Not Your Ordinary PICNIC: Exploding Media

PICNIC 04It’s time for day two of PICNIC, and a new day means a new theme: Exploding Media. The theme brought with it an exciting schedule, filled with more on social media, but this time focusing on trying to find parallels between social media and brands and marketing strategies, as well as on games and interactivity.

The first speaker was movie director Chris Burke, who is also the creator of This Spartan Life, the world’s first and only “talkshow in game space”. I hadn’t previously heard of This Spartan Life and thus wasn’t familiar with the show’s format, where a host (Burke)  interviews a guest (in this case, Gerri Sinclair, CEO of the Center for Digital Media), while playing Halo.

Apparently,  This Spartan Life has been a big  hit since 2004 and has gathered quite a bit of praise for its innovative presentation. I can see how the concept might work well with smoothly edited episodes showing Halo game play supplemented by added voiceovers. However, as a live concept, I thought it came off as a forced way of trying something new. The Halo backdrop compounded by the clumsiness of Sinclair trying to master the controls of the game were so distracting that I hardly followed the actual interview.

Sinclair, hailed by Burke as a “gaming professor who actually knows what she’s talking about” has a great track record when it comes digital media and narrative . Most of the times when the interview took an interesting turn, though, the conversation got interrupted by shrieks of “Oh no! I fell of a ledge!” and “someone is shooting at me!” or with Burke trying to keep track of where his interviewee went in the Halo level. It’s a shame, because I would have loved to hear more of what Sinclair had to say on gaming and the changing ways of delivering narratives.

The interview ended when a new avatar was introduced into the game: we were told this was the great Peter Molyneux, today’s keynote speaker and the reason the conference hall had filled up to the brim. Shortly after his avatar’s entrance, the actual Peter Molyneux walked up on stage. I will skip over his presentation for now, as I will write about in a separate ARGNet article outlining his keynote, as well as the mini-interview I was able to have with Molyneux courtesy of our good friends over at Fais Moi Jouer , the French ARG news portal and community.

Molyneux’ presentation was followed by a panel section called “Games People Play”, inviting four speakers up on stage to give a showcase presentation of what their games have been all about, followed by a Q&A session. The section was moderated by Channel 4’s Alice Taylor, who kicked off with a brief introduction. I was amazed to hear that nowadays, over half of the Channel 4 education budget goes towards games as opposed to television. Channel 4 found that since games are a major pastime for their average audience, it’s a great way of capturing the attention of today’s youth.

What followed were four quick presentations by three different companies rooted in the gaming industry and known for their innovative and engaging gaming methods. First up were Kevin Slavin and Kati London, from the cross-media and pervasive gaming company Area/Code.

They showed us their portfolio of successful and interesting games like Dollhouse Earth, a game inspired by the concept of the Overview Effect (see Slavin talk about it here), as well as their game Chain Factor, an alternate reality game tied to an episode of the CBS TV show Numb3rs.

Slavin showed us interesting data about what viewers of different ages do while they watch TV. If you’re under 30, there’s a big chance that while you’re watching, you’re also online. Also, as a whole, fewer people are watching now as opposed to 30 years ago. To capture the attention of an audience in ways beyond single-channel entertainment has become a real challenge, and Area/Code has taken up the gauntlet.

Slavin and London hailed two games as great examples by other companies: 42 Entertainment’s ilovebees, which succeeded in getting people out into the real world and working on puzzling together for online rewards; and Six to Start’s Code 9 , a web-based game that tied into British TV show Spooks and had to be followed live, while watching the show. I must say that that sounded very intriguing to me and I hope similar experiences will make their way into the world in the future.

Following the folks from Area/Code was Six to Start’s Dan Hon, who took the opportunity to tell the audience about Six to Start’s ambition to work on connecting audiences over time, space, and media along with their vision that storytelling is more than words printed on dead trees.

Hon gave us a glimpse into the already impressive portfolio of games Six to Start have produced so far in working towards achieving these ambitions: We Tell Stories, their “new narratives” game for Penguin books came up again, as well as Young Bond: The Shadow War, a game they produced as an addition to the Young Bond children’s TV series, giving children an opportunity to play the role of Young Bond themselves.

Another one of their interesting projects was Ununited Eurasia, an eight-day international treasure hunt that had people in seven different cities in seven different countries racing to unlock parts of the new Muse single United States of Eurasia. According to Hon, no “conventional” marketing was used to draw fans’ attention to the campaign, yet it was picked up almost instantaneously and was a great success in terms of impact.

The project Six to Start is currently working on is called Smokescreen. The game was already addressed in Wednesday’s talk by Matt Locke and Jeremy Ettinghausen. Apart from being novel in a sense that it can be consumed as a series of “bite size” stories, it’s also meant as an educational game to tell people about the importance of protecting their own privacy online (or, as Hon put it, a game for everyone who has ever had a “Facebook disaster”).

Closing the impressive lineup of gamemakers and storytellers was Matt Adams from Blast Theory, a group of multidisciplinary artists creating interactive art and games, often with new and innovative technologies at their base. One of the very successful projects Blast Theory worked on was You Get Me, a game designed to spark conversation between two groups of people from very different parts of London, encouraging eight participating teenagers in the real world to discuss their life problems and questions with eight people playing online, sending “their” team out on location-based missions in the real world.

PICNIC 05The final session of the morning schedule I attended was one that was highly anticipated by the audience: that of Kodak’s CMO Jeffrey Hayzlett. Hayzlett is becoming somewhat of a celebrity in the USA, largely because his regular contributions to TV shows like The Big Idea, Fox Business News, and Celebrity Apprentice. He’s also hailed as one of the “top ten executives that tweet”. Besides all that, he’s also very much known for being a very inspirational and passionate speaker both on the subject of marketing, especially in relation to social media, and on everything Kodak.

He started by showing this hilarious video, which is not only very funny and (for a traditional brand like Kodak) rather groundbreaking, but also a great demonstration of the fact that Hayzlett “gets it”. He not only had this video made, he also put it out there on the web, on Facebook, on Twitter and several other social media to allow it to create its own viral hype.

He talked us through why Kodak needed a radical new approach to the consumer market: in a span of five years, the consumer market for film went down from five billion a year to 200 million. Nowadays, Kodak is mostly a B2B company big in the movie industry (over 65% of turnover). With a range of only 19 products that generate 80% of revenue, they still needed a solid approach to the consumer market if they wanted to stay competitive.

Hayzlett talked about transforming the Kodak website from the “yard sale” it was previously, to the stylish and simple set of pages it is today, containing, among other things, a blog called A Thousand Words and an online community where people can share their photos and tell the stories behind them.

Then he talked us through an anecdote concerning their newly developed HD pocket camera, which got quite a bit of attention in this talk. Some might consider it a little too much advertising, but the thunderous enthusiasm with which Hayzlett managed to convey his monologue was enough to ensure no one to really minded the hype.

When the product was done, at some point it was presented to him and he was told the name they gave it, the Kodak Zi-80. Hayzlett’s immediate reaction was that the Zi-80 was the stupidest name ever. Although he made his opinion on the name clear, he was told that the name was already out there so there was nothing Kodak could do to change it. Hayzlett was proven right when one of the big newspapers reviewing the product said it was “a great camera with a stupid name”. Hayzlett’s reaction was t ask the public at large, through the internet, what they thought it should be named, which instantly created a big buzz around the product and strengthened Kodak’s online presence.

Finishing up, he left us with some powerful one-liners: social media is the new ROI, and be warned: if you ignore them, that becomes a “return on ignorance”. Also, if you’re a marketer and you’re not into social media, YOU’RE AN IDIOT! Delivering an explosive, aggressive and very insightful presentation, Hayzlett definitely knows what he’s talking about and was certainly one of the best sessions of the three-day conference.

Images courtesy of Denkbeeldenstorm.

1 Comment

  1. juli3n

    Howdy Daniël,
    Very cool post. How did you do that? You wrote such a detailled article although you just had your iPhone to take notes. Congratulations!
    It was very good to meet you. I hope we will see each other before next year ^^