Gamification: When two tribes go to work

Defiance, a new television show, will have its plot shaped by what happens in an accompanying online game and vice versa. Is 'gamification' the future of entertainment? Phil Boucher finds out

Anyone with access to an Xbox, PlayStation or internet-based game account knows there's one universal truth about video games: they do not translate into good movies: and movies do not translate into good games (alright, apart from GoldenEye).

Yet this is about to change. Deep in the heart of San Diego, California, a joint project between NBC Universal's SyFy channel and Trion World games aims to create a form of entertainment that is equal parts TV show and game.

Launched in June 2012, it could alter the way we enjoy traditional screen entertainment in all its forms by turning the whole experience into something far more collaborative and interactive.

"It's the holy grail and nothing less," says SyFy president David Howe. Provisionally titled Defiance, the premise of the project rests within the familiar sci-fi boundaries of a future Earth that's populated by humans and a race of marooned extra-terrestrials. The initial 10- to 12-episode TV aspect will focus on characters plucked from this imaginary world and detail the angst and moral confusion that comes from living with such a nightmarish jumble of geo-political and social conflicts.

Meanwhile, online gamers will be able to enter the exact same world by playing on either the alien or earthling side and creating characters that populate the wider society. This, in turn, will help to provide some of the narrative undercurrent for the TV show. So should the leader of a vine-covered city be toppled online, it may later be mirrored in a writer's script.

"You are basically a participant in the same fictional universe that the TV characters participate in," explains Lars Butler, CEO of Trion.

Titanic director James Cameron has likened this to "having an artificial intelligence at work behind the primary story, but your audience is the AI" and in pursuit of this "holy grail", SyFy and Trion have already invested three years' work and the best part of £20m.

Yet they are not pursuing some altruistic, utopian dream, as hard-nosed finance underpins the entire venture – not least, the access NBC will gain to the vast, £55bn gaming community.

"If you look at the whole billion-dollar gaming market, roughly half of the titles are sci-fi fantasy," explains Howe. "Five of the top 10 mega-hits in video gaming are also sci-fi fantasy."

Howe believes that SyFy is perfectly placed to tap into this world because it already has a viewing audience that is both technologically savvy and familiar with Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOG) such as World of Warcraft and Rift. More importantly, he says it's also an audience that is "driven by stories that they want to live in 24/7." So the aim, quite simply, is to create a virtual realm that is more beguiling that the physical.

"This hobby of yours can then influence and be part of your entire life," adds Butler. To achieve this, Defiance will be connected to every screen-based consumer device imaginable, so that gamers can delve into the world at any time, anywhere. It will also carry live video and broadcast links to Facebook and YouTube and provide live Twitter feeds with automatic picture taking, so the physical world can learn of your gaming achievements as they happen. At the same time the game will be monitored 24 hours a day by a "mission control" in California to enable the developers to ascertain the most popular areas and inject elements that improve the experience. This will then be fed on to the writers of the TV show, ensuring that the screen drama and on-line content is as tailored to the Defiance audience as possible.

"The world is on a server and any connected device is a window into this world," adds Butler. "So, in a way, the TV show is an enormous window into this world as well."

The developers intend to blur the boundaries between the virtual and physical worlds yet further by exploiting the most powerful emotional driver of modern society: celebrity.

"It is so important to players in a multiplayer world, that what they do is recognised," explains Butler.

"So everything we'll try, from Facebook and You Tube integration to trying to integrate an entire TV show, is basically to extend the reach and allow our players to become celebrities – not just in the game world, but also within the real world."

In Defiance this could see players featured on the TV show, or their major achievements announced by an actor in front of a viewing audience stretching from California to New York, with Western Europe soon to follow. "It is the coolest thing gamers could ever be rewarded with," suggests Butler.

Here, discussions are underway between UK developer Mudlark Games and a terrestrial broadcaster to produce what Mudlark's founder, Toby Barnes, describes as "a number of different game elements that can be added to what are traditionally very mainstream linear broadcasts".

The vast majority of TV companies, film studios and advertising agencies also have some form of games research department beavering away behind closed doors. Like SyFy the aim is to create a form of entertainment that works on a variety of different levels under the banner of transmedia. They're inspired by the success of US TV show The Booth At the End. Created as a collection of 62, two-minute webisodes linked to an online game, the show is based around the workings of a mysterious man who sits in a diner and offers to solve the life problems of total strangers in return for a Faustian pact, which encourages them to perform a morally corrupting deed. It has proved so popular that FX has now turned the concept into a series of 20-minute TV episodes that come with a range of associated games on thebooth.fxuk.com. These enable gamers to wrestle with the same moral conundrums as the TV characters and, through links to Facebook and Twitter, explain their moral reasoning for, say, shooting a total stranger. A further Facebook game enables players to actually meet "the man" and embark on missions in cyberspace.

While this obviously stops a long way short of the all-encompassing aims of Defiance, it has proved that an on-line game can be successfully linked to a TV show in a meaningful manner.

"The consumer is elevated from the status of passive viewer to the status of active participant," explains Butler.

Yet Defiance and The Booth At The End account for just a tiny fraction of the ways in which gaming is encroaching into our physical lives. Thanks to smart phones and tablet computers, developers have created an array of mass-market game apps such as Farmville and Angry Birds, which appeal to gamers of all ages and genders.

This includes location-based games set around the concept of photographing a certain destination (Appysnap), or simply sharing the experience of having made it there (Gowalla). Others strive to tackle the repetition of adult life, by encouraging you to earn virtual rewards for cleaning your house (Chore Wars) or your daily commute (Chromaroma). Some even aspire to solve real problems, by encouraging you to address the water shortages of sub-Saharan Africa (Urgent Evoke) – with funding from the World Bank dangled as a prize for the best idea.

From recycling to conserving home energy, voting and filling in your tax form, there is literally no aspect of modern life that is not reflected in a game somewhere. And with Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) tipped to replace digital in the future, it is virtually inevitable game culture will increasingly define how we relate to both screen media and the physical world.

David Howe adds: "Very few hit movies have spawned successful games because they have been perceived by the audience as lower in quality, largely because the creatives working on the movie didn't work on the game.

"We want to come at it much more smartly, with co-development across the various platforms so that when we green-light something, it is because we already know there is a desire for it across both the platforms.

"After all, a screen is just a screen, is just a screen..."

Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Arts and Entertainment
James Hewitt has firmly denied being Harry’s father
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Sport
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
News
news
News
Sir James Dyson: 'Students must be inspired to take up the challenge of engineering'
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Recruitment Genius: PHP Web Developer

    £30000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a Web Developer looking...

    Ashdown Group: Moodle Developer (PHP ,Linux, Apache, MySQL, Moodle)

    £35000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Moodle Developer (PHP ,Linux, Apache...

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

    £17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Junior .NET Web Developer - Winform / MVC

    £21000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Award-winning pharma softw...

    Day In a Page

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
    Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

    Scarred by the bell

    The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
    Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

    Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

    Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
    The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

    The Locked Room Mysteries

    As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
    Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

    How I made myself Keane

    Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
    Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

    Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

    Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
    A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

    Wear in review

    A look back at fashion in 2014
    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

    Might just one of them happen?
    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?