chat applications) render pixel elements over the top of the live video image. Ummmm. *rubs hands*… It will certainly be a lot of effort for some, but having specially designed web pages for ‘Keyers’ (as they shall be known) would also provide Google Lively type integration – key yourself live into this and make the branded movie etc etc: This reminds me a little of the fun video I did at AFTRS recently with SilkCharm and lots of invited real people – keye’d into World of Warcraft – that I shall leave you with!

Finally, finally well still on this topic a new player that makes it even easier to meet and chat based on the web page your on is Live World. It’s product LiveBar is basically a ‘chat’ engine that detects the page your on and connects you to others that are also on that page.

Now we will really see how popular some webpages are 🙂

2 pages