Producing the CSI:NY/Second Life Crossover: An Interview with Electric Sheep’s Taylor and Krueger (1 of 2)

This full interview was featured earlier this morning over on the MIT Convergence Culture Consortium Weblog. The portions of the interview shared here today were originally published here and here, conducted by Sam Ford, who helps manage the Consortium.

For those who haven’t heard, tonight is the launch of a particularly compelling transmedia experience, the first time a major television franchise has driven its viewers into a virtual world to fill in the gap of a cliffhanger mystery that will not be resolved until next February.

CSI:NY, the New York version of the Anthony E. Zuiker television franchise, will feature an episode tonight in which a murder mystery takes the crime scene investigation team deep into Linden Lab’s Second Life, with the mystery not being resolved until the concluding episode next year. The activities that take place in SL will build off what happens on the show and are planned to give fans the opportunity to get acquainted with a virtual world and also to have a new place to interact with and around the television franchise.

A variety of activities are planned, one of which will provide users a chance to continue investigating aspects of the narrative for the main show. As the Electric Sheep producers of this experience emphasize in the interview that follows, the virtual world experience has been designed to build upon and further the experience from the show, but it’s not yet clear whether what happens in the virtual world will feed back into the conclusion of the mystery on the television show next February, as that will happen on the CSI:NY end. From a transmedia standpoint, one can only hope that something from this experience feeds back into the main show, even if in the form of inside jokes or references for those who participate in the virtual world experience.

For those who want to catch up on this collaboration, check out Duncan Riley’s piece on TechCrunch detailing the collaboration, which also includes an embedded YouTube trailer about tonight’s show. He summarizes, “The episode will see Mac Taylor (Gary Sinise) entering Second Life to pursue a killer who has killed a Second Life user in a case of virtual stalking gone too far. CSI:NY fans will be encouraged to join Second Life and investigate the case by following a link on the CBS website.”

Coinciding with this collaboration is the launch of OnRez, a viewer for Second Life that seeks to simplify entering the virtual world for new members of the Linden Lab universe. The viewer is commercially licensed by Linden and will be the window through which CSI:NY fans sign up for Second Life through CBS.com. Those signing up for the CSI:NY crossover will get a customized toolbar to “follow a mystery killer on the show through a series of interactive experiences in Second Life.”

Electric Sheep CEO Sibley Verbeck is quoted in the press release as saying, “Our goal is to make virtual worlds easy and fun to use for the mass-market consumer. By launching a more intuitive consumer interface, we’re allowing brands to maximize the appeal of their virtual world initiatives. The upcoming CSI: NY Virtual Experience is an innovative example of the opportunities for OnRez.”

What follows is is an interview with two of the producers of this project for Electric Sheep, Damon Taylor and and Daniel Krueger, who worked with Anthony E. Zuiker and others to help launch this project. Considering that the project launches tonight, I thought a little detail about the background and the hopes of its creators might be of interest for those of you who, like me, are quite interested to see how much of CSI:NY‘s audience is interested in virtual worlds, and conversely how many Second Lifers might get interested in CSI:NY through this transmedia extension.

Sam Ford: To start off with, what do the two of you believe are some of the most compelling aspects of the CSI:NY/Second Life crossover that’s taking place tonight, and what are the benefits for CBS and CSI:NY, on the one hand, and for Second Life other other?

Damon Taylor: This experience is compelling for users from two different perspectives. One of those perspectives is new users of Second Life, who are new to virtual worlds in general. The other perspective is for existing Second Life users. Potential new users who are fans of CSI:NY will care about this crossover because it will give them the opportunity to wrestle with CSI content in a way that has never been made available to them before. We have endeavored and achieved a true cross-platform experience where these fans can watch the television show, see the storyline that began on the TV show continued in-world, and then see the storyline jump back to the TV show next February when there is a sequel show that wraps up the storyline that starts tonight.


In the meantime, we give new users who have never been in a virtual world a closed universe experience where they can come into Second Life, familiarize themselves with this world and what it means to be in a virtual world, and play and interact with mystery game experiences that interest them. This crossover gives fans of CSI:NY a reason and an excuse to come into a virtual world and do something that is functional, exciting, interesting, and engaging, and that will also open their eyes to the utilities of virtual worlds as vehicles of entertainment and interaction with other people who watch this television show and may share similar interests.

Daniel Krueger: We have also come up with our new viewer for Second Life here at Electric Sheep called OnRez, which basically streamlines the somewhat confusing traditional Second Life interface with a nice, slick viewer that will make it a lot easier for new users to grasp Second Life quicker than they would have in the past.

Damon Taylor: That’s a great point. What we are doing is taking a Web interface model that we are all familiar with and adopting it in the context of virtual worlds.

Daniel Krueger: What’s important here is that fans of this show can now experience CSI:NY in a different medium. Usually, they sit in front of the show watching characters perform these tasks, so now fans can get to do these activities themselves and take on a role as a virtual crime scene investigator. While they aren’t solving the same crimes that are happening on TV in many of these activities, they are solving fun and engaging Second Life virtual crimes. For instance, we have the Murder by Zuiker game, which will see a murder scene set up where users will go in and see what’s going on and then write up, in 500 words or less, what they think has happened. They will post this onto a site linked directly to this game, and Zuiker, the executive producer of the CSI franchise, will read them all and choose the top 10 pieces. He will post those 10 responses and explain what happened in that particular crime, and each of the winners of that game will get a prize. This gives fans a different way to interact with the show.

Damon Taylor: Here you have one of the most popular franchises of all time. These shows are only seen once a week. CBS, led by Anthony E. Zuiker, the creator of the franchise, has 16 million plus viewers who watch CSI:NY, and now they get the opportunity to interact with the franchise every day if they feel like it. For CSI:NY, this gives them the opportunity to put the franchise in front of the fans as much as the fans want. For Second Life and Linden Labs, these 16 million viewers of CSI:NY can be used as a vehicle to to bring new users to Second Life and give them the opportunity to understand and grapple with the benefits and value of playing and living and doing business in virtual worlds.

Daniel Krueger: If you think about it, if there are 16 million viewers of this show and only 1 percent of them decide to come into Seocnd Life, that’s a lot of new users.

The rest of this interview will be shared here on this blog tomorrow and are available at the C3 blog here and here.

Comments

  1. Henry, it’s hard even for me to ruin your shiny, white blog comment space here, under this shiny corporate press release reprint.

    But…it has to be done. You’re an academic institution; you have to study impartially. You have to analyze.

    So please, start using the Socratic method here, and ask some questions. Did this much ballyhooed cross-media ESCapade work? I think the short answer is “no” — and everyone needs to go back to the drawing board.

    How much traffic inworld did this seemingly amazing TV/SL tie-up create, in addition to regular SL attendance and growth? The producers were gushing about “a million people” and “burning up the servers”; well, even 300,000 or something, even if only a percent of the actual TV viewers around the world.

    But we watched the front page concurrent log-ons — they went down, not up, and never cracked 50,000, which is the average these days for the existing non-TV residents. A few days later, when it went up to 56,000 and the LindEx sales volumes went up, this could be attributed to Halloween, which is a major merchandising holiday for inworld business and events planners. It’s back down below 50,000 again.

    Actually counting the green dots — the people actually logged in to CSI:NY servers — which some of us did for hours on end for days on end, on the day of show, we never could credit more than 4,000 concurrent which would have been very generous (there were 420 islands; there were never more than 0-10 people on them, outside of the 3 orientation islands which were at 70). In fact, the figure was more like 900 concurrent often.

    So few people showed up, that the Sheep reduced the number of islands first from 420 to 108 after a few days; tonight it’s down to 28 islands *only* held (rented?) by the Sheep for this caper, which is supposed to last through February and involve contests and events. That’s a total of 1,000-2,000 concurrent, but in fact there are 100-200 green dots out there sleuthing for clues. To be sure, our hope as inworld businesses is that they are flying out of lame TV land by now, with their dumbed-down games, and going to the user-created parts of SL which is just a lot more fun and better looking, even.

    Linden Lab, whom I’ve queried about this, as have others, aren’t talking about the sign-ups or the numbers. They say “ask the Sheep,” although they advertise the show on their splash page, and set aside a team of Lindens to help with logistics.

    Chris Carella of the Sheep apparently gave the number as “126,000 sign-ups” (this needs to be queried and understood — visits to the web page and downloading of the special Sheep viewer? or actual creation of an SL account?). So if the usual SL ratio of 9 lost for every 10 who sign up (too hard, graphics card not sufficient, too confusing, can’t find friends, etc.) is in effect, the number added to the world won’t be that significant.

    If you look at the Alexa numbers for the shop.onrez.com shopping site which the Sheep hoped to drive CSI:NY newbies to with their SHOP button right in their customized viewer for SL, it was far less traffic than what the Sheep’s main competitor, Slexchange.com got for the same period, with not much of a spike.

    Well, I’m telling you how I judge something like this from inworld. Either it brings new people that integrate into the world and become customers of Linden Lab and all of us, buying, selling, producing, attending events, etc. — or they don’t. Of course, the way it was structured, they might have remained in the cul-de-sac of TV-land and never felt the need to come out of this company town — something I find really devastating for the inworld economy as a concept (and that may be the idea; some in the industry think there is absolutely no future for inworld economies like this — I guess they find them threatening to their control).

    I’d like to hear what you think would be a metric for success. For CBS, it was a rounding error in their PR budget and an experiment. For the Sheep, it seems to be a flop, although maybe CBS doesn’t mind if they experiment with their VC infusion (CBS acquired a stake in the Sheep). Linden Lab sold or rented a lot of islands — but possibly at the expense of having to shut down the mainland sim auction for a week and slowing regular deliveries for individual customers.

  2. Hello Prokofy, and thanks for your comments and both pointing out a lot of early results (or lack thereof) from the CSI:NY project here and linking us back to more info from your blog.

    First, I wanted to be clear that this was cross-posted from the C3 blog and was not conducted by Henry, so any critciisms you have should be directed primarily toward me, as far as how the interview was conducted.

    This was not intended to be a “shiny corporate press release reprint,” but neither was it purported to be analysis. This was an interview conducted with the creators of the experience about what motivated them to get involved, why they thought it was important, and what they would like to see happen with the project, intended to bring awareness to what motivated it from the perspective of two of the producers of the project. What interested me most was that there was not necessarily any intention of having results of the virtual experience feed back into the show when the story concludes in February, or at least not that Electric Sheep knew of.

    Of course their answers had the bias of being representatives of the company who are organizing the experience, but I think we all knew that going in. I conducted this interview primarily to inform readers about the project and to find why they identified the collaboration as valuable.

    Perhaps the approach you suggest for pressing questions toward the project’s successes would have made more sense after the experience had actually launched. I appreciate your sharing the results of your continued coverage of the results to Henry’s readers, however, and will cross-post a link in the comments section over on the C3 blog.