Half-time report from last week’s Pixel Lab

By Simon Staffans

I’m currently attending the 2012 edition of The Pixel Lab, one of the foremost professional workshops / seminars in the field of multiplatform / transmedia in the world, IMO. 36 producers are attending from all over Europe (and some from even further away), backed up by a host of tutors, experts and Power to the Pixel people.

The days are long and totally jam-packed with information, inspiration and great discussions. As I reflected over breakfast just now; it’s very rare and extremely nice to be able to sit down with anyone in attendance and NOT have to go through the initial 10-15 minutes of trying to explain exactly what it is you do. These are all professionals, and whereas some might come from the ad sector, some from film, some from gaming and some from distribution or television, the mere fact that they have applied for The Pixel Lab means that they have an urge to explore the future of multiplatform and transmedia to a greater degree. This in itself makes for good connections, no matter whom you talk to.
If you’re so inclined, I’m Storyfying each day of the Lab – here’s Day One and Day Two – with tweets, links, quotes etc . Now, there are things I can’t write about, as we’re working on actual projects as well in out group work (must add that Sean Coleman is a very good mentor for the group.  Also slightly addicted to post-it notes) and I am under obligation not to share the details of these. But many things can be written about, such as the presentations of experts and tutors. I’m slightly pressed for time right now, so will just briefly mention the people we’ve had the pleasure of learning from up until now. A more in-depth study will be available later in the week.
Lance Weiler, enigmatic as ever, kicked things off on Monday with a great introduction to what the week basically will be about. In the talk – Igniting the Imagination of Many – he pointed out the theory of information foraging as something for producers and storytellers to study, something I completely agree with. Another key point was the need to prototype a lot of stuff fairly quickly, fail fast and learn fast and not be afraid to try things out. I can relate – coming from a television background I feel my projects often swell out into too large things that are unnecessary cumbersome to produce and get financed.
Adam Sigel on the other hand talked about strategy development, again something that makes perfect sense – designing a plan of action, in order to achieve a particular goal. He touched on many other good points – the need to develop user personas in order to understand them better, the need to explore the themes of your story as they are the ones that will carry over to different platforms, rather than your characters, and so on.  A lot of good stuff.
Stephen Stokes from Manning Gottlieb OMD spoke about the changing brand landscape, where brands increasingly are re-appraising values, becoming more authentic and generous, recognising the need to earn attention; they essentially need to DO more and adopt modern storytelling techniques. Key is also to focus on actually understanding the audience; for instance, “always leaving them wanting more” just doesn’t cut it anymore. This was the first time I’d heard Stephen, and I’d say that he gave a very good impression, talking about a facet of the development processes and the industry.
On Tuesday morning Nuno Bernardo took to the stage to talk about business models for transmedia and/or multiplatform. Nuno is a great example to follow when it comes to simply getting your content out there, building an audience and getting things commissioned and financed. One way that seems to work pretty nicely is getting R&D funding in to do, not a story world, but Specs. To produce, not a pilot but a Prototype. To do, not distribution but Dissemination, and so on. The major bonus is that you will have an IP of sorts at the end of the process, and probably an audience and a community to use as leverage in negotiations with broadcasters.
Paul Tyler, another new acquaintance for me and a good presenter to boot, came in from Handling Ideas in Denmark to talk about gaining insights about the audience, starting off with the very true assertion that content developers are more focused on delivering content to platforms rather than users. He also pointed out that the most important action a content creator can take is to ask the right questions. This in order to understand existing needs and provide a solution. His take on brainstorming was also quite neat, called reversed brainstorming; think evil, how can you make the experience worse. Then take the suggestions and turn them around.
Tom Putzki started Wednesday off with a sessions on the games industry. It’s a pretty big one for sure, worth billions and billions… 40 billion € worldwide to be more precise (which I was under the impression was a bit more, but perhaps not).
Martin Ericsson from Bardo talked about gaming from another angle, that of a Live Action Roleplayer. “Games are not fun because they are games, they are fun because they are well designed”. He also pointed out that we can look at a lot of different sources to find inspiration regarding transmedia projects we develop; if you want to learn about sharing and social networks, look at for instance Dragon Age II on FB. If you want to learn about the process of leveling up, look at computer-based role playing games, and so on. Interesting talk!
Finally I’d just like to say that even though I’m attending without a project of my own, it’s immensely interesting to listen to experts like Inga von Staden, Lance Weiler and others evaluate the projects on the table. Very interesting stuff. I’ll update with a more thorough write-up as soon as I get the chance. Until then.