22/04/2014

BLOG: Making Fun Pay

What is stopping you from creating that amazing product you’ve always wanted to make? Whether you’re in film, games, theatre or whatever, chances are it’s probably money and a damn lack of it.

The truth is, if you really want to create something (and there’s a market for it), in this new multi-connected world, there’s virtually nothing to stop you.

Pervasive street games are a new, tentatively emerging creative form. While people seem to love playing them, funding them and shaping their commercial potential has been tough. The uniqueness of the concept presents its own set of difficulties: How do you finance it? How do you sell something highly novel? How much can you charge? How do you stage an event in a city with little local knowledge and no local partner?

The obvious advice we had was to make sure we were commercially successful. It may seem like stating the obvious, but it is common for creative people to say they want to make something ‘good’, rather than make money. Well that’s great if you’ve got a private income but for the rest of us, the opportunity to make something ‘good’ will be far greater if you can achieve commercial success first; then you can be master of your own destiny.

We made many games before we sold tickets for 2.8 Hours Later and while they were successful in some ways, our company had no momentum and was absolutely reliant on meagre funding opportunities. We could be ‘good’ – but the business couldn’t go anywhere. Now we’ve managed to make 2.8 Hours Later commercially successful, it’s enabled us both to grow as a business and, importantly, allowed us to create new, innovative work. So how are we managing it?

Surprisingly, we have found that people in the creative industries are actually quite conservative. In these industries it might be acceptable to create new content within the accepted limits of a recognised art form, but questioning how content is presented is often met with indifference or hostility. It’s the challenge any new content innovator faces and when progress can’t be found within the industry, you have to turn to your audience.

2.8 is basically an awesome game of tag with make-up. This lack of technological wow-factor has meant some people dismiss the game as no more than a curiosity. But others love it! Lots of others; they’re the people we care about most. They are the people who can finance our product. By targeting them we now assemble large numbers of people in cities, sell them tickets and give them three hours of entertainment with no local infrastructure, partners or patronage. We roll up in a city, stage the game and leave – like a circus.

The fact that we can do this is entirely dependent on modern digital communication technologies; web based ticketing systems, social media and cloud based, collaborative working. It’s a similar story to the virtualisation of the record, print and film industries, where content publishers are no longer dominant. These are very exciting times as nowadays you can find your own audience, make stuff for them and they’ll pay you directly. You don’t need to ask anyone’s permission.

Of course we had to start somewhere. We began by engaging our friends in the idea, and quickly began making new ones around the proposition, which meant that we could build a loyal community. All of our first city-wide games were staged thanks to the amazing efforts of a large number of Bristol’s creative community, coming together to do something cool without pay. This delivered a project at a scale we simply couldn’t have achieved on our own, but it also did two other important things. The co-creative process ensured the outcome would be popular (if people loved the project enough to get involved, others would too), and the community itself created a viral awareness through word of mouth.

This inclusive approach combines market research, design and marketing into one big creative process. The hybrid of voluntary and paid work lies at the heart of what we do and delivering it is probably where the main value in our business lies. Just as this model has worked for street games, I’ve no doubt it’s relevant to other creative sectors. Anyone can use digital communication technologies and social networks to create communities around a project. You can also build a similar vibe through a successful crowd-funding campaign too.

Marketing is the same as it has always been: getting people to make that exchange with your business. There’s the regular press, radio and direct marketing, but we push this along by making sure people feel a sense of investment in our products. We undertake a lot of community building work, such as inviting the public to come meet us in each city and help plan our game.

Really the people are the key. And people are always looking for fun new things to do, see and take part in. So, if you’ve got an idea, the tools are all there to connect with them. What’s stopping you?



SLINGSHOT

If open city games, in which you’re chased through abandoned car parks by rampaging zombies, sound like your cup of tea then take a look at Slingshot – they’re the best in this quickly emerging market.

Illustrated by Slumber Bean

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