Rob Sloan  Rob Sloan

Interactive Storytelling

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Your audiences don’t sit back any more, they sit up, ready for action as they quickly realise that they can craft their own unique experience – an experience they are emotionally locked into and they want to tell their friends about.

There’s no doubt that interactive videos and interactive storytelling are about to become a hot new thing, and for good reason. What we’re seeing (and working on) now is the next step in deepening the emotional bond between audience and brand that broadcasters, advertisers and brand owners crave.

In this article I’m going to explain why interactive video and interactive story telling have such potential now, and why you can’t afford to miss out on that.

Let’s start at the beginning. What is an interactive story?

An interactive story is an entertainment experience where the audience, as an individual or on mass, influences a dramatic storyline through actions they take via a user interface. They can issue commands to the story’s protagonists, or act as a general director of events in the narrative, or in the case of one of the interactive stories we are working on right now, play their own part in the story, where other characters talk directly to the ‘player’.

There’s nothing new in that. Many of us remember Edward Packard’s epic series of Choose Your Own Adventure books as children, and of course the Fighting Fantasy game-books by games industry legend Ian Livingstone. Computer games, interactive fiction too, has been around since the first text adventure game The Colossal Cave created the genre back in the 70s. Stand out modern story based console games like GTA and Heavy Rain owe their storytelling roots to those and the many others that followed.

But we’re not talking about books or console games here, we’re talking about taking linear story focused video into new realms of engagement. So what’s changed to make that possible?

Perhaps the biggest factor is technology. Up until now we have only been able to consume videos passively, but with advancements in video encoding and delivery, combined with improved video playback through browsers and apps using HTML5, only now are we on the cusp of a revolution in how we engage with video.

Here are five compelling reasons to tell your story using interactive video:

One: Deeper emotional engagement

Whether it’s a product or a TV program, all audiences crave that emotional connection between the ‘product’ and the audience. Linear formats work, but more and more now it is clear that your audiences want to interact, to have an effect, to change the outcome, to make decisions and see what happens, to play. Your audiences are craving something new, and likewise, you are probably hungry to find a new way to engage with your audience.

Once you have the audience emotionally, they become more loyal and involved. We are currently developing a ground breaking interactive story for one of the BBC’s primetime Saturday night dramas. We’ve worked very closely with the writers to ensure there’s a very compelling decision at the outset, based on a moral dilemma. It’s sudden, impactful and gets people talking. ‘Who did you save? The old man or the young boy?’ Because the user is making their own choice, they can’t help but be more emotionally connected to the outcome. Our audience is no longer simply watching – they are in that scene, emotionally charged and engaged.

Two: Ownership

The audience is in control. They get to choose their own route through an experience and as a result, they take ownership and feel accountable for their choices. And feeling accountable is a really powerful thing.

Recently we were part of an audience research session with the BBC where we presented an idea to the public. We could gauge their reaction to some of our ideas, we could see the mood in the room immediately shift when the audience realised the power they had. Some felt the heavy weight of responsibility while others were eager to just get stuck in and have a play, feeling little to no personal accountability to the choices they were making, but rather keen to see what happens.

Three: Creates word of mouth

‘Who did you save?’ ‘Did John die in yours?’ Creating compelling choices for the audiences allows for very memorable outcomes. And the more memorable, the more likely people are to discuss their own experience with others face to face and on all the usual social channels.

There are many unique paths through an interactive story. Not only are audiences willing to talk about their own experience, they are suddenly interested in the experience of others.

Four: We’re on the cusp of the BIG interactive story

Coco-Cola, MTV, Disney, The Globe, Khan Academy, they are all doing it. And they are making impact and winning awards. The explosion in tools that makes interactive story telling possible is here. Tools like Interlude or Wirewax have made the whole process of creating an interactive masterpiece more accessible.

Pretty soon someone will hit on the big interactive story experience that grips so tightly, it hits the headlines. That will be the turning point.

Five: This is the future

Linear stories will always have their place, but allowing your audience to get lost in an immersive experience where the outcome is unpredictable and is wholly dependent on their choices really does look and feel like the future.

How can we say that with such certainty? It’s not only because we see that the necessary technology is here, but that there’s such a high level of commitment and investment from heavyweight organisations who know the value of engagement and have a track record in driving innovation. The BBC, in particular, have called interactive storytelling out as the future of entertainment.

Rob Sloan

About Rob Sloan

Rob is Executive Producer at fish in a bottle. He works collaboratively with broadcasters, brands and media owners to create interactive apps that tell stories and build audiences through playful experiences.