Monday, October 22, 2007

CSI Comes To Second Life - Are You Ready?

[ The people who watch CSI are idiots. .. ]
- Nick Wilson (aka 57 Miles), excerpt from Second Rant #12
By now you've likely read about the transmedia collaboration between Anthony Zuiker, creator of the CSI franchise and The Electric Sheep Company (ESC) in the upcoming CSI episode entitled "Down the Rabbit Hole". This was the highlight announcement at the Virtual Worlds Conference and Expo 2007 for me; I am passionate about the potential of transmedia storytelling. You can hear the keynote with ESC CEO Sibley Verbeck and Anthony Zuiker in total here, thanks to the conference team.

The big event starts Wednesday Oct24, and instead of just telling you it's happening, speculating about what might happen, or complaining about the opportunity ESC seized by optimizing the Second Life open source viewer, I thought I'd go ahead and start my Monday morning quarter back routine one week early and outline what I would have done or would be doing if I were either Anthony and his Sheep or a Second life business owner.

Let's start by considering a few grounding points:
  • CSI is reportedly a $6B franchise, airing in every country in the world except for six which are: North Korea, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan.
  • On October 24th, 16 million viewers will be exposed to two 30-second spots to call people to action to join Second Life and the CBS virtual presence.
  • The ESC is releasing a new Second Life viewer as part of their OnRez suite in conjunction with the episode.
  • The CSI entry into Second Life is of massive scale, encompassing numerous (over 400?) private estates that include orientation islands and the destination of virtual Manhattan that will host reenactments of the crime scene as well as a host of interactive elements such as casual games, an online tie in to a blog game called Murder by Zuiker, and a murder of the month game in which Anthony himself will participate.
  • The Oct24 episode narrative will continue to unfold after the TV airing across the virtual space, on the web and with mobile updates. The episode will repeat in December. The story will culminate with the closing episode on February 6th in which Venus (the female assassin) will be caught and jailed, along with the other killers she's dispatched in world over the holiday season.
  • The February 6th episode will feature a rock star as part of the episode, after which they will perform a live virtual concert in Second Life. On February 7th, the jail will explode in world and the narrative will continue.
If I was Anthony Zuiker and the Sheep I would have started the buzz train earlier and with more vigor (at the time of this post, the promo machinima on YouTube still had but 19,495 views). Pitching the concept at CES in January, and again at the Virtual Worlds conference is necessary but not sufficient. You need to capture the imagination of the non-believers, the uninformed, the 16 million unsuspecting viewers. My experience tells me that empirically it takes about four explanations before the concept of Second Life sets in, and this is for people that are interested. You cannot hope to capture the attention and imagination of the CSI audience in fifteen minutes of machinima.

I know Anthony believes in the concurrent viewing model, but every SL resident knows that getting in world isn't as easy as flocking the The Suicide Girls website for a quick hit, despite the ESC best efforts to produce the perfect blue or red pill. Anthony knows that too, which is why he focused on streamlining the indoctrination all the way to building a custom viewer. However, that is simply not enough, no matter how easy you make it there will be questions that should be answered by people in world. Therefore, I would have had an update last week explaining the upcoming episode, encouraging early adopter viewers to get in world to become CSI mentors or guides and not rely wholly on post show enthusiasm.

I would not rely on the existing CBS CSI web properties to provide information and dialog, but seed it with information and pointers to a fully branded site. I did a quick search for "second life" on the CSI NY message board that yielded two (2) relevant results; this tells me that there are insufficient efforts to generate buzz among the viewing community rather than talking to the preexisting virtual world residents. I'd also solicit my advertising partners to do the same among their net promoters.

And finally, if I were the ESC, I would have released the OnRez viewer outside of my closest business partners for objective review and feedback, and most importantly I would have trained a non-trivial number of current SLers on the new viewer (I don't know if ESC has done this or not). Fundamentally, my primary concern as the ESC would be supportability because the *entire* success of this project depends upon two things: 1) the ability to get in world relatively smoothly and 2) the ability to keep people there once they've taken the blue pill.

If I was a Second Life hopeful entrepreneur, what would I be doing? For starters, I would figure out what type of people might be flocking in world this week. I'd scrounge the CBS CSI web property message boards and fan sites to answer a few questions about CSI passionates - who are they, what do they like, what motivates them, how do they relate to the show? I'd use this information to help shape new products or offerings.

If I were an existing business owner, I would update my classified ads so that they contain key words relevant to the new user base (so that they serendipitously show up in search). I'd offer freebies that cater to forensic freaks. I would make sure my product and/or service is listed as part of the OnRez shopping service.

As an event organizer and estate owner, I would start a Forensic Science or Crime Lab group and pack it with activities such as themed welcoming parties and crime solving "raids" to provide alternative entertainment to the beleaguered newbies, and I'd be planning a major in-world post viewing party for December.

That's a few things I would consider. Alternatively, you might simply choose to ignore the entire project and the bunch of idiots.
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