The Heroes 360 Experience: a case for (more) tiering

On February 22, 2007 by Christy

 

Heroes 360 banner

 

To augment the popular NBC TV series, Heroes, The Heroes 360 Experience was launched on Jan 22 this year. The official press release from NBC says:

Beginning on January 22nd, viewers will be invited to experience Heroes in a whole new way. As they investigate on-air clues and learn new truths about the characters, their involvement will lead them to new platforms, including interaction with unique mobile content; a WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) site that one of the characters gives them access to; a special “two screen” application which provides a real-time experience; access to the fictional Primatech Paper company’s phone system; and significantly increased original content on NBC.com including secret files, hidden sites and original commentary from cast members added to each streaming episode.

Now, to a bit of discussion about it…

Interesting that they called it the “Heroes 360 Experience”. 360 Content is a BBC term that has been around, from what i’ve been told since the mid 90s. “Experience” is a term used for ABC’s “The Lost Experience” and many others (including me) to give a general description of what it will be like. I MCed and selected most of the speakers for a day seminar on ‘Extended Entertainment Experiences’ in Australia not too long ago too (which included Yahoo!7 talking about their transmedia interactive drama PSTrixi and Evan Jones: creator of ‘extended reality games’). The term also works really well in not limiting itself to being known as a story OR game. Terms that are mode/genre/platform-agnostic will be on the rise as we dislodge content from platforms. 

I have been ‘playing’ the Heroes 360 Experience (H360E), as best I could, but NBC doesn’t want me to play. They’ve made the game updates available to those with a mobile phone in the US only. They have issued some emails, but most of the essential gameplay occurs via SMS. Hmmm. Why would NBC design an extended experience that excludes people outside of the US?

  1. They got paid lots of money from some mobile company to use mobiles exclusively? This can’t be true, because just about every carrier is listed in the signup.
  2. The SMS delivery is a major part of the income-generation? Sure, this may be the case, but that is no reason to exclude people who do not have the choice about whether to sign up for SMS updates or not.
  3. There are legal restrictions? Sure, there may be legal restrictions to this EEE. A transmedia interactive drama held in Australia last year, PSTrixi (developed by Hoodlum Entertainment, the people behind the current Emmerdale web experience currently being played out in the UK), relied heavily on SMS triggers and was only available to those in Oz. But that was a revenue-raising/funding exercise AND it was a competition with prizes. Perhaps I’m missing something, but if there are not prizes, do you still have legal restrictions with gameplay geography? I’d like to know if someone knows. Also, on the topic of prizes and geography. The perpetual ARG, Perplex City, recently reached its first milestone of having the Receda Cube found. There have been complaints that the cube was hidden in the UK, and so players around other parts of the globe could not participate. I think with the Internet facilitating communities of interest rather than communities of geography, we’ll see more prizes and real world events happening in multiple countries. Many cubes for instance…
  4. The extended entertainment experience (EEE) is synced with the current episodes being broadcast in the US? Yes, Australia, and other countries I’m sure, are out of sync with the eps in the US, but we have other ways getting that information: from the other players and/or from illegal/half-legal means. And, besides some triggers and clues, the EEE content supplied in the episodes is minimal. 
  5. The EEE will be relaunched in other countries? I doubt, all the information is online, scattered through the NBC sites and player sites.
  6. They thought no-one outside of the US would play it? Please.
  7. They didn’t think about other countries or don’t care? Please.

I don’t know, I cannot come up with a good reason why they would exclude other countries, or as some players have complained about, exclude people without mobile phones. There is another design issue with the experience too, that is related the mobile one. The clues are issued at an incredibly slow pace, and are pitched pretty low. In other words, they are targeting (perhaps unintentionally) one player type only. So, these issues point towards a lack of ‘tiering’. Tiering is a design trait that I blab about in my industry talks, have talked about on my blog here and have just finished writing a long paper on. The paper, if it is accepted by the journal, will unfortunately not be published for another year. Ho hum. Anyway, back to tiering. Tiering, from a design perspective, is fundamentally about providing unique content for different audiences/players. From an audience/player perspective, it is about having various ways of experiencing an entertainment form. The key to contemporary tiering is that the producer does not provide all the tiers. Players, player-created-gameplay-resources, is a tier in itself — it is the entertainment form for many (just look at LonelyGirl15 and aMillionPenguins — the drama is in the meta conversation). The tiers at present in the Heroes 360 Experience are:

  1. NBC player tier: one player targeted: low-level skill and not much time, only those with a mobile phone, and only those in the US.
  2. NBC player tier: they seem to be separating players into groups but I haven’t seen this emerge as yet (tell me if it has). When you sign up to PrimatechPaper for instance, players received different responses (3 by my last count). Some were even rejected — bad!! And now, it seems there is more player tiering happening at other challenges. This is a non-geographic tiering (which the Lost Experience did) but a random tieirng it seems — will be interesting to see if players have to work against each other.
  3. NBC media tiers: audiences can watch the TV episodes on TV, their website and through iTunes (all US only).
  4. NBC media tiers: audiences can watch the TV episodes alone, or as a “dual screen experience” (US only)
  5. NBC out-of-game gameplay tiers: can interact directly with H360E content and lurk or participate on the NBC ‘Heroes 360 Experience’ site and NBC Heroes wiki.
  6. NBC in-game gameplay tier: Hana Gitelman‘s blog;
  7. NonNBC gameplay tiers: DJ Anakin’s Unofficial Heroes 360 Blog, thread at unfiction, 9th Wonders forum thread, info about Primatech at the Heroes fan wiki

Players who are having problems with content (eg: winning at the casino game to signup at the Titan club), do not have access to a mobile phone and are not the US, are able to play the game thanks to the fan-created sites. What NBC could have done:

  1. NBC player tier: gameplay for the noob/entry-level player, guide them through, provide clues and links to all they have to do;
  2. NBC player tier: specific content and/or gameplay for players who are more experienced with the form/powered by fan interest/have more time;
  3. NBC playet tier: provide gameplay, narrative, puzzle, live events, etc: different content that attracts different player interests/preferences;
  4. NBC media tier: provide all essential content without geographic, device and cost restrictions: online, email etc. 
  5. NBC media tier: provide nonessential but interesting and helpful content in other media, but make that a reward for particular players rather than geographically oriented?
  6. NBC media tier: or, provide essential content through specific geographic and device portals, but also provide it online for all.

I could go on. I think you get the idea. Let me know what you think. Why do you think NBC put the gameplay restrictions in? Am I missing something? What are your ideas for how H360E could improve?

PS: I must say too, some of the things that I love in H360E. The extreme change of interface when you illegally enter the Web 1.0 company website of PrimatechPaper. And the use of Hana Gitelman as a guide into the experience. To keep the immersive feel of the experience (have all contact and calls-to-action instory) they created a character, Hana, who has special abilities. And they are that she can “intercept, generate and interpret electronic wireless transmissions”. Haha! So that is how she can email us, send us text messages etc. Nice. And, on her blog, she has asked players/people to send in harrassing messages to Bennett:

Got Bennet’s access code.  Call 1-800-Prima16.  Enter: 42307 followed by the pound sign (#).  Let him know you are on to him.  Just don’t blow it for us and tell him what we’re up too.  I’ll be listening and posting the best.

I thought this was a fun way to vent anger at a character (though, isn’t there a big difference between thinking a character is evil or mean and actually wanting to be mean to them?). But what is even better is that she posted some of the player-created messages. Nice reward for action. Listen to the voicemails at her blog. I also like that her story is being explored in the graphic novels.