The Importance of Meaning
Steve Peters has written an excellent post over on the No Mimes blog about Creating Buzz vs. the Player Experience. While you should go over and read the entire thing, I am going to quote the last bit of what he said here because it cannot be said enough.
Design your experience for your audience, first and foremost. Don’t design for buzz at the expense of the players, the fans, the deeply committed people who love what you’re doing so much they’re willing to put a lot of time and effort into being there. Because if they had a great time, they’ll tell everyone they know. They’ll blog about it. They’ll post pictures and videos. They’ll become truly engaged. They’ll become your biggest asset.
When things get to this point, The Industry likes to call these people Brand Evangelists.
I like to call them Happy.
Head on over and read the rest of what he has to say. Take it to heart. If you are making an ARG or a transmedia campaign, it is some of the most important advice you will ever receive. Seriously.
I understand the delicate balance that creators face. I know the tension created by the constant pull between the audience and client or project. I know that doing this hip cool transmedia experience is fantastic and exciting and filled with dreams of buzz (and buzzwords like engagement). I know you may be looking down the road and seeing awards and recognition. And, yes, I know that some events and activities are created with not only with press in mind but also with visions of how it’ll look in various reels (demo, awards, case studies…). I know that you and your client want to be able to extract the essence of awesome into tiny little chunks. Bonus points if you can also throw in some meaningful numbers with it – dozens of, hundreds of, thousands of…
All of those things are ok. Great, even. But those numbers, at least some of them, are people. Individual people. Individual people who are spending their time making your fantastic experience fantastic. So be thankful. Celebrate them and, yes, give them what they want. And what they want, even more than the t-shirts and movie trailers, is for their experiences and, even, swag to come with meaning.
Providing meaning isn’t hard to do, even with the stand alone bits and pieces. It really isn’t. It may take a bit of work – a touch of creative writing & design finagling. But it is oh so worth it.
If it’s an event, make the event meaningful within the story by having the actions that happen lead somewhere or change something. Sure, it can still stand alone as an easily digested bite-sized chunk of the overall project, but if it leads somewhere, too, you not only provide meaning but create an accessible way to not only bring more people into the experience, but to encourage them to dig deeper and become even more engaged. (which adds to those meaningful numbers… so you can see how meaning for the players translates into meeting for you and/or your client)
If it’s swag (a t-shirt, a poster, a movie trailer…) do not make it so that it is little more than reward for completing a task. It can be a reward, sure, but the reward and/or task should be integrated into the experience. Whether it helps to clarify things or expand the experience, is up to you, but it should do something that is meaningful for the player experience.
Otherwise, I have to ask, why go to the trouble of attaching it to the transmedia experience. If the goal is, merely, to have these standalone events and/or give out swag – then just have standalone events and/or give out swag. Going through the motions and implying that there is some sort of meaning leads to a less satisfactory experience. Not to mention that having a number of standalone experiences without some unified message and underlying meaning makes the entire transmedia project seem more confusing and complex – which makes it less accessible and more difficult to attract people and/or buzz.
(It should go without saying, right?, that when you make it lead somewhere, you should not go directly to a branded message. That just leads to the Ovaltine factor and nobody likes that.)
Memories are created from meaning. That is important because when people are posting about things and telling their friends, what they are doing is sharing their memories. Think of it this way… when your player goes to their t-shirt drawer, how do you want them to think of that t-shirt you gave them: as some swag they got or as a t-shirt filled with the memories? Which is more likely to be worn? To be talked about?
And, as a bit of a post-script… be careful when you start calling things “tasks” – it’s easy for that attitude to quickly permeate through the audience making the experience feel more like work than, well, an experience. I know of a number of games that have lost players because they didn’t want to do some meaningless work or feel like they were completing a homework assignment. How do you want people to remember things when they start sharing their memories – do you want them to talk about the work involved or about the experience and story? Which do you think will create a more positive message?