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Playniac at X-Summit: What do the Occupy protests and cross-media productions have in common?

I spoke at Interactive Ontario’s X-Summit in Toronto a few weeks ago and my session, “From Scratch: First Concept to Finished Interactive“, was about the stages in our game production process, and how Playniac take cross-media productions from initial ideas to a completed project when creating interactive content for movies, brands or broadcasters.

In my talk I mentioned that the week before I’d visited the Occupy LSX protest camp outside St Paul’s Cathedral in London. Listening to the speakers there, I realised that this group of people appear to be working towards a common goal, but in fact are operating under a wide set of different agendas and beliefs. They have to make substantial effort to make sure everyone is heard as they take the movement forward.

On the side of Sir Christopher Wren’s 17th century baroque masterpiece, I spotted a sign that explained how the people in this disparate group communicate and share their ideas without confrontation during meetings that might involve as many as 500 people. If they have a point, they put a finger in the air; if they disagree, they cross their arms; if during decision making or a vote they want to block a point, they raise a fist in the air; and if they agree then they wave.

When I arrived in Toronto I spent a day exploring the city by bicycle, and stumbled across the Occupy Toronto protesters in the grounds of St James’ church. Here another group of people with widely differing views also appeared to share the same overall goals.

This group had a similar sign. If they have a point, they make an A with their hands; if they disagree they put their hands above their heads; if they want to block a point they cross their arms; and if they agree then they wiggle their fingers. These two signs, in London and Toronto, serve the same purpose, but they differ enough that they would create total confusion initially if you tried to bring the two groups together.

This is not too different from what happens at the start of a cross-media production. You have groups of people from a range of disciplines – producers, presenters, writers, researchers, brand guardians, academics and consultants. Their backgrounds may be in digital, games, advertising, TV, movies or something else. Yet to make something as complex as a cross-media production, you need to ensure that everyone can understand the common goal, communicate their ideas constructively and have a shared vision of what the project is about.

Those aims lie behind many of the techniques we apply in our productions to specify and communicate about game design. We use interactive wireframes to help everyone in the project visualise and understand the game, the mechanic and the user journeys. Clients have said this almost feels as if the games exists before it has been built. We use paper tests to enable everyone to play the game and get a feel for the gameplay, again before it is built. Later we employ user tests, play tests and the feedback from them to document how different users experience the game, so that we can give everyone a perception of it from different “angles”.

I hope that by establishing this common set of “hand signals”, the people who have set up camp for our productions can get along peacefully, communicate effectively and progress towards the common goal of delivering a great project.