Wednesday, 31 October 2007

The Office in Second Life - An Update

I just received the following, from Kiwini Oe of Clear Ink, as a comment on my recent post about The Office in Second Life. Rather than leave it there, where few might stumble upon it, I thought I should post it so that more people get a chance to read it:

"Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity." I don't know how many times in my marketing career I've been asked to conjure up a successful viral campaign on the spot. But, it's like trying to be cool: if you have to say you are, you probably aren't, and if you try to plan a viral success like you would an ad campaign, it probably won't happen. It's difficult to predict ahead of time when it will happen, but when it does, you'll find a good deal of preparation had something to do with it. You are right: we were happily surprised by the extent of the response to "The Office" in Second Life, but because of the preparation applied to this opportunity, the in-world response was what we had hoped for, and then some.

The producers of "The Office" entrusted us with authenticity and doing the right thing in Second Life, so we knew that a few things had to happen. First, Dwight and Jim would need last names off of the standard SL list, just like every other new resident. We could have requested custom names from Linden Lab to match the characters in the show, but those would not have been available to the "real" Dwight Schrute or Jim Halpert. The producers gave us this kind of creative control from the start. We knew that Dwight and Jim would need groups so that they could have their titles ("Asst to Regional Mgr", "Philly Sports Writer"). Dwight would need a profile that would accurately portray his perfect first life, and Jim, his idealized Second Life. The producers knew that authenticity would also come from locales in Second Life, so location scouting was a big part of what we did. The three sets that we built (out of the eight scenes that we shot) were based on a respectful and creative knowledge of "The Office" character and lore.

We knew that using real Second Life names meant that these avatars would not live forever in isolation from the Second Life community. As soon as NBC released publicity stills that showed "Dwight Shelford," the Second Life community had their first point of contact, and it never really stopped. Daily care was taken to preserve and protect the character and personality of Dwight's avatar in that balance between being an empty one-shot avatar and being an over-exposed puppet. We applied the same standards and treatment to the other avatars that were created to add depth to the in-world group. The profiles were detailed because we knew that experienced SL'ers would dig deeper once NBC began to publicize the upcoming episode. (We live in a world where people truly believe TV characters are real, and now given this second degree of separation from reality, we made it clear that these were avatars created for the show; it was not really Dwight Schrute--how could it be?--or the actor Rainn Wilson.) Yet with actual Second Life avatars, fans felt the right amount of connection.

The IM's and friendship requests received before the show gave us an indication of what the reaction might be on Thursday night, and they started pouring in even before the first commercial break. As members of the Second Life community, we knew that there had to be someplace in-world to go after the show. Avatar-fans of The Office were able to bring their real life enthusiasm for the show into a familiar virtual setting, which we provided on our "back lot".

We felt an obligation to be true to two very passionate communities: to the fan base of a popular TV show and to those who identify Second Life as their community. Our project was better informed as we felt a kinship with both communities and it is gratifying to be a catalyst for the overlap between the two. Much of the credit for the preparation and success of this goes to TROI Timtam, both for her attention to detail as well as for her (literally) careful approach to knowing and doing what had to be done.

On a closing note: although there are the inevitable comparisons between CSI:NY and "The Office" in SL, they were two very different endeavors. I know how hard we worked in a short period of time on "The Office" in SL. The scale of effort on CSI:NY, both on television and in-world, was a different order of magnitude, and the Electric Sheep are to be congratulated for their concept and execution of it. (I donned my Second Life Mentor title last Wednesday night to help in-world and to be part of that phenomenon.)

It will be up to the producers of "The Office" to decide if or how they want to proceed in Second Life. I don’t know where this is all going, but for now, it's great to be part of it.

Thanks, Kiwini, for what I found to be a fascinating insight.

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