Games, TV, players, viewers, agency, mechanics, content… Headache.
A bunch of us at Red Bee were chatting the other day about the latest Nike ad.
We started wondering… “where’s the story?” “Is this content or just a long ad?” etc etc
But it’s interesting isn’t it… The more I think about this, the more I think we need to carefully think about how we define ‘content’ because it’s a bloody minefield…
And well they’ve got 13 million views in a little under a week so they must be doing something that is worth taking a look under the bonnet for…
W+K’s response to the lack of a clear story may be something along the lines of this recent quote from FastCo mag:
W+K London head of interactive and innovation Graeme Douglas explains: “Instead of making a big ad for TV then putting together a bolt-on interactive version, what we have done is make a interactive film and experience, then created an edit for TV. That’s a fundamental shift.”
I agree that you need to think about the context your content sits in (is this now called comms/digital/engagement planning?)… In this instance, Nike have created something for Youtube first and foremost. They’ve developed an understanding of audience behaviour on this particular platform and developed the offering accordingly…
At Red Bee, we talk a lot about content.
For example, the three ‘c’s of all good stories – catalyst, conflict, conclusion. It’s a well trodden formula for making solid TV shows.
But this type of content creation was built for a linear medium. Namely TV.
When we as an industry talk about branded content, we are largely talking about using the interweb as our distribution channel because the barriers to entry via any other means are too high (print/ TV channel etc)…
The context in which people consume stuff on this medium is different to linear distribution platforms. People expect to be able to interact with ‘things’ on the internet (if they want to).
That’s not to say EVERYTHING on the net should be interactive, but when an audience has grown up used to influencing or interacting with the ‘thing’ a brand has put out into the world, and the thing just so happens to be video, perhaps it makes sense to rewrite some of these rules that were written for a linear medium?
And because lot’s of TV types talk about the power of story-telling et al, I think you then get into a discussion about what is a ‘story’ and can you distinguish it from ‘narrative’….?
Some hints from games designers.
Games designers and commentators (well some of them anyway), have long held the belief that games are not stories. That’s not to say that games can’t be good at telling stories, more over that a good game doesn’t necessarily need to have a good story but it does need to have some kind of narrative.
Tetris does not have a story. Whichever way you cook it. Neither does Angry Birds. Nor Pong. But all have narratives.
So what’s a narrative then?
Well I think it’s the path that audience attention follows that leads to a series of events/experiences/emotions for the intended audience as a direct result of the artefact you’ve put out to the world.
I.e. You can play a game and feel happy about getting the new ‘high score’. Yet the story of the game hasn’t changed. You’re still just building and knocking down walls in Tetris etc.
(In fact this is how lot’s of print ads work… they let you, the viewer, take on the narrative through powerful semiotic and subconscious persuasion that the creative has sparked within you – the narrative becomes whatever you choose it to be).
So what’s interesting about games is that the narrative is often not written in the ‘story’ that is presented on-screen. It is not dictated by the author/ screen writer/ director like it is in TV content. For example, ‘tension’ created by a game, is often created in the players head. Games present players with choices, dilemmas, immersion that create tension and excitement. Games can do this because a game player is an active participant. A TV viewer is traditionally passive so content is created with this in mind… it does a lot of the legwork so you don’t have to.
Another way of looking at it is game players have ‘agency’ – a philosophical tennant that illustrates the amount of change a person can have in a particular world. What’s happening on screen can be just a couple of pixels moving in a predictable fashion. Yet this still forms a narrative through the agency that the player has created for themselves with the help of the game (and the designer’s smart use of behavioural economics of course too).
Finally, what games are brilliant at is making the specific ‘mechanic’ fun and addictive. The catapulting of a weird bird with your fingers into a bunch of weird alien thingys in Angry Bird, the satisfaction of another block that fits in Tetris etc. In the Nike instance, the finding of and transportation through the ‘tunnels’ to unlock more content. Again what’s interesting is that I take delight in this ‘mechanic’ yet all I’m doing is clicking on the video (there’s no skill to it).
All these things can be incorporated into defining what ‘content’ is on the web I’m sure - separating narrative from story, introducing agency, and defining an addictive mechanic.
I’m not sure if this post is at all helpful. It’s a bit of a stream of consciousness really. I think ad agency types could learn from games developers certainly. And a lot already are. But I think there are a lot of people who work within TV who have perfected the craft of linear story-telling and are happy to leave it at that. I know I sound a bit “transmedia 2009 darling” but I can’t help but think we’re still a million miles away from creating true stories (whether branded content, gamified tele, dual screen – social media strategies or whatever we call it) that can live and grow in an interactive world. And as the fundamental definition of what a TV screen changes over the next decade, I’d like to see more experimentation coming out of the indie and broadcaster communities.