Aug 282009
 

Was going to call this Augmented Reality Story Environments but…:)

It is fascinating to see how quickly Augmented Reality (AR) is permeating our lives and the blogosphere. But what will the mass adoption of mobile devices that allow you to layer ‘virtual story worlds’ over the real world mean for new forms of entertainment & marketing? Also what will it mean when celebrities and audience/users, begin to merge – avatars appearing in broadcast TV and film/gamestars composited into our homes?

angelina_ar

I have posted about the cross-reality evolution over the last 3 years on this blog under a general mixed-reality umbrella. Now we have every blogger & journalist talking about their AR engaged iPhone, DSi, PSP or smart mobile as if they have discovered some advanced alien technology. But is it really is a game changer, a new playground for storytellers? A window to another world at one end through to a simple layered utility at the other. Actors and fantasy characters deliver lines, embedded in real world scenes, you find the hidden virtual treasure, the historical or future backstories and clues, video, sound, images – even fellow ‘players’ morph into strange aliens or dissapear, you leave red herrings or leave help for other players the possiblities, endless.

Continue reading »

Oct 102008
 

Interesting times ahead – the Console space finally collides with the Social Virtual World space as Sony and Microsoft race to be first to offer non-closed beta, ‘social (read: commercial) virtual world’ front ends to their ‘trojan horse’ consoles. Will they start to reap the benefits of a very large installed user base as both are likely to launch this side of Christmas in several international territories, and will they fly?

Both the Social World front end and the DIY games components (LittleBigPlanet and Buko) of these consoles have tremendous impact potential due to the massive installed base. As at the end of 2008 we are looking at PS3, XBox360 and Wii have a potential ‘Console Social Virtual World’ user base of 100 million! Compare that to the 1.5 million Second Lifers or even the 12 million WoW addicts…

The report from International Tribune about the two new ‘social worlds-in-your-console’ rivals, XBox New Experience (launching Nov 19) and Sony’s PS3 Home, suggests that Sony has cried wolf too many times. Sony have over-delayed the launch and are probably are trying to start out too big (vs the lower rez, cartoony avatars we see in the Wii [Miis]) and now the XBox equivalent, image above.

…Hirokazu Hamamura, a game expert and head of Japanese publisher Enterbrain Inc., who was at the Sony booth, said he needs to see more to assess “Home.” “You still can’t tell what it’s all about,” he told The Associated Press, adding that “Home” may be coming a little late compared to rivals. “There are so many more possibilities for a virtual community.”

The NewXBoxExperience (NXE as it shall be now known) on the other hand has much more accessible friendly ‘toons’ which are very simple characters representing you in the basic XBoxLive interface. As I mentioned the interaction is likely to be similar to that on the Wii and Animal Crossing Wii also about to launch looks interesting too in this regards. But NXE will likely put off some of the hardcore gamers who don’t want to be represented by Simpson’s like avatars with minimal options to customise/personalize and make them their own? But is this just a half baked attempt at encouraging more group/tribal ‘mall’ type interaction to get folk to watch more of those ‘netflix’ (one of XBox’s live partners) videos or peer pressure to play/purchase online games they wouldn’t normally play? One think I do like the idea of is layering groups of avatars over full screen movies, so they can ‘play/chat/critique’ but I suspect the studios will put pressure on Microsoft to not allow that. We shall see. Other key partners in the NXE include Netflix, USA Network, MGM, NBC Universal, Universal Studios Home Entertainment and the SCI FI Channel.

The other big question is how to ‘really’ commercialise these spaces vs just incrementally increasing sales of existing product, like videos, within the portal. It is one thing getting your massive online user base to create an avatar and hang out with their friends in an abstract ‘exhibition’ hall while clicking (with a TV remote) on buy-me items like videos and other online games as in NXE but another to draw them in to having their own ‘pad’ as the case in PS3Home.

Having a persistent place to call your own produces, like Second Life, a big increase in user hours (for those who stick with it!) approaching 50 hours per week in the social space. This also brings with it the desire to purchase ‘virtual life’ enhancements (show-off pixel products) and the whole thing turns into aspirational lifestyle marketing on the Home side vs a 3D ‘TV-catalogue’ world on the NXE side. The next question is advertising during your social console moments. Both Home and NXE worlds will have a spattering of environmental or portal advertising from the outset and it will be great to see some contextual ads in there vs generic billboard equivalents. I would hope that Sony or Microsoft don’t go it alone here (even with Massive’s involvement with MS) and that they do adopt the expertise of the worlds largest advertising corporation Google.

So with Google moving into the fray with adsense now being delivered into online games reported by Reuters if brands don’t reach the gamers in the social front end worlds then they have another chance in the games themselves. Google are keen to point out the benefits they offer marketeers here A selection:

  • Drive your brand: In-game ads have been shown to drive brand familiarity and consideration by significant percentages*
  • …and have the option for custom sponsorships and integrations: In addition to the media buy you make directly with Google, your Google sales representative can connect you directly with publishing partners for deeper integrations.
  • Reach the new generation of social gamer: The face of online gaming is changing to include users of all ages, backgrounds, and interests. Get your brand in front of users on the largest social networks, including MySpace, Facebook, and sites across the web.

OK they are starting with simple flash games and SocioNet widgets but they have their sights on traditional online games as it says in the Reuters report they are working with Konami and Sony and a few other key partners are already listed on their Adsense in Games site. (It is interesting to note also that Google are kicking advertisers into action with other initiatives including text ads in Google Maps/Earth and YouTube click-to-buy buttons – both reported by TechCrunch).

But back to the ingame advertising which if done right and using dynamic behavioural and personalised targeted techniques will indeed be a significant step forward for marketeers who are just getting their heads around basic social media. One big hurdle to come though is the old walled garden product/service vs open field product/service – you have lots of great ingame ads pointing to limited content in say NXE or Home Walled Gardens vs the potential of wandering around Halo 3 or Far Cry 2 and being able to purchase the ‘book, music, film’ inserted with 1-click to buy from Amazon, while STILL ingame or at least a quick hop out to the ‘social virtual world portal’.

This is all about clever product placement and relating it to the game your in (see my recent post on the renaissance of hundreds of films being made of games) is both the opportunity and the real challenge (being ‘sensitive’ to the story world and narrative of the game). So for example making sure the latest 2008 car is not being advertised in the 2020 story world of Crysis or subscriptions to Star Trek eps on demand embedded in Star Wars Galaxies. At least the social, vanilla spaces will allow contemporary advertising without too much jarring such as in a simple ‘gathering environment’ like Home below…

In summary I still think NXE is a half way house, a little too old school, cable/IPTV for my liking, and that Sony have the right model in the medium/longer term by persisting with a much more sticky, immersive and larger scale social ‘customisable’ environment – which as we have seen for the past 4 years in Second Life will drive much more inworld commerce. I hope that PS3Home allows some ‘theme’d’ areas too – based on loyal fans of certain games – to the extent that the social hangout becomes almost like a TV/film green room, a place to relax outside game world but feel your with like-minds…the 3D forum becomes a reality.

Next Step – Gamer Created Games

Now lets go the next step and imagine a great deal of that inworld content is user to user created – things get really, really interesting! 🙂 (see “LittleBigPlanet: 45 minutes of boredom, then the awesome“  and “PS3’s LittleBigPlanet births YouTube-like social game design” I will be posting much more on this ’emergent’ behaviour and its commercial implications shortly!

Sep 282008
 

Have we reached a tipping point – with many more user hours spent with games than films are they now more culturally relevant (as in our cultures are saturated with them)? With most films having ‘game-like’ story arcs and, at the last count, nearly 80 films with stories based on game titles in production I am starting to think so.

Game culture and their inherent stories are now absolutely mass media. In a low risk, and dwindling film business, creating stories around experiences that people have already spent 20-40 hours immersed in the story world, is a no brainer, so what we are seeing is a threshold now of game-like films but more importantly films based on games. Anyway more after the ten minute video – stick with it.

“Playing With Stories” THE CINEMATIC GAME. A Film by GARY HAYES

I am designing curriculum for cinematic games and virtual worlds at AFTRS but also doing another report on the market potential of this cross-media, gilm (game/film) landscape. In the process again I threw together a compilation video of notable examples (I know there are at least ten times this btw!) interspersed with tasty quotations. “The Cinematic Game” was initially designed to be a look at the cross-promotion and story development potential of this most powerful mixed-media marketing machine. But, during the process though I was staggered to see the number of major feature films in production based on new and existing game universes (listed in this post below and scrolling at the end of the video) – suggesting to me a tipping point.

Game story starts to lead film development?

TV and Cinema has already become much more of a background or escapist medium for larger numbers of media consumers. In homes around the world we are spending more time in online pursuits than glued to the content breaks, in-between the advertising slots of traditional TV. We are also immersing ourselves in the social and story ‘exploration’ of the current generation of PC and console games. So how will TV and Film survive in a world where social gaming and associated peer appraisal online is far more compelling? Also given the choice will we continue to passively watch the protagonist or ‘be/live’ the hero? It is interesting to see 8000 employee EA Games now developing major strategies whereby games are made to be easily adapted to comics, books, TV and Film. In the business week article “Morphing Video Games into Movies” they note how EA are trying to emulate small non-game companies have built mini empires on their ‘story IP”

The idea is to repeat the success of companies such as Marvel Entertainment (MVL) and Hasbro (HAS), which used their base of fans to transform from marginal companies into Hollywood players. After licensing Spider-Man to Sony Pictures for a string of hit movies, Marvel has created its own studio, with Iron Man and other films set for release this summer. The Hasbro-backed Transformers movie grossed more than $400 million in 2007 global box-office sales, which in turn boosted company sales of movie-related toys and games.

It is interesting to note that the music industry is also starting to ride the coat tails of the games world. Kotaku reported on a ‘run-in’ between Warner Bros. and Activision about Guitar Hero. Suggesting the music publishers should get more royalties from games that use music, Activision’s boss Bobby Kotick hit back at Warner’s and said the following (which implied as the Kotaku item said ‘Perhaps the record companies should pay us‘)

We’re going to favour those publishers that recognise and appreciate how much we can add value to their artists… in the case of those kinds of products, you should be paying any money at all and whether it should be the reverse.

Back to the main thread of the post, it does make you wonder how many screenplay writers are sitting in front of their XBoxPS3Wii’s looking for inspiration nowadays? Variety suggests that in fact ‘all’ games could be made into movies but I will be really interested in what kind of film comes from The Sims and already know the likely story arc of MassEffect having run through it a couple of times but many others on the list below will be of interest, especially World of Warcraft which has around 4000 story threads/quests – so which story will we be ‘offered’?Films of games have had a shaky past with only a few critical successes such as Tomb Raider, Silent Hill, Resident Evil (there are several on slide 75 of my game/story presentation below, that I did several months ago) but given the serious money and credible directors such as Landau, Lucas, Speilberg, Cameron, Jackson etc: plus a deep desire to properly reflect the integrity of the ‘interactive’ experience, the tide is turning. Being an avid machinima maker I know at first hand what it means to capture the ‘essence’ of game playing, adapt it, reflect it and, if you understand the culture of the game, interpret it – the good thing is A list filmmakers (as you can hear Peter Jackson say at the end of my video) understand it too.

I must again finish with a plug for a couple of unique courses at AFTRS and related to this post an article in one of its blogs RedSet called “What’a film, TV & Radio school doing offering courses in game design and virtual worlds?” makes the relevant point:

“AFTRS new game design and virtual world graduate diplomas will push students to go beyond the generation of clichéd actions and stereotypical characters, students of these new courses will be encouraged to step up and learn how to create meaningful interactive experiences for a variety of platforms informed by the expertise offered in all of the other creative disciplines taught at AFTRS such as directing, screen composition, screenwriting, sound design, production design and more. The field of game design and interactive experiences is equally as collaborative as the world of filmmaking, drawing together diverse specialists who together create the whole – writers, screen composers, programmers, animators, art directors – at AFTRS all of these disciplines are already housed under one roof – with a track record of cross disciplinary interaction and a staggering successful graduates.”

More about my video

A non-exhaustive compilation of story rich games or gamic films including in order of appearance: Contact, Indiana Jones, Heavy Rain, The Game, Burning Crusade, Max Payne, The Matrix, Heavenly Sword, Final Fantasy, Lord of the Rings, Ironman, Call of Duty 4, Simone, Rage, Tron, Bicentennial Man, SpiderMan 3, War of the Worlds, Tomb Raider, I am Alive, WoW Lich King, Indigo Prophesy, Jumanji, Desperate Housewives, Da Vinci Code, The Beach, Assassins Creed, Thomas Crown Affair, CSI, Halo, Resident Evil, James Bond, Sleuth, Afrika, The Godfather, The Cube, Narnia, Time Bandits, The Golden Compass, Half Life, Never Winter Nights, Silent Hill, Hellgate, Beowulf and interviews with George Lucas and Peter Jackson plus quotes from many film directors and games designers

My film contains some of the better hybrids, either films inspired by games, games inspired by films or just very rich cinematic, story or character rich games. I make no excuses that I have used a mixture of cut scenes as well as ‘real’ game play in the video – that is really to show where we are heading as game graphics continues to hurtle towards the real time equivalent of the likes of Beowulf and other ‘trickle’ rendered CG features. After the quotes and textual references from the compilation below, are more elements on this very exiting hybrid cross-story, cross-IP, cross-reality world.

I want gamers to be surprised by their own creativity. I want players to feel not like Luke Skywalker, but George Lucas Will Wright (Sims, Spore)

We’re way beyond the notion of game-as-brand-extending afterthought. Let the virtual world–the vibrant, living world that people inhabit–let that influence the movie. Let it feed back into the process and provide unparalleled riches and depth to what we’re doing
John Landau (Titanic)

Games are already good at creating fear, suspense, excitement, shocked surprise, and laughter. Much rarer are games that create genuine sadness … I have never cried during a videogame
Marc Laidlaw (Half-Life)

I think the real indicator will be when somebody confesses that they cried at level 17
Steven Spielberg

When I found out one of my guildmates had died, someone with whom I had fought monsters, explored exotic lands, shared moments of jubilation and defeat, I wept. In spite of having never met him, the knowledge that we would not continue the story together, brought me great grief.
Laurel Papworth

We had a notion to take the stars of the movies and have them play supportive roles in the video game and tell a story that is a companion story to the movies
Joel Silver (Matrix)

If done well, I don’t believe a videogame itself can detract from a film experience. Ideally, it would be a complement to the film and a way for fans to further involve themselves in a world once they leave the cinema
Peter Jackson, (King Kong, Lord of the Rings)

There are scenes that start in the video game and will complete the movie – ¦and fell like it’s a part and experience of the movie
Joel Silver (Matrix)

Games and MMOs in particular are providing such a sustaining experience that challenges us to make the theatrical experience better
John Landau (Titanic)

The next big emotional breakthrough in gaming is being able to tell a story that is consistent throughout the narrative. If the game is 15 levels, it’s just like 15 chapters in a story
Steven Spielberg

We’re trying to understand the language of the film, but diverge in ways that are right for the game medium.
Neil Young’ EA VP (Lord of the Rings)

Games sometimes can reveal things. To watch someone in movement, unconscious movement, can be very stimulating and revealing, whether they win or not.
John Turturro (actor)

People wonder why games don’t have the same emotional palette as movies. But that’s the wrong way to look at it. It’s like saying, ‘Why isn’t radio like reading a book?’ Games, inherently, have a different emotional palette, which is their strength
Will Wright (Sims, Spore)

Scroll at the end of the compilation:

FILMS BASED ON GAMES IN Development or Production 2008/9 (Wikipedia and IGN source)

Alone in the Dark 2
American McGee’s Alice
Area 51
Battle Royale
Biohazard: Degeneration
BioShock
BloodRayne III: Warhammer
Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars
Castlevania
Citizen Siege
City of Heroes
Clock Tower
Cold Fear
Crazy Taxi
Darkwatch
Deus Ex
Devil May Cry
Doom 2
Dragon’s Lair
Driver
Duke Nukem
Earthworm Jim
Eternal Darkness
Eternity’s Child
EverQuest
Far Cry
Fatal Frame
Fear Effect
Gears of War
God of War
Half-Life
Halo
Hunter: The Reckoning
Jagged Alliance
Joust
Kameo
Kane & Lynch
Legend: Hand of God
Lost Planet
Mass Effect
MechWarrior
Metal Gear Solid
Metroid
Mortal Kombat: Devastation
The Neverhood
Nightmare Creatures
Ninja Gold
Onimusha
Pac-Man
Paul Blart: Mall Cop
Psi-Ops
Rainbow Six
Resident Evil IV
Return to Castle Wolfenstein
Sabotage 1943
Silent Hill 2
The Sims
Siren
Soul Calibur
Sonic the Hedgehog
Spore
Spyro
Spy Hunter
Street Fighter:
The Legend of Spyro
The Sims
The Suffering
The Unforgettable
Tekken
Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell
Tomb Raider III
Warcraft (based on World of Warcraft)
Zombie Massacre

Mixed Reality Futures

As a lead into a post about to be published I have been talking for a couple of years now (The Mixed Reality Perfect Storm ) about the fantastic potential of the live and by implication shared TV experience to be enhanced by extending the world into online games. It is exciting to think where we will be in a few years once the ‘broadcasters & studios’ realise that keeping an audience involved in the ‘IP’/programme in-between airings or sequels is a good thing. Good for the story creators, the latent creative audience and of course advertisers who need eyeballs/hands/ears/minds and hearts.

A further afterthought there are several companies around the world developing Cross-Reality forms, one that I am heavily involved with‚ The Format Factory, are pioneering formats that bridge the space between compelling participatory TV/Film and online game worlds. They have a promotional video that metaphorically demonstrates some of the ’embedded’ world-within-worlds. A trailer video teaser for the mixed reality, inhabited TV formats being pioneered and piloted by The Format Factory.

Other posts on this topic: