Location-specific play, driven by immersive technology, is putting movement and proximity at the heart of the experience. Alex Book explores how and why this phenomenon is happening, and introduces Arcade’s Experience Matrix as a new way to assess audience engagement.
Entertainment is a basic human driver. A primal need not to be bored. In the eras before we discovered how to record, reproduce and broadcast sounds and images, all entertainment required proximity to a place – you simply had to be there to experience it. With a lot of entertainment you still do, of course, but once it became possible to be entertained in the comfort of our own homes, everything changed. Over the course of the 20th century the balance shifted from having to go to the entertainment, to the entertainment coming to you. The 21st century, with its mobile revolution, has taken this to a dramatic new extreme.
It is a more sedentary attitude to entertainment, and has long since become the norm. Whether from the comfort of our sofas or our seats on the morning commute, we watch and we listen. Why? Because the content is incredible, and there’s so much of it. Dramatic, beautiful, funny, moving, intense, relaxing, educational, transformational. But all of it passive.
Which is why it was fascinating to see Netflix pinpoint Fortnite, not HBO, as their primary competitor in January’s Q4 earnings report. Fortnite, the gaming game-changer, represents something that Netflix and its traditional content-creation-and-streaming adversaries simply don’t offer: active participation. It’s why so many of us, in addition to watching and listening, are also playing. Gaming comes in many forms, but what Call of Duty and Candy Crush have in common is the principle of play, and it’s why the number of ‘active gamers’ is estimated to reach nearly 2.5bn (yes, BILLION) globally in 2019.
If you’re Netflix, this is an existential threat. They are fully aware of the issue, and are taking exploratory steps into the world of interactive TV with the likes of Bandersnatch – December’s ‘choose-your-own-adventure’ style episode of the brilliant Black Mirror – as an attempt to bridge the passive/active divide. Whilst not as participatory as a game, based as it is on a relatively small number of A/B choices, Bandersnatch shifts the needle of user experience towards something more active.
But interactive TV audiences remain physically stationary, as do traditional gamers. Of course you can play mobile games, watch shows or listen to music whilst walking around, or potter about the kitchen with the TV on, but physical movement is not a fundamental part of the experience.
Increasingly, however, new experiences are emerging which do require us to move around, adding a new sense of freedom to active participation (six degrees of it to be precise). This is the rise of location-specific content – using immersive tech to serve digital content that is directly related to where you are. Geo-fenced Snapchat lenses like Big Ben offer viewing experiences that are only available to those who physically go to Westminster, whereas Niantic’s Pokémon GO is a fully interactive game that relies on a player’s movement in the physical world.
All of this offers a new way to assess a brand’s engagement with its audiences, based on two key questions:
- Can we enjoy a given experience wherever we happen to be, or do we have to go somewhere?
- Is it something we simply watch, or do we have a role to play?
Introducing the Experience Matrix:
To see the Experience Matrix in action, take Harry Potter. The books and films are classic ‘Chill Out’ experiences: emotionally engaging, well-told stories that can be passively experienced from the sofa. The multitude of computer games that followed are all about play, but remain a sedentary experience. Harry Potter theme parks and theatre productions require presence; you have to be there, but most of the experiences remain passive in the sense that audiences are viewers or visitors, not participants.
The final piece of the puzzle is coming this year in the form of Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. Niantic’s follow-up to its previous two ‘planet-scale’ augmented reality games, Ingress and the hugely successful Pokémon GO, will challenge audiences to move around their physical environments in their attempts to protect the wizarding world from interfering ‘muggles’.
After its launch, the range of Harry Potter experiences will be spread across the entire Experience Matrix, giving its fans the full suite of ways to engage:
You don’t have to be one of the most successful global franchises of all time to take advantage of this new era of active experience. Location-based immersive technology is opening up new worlds of possibilities to brands, IP owners, culture & heritage sites, content creators, experiential agencies and the creative industries as a whole.
There will always be a place for ‘Chill Out’ content consumption, but increasingly we are seeing the future of brand engagement and, ironically, it takes us closer to the past: a social shift where proximity to place again becomes key. Where people embrace the active technology that motivates us to ‘go play‘ by making us a part of the experience and turning the world around us into our playground.