Will Wright’s Bar Karma: One Step Closer to Collaborative Entertainment?

How often have you thought to yourself I could have written that better after watching an episode of your favorite television show that fell below your expectations? Game designer Will Wright‘s new television series may give you the chance to do just that.

Earlier this month, Current TV announced its new tv series, Bar Karma, scheduled to debut in the first quarter of 2011. Created by game designer Will Wright, known for his popular video games including The Sims and SimCity,  Bar Karma‘s production model promises to provide a high level of audience involvement with the show, giving viewers direct control of the plot as the story evolves in 30-minute episodes.

Wright has designed interactive technology for Current TV’s audience-produced material that will be adapted to the production of Bar Karma. Current TV’s press release for the show lists four steps in the episode development process:

  • Step 1: Joining – viewers register and log on to the Bar Karma website.
  • Step 2: Creating – participants submit their own storyboards based on a basic outline provided by the producers, which all participants can then comment on, discuss, merge ideas, and hammer out a final plot.
  • Step 3: Voting – participants will vote on the finalized story proposals.
  • Step 4: Producing – Once voting is closed, the studio will produce the winning storyline, and the episode will then air. Episodes will be 30 minutes in length.

The theme of the show is unknown at the moment, although the website’s description,  “[a] mystical watering hole at the edge of the universe,” hints at both science fiction and the supernatural. Also unknown is whether the producers will provide a coherent story arc to server as a backbone for the audience-created stories, or whether the resulting episodes will be loosely-connected stories centering around a place or society in a shared-world environment akin to Robert Asprin’s Thieves’ World.

Historically, most television shows have depended on keeping plots and twists tightly under wraps throughout production in order to bring their audiences back to their show week after week to “see what happens next.” Bar Karma‘s model, involving the audience directly in the production of the material, relies not on secrecy but on the thrill of creation and collaboration, and the satisfaction of seeing ideas brought to life on the tv screen. It puts the power of production into the hands of the audience.

The model, which incorporates elements of both collaboration and competition, hinges on a strong, involved community. I’m curious to see what behaviors the community model will allow for. Will participants form teams to produce winning storyboards, or will the community model encourage less competition and more collaboration, or a balance of both? I can think of a hundred ways it could go wrong; but, having seen the power of community collaboration in action in ARGs and other internet-driven experiences, I can also imagine the thousands of ways it could go so very right. If successful, Bar Karma has the potential to be a real game-changer in entertainment, and I’ll be watching for it at the turn of the year.

To register for updates on the Bar Karma community and experience, visit the Bar Karma website.

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