Go Farther: Procedural Media

(Last week I suggested spontaneity and surprise were elements that people making media could use to add value and increase interest.  I wanted to explore that more.)

As I've suggested before, spontaneity and unpredictability is an element of a media product (a story, a game, etc.) that can get, maintain, and expand people's interest in the product.  Spontaneity, combined with relatively fast access to the spontaneous content, is a unique way to add value to a media product as its un duplicateable and plays on our love of the unknown and novel.  Getting that spontaneity is thus important – but varies from media to media.

Every kind of media has its different advantages and disadvantages in adding spontaneity to it.  Changing technology has also altered how this can be done, and changing expectations have altered what people expect.  I'm going to take a look at the different kinds of media and how spontaneity can be added to them.

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The Competitive Edge of Surprise

I'm a fan of Reno 911!, a show about a lovable but flawed group of misfit policepersons in Reno, Nevada.  A parody of shows like "Cops", what makes it intriguing is a lot of it is improvised.  Though there's many running jokes, this level of spontaneity adds a charm to the series, and makes it more human.

There are other forms of media "spontaneity."  The Random House/Stardoll deal that allows for people to vote on the outcome of a story for instance.  There is the unpredictability of reality shows – much as I'm not a fan of most of them – that appeals to people.  I've been addicted to both Borderlands and Dragon Quest IX – games with randomly generated content to keep the games fresh.

Such things got me thinking about spontaneity and unpredictability.  These are things you can't really fake in media – and these are traits people like in their media, be it books, or shows, and so forth.  We love having an unknown to explore, something that doesn't fit our expectations (yet does).  In short, in an age where there's so much competition for attention, can the media we produce be more competitive if it adds spontaneity and unpredictability?

I think so.

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Geekonomics and the Spontaneity Economy

I've been looking at the world of geekonomics and fannish economics – of video games, anime, movies, sports, and of course, online transactions.

As I write this I've been watching some things I found casually on Netflix, using our X-box (cheesy movie trailers, if you must know).  I was watching them spontaneously.  Come to think of it, I'd maintain my Netflix and X-box subscription just for these opportunities.

Or perhaps we can turn our attention to my gaming habits.  A few demos on the X-box are always amusing, and purchases are cheap.  I've enjoyed many Wii games for only a few dollars.  Best of all, things are not only easy to get but cheap.  A bad purchase is only a few dollars lost.

Very, very easy to be spontaneous.  In fact it's never been easier for so many to get so much so quickly and so easily (if I may wax poetic).

We've got an increased spontaneity economy.  I expect it to increase as well – e-books, web comics, downloadable comics, etc.  Everything is easier and easier to get to – or even try it out.

What does this mean?

  • Demographics are going to get harder.  Spontaneity can distort studies and information on purchasing populations (and it may make long tail calculations harder).
  • Questions of initial sales.  Are initial sales of a product going to be all that reflective?
  • Questions of reason for interest.  Was someone interested in a purchase or was it just easy.
  • Questions of reimbursement.  When spontaneity plays a large (or potentially large) role in the purchasing decisions of people, what is the best way to reimburse producers or share profits?
  • Questions of marketing.  How much did your marketing pay off?  How will you know.
  • Questions of durability.  How easy is retention of an audience when the new shiny things are so easily accessible?

Welcome to the spontaneity economy.

– Steven Savage