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Pheon: One Game, Two Platforms, Mixed Success (w/NOTES)


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Presentation with NOTES for Games: Creating Connections to Collections at the 2012 American Association of Museums Meeting in Minneapolis.

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Pheon: One Game, Two Platforms, Mixed Success (w/NOTES)

  1. 1. Hello…The Smithsonian American Art Museum shares a building with the National PortraitGallery in downtown DC.The museum is home to a large collection of American art, representing more thanseven thousand artists from the colonial period to today. 1
  2. 2. Background - GOACIn 2008, we ran an Alternate Reality Game called Ghosts of a Chance. An ARG is aninteractive story that demands players’ active participation – the story does notcontinue unless players do something. It takes place in real time and using real worldelements (phones, web, email, physical spaces, etc.).We did not have any defined goals at the beginning of this project, nor did we have aclear idea of exactly what it would look like, but we determined the project to be asuccess because: It attracted a new audience of ARG-players to our online collections,it got teenagers and young adults excited about interacting with museum collections,and it promoted the museum through press and online activity. 2
  3. 3. Overview of PheonIn 2010, we launched a new game, Pheon. This was intended to build upon thesuccess of Ghosts of a Chance, and apply everything we learned from running thefirst game. It ran from October 2010 through October 2011 and took place bothonline and on site.We did define our goals before developing Pheon, though they were still fairly broad.Our goals were to:Increase familiarity with our collections. Players should leave the game with newknowledge about the types of work we have in our collection.Inspire creativity. Players should physically do something that has a tangible anddocumented result in order to progress through the game.Connect art with people’s lives: Players should discover connections between theartworks and artists in our collection and their own lives.Promote the American Art Museum: As with “Ghosts of a Chance,” we wanted thegame to attract new audiences, primarily on-line, but also in the real world.There were two versions of the game. One version could be played online through aFacebook application. The other was an adaptation of the Facebook game for use inthe Museum as a multimedia scavenger hunt.It’s worth noting here that the game was designed for multiple institutions. Differentmuseums would be able to work with the game designers to create content specificto their goals. 3
  4. 4. About the Game - NarrativeThere was a detailed narrative behind Pheon. The game was set in Terra Tectus, asecret world in which two peoples, Staves and Knaves, were at war. Some of thecharacters were based on real figures from history. The idea was that Terra Tectusneeded humans, i.e. players, to help end the war, which they did by completingmissions. 4
  5. 5. EvaluationWe worked with UXR Consulting to do a exploratory summative evaluations of bothversions of the game last summer. The online game was evaluated through a web-based survey that went to people who had played the game online, as well as non-players, since we hoped that their responses would provide some insight into why westruggled to attract people to the game.The on site game was evaluated through observations, interviews, and open-endedsurvey questions. 5
  6. 6. First, the Online GameThis was the main focus of the game. The online game ran through a Facebook app.Players could sign up, accept different missions, complete them in the real world,then upload photographs or videos to show that they completed the mission andprogress through the game.We were very proud of Pheon. We felt that it boasted more sophisticated gamedesign than Ghosts of a Chance. We were happy with our decision to run the onlinegame through Facebook, since we thought that this represented a huge audience ofpeople who wanted to play games. We even received money from a Smithsonianinnovation fund… 6
  7. 7. Unfortunately, no one played. In 12 months, only 68 people played, and even thosepeople only completed a small part of the game.The evaluation showed us that there were three main reasons why the game failed… 7
  8. 8. #1 NarrativePHEON’s story was designed for use across multiple Museum institutions, but unfortunately itwas only ever deployed at the American Art Museum. Because of this, the narrative did notconnect directly to the Museum. Blurring the lines between reality and fiction is a criticalcomponent of an ARG, so we should have created a storyline that connected directly to thereal world of the Museum in some way.The Facebook interface detracted from players’ total immersion into the world of TerraTectus, and the casual, drop-in nature of Facebook use also limited the extent to whichplayers could immerse themselves in the fiction of the game.The narrative was also far too complex, and did not have any obvious connection to playeractivity – it continued in the same direction regardless of what players did. 8
  9. 9. What went wrong?#2 FacebookWe found that Facebook was a huge barrier to participation. The overarching sentiment bynon-players was that Facebook was not an ideal platform for a game like PHEON due to:they had strong perceptions of what types of games are or should be played on Facebook;they did not use Facebook very often; orthey had a general dislike for Facebook. Many people also cited privacy or spam concerns asa reason for not engaging with ANY apps on Facebook.Even for Facebook users that did engage with games, we found that Pheon demanded far toomuch of them. Casual games like Farmville or Mafia Wars are successful on Facebookbecause they require only quick bursts of player effort and take only a little time tounderstand. Pheon asked players to engage with and understand a complex narrative, acceptmissions, do things in the real world, and then follow up by uploading photographs. 9
  10. 10. What went wrong?#3 MarketingIn contrast to the people who did not like the idea of an ARG on Facebook, there wereseveral others who found the idea intriguing, but had simply never heard of the game. Thispoints to a potential marketing issue. These are people who were in the target audience -gamers with a Facebook account that they used regularly - but who the advertising channelsnever reached.We also found that the title, game description, or other components of the game’s brandingdid not sufficiently convey what the game was about to make people want to play it. 10
  11. 11. In contrast, the on-site game was quite successful.Visitors to the Museum competed as either Staves or Knaves. Players then followedclues and completed tasks around the entire museum. The activities were designedto engage people with the artworks and take them around the museum inunconventional ways. Tasks included: finding objects, solving codes, making things,performing, and answering questions. 11
  12. 12. We had relatively good participation in this part of the game and the evaluationshowed us that players demonstrated 21st century and museum literacy skills as wellas overall satisfaction and enjoyment.I’m going to highlight a few examples of the skills demonstrated by players – for fulldetails see the reports. 12
  13. 13. Technology literacy:The museum has computer kiosks that provide access to a digital catalogue ofartworks. Pheon required players to find and use these early on, which meant thatthey often returned to them unprompted to search for answers at other parts of thegame.Players also showed comfort using cell phones and text messaging in a museumsetting, since many parts of the game required them to respond to text messages ormake phone calls. 13
  14. 14. 21st century skills: Trial and ErrorTrial and error was the most common form of problem solving engaged in by players,and was most often seen with use of the different technologies in the game. If aninitial response returned an error, players would continually think up variations to tryuntil they got it right. 14
  15. 15. 21st century skills: Re-reading and re-consideringIf trial and error did not work, groups would re-read or re-consider the clue, andwould often re-trace their steps to the last part of the game.21st century skills: Team work (division of labor)Pheon was designed to be played in a group, so team work was a common strategy.When they had to find an artwork in a particular gallery, they would often split up inorder to search more efficiently. Pheon also involved many different skills – fromsolving complex codes to creating sculptures from foil, so members of a team wouldapply their strengths depending on the task at hand. 15
  16. 16. 21st century skills: Talking to strangersTalking to strangers in art museums is a rare event. Pheon players were often seentalking to other groups, seeking help on particularly difficult tasks. Players were easyto identify because of their Pheon buttons or disguises.21st century skills: Group and intergenerational learningPHEON was deliberately designed in a way that working as a group would be morebeneficial than working alone. Older individuals would often take a leadership role,but younger members of a group were relied upon to help with the text messagesand kiosk use. 16
  17. 17. Museum Literacy: Engaging with staffPlayers talked to anyone that they thought might help when they were stuck! Inaddition to talking to the museum staff that were running the game, they alsoengaged with security officers and information desk attendants. The silliness of manyof the game tasks helped to remove any intimidation that visitors might feel in askingstaff a question. 17
  18. 18. Museum Literacy: Connecting with artConnecting with art was a huge part of the game. Players noticed new artworks,engaged with pieces deliberately through the game, connected art to other lifeexperiences, described learning something new, recalled objects and galleries afterthe fact, and from time to time, let the art overshadow the game play.Many parts of the game required players to study or interact with an artwork. (foilsculpture and sheet music)Everyone we surveyed in the evaluation was able to recall at least one artwork indetail, even several months after they played the game. 18
  19. 19. Museum Literacy: Label reading & TerminologyThis was an easy one. Players often had to read a label in order to answer a questionin the game. In many instances, when they didn’t know exactly which artwork theywere looking for, they would read every label in the gallery to try and find the answer.The game also taught them elements of museum terminology, including accessionnumbers, computer kiosks, and gallery names. 19
  20. 20. Museum Literacy: Connecting with museum as space & assessing creature comfortsPlayers connected with the museum spaces as well as the artwork. Many peoplereported that they saw parts of the museum they had not seen before, or theyexperienced the art museum in a new way.The game involved a great deal of walking and moving between floors, and tookaround 2 hours to complete. As a result, players learned quickly the location ofelevators and benches throughout the museum! 20
  21. 21. Spatial Navigation & OrientationOur museum map did not work very well for the game! The map is designed for aregular museum visitor, accessing the museum in a conventional way. Pheon is avertical game, and players found it very difficult to navigate between the floors.However, many players reported that they enjoyed getting lost during the game,using the experience to see new things which occasionally helped them at futurepoints in the game. 21
  22. 22. In Summary…Lessons LearnedWe should have kept the game simple and focused on the museum and its collection.Not tried to incorporate a complicated narrativeWe should have been strategic about defining an audience and marketing to them.(Online) we should have researched Facebook as a platform!(On site) we should have created a map that was customized for the gameWhat we knowGames can encourage 21st century skills and museum literacyGames can help people be less intimidated about art and museumsGames can inspire memorable connections with artBut, the platform matters! 22