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

The following is the conclusion to the interview that we published yesterday here on my blog. This full interview was featured on the MIT Convergence Culture Consortium Weblog, conducted by C3 Project Manager Sam Ford. This interview, with Damon Taylor and Daniel Krueger from Electric Sheep, looks at the CSI:NY crossover into Second Life. Sam Ford: What is Electric Sheep Company's involvement in this project?

Damon Taylor: We are the vendor working with CBS to develop this, and it all started out as a relationship between Electric Sheep and CBS, working with Anthony E. Zuiker, who has become convinced that virtual worlds provide an opportunity for television companies or entertainment companies in general to create and provide content in ways that has never been done before. This has been a six-month planning process, culminating today. Our contract with CBS is to do this for six months, so we will be operating this experience for the next half-year. With content being updated every four weeks, we will be moving this story forward, along with a second television show next year that will tie back into the whole storyline.

Sam Ford: What brings the two of you specifically to this collaboration, and what personally excites you about the opportunity to work on this unique crossover?

Daniel Krueger: I have been with Electric Sheep about a year now, nad I worked on various community projects with The L Word through Showtime, Pontiac, Ben and Jerry's, and others, and this is the ultimate in community projects on Second Life. It is super-compelling, and it is really a win-win.

Damon Taylor: I helped co-produce the NBA project we did and was asked to come in on this project along with Libby Sproat, a colleague of ours who is a co-producer on this project. Libby and I, as Dan mentioned, have helped produce this project from day one, and now I am transitioning off and Dan and Libby are moving forward with implementing this project in the future. It has been an opportunity to work with some outstanding people, through a team of 10 people who collaborated on this project.

Sam Ford: From what I understand, one of the activities involve looking further into the mystery taking place on tonight's CSI:NY show, so it's clear that there will be a connection between the television series and some of the Second Life activities. Will there be ways in which the Second Life activities feed back into the main show?

Damon Taylor: I think it's fair to say that the Second Life experience is feeding off the television show. It's unclear at this point whether or not what happens in the virtual world will feed back or influence what happens on the show in the February 2008 sequel, but that will be determined by the producers at CBS. We wanted to connect with a storyline from tonight's show for our Second Life experience, and we have three main game experiences for CSI:NY in Second LIfe. We have a mystery game, and we will release a new one about every three weeks, which involves a crime scene, a crime lab, and suspects. It will be a 20-30 minute experience, and users can go to the crime scene, pick up evidence, process it, follow leads, and then choose the suspect they they committed the murder.

The second mystery game is the Murder by Zuiker blog game. Every month, CSI Executive Producer Anthony E. Zuiker will draft a storyline. We will create that crime scene in a virtual context and invite people to visit that scene. They will thengo to a CSI:NY message board and submit a 500-word-or-less entry describing what they think happened, as we mentioned earlier. Anthony reviews them at the end of every month and then chooses the top 10 and a winner, and he will reveal what really happened in the story. There will be six of those in all, with a new one being released once a month.

The third mystery game is Finding Venus. Venus is a character from the show tonight, and we wanted to create an opportunity for a more sophisticated mystery game experience for those who want something a bit more challenging than the 20-minute games. This game will have content driven by the story in the television show and will culminate in having users try and find her secret hideout in advance of the February 2008 television show.

To reiterate, though, we are influenced by the television show, but it's yet to be determined whether or not what happens in Second Life will have impact on the show in February. For us, this is a creative opportunity to use the TV show as the context for a substantive game experience that helps connect the dots between the two television episodes in this story.

Sam Ford: Electric Sheep is using this collaboration for the launch of OnRez, your viewer of the Second Life universe. What is it about the CSI:NY/Second Life collaboration you all are producing that made this the best opportunity to launch OnRez?

Daniel Krueger: I can't speak for our software development team, but I think that it's always been something that Electric Sheep wanted to do, as far as making an easier interface for navigating Second Life. It's not traditionally a very intuitive space for new users, so we wanted to make something simple for new users to come in with. We launched it with this project because we wanted to provide the easiest way for CSI:NY viewers who have never used Second Life to be able to come into the virtual world. It's really a perfect opportunity to launch OnRez.

Damon Taylor: There are two additional facts that we should highlight that is unique about this experience's launch in the context of the OnRez viewer. Unlike other launches in the past that are in any way similar to this project, when one goes through the registration page for this experience, they are able to choose an avatar from one of 12 provided, so when they arrive in the world they will appear as the avatar of their choice. These 12 avatars were custom-made by some of our best designers. Also, we have automatically attached the CSI toolbar to the viewer, so the CSI fans will be using the OnRez viewer for their experience in Second Life. All of that is designed to make the experience as user-friendly as possible within the confines of Second Life's technology.

Sam Ford: What precedent do you hope this crossover sets for future traditional media products looking to launch a transmedia campaign into a virtual world?

Daniel Krueger: This project is just showing the possibilities of virtual worlds and the various crossovers with different media platforms. This is the biggest project that's ever been done in a virtual world. We have 420 islands launching today in Second Life, with the four islands we have crated for the CSI experience replicated 105 times to scale for all the traffic coming in. This is showing the potential of what is possible in a virtual world, and the sky's the limit.

Damon Taylor: Sibley Verbeck, the president of the company, was at the Virtual Worlds Conference a week-and-a-half ago and mentioned the considerable buzz around the project we are working on. His statement was that one thing this does is begin to demonstrate what we already believe: experiences in virtual worlds can appeal to the masses. This is not a niche industry or a niche technology. With creativity and hard work and expertise, it is possible to launch this type of crossover, and we are hoping that the CSI:NY Virtual Experience will begin to demonstrate that companies can use virtual worlds in ways that appeal to a larger audience.

Sam Ford: Do you have any closing thoughts about what you feel will make this project successful?

Damon Taylor: One of the things I was surprised with is how dedicated and committed Anthony E. Zuiker has been in promoting virtual worlds as a medium for his viewership to wrestle with the content he creates every day. I have personally been surprised with his energy and excitement and his push for us to go above and beyond. I think that will be evident if someone spends time in this virtual experience and goes through some of these activities, such as the Murdre by Zuiker blog game that he spent a considerable amount of time on.

Sam Ford: Well, I know that you've got a lot of work cut out for you today, but thanks for the talk this morning, and best of luck in launching the CSI:NY Virtual Experience.