My own participation in the SXSW line up this last day of SXSWi was cut short by a forced visit to St Davids Hospital in Austin. As a side not, let me just take this opportunity to accolade the medial service provided; all involved were extremely professional, kind and efficient. Wait to get in was 15 minutes tops. Kudos! On the other hand, waiting 2h for a taxi was slightly irritating; in the end a collague got a cab down at the Convention Centre in one minute flat and came up to get me.
So, even though being in Austin, this last day I had the opportunity to follow SXSW in the way most people actually do, those not attending that is; by trying to follow the right persons, read the right blogs and figuring out the essential hashtags.
ARGs tell your story
Adrian Hon from sixtostart held an – apparently – well attendend talk on ”Project 314: Putting the Game back into ARG”, which was about looking at ARGs as stand-alone experiences, can it work or not? As said in the description of the talk – ”we found that there are enormous advantages in creating an ARG that’s attached to an online game; for one, you can avoid the irritating friction that always occurs when switching between media; for another, the ARG feels completely natural.”
So, ARGs promise to transform the world of entertainment and storytelling, but often end up not really delivering. They’ve been overhyped and oversold and are now in a state of disillusionment – on the other hand, that means the only way is up! One great way of scaling ARGs is to automate them – example is www.smokescreengame.com – but this comes at the expense of the ‘magic’ of the story. And, which must be remembered, every extra action a participant needs to do in order to advance the story is an opportunity to just say “screw it, I’m giving up”.
Adrian advocates, and I’m with him on this, not making ARGs so hard to play. The charm of ARGs isn’t in the hoax – it’s in the experience. Knowing how long a book is doesn’t spoil the experience of the book. If you’re wondering how to make an ARG – steal success strategies from other types of games to improve the ARG experience.
All in all good advice. ARGs are a brilliant way to engage people, but just as Andrea Phillips talked about in her Hoax or Transmedia talk, with some of the examples she showed us, hoaxing might feel tantalizing and fun, but most of the time it’s seriously counterproductive. Trust your story and the way you’ve built your experience, let the people get immersed, and there will be no need to try to fool them. Above quotes were a condensed version of the #project314 hashtag.
The Transmedia backlash
Now, a big trend this year was the transmedia backlash which was very apparent during these days at SXSW. From @feliciaday stating being really tired of transmedia, to @jaybushman jokingly suggesting that he’d submit a panel to SXSW next year about everyone who hates the term transmedia, the term has gotten some severe beating from a number of sources – including @kevmoss, putting up this page on “Should I Feel Embarrased to Use the Phrase Transmedia?” for people to slug it out around the term.
In my opinion this is a very natural backlash. I second @glecharles who tweeted “Interesting to see the #transmedia backlash building. That’s good; it’s the step that comes before awareness and proper adoption. Go!”
It is also a question of so many people having to come around to the term, from developers and designers to marketing people and producers – it is quite natural that the term gets thrown around a lot and a bit battered in the process. I had a discussion with @geoffreylong over Twitter (before phone batteries and wifi connections let us up) and I totally agree with him – “Abandoning #transmedia because the buzz is wearing off is like abandoning the Internet after the dotcom collapse.” There is no need to abandon anything yet, but I can see where Geoffrey is coming from, as he is anxious not to abandon terminology that can help us build a standard for creating transmedia, a standard similar to “close-up”, “POV” etc in regular film-making. On the other hand I would argue that much of that terminology is moving away from technically-based and into more experience-based terminology.
All in all, we’re getting there – and I still think it’s nice that we do not have a definite definition of Transmedia yet. It’s more interesting like this ☺
I will conclude by saying that SXSWi is a blast. It’s also exactly what you make of it – at any given point, dozens of people are talking about interesting things, just go listen… or chat to the guy next to you; he might be the online traffic analytic from Canada that your project has sorely been missing, or the venture capitalist that is looking for exactly a project like yours. Almost guaranteed though, he or she is a nice and friendly person whom you can have an interesting discussions with. And yeah, find the right parties via Twitter, Yobongo or any other app you’re using, and try not to bust up your foot ☺
I’ll add some links to this post as soon as I am somewhere where the wifi connection is a bit better. Here’s a link to Guardian UKs look at the tech presented this year. This is Fast Company’s list of the most innovative companies in 2011. More links coming in the near future. Thank you SXSWi, and goodbye! Hope to see you next year!