I’ve always loved games – board games, video games, word games, even role playing games (RPG). I’ve spent time with them all, although very little since motherhood and business ownership consumed most of my time. My life, however, is still filled with gamers, a husband who plays World of Warcraft, a young daughter who loves Minecraft, and a group of friends who still break out the dice for a game of Dungeons & Dragons. Gamers are an active and vocal group of fans. The kind of audience that film, TV and other screen media should aspire to – in fact, NEED to aspire to in order to survive the evolution of our industry. Here are 5 things film and television can learn from gamers and game creators:
1. Invite the audience in.
For any of these tips to work, there needs to be a mindshift for most traditional media folk. The content created can no longer just be pushed out to a passive consumer. There must be openings and opportunities created for the audience to join in and participate. We see this in the social TV and transmedia experiences many film and TV projects are now creating. A Canadian example of audience invitation is Lost Girl where fans are given many opportunities to join in the experience of the show.
2. Give them a place to play.
Critical to this process is changing the audience from passive consumers to active players. You’ve opened a door and invited your audience in; a gamer mindset now requires you to create a place for them to play. The spy television show Covert Affairs does this with many of its digital assets, including the opportunity for fans to sign up to become operatives and earn points.
3. Give them entertaining & challenging things to do.
Today’s audience has so many choices in how to spend their “free” time. It is important to respect that, if they choose to spend some of it with you. The space for “play” must include worthwhile experiences. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a true game, but if it is then the mechanics must by good and clever and challenging enough to make them want to stick around. Although many traditional media “games” are somewhat lame trivia, matching, memory or jigsaw puzzles, The Hunger Games movie recently used social media to successfully inspire consumers of the film and book to become satisfied, excited and vocal “players.”
4. Give them the tools and a place to create.
One of the traditions from the gaming world is to leave a back door in the code to allow the most engaged and advanced players to make their own creations. Screen media can do the same. In fact, it happens at a grassroots level already with the fan fiction and vidding movements, where fans write and create videos about the shows they love. If you can get your “players” excited enough about your creation to want to make their own contribution, you are very lucky. Doctor Who has a great example of this when it provided fans with all the tools they need to make and share their own trailers and comics about the show.
5. Reward them for their contributions.
To be fair, many film and TV properties now include opportunities for User Generated Content (UGC) but fans are starting to feel taken advantage of in this regard. So it is very important to recognize and reward “players” for any contribution they might make. It can be as simple as acknowledging their comments on a forum or Facebook page. An elaborate example from the gaming world, was a recent “guild summit” undertaken by the company behind the Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG), Star Wars: The Old Republic. Guild leaders (those fans who speak for the large groups of people they play with) were brought into Bioware headquarters from all over the world to consult with the game designers and marketers. They were given sneak peeks and behind-the-scenes tours and asked to give feedback. Now as new “patches” rollout for the game, these players get to see their suggestions come to life. Nothing could be more exciting and they certainly become more loyal and more vocal because of it.
Screen media could take a page from this book in terms of creating storylines or other engagement opportunities in response to “player” requests and feedback. One of the few examples I can think of is the new reality TV show Escape Routes which is like The Amazing Race but the onscreen teams also have “virtual teammates” from the audience who help and engage with them and have a chance to win themselves.
Some Final “Player” Advice from the Game Companies
Most film and television companies are realizing they need to appeal to both “consumers” and “players” to have a viable business model, especially in Canada where public financing requires you to develop a digital media component. But even the notion of a gamer or game player is evolving. Game companies are having to learn how to reach both traditional hardcore gamers and the new, and exploding population of, casual gamers. There are lessons to be learned from this struggle about the new nature of “players” and how to serve them best:
- Leverage existing IP rather than creating everything from scratch with each project (think storyworld vs. storylines);
- Don’t be afraid to fail (the more established a company gets, the harder it is to risk something new, but it is the flexible and agile startups who are making the major breakthroughs right now);
- Create scalable and monetizable experiences (the price of entry can be free, but think of ways to scale up what you offer with a price tag attached – revenue could come from in “game” purchases, richer supplemental content, and other extras);
- Listen, learn and innovate (this is the best recipe for success – listen to your fans, learn from them and what they respond to, but balance giving the audience what they know they want with creating something new.)
What Do You Think?
Do you play games? Do you think games are silly? Where do you weigh in on “players” vs “consumers” for film, TV and screen media? I’d love to hear what you think. Please share your thoughts, ideas, questions below or send them to me at annelise (at) veria.ca or on Twitter @veriatweet.
Next issue: 5 Lessons in Fandom: Why I Heart Felicia Day (& You Should Too)
Or revisit the previous issue: No Credit Here: Film, Television & Interactive Production in Saskatchewan