advertising, creating, gaming, planning

The game of the movie or the movie of the game?: The opportunity of choosing the immersive over the immediate

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“Several years ago in the video game industry the big buzz word was “transmedia”.  it was a term that was coined for original worlds and properties that spanned multiple venues, from the game to the TV series to the movies to the books. everyone was aflutter with this idea; these mega properties were going to dominate the entertainment landscape and change how we consume media.

flash forward to now and it’s clear that very few studios were ever able to pull off this “holy grail” of world development. budgets skyrocketed and very few wanted to take a gamble on building a new world. Ubisoft, however, pulled this off with Assassin’s Creed, and they did it with flying colours.

let’s face it – we live in a digital and connected world. a distracted world. there are always multiple things vying for our attention, be it social media or mobile devices. in this era creatives need to craft games and worlds that gamers “marry” not ones that they casually “date”. there are numerous ways to accomplish this, but one of the best ways to do it is to make a game world that is so extraordinarily deep that it takes an army to sort through all of the facts and details. the world of Assassin’s Creed is one that is easy to get into but can take years to fully understand and appreciate.”

Cliff Bleszinski – Design Director, Epic Games

it’s strange reading the above commentary outside of a media planning text, the parallels are so similar as to be striking … “buzz word was ‘transmedia'”, “change how we consume media”, “a digital and connected world. a distracted world” …

Bleszinski’s comments were written for the prologue to the Assassin’s Creed Encyclopedia, a beautifully designed hardback book included as part of the Animus Edition of Assassin’s Creed Revelations.

Assassins_creed_2 Assassins_creed_3 Assassins_creed_4 Assassins_creed_5

Ubidoft’s unboxing video of Assassin’s Creed Revelations Animus Edition and images from the Assassin’s Creed Encyclopedia: careful, spoilers alert

that games now come with encyclopedias may be news enough for some readers, but the fact that Assassin’s Creed does (in fact there’s an audio CD and a short movie in the Animus too) bears testament to just how evolved some game worlds now are.

evolved, and big business.

a Guardian article last week reported that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 had set a five-day worldwide sell-through record, with sales of more than USD $775m.  it went on to comment that “the number also far exceeds the opening revenues from any movie or album release in 2011 – the biggest film of the year, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, made $202m in its first five days. It is likely that Modern Warfare 3 will join the select group of £1bn-grossing entertainment properties by Christmas.”

some digging courtesy of the same article notes that DFC Intelligence puts the 2010 global games industry figure at USD $66bn, whilst the LA Times puts the 2010 global cinema box office figure at USD $31.8bn and eMartketer estimate recorded music revenues at USD $35.1bn.  games win.  by a long shot.

the article ends however by observing that total reach of cinema far exceeds that of games, and comments that “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is big, that’s for sure, but as a mass cultural event, it still has a looooong way to go” … the fact that this observation is disputable aside (include social and casual gaming and there’s plenty of examples of games with scale and ‘cultural event’ status – Angry Birds anyone?), the difference between movies and gaming audiences is a reflection of the difference in the type of content/context between movies and gaming.

movies are inherently lean-back, immediate and assessable. games (casual and social aside) are inherently lean-forward, immersive and require time, effort and energy. it’s no surprise that the former has a bigger audience footprint than the latter, but that the latter generates significantly higher revenues per head than the former…

what’s interesting from a media planning perspective is the choice that it presents – ask yourself what context/content we in the advertising and communications industry generally create?  is it lean-back, immediate and assessable … or lean-forward, immersive and demanding of our time and energy.  advertising was born and grew up in the mass-broadcast era – its no surprise that we predominately not only produce in movie-mode, but have extensive metrics and marketing theories (Byron Sharp anyone?) to prove its validity.

and yet we know we have to move on.

we take our content and we re-purpose it.  we’re media and channel neutral, we create experiences and promotions and we socialise and innovate around our movies.  we create the games of our movies.

and in doing so we’re missing a huge opportunity.  because Assassin’s Creed and games like it don’t create games from movies (that would inherently limit their scope – search for ‘successful movie-based game franchises and you’ll see what I mean) … Assassin’s Creed creates movies from games, and more specifically, from an imagined world in which that game is set. they start, always and every time, with an immersive and lean-forward content/context – after which spinning out lean-back immediate content is childsplay.

the point is that we have a choice.  stay as we are – create in movie mode and spin out the immersive and engaging game stuff off of the back of it … or we can decide to more often start in gaming mode.  what world do we want to create?  what are it’s rules and stories and mythologies? (all brands have them – we just don’t think of them in these terms) … then how do we create lean-forward, immersive and rewarding ways into our worlds?  and then, and only then, how do we create content – of thirty seconds or three hours duration – that expands the penetration of our worlds, and of our brands, via more immediate and assessable means.

it’s harder to do.  it’s expensive to fund.  it’s difficult to measure.  and it takes longer to produce.  but that’s our choice … and as anyone who has ever completed a game will tell you – it’s more than worth it.  speaking of which…


The hate of expectation: Why we judge next more harshly than now, and why we need to stop

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we watched and discussed the above case study (or a version of it) at our weekly plannery-type meeting a few weeks back.  whilst the tone of the discussion was generally positive, there was a nagging persistent line in the debate that went along the lines of “we’ve been here already, seen it before, done it now, enough already, time to move on” …

and it kinda bothered me, because here we have a brand that, rather than resting comfortably in the knowledge that it is generating awareness through sponsoring a property, is investing time and energy in using that platform to create experiences that can more deeply engage and entertain us.  and there’s a very real danger that our response is: “meh” … would we really rather that they had done this?

would we really rather that Skoda had invested time and energy in thirty second ads that they could broadcast at us with the intention of interrupting us?

or what about this effort for Yeo Valley from Blighty that broke a few weeks ago in the first live X-Factor final…

on the UK’s apparent emerging yogurt wars (who knew) – of which this above is no small part – JVW makes an interesting point in a post on his Smithery blog:

“…on a slightly more thoughtful note, I think it’s part of a slightly worrying, one-dimensional train-of-thought in agency land; the push for the ADVERSPECTACULAR, the greatest song and dance show it’s possible to put on in thirty seconds … (Although better in sixty.  Though, actually, it only really works as a ninety…)”

JVW’s valid point is that the entertaining ante can only be upped so much before we all collectively explode in a blast of entertainment on-upmanship that destroys us all.  but surely efforts to entertain, or educate, or be useful or create experiences – as opposed to just reach or interrupt us should be applauded?

I care a lot less that Skoda are following in Mini’s gamification footsteps than I care that a dozen other car brands aren’t trying to connect to me on my terms.  and I care a lot less that Yeo Valley are pushing the envelope on entertaining us than I care that a hundred other FMCG brands aren’t.

a discussion with the awesomness of Nicola prompted her to make the smart observation that we have higher expectations of the different.  we expect more from the new.  we demand better from the alternative.  and we judge the next infinitely more harshly than we judge the now.

part human nature, part the position media planning finds itself in as we settle into the 21st Century and part the pressures imposed by the collective jizz-fest of international awards … the danger is that we quite simply and quite wrongly carry a weight of expectation of brands and planning that tries to do different.

we let a thousand really quite average communications pass us by every day without a whimper, and mutter ‘meh’ at the next iteration of doing different.  when we should be celebrating…  every breakout, every brave investment decision, every do different, every ‘no one’s done it this way lets go’, every sledge-hammer taken to category grip conventions, every ‘why didn’t we think of that?’ and every ‘why not’ not ‘why’ should be a badge of honour for our industry.

the weight … the hate, of our collective expectation should be directed not at the brands that try to do different, but at those that don’t.

here’s that other yoghurty adventure should you be interested in taking sides in those yogurt wars … really though, the yogurt wars – yogurt brands are at war, just with each other and all, but still, who knew!?