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WRITING ROLLERCOASTERS: Stories, Spectacle & Games in Physical Places (JUN 2012)

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At the 2012 Gamification Summit, I spoke about the developing use of gamified techniques and technology embedded in physical places like theme parks, museums, and other kinds of "third-space" ...

At the 2012 Gamification Summit, I spoke about the developing use of gamified techniques and technology embedded in physical places like theme parks, museums, and other kinds of "third-space" location-based entertainment.

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WRITING ROLLERCOASTERS: Stories, Spectacle & Games in Physical Places (JUN 2012) WRITING ROLLERCOASTERS: Stories, Spectacle & Games in Physical Places (JUN 2012) Presentation Transcript

  • dave  cobb senior  crea-ve  director create collaborate innovate gamifica-on  summit  6.20.12   1I’m Dave Cobb, the Sr. Creative Director for the Thinkwell Group, a unique multi-disciplinary design & production firm in Los Angeles, with expertise in location-based themed entertainment like museums, live events,and theme parks.
  • thinkwellgroup.com 2We’ve done everything from fountain shows to flume rides to live events to dinosaur shows.
  • thinkwellgroup.com 3Recently, we opened The Making of Harry Potter, a 150k-sq-ft, 3.5 hour permanent behind-the-scenes attraction located at the very London studios where all eight movies were filmed. View slide
  • thinkwellgroup.com 4Currently we are designing an 100-acre theme park in Beijing where over 40 rides, shows & attractions will bring to life the legendary 16th century Chinese stories of the Monkey King.Enough with the sales pitch... View slide
  • “SO,  YOU  DESIGN  ROLLER  COASTERS?” 5When I try to describe what I do, 99% of the people I meet respond with: “So, you design Roller Coasters?”
  • NASA  =  ROCKET  SCIENTISTS 6It’s like assuming everyone who works at NASA is a rocket scientist.Not entirely incorrect, of course -- but not precise enough.My answer would be “well, sort of...”
  • “NO,  I  TELL  STORIES  WITH  ROLLER  COASTERS.” 7“NO, I TELL STORIES WITH ROLLER COASTERS.” Which makes people even more confused -- “theme parks need writers?”Why yes, they do, as well as a lot of other really interesting people -- if there’s a science or a discipline you can think of, I can bet you it’s probably been used in service of atheme park attraction or two before. What we do can be highly prototypical, so we synthesize ideas from lots of different worlds.
  • 8I owe my weird job to the efforts of Walt Disney in 1955, when he created Disneyland.
  • 9Using techniques from moviemaking, live theater, stage illusions, and the trickle-down from burgeoning technologies like industrial controls and robotics, Walt evolved andexpanded his media empire to include live, real-world attractions -- bringing things to life that audiences had never seen, telling his stories dimensionally and experientially.Disney came up with the term “Imagineering” to describe this unique blend of technology + magic + storytelling in social, physical places.
  • 10He’s not really the first, of course. It’s basically theater.From Winsor McCay’s animated “Gertie the Dinosaur”, to Renaissance & Arabic automata, all the way back to the Greek “Deus Ex Machina,” technology has always been used inservice of live spectacle & storytelling. The difference is, Disney pulled down the proscenium. The real world became magical.
  • 11Disney took the raw mechanics of amusement, and added emotional context and stories.Spinning carnival rides became flights with Dumbo.Roller coasters became bobsled rides through the Matterhorn.
  • 12The crass hodgepodge of the midway gave way to the orderly, aspirational, reassuring theater of the Magic Kingdom.
  • 13Disney parks don’t have “rides,” they’re “attractions” that tell a story, immersing riders in a complete world through a sophisticated combination of theatrical, psychological, andtechnological trickery.They started as mostly passive stories, operettas to be observed, from the safety of doom buggies and pirate boats.But as audience sophistication levels changed, so did Disney’s attractions -- by the 1980s & 1990s, they became first-person narratives where guests were written into the story,perilously caught up in the Death Star trench battle in Star Tours, or spelunking cursed temples with Indiana Jones.
  • 14Universal Studios similarly jumped on the bandwagon, evolving their sleepy 1960s behind-the-scenes tram tour into an increasingly perilous collection of shark attacks,earthquakes, and giant monkeys that brought the stories and magic of movies to life in immersive new ways.
  • 15And when DVD extras made behind-the-scenes tours irrelevant, Universal parks became full-on sensory assaults from giant robots, tornadoes, fire, ancient mummies and flyingdragons.Still, the trend was always story-based, even amongst the peril and technical pizzaz. You dove into adventures and came out the other end, safe and sound, with a tale to tellyour friends and family.
  • 16It’s not just theme parks that were affected by this participatory change of expectations from consumers.Science museums, touring exhibits, planetariums, and aquariums are actually a big part of our business -- more and more they compete, regionally, dollar for dollar, rightalongside theme parks, as the same sort of social, entertaining “third space” that people want outside of work and home.Museums and exhibitions have become less about boxes full of dead stuff, and more like theater -- using immersive and interactive techniques to inspire and educate guests.
  • TECH  + STORY  + ENVIRONMENT  + SOCIAL +  GAMIFICATION 17So, enough with the brief nerdy history lesson. What we deal with is technology, story, environment, social catharsis & participation.And as audiences evolve, gamification is becoming a potent tool in our arsenal.The possibilities are very exciting because we offer a unique combination of spectacle & environment that you can’t get from your game console, tablet or smart phone. Our locations are unique walled gardens, wheregroup interaction and engagement is already part of the experience.
  • 18Theme parks took early steps into gamified experiences during the last decade, with “shoot-em-up” videogame-style rides like Buzz Lightyear, Men in Black, Scooby-Doo & Toy Story.The simple addition of accumulating a score while you ride made these experiences extremely repeatable, and the simple shooting-gallery game mechanic made it accessible to gamers and non-gamers alike -- whichis an important distinction for our particular world of design, which I’ll explain a bit more later.But shooting galleries are only one kind of game, and it’s only the beginning for where themed entertainment is headed.
  • ‣  THE  SHOW  AT  THE  PIER  at  Atlan-c  City  Pier ‣  NATUREQUEST  at  Atlanta’s  Fernbank  Museum  of  Natural  History ‣  FLYNN  LIVES    Alternate  Reality  Game ‣  SLEEP  NO  MORE  off-­‐Broadway  play  by  Punchdrunk ‣  NEXT  GEN  INITIATIVE  at  Walt  Disney  World 19Two recent projects at Thinkwell are good examples of how we can use gamified techniques within location-based environments.Alternate-reality games are redefining the boundaries of location-based experiences.An off-broadway production is gamifying Shakespeare.Disney is moving theme parks into the future of gamified, location-based experiences with some very exciting projects.
  • ‣  THE  SHOW  AT  THE  PIER  at  Atlan-c  City  Pier 20In 2006, we were challenged by the Atlantic City Pier to create an attraction that would draw people to a “dead zone” -- a terminus point in their retail development.Partnering with Carnegie-Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center, we developed hardware and software that was totally unique to the fountain industry. In addition to hourly preprogrammed shows, the fountainplays interactive “games” with the audience, using multiple imaging and sensing technologies.Guest discover these games simply by walking up to the fountain -- it responds to their movements and slowly builds into different games as crowds start to gather, from simple “follow me” games with single viewers,to massively multiplayer “color wars” and group dance competitions. While any fountain show would have offered a certain level of attraction, we created something that constantly engaged guests in different ways,creating great repeatability and word-of-mouth and raising the value of the tenant spaces in the process.
  • ‣  NATUREQUEST  at  Atlanta’s  Fernbank  Museum  of  Natural  History 21Last year, we opened NatureQuest at the Fernbank Museum of Natural History in Atlanta. The museum approached us with a challenge: urban Atlanta kids were “afraid of nature”, having little to inspire them toexplore one of the nation’s most diverse urban forests. The challenge was to engage urban kids -- of all ages, and various reading levels -- with the ecosystems of the southeast.Rather than typical didactic museum signage and presentational video exhibits, NatureQuest’s content is embedded everywhere, engaging the senses using sound, touch, and sight to immerse visitors in a nature-inspired environment that quite literally comes to life around them using a combination of high technology and tried-and-true analog play environments and theatrical techniques. And everything designed into theenvironment -- down to the last leaf -- is species-accurate to the regionA river of projected fish responds to every step; animated animal habitats are integrated seamlessly into scenic environments; augmented-reality night-vision goggles reveal unseen nighttime animal activity in theactual environment of the museum; RFID acorns, shells, eggs & seeds reveal what they’ll grow into when placed in front of a magic mirror.And it’s not all about technology, either. In lieu of a lot of signage, we created scavenger-hunt-style “challenge cards” that enable and active conversation between parent and child as they discover the environmenttogether. These cards make the space infinitely reprogrammable -- by age, time of day, grade level, seasonally -- by “gamifying” the entire exhibit space, the possibilities are endless.
  • ‣  FLYNN  LIVES  Alternate  Reality  Game 22Sometimes, creating a location-based experience doesn’t require a permanent location at all.42 Entertainment created an alternate-reality game in support of Disney’s TRON with a storyline that created an alternate reality both online and within the real world -- the characters from the films affected theplayer’s real lives with media, events, and rewards.All of the events encouraged global gamification & collaboration -- many puzzles could not be solved by a single player. Tron’s rabid fan community worked together to unravel nearly two year’s worth of puzzles thatresulted in hidden prize drops around the world, and more amazingly, two enormous location-based attractions revealed to faithful ARG players during Comic-Con 2009 & 2010 in San Diego.The scope and scale of FLYNN LIVES was rewarded with a THEA award, the themed entertainment’s equivalent to the Oscar -- showing that the future of themed entertainment can involve creating unique andimmersive experiences that are hidden in the real world.
  • ‣  SLEEP  NO  MORE  at  off-­‐Broadway  by  Punchdrunk 23Formed in 2000, Punchdrunk is a UK theater company that creates “Site-specific, immersive experiences” with “Epic storytelling inside sensory theatrical worlds.” With their hit show SLEEP NO MORE, they shif the linebetween space, performer & spectator in an immersive retelling of MACBETH, mashed-up with a 1930s film-noir Hitchcockian settingThe audience doesn’t watch from afar -- they are literally thrust into the experience, following a cast of twenty through five floors and over a hundred rooms. The action is overlapping and non-linear, the audiencefollows the action & characters at their own discretion, wearing masks that give them social permission to be completely silent, identity-less voyeurs.They have, in effect, gamified a stage play into a non-verbal, participatory piece of choreography where no two viewers ever have the same experience and the emotional narrative is up to the guests to piece togetherthemselves. Even more exciting, the MIT media lab was recently invited to add a whole other layer of interactive digital trickery to SLEEP NO MORE, adding RFID chips to masks that activate certain effects andadditional, content-rich and audience-member-specific storylines.
  • ‣  NEXT  GEN  INITIATIVE  at  Walt  Disney  World 24Starting this year, Disney is establishing a whole new kind of theme park experience with the first phases of their “Next Gen Initiative”, which embeds interactive technologies into their existing park experiences.First up is Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom, a story-based alternate reality game, overlaid on the world’s most popular theme park. Visitors use collectible cards to play interactive games at hidden and embedded playpoints throughout the park, resulting in magical illusions and media interactives that unlock story moments pitting the guests against Disney villains who determined to use the forces of evil to take over the Kingdom.Fast Pass Plus will also be rolling out soon, which takes their existing line-reservation system up a notch through RFID wristband tickets and the ability to pre-book all of your ride times ahead of time online. Thisdigital ticket media also acts as your room key, resort-wide charge card, and may even trigger special surprises throughout the park -- a character who knows your child’s name, or a ride that knows it’s theirbirthday, for instance.And that’s only the beginning of what Disney has planned in the future.
  • 25So what’s next? Will games eat up people into virtual spaces?Are theme parks and location-based entertainment doomed to analogue, real-world, meat-space obsolescence?We know that’s not true. People don’t want digital isolation, they want to take their digital world with them into the real world.With the desktop metaphor dying, emerging mobile tech gives us an unprecedented opportunity. All of a sudden, all of our location-based guests have a highly connected supercomputer in their pocket -- enabling usto create gamified experiences that can augment, enhance and ultimately, uniquely transcend any mere screen space.The challenge is: we’re site-specific. We’re brick-and-mortar. We don’t build a widget we can multiply by the millions and distribute digitally all over the planet. We build one and hope that millions of people come toit.
  • ‣  waders ‣  your  average  audience  member;  wants  an  experience  but  isn’t  going  to  exert  too  much  to  get  it. ‣  swimmers ‣  slightly  more  avid  fans;  game  to  try  new  things ‣  divers ‣  go-­‐ge<ers  who  want  to  be  in  the  middle  of  it  all  and  want  to  see  every  cool  thing  everywhere  ever 26Which is why, at Thinkwell, we define our audience with an analogy of three types of swimmers.A successful attraction will appeal to all of these people, but also have something unique to offer for each of them.
  • ‣  adaptability ‣  personaliza-on ‣  removing  boundaries 27Gamification can help us. Game dynamics and embedded technology in physical spaces can have layers of content that adapt to guests as they play, or are personalized to their preferences or demographics.Museum exhibits that adapt their content to different ages. Park-wide alternate reality games that are scalable from casual to hard-core gamers. Lots of story depth for divers, or less so for waders.Gamification helps us remove boundaries, creating real-world experiences that can automatically adapt to different kinds of swimmers.
  • PLACES  +  STORIES  +  GAMES ‣  spectacle ‣  community ‣  the  third  place ‣  -me ‣  quality 28We create places with stories which we can now transform and innovate in specifically unique ways through gamified systems.We believe people seek out location-based experiences for five reasons:Spectacle i. LBE: wow moments! ii. Gamification: personalized, socially-shareable accomplishmentsCommunity i. LBE: like sitting around the campfire, sharing moments with friends family ii. Gamification: competing and sharing with friends and family regardless of location, connecting with like-minded playersThird Place i. LBE: places that are unique and unlike anywhere else in the world ii. Gamification: creating personalization and a one-on-one connection with a place, extending that experience beyond placeTime i. LBE: moments in time defined by the three above things ii. Gamification: extending that experience beyond time at LBE, enticing return visitsQuality i. LBE: guests will pay for a premium experience ii. Gamification: value-added additions & options that enhance existing products, and enable premium up-charge
  • PLACES  +  STORIES  +  GAMES 29There will ALWAYS be a potent social, psychological, and cathartic need for the “third space” -- be it a mall, or a museum, or a theme park.At Thinkwell we know that the next plateau can’t be reached with technology alone, that it will take a thorough understanding and respect for those emotional human responses, the intangibles that drive an audienceto a product or service or place. What new buttons are out there to be pushed in people emotionally, is the next level we’re seeking.We want to harness the emotional power of physical places, the compelling power of storytelling, and the social power of games to create lasting, meaningful experiences.