Steve Peters

Narrative Experience Design

Helping studios, networks, theme parks and agencies develop engaging, immersive experiences.

Why Hollywood Needs More Experience Designers

(Originally posted at Transmedia Coalition) screensIt’s 2013, and Second Screen is all around us, touted as the Next Big Thing. All of the major broadcast networks seem to have some sort of second screen sync app now, by which you can get “extra” content on your smartphone or tablet while you’re watching your favorite shows. CBSFoxABCNBCSyFyAMC… Sounds pretty cool, right?

But try out one of these apps, and it becomes apparent that they’re a solution in search of a problem. It seems like the main uses seem to be leveraging social media (JOIN THE CONVERSATION!), polls, trivia, links to actors’ IMDB pages, and, puzzlingly, behind-the-scenes videos (am I supposed to pause the main screen while I watch these?)

IntoNow's Iron Chef Sync App

Who actually uses these apps once they’ve tried them out? Nobody is revealing actual numbers, although the metrics that do leak out aren’t all that great. A recent second screen initiative for The Next Iron Chef: Redemption was only used by a maximum of 3,000 people each week for eight weeks, according to Channing Dawson, a senior advisor of Scripps Networks Interactive.

Could this be because the content is…just not that fun? At present, there’s plenty of awesome syncing and transmedia technology out there, providing fresh, pristine canvases on which to paint, but everybody’s struggling with not only what to paint on them, but how to effectively go about developing the paint itself. According to Sherry Brennan, senior vice president of sales strategy and development for Fox Networks, “We’re all convinced that second screen is here to stay…The question is, what do you do on second screens? What do consumers want there? That’s what’s evolving.”

Whether it’s a sync’d second screen, character twitter accounts, or phone numbers that show up on screen, these transmedia channels and all their narrative opportunities often seem to be squandered on delivering extraneous (boring) content at best, and marketing hooks at worst. If a viewer has taken the extra steps to find this transmedia content, give them something great. They’re in the palm of your hand…don’t lose them.

This is where an Experience Designer can help.

Transmedia Website For The BBC's Sherlock

What if, instead of trivia or polls or “crummy commercials,” the current digital landscape was used to actually deliver story content? A character on the “main” screen sends a text message…you get that message on your phone. A website or blog is mentioned…you enter the URL and it actually exists. A phone number appears on onscreen caller ID, and you call it…a character actually answers and talks to you. A character makes a phone call…you see and hear the other end of the conversation in sync on your second screen.

Cool? You bet. Gimmicky? Maybe…at first. But the vocabulary of effectively using these transmedia channels for storytelling is still nascent, and it’s up to an Experience Designer working with a writer and/or showrunner (as early in the development process as possible) to take a look at the story and current technology, and then bake in the transmedia elements in an accessible and organic way that builds a truly unique and effective connected experience…

…an experience that draws the audience deeper into the story, as opposed to distracting them out of it.

Granted, it’s a challenging transitional time, in that you can’t count on your audience having an app or finding this additional content. As a result, there’s a reasonable resistance to putting “mission critical” content anywhere but the main screen. But that shouldn’t stop us from using these new channels to provide a richer, deeper, better experience for those that use them.

Flow

Additionally, the Experience Designer and a Transmedia Producer can coordinate with all different stakeholder departments (who many times have never even met each other) to make sure it all gets built correctly and effectively.

But, it’s not just TV that can benefit. Films, events, and even live theater can create truly engaging ways to tell stories beyond just the “main” stage. Why can’t the story begin with an email the moment you buy your ticket online? Why can’t the film’s sequel begin with a text message on the drive home from the theater?

My prediction is that soon, a mainstream property is going to get it right in a game-changing way. A story is going to emerge that actually requires the transmedia content, and their audience is going to get used to having the story that way. Once that happens, programming will evolve, and fast.

At that point, those who aren’t working with Experience Designers to utilize these new technologies may find themselves like those who continued to make buggy whips while the Model T Fords were rolling off the assembly lines: Left in the dust.

My Insta-ARG Experiment

Calling all puppetmasters! Because it's summer and I really miss making ARGs, I thought I'd try something a little different. It's the world's FIRST completely open source, crowd sourced, instant ARG. All I've done is create a seed that I've planted. It's your job to germinate it, and make it grow in a true viral sense.

Let's together see how far we can get this to spread, shall we?

So you are a puppet master, or want to be a puppet master. Well now's your chance. Take this idea and run with it, however you want. Make a tumblr, build a forum, build a website (I didn't register a specific name on purpose) create a facebook page, Instagram it, Pinterest it, whatever you want. Make a logo, create a blog, a YouTube channel, a Twitter account. TELL YOUR STORY. But whatever you do, it must live in the fictional world of the ARG.

What kind of world is this? It's a world just like our own, but with one very important difference. We've run out of helium.

Yep, it's the World Without Helium ARG.

So, the ball is yours to run with. Let's show the world what sort of awesome thing we, as a world-wide community of ARG and Transmedia enthusiasts/practitioners can accomplish.

I want to see how big something can grow from a single seed, so here's the single, simple rabbithole: http://twitter.com/WWOHelium. Follow it, use the hashtag to spread the word about what you're up to. Be creative, innovative, virally spreadable, use every trick you know...and most of all, HAVE FUN. I expect tons of awesome. :)

Here's the only rule: The finale is August 31st, 2012.

Let's see where we can take this thing.

And here...we...GO!

Note: This an homage/spoof of the excellent World Without Oil ARG, and is in no way meant to disparage it or appear to be affiliated with it. 

My Musical Flash Mob Challenge

OK, so..... First off, stop everything you're doing and watch this video. I'll wait...


Pretty amazing and cool, right? So, this inspired me to challenge the internet, and the world, to a plussed version of this:

  • Where: On a commercial airliner
  • When: The moment the plane starts its takeoff roll at the end of the runway
  • What: Passengers break out their hidden (non-electronic) instruments and play the William Tell Overture as the plane ganes speed and finally takes off.

William Tell Overture (mp3)

Somebody, please make this happen! Youth bands, orchestras, etc! You gotta be flying somewhere this summer! Hide those piccolos and trumpets and violins under the seat in front of you and pull them out on cue! Surely it can't be illegal to play a musical instrument on a plane, can it?

Or at the very least, it'd be just as much fun to somehow stealthily play the mp3 loudly during takeoff. Hmm, I might just try to figure out a way to do this myself and not get arrested for not turning off my electronics...


How to Design an ARG in 20 Easy Steps

So, since I continue to be an open-source kinda guy where Alternate Reality Games are concerned, here are (apparently) the simple steps to building an ARG, to save everyone the trouble of re-inventing the wheel every time:
  1. Distribute mysterious, cool SWAG out to bloggers, previous players, or crowds at huge events that contains...
  2. A PUZZLE (or even better, a QR Code, OMG) that leads to a flashy website with a...
  3. COUNTDOWN that, when it hits zero, launches a...
  4. WEBSITE for a nefarious corporation, with links to...
  5. SOCIAL MEDIA accounts for various characters, one of which is...
  6. A HOT BRUNETTE ASKING FOR PLAYERS' HELP, so she directs them to...
  7. A SIGNUP PAGE (or even better, Facebook Connect) so players can have the hope of getting...
  8. FREE SWAG in exchange for spamming their friends and giving up their contact information, which is then used to...
  9. EMAIL everyone with a link to a...
  10. CASUAL FLASH GAME that 5000 people (give or take) have to beat to reveal...
  11. GPS COORDINATES/CITIES and TIMES on a big list that will cause players to spend valuable time and petrol to attend...
  12. LIVE EVENTS (preferably a scavenger hunt...with helicopters), where you can get lots of photos/videos, generate lots of buzz, give out even more free swag (first come, first served), and reveal clues to another website where players can submit...
  13. USER GENERATED CONTENT, which you reward by sending them...
  14. MORE FREE SWAG, which contains a puzzle that leads to a...
  15. PHONE NUMBER, that reveals someone getting killed somewhere, but after they hang up, they get a...
  16. TEXT MESSAGE that reveals pieces of a photograph that players must...
  17. SHARE INFORMATION TO SOLVE, and when they do, they find an...
  18. EXCLUSIVE DIGITAL TRAILER that has a...
  19. HIDDEN LINK to a page where they can sign up (first come, first served) for a...
  20. PREVIEW SCREENING OF A FILM where they will receive even MORE SWAG and a SURPRISE PHONE CALL.

Take all of the above, bundle it up in a Light Narrative Wrapper™, and voila! You're now an ARG Designer! Congratulations!

Note: This list can also be used as an ARG Drinking Game.

Enjoy! And, you're welcome! :)