1 noun – a new form, a means of collaborative communication through play in constructed shared ‘media-rich’ environments
2 verb – taking part in game-like activity across and within online and offline social networks and media portals.
Can we truly create meaningful immersive media ‘experiences’ for others? Ones that last, are memorable, have impact & emotion and keeps the ‘experience players’ coming back for more? I am currently building services, working on papers and delivering courses on Experience Design and this post is a quick summation of some of the background thinking and good case studies.
Filmmakers and marketeers are clearly moving into #TranSocialMedia Play in a big way with a triple whammy at the moment of Star Trek, Terminator & Lost (fan) ARG’s and a raft of social media campaigns across other film and TV properties (some much better than others!). I have written about worlds immersion and cross-media design many times in the past but this post looks at the addition of social play into the mix – a permanent fixture.
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 virtualÂ 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.
Social Media and Web 2.0 is a lot about providing the tools and therefore the means for everyone to create content, that they believe others may want to see. I have personally created a lot of corporate, professional entertainment and music films over the years using high end equipment but now, like many millions around the world, find it a fun and satisfying process to be able to create films and stories in virtual worlds, aka machinima. (Quite a few are over on my personal virtual blog justvirtual)
There are literally millions of machinimas emanating from the likes of World of Warcraft, Sims, Movies, Halo, Second Life, Half Life and many more. Most are done for the love vs the money and some make it onto the big screen. For the creators it is about expressing ‘their’ world and experiences to each other but of course there is something else as important here.
Laurel (heart) talked recently on a machinima I did in Twinity and about the ‘free advertising’ it offers for the brand or platform. For me it is also about creating an environment where simple tools encourage large numbers of people to come together remotely and do real-time, collaborative content creation for extended periods. It makes the world very, very sticky when they have shared creative goals and purpose – not just pre-constructed game play. Some may say game quests are social too and I believe when the players get ‘creative’ with the mechanic and ‘bend the rule’ together it certainly is.
Using game or social virtual worlds to entertain each other in this deeply immersive way, leads us to imagine what the potential will be when bandwidth and graphic realism are no longer limitations. Perhaps a portent of the future here is a machinima I did of a forty three minute performance of Pink Floyd’s The Wall, in a social world, Second Life. It was captured last week and it is useful to remind us all what is going on here. There are around 70 people logged in together in real time from around the world, most audience a few performers. About 8 are ‘animating’ on stage or controlling lights, effects or triggering scripted animations and I am recording the whole thing at the same time. This is digital puppeteering. I captured elements of the performance three times and put together this compilation edit. More after the embed…
So this all started with an invite from a self motivated group, led by Debbie Trilling, who for the love of what they do, created an inworld, cross-reality, musical tribute. CARPs (Cybernetic Art Research Project) inventive and emotionally driven version of Pink Floyd’s 1980’s album was a truly international affair and many hours were spent developing and performing a Virtual Show to this music that reaches a new audience every few years.The reason the music reaches new audiences is because of its use in ‘community created content’ just like this, a far more poignent way to share digital content. More than 2000 avatars have experienced this particular concert inworld generating 10 000s of impressions across blogs and media sites. That is the key point – don’t dismiss game or virtual worlds as being irrelevant because of perceived low numbers – these are active and proficient online users who see the 2D web as a ‘simple’ publishing tool and become prolific creators of content and by implication major influencers.
Professional marketeers need to be aware of the power of machinima (consumer films in worlds they are very loyal too) and how by allowing the use of often locked down content is probably the best way to introduce ‘old’ content to new audiences. As an example, while I was putting together this ‘mash-up’ compilation I tried a recording of the reunion performance of the Comfortably Numb at Live 8 a few years ago and was entranced by the synergy of visual and song. Hope you do too. BTW a medium quality (90MB MP4) download of the YouTube above is available here. Worth playing full screen with the volume up and the lights down 🙂
To further consider how effective game world movies are. I created again out of a moment of relaxation a ‘flycam’ film around some of my ‘builds’ in Second Life. I like others were entranced by the new feature in the engine, Windlight. This rendered more naturalistic reflections and skyscapes for example. The machinima was a self expressive piece, some improvised guitar and piano and flowing movement, not really an typical ‘traffic’ generating video.
Ticking along at a few hundred views over a month on YouTube then Linden Lab decided to feature it on their machinima page. For a week or so it was getting between two to four thousands views per day. Over the past four months or so it has been viewed over 30 000 times, not bad for an ‘art’ video? But outside the numbers what is the dynamic at play here? Well it is really simple. If you own any space where people frequent, make it really, really easy for them to share their experiences. You scratch their back and they will yours. Give them the tools to make it easy to create professional looking content. Let them do the viral marketing for you. Even though the community realise they are doing you a ‘big’ favour, the joy they get from sharing is part of their own virtuous circle.
Films of games in my mind don’t cut the mustard. So why are they still making them? It comes as no surprise that Halo (a game which was part-epithany for me) is being made into a large scale feature film. Also not surprising that Mr. Lord of the Rings Peter Jackson is going to take charge as reported by Reuters yesterday.
Jackson and his wife, Fran Walsh, will serve as the executive producers for “Halo,” which is targeted for worldwide release in mid-2007 by Universal Pictures and Twentieth Century Fox film studios.
“Halo” will be shot in Wellington, New Zealand, and will use Jackson’s production and post-production facilities there.
“I’m a huge fan of the game and look forward to helping it come alive on the cinema screen,” Jackson said in a statement.
Big name producers aside I get the sense that this game remake of films or film remake of games shows a part lack of maturity and risk in the industry – understandable given the poor box office performance at the moment. A more mature industry would of course be confident to develop games and films in parallel, knowing that the two can be marketed well and have a life in the market (the matrix and a couple of others had a go at this – but not the norm). Even more important for the future are hybrids of the two – a film that is part game and a game that is part film. A real problem here for me is that ‘canned’ games (ones fixed on disks without online component) and ‘canned’ films (all of them!) are not that well…compelling anymore for the new audiences. The uptake in online gaming is massive, because it is dynamic and has surprise and human characteristic. I think it is really flogging a dead horse, cynical marketing and lacks innovation – the films that have been made from games are not exactly up there in my top 100, sorry 1000!
“By the time of its release, “Halo” will join other video-game inspired films such as “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider,” “Resident Evil,” and “Doom.” But the industry’s Hollywood inroads have not been without bumps.”
This is more about brand exploitation than story of course and everyone knows it. I can’t imagine a screenplay getting past first post if it was pitched as “super-robot guy helps human soldiers kill aliens on strange planets” 😉 Suppose the real issue for me is that we all throw our personal constructs and emotions onto games when we play them – it becomes a unique experience, almost an event in our minds. I still remember a few long nights trying to get Lara through the canal level, yes I am not that good! But I now strongly associate Tomb Raider with Venice! Bizarre, that neural, cross-association thing again – my experience. Making a film of that event is more particularly a single (script writers route, or alternate story) journey through a non-linear game (well mostly non-linear – see previous post/article about serendipity “The Certainty of Chance“). It is like, well making a film that we can ‘relate’ to, familiarity but which is overtly articificial. I avoid talking about the differences between free-form game and narrative in this post as that is covered by a million voices outside but will refer you to this article by Gonzalo Frasca – which is a very accessible read. Part of the ludology vs narratology debate.
Back to this post. I wonder if this current trend by Hollywood is almost the last wag of the tail of ‘studio empire’ lion – the road from being the number one entertainment, to recycling b-movies to making a film about anything that has pulled the audience away from the box office, (video games). Will film itself move into its own genre – perhaps in 10-20 years when we refer to a film it will have it’s own connotation, something about people…perhaps and we can hope it will bring audiences back because cinema will be one of the few remaining mediums actually reflecting humanity. Still like games, in life we should still play with new forms in this cross-over period – some will rise, many will fail, I suggest most films of games or in fact any shared ‘personalized’ event might be one them.