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Back in the States, one developer that's creating crossmedia games for TV is Manhattan-based, five-year-old Area/Code whose clients include MTV, A&E, The Discovery Channel, CBS, and The History Channel. Unlike the games published by Adult Swim and Channel 4, Area/Code's games do promote their clients' TV shows. But they also allow the TV networks to extend their programming into other media.
Take for example, the game The Sopranos A&E Connection, developed by Area/Code in 2008 for the premiere of The Sopranos on A&E TV. According to Area/Code co-founder and managing director Kevin Slavin, it represented "the first time a game was ever designed wholly for synchronous dual-screen entertainment. Players could not only watch the live broadcast but also turn the one-way TV experience into something that was quite social."
Area/Code co-founder and creative director Frank Lantz described the gameplay: Players used cell phones to collect pieces and compose an online game board to anticipate what might happen that night on TV, much like Fantasy Football works with sports.
When the The Sopranos TV show started, the players' online game boards came to life and animated in synch with the TV signal. As the characters, settings, and objects appeared on TV, the corresponding pieces on the game board animated and scored points.
"For example, if you had selected a 'Tony Soprano' piece for your gameboard, whenever Tony appeared on your TV screen, the piece on your browser screen lit up simultaneously and you got points," said Lantz.
"If you had placed your Tony piece next to your Carmella piece, then whenever Tony and Carmella appeared on the TV screen at the same time, they both lit up and you scored even more points. Not only did it increase the enjoyment of watching the TV show, you were able to compete with other players who were watching the show and playing the game simultaneously."
The Area/Code team thinks there's tremendous potential for extending TV programming into other media and is exploring other opportunities, including a property called Sports Stream that would allow a sports audience to watch competition on TV and then engage with it online. They chose not to go into more detail on the project -- whose client may turn out to be Sports Illustrated.
Game developers may discover business opportunities as TV networks either migrate into the online space or extend their traditional programming into new media. Potential clients, like Adult Swim Games and Channel 4, are on the lookout for developers to sign on for future projects.
Area/Code, on the other hand, is playing it close to the vest, and sees available opportunities in what it calls "dual-screen entertainment" limited to developers with the necessary specialized "hybrid expertise," according to Area/Code's Slavin.
"There are some very very difficult problems to solve from design and technical perspectives," he explains. "For instance, how do you deal with time zones? How do you synch up a game with a TV show that is on at 6 PM in LA, 9 PM in New York, and then again at 9 PM in LA? I think that is something that is not in the core capabilities of most conventional game developers.
"This sort of entertainment is going to grow and become important," he adds. "But I don't think it's the kind of thing you're going to see coming from really big game publishers or developers simply because they don't have what it takes to create and optimize it."