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Why the time is right for brands to get excited about interactive storytelling

As voice-interactivity explodes through the use of smartphones and smart speakers, PANIVOX ceo Dr Philip Oliver explores the untapped opportunity for brands when it comes to interactive storytelling.

Which voice-activated assistant do you use to time your boiled eggs, or ask what the weather’s going to be like? Siri? Alexa? Google Assistant? Perhaps all three, depending on your individual set-up.

What’s clear is that these smart services, and the devices they’re attached to, have very quickly progressed from the stuff of sci-fi and battled through widespread skepticism to a literal omnipresence in many households.

In addition, we have seen the rise of AirPods and similar smart wireless headphones which take that two-way user experience and offer it while we’re on the move. And both those devices present us with very interesting, and as yet untapped opportunities, when it comes to interactive entertainment.

As someone who has been making video games since the earliest days of the 8-bit era in the 1980s, I’m all too aware of the impact new user interface technologies have on established media, presenting IP owners with new and often unexpected ways to engage with their audiences.

In short, the more interactivity you can offer through your content, the more personal and engaging experiences you can deliver to your audience. Your fans become part of the story, not simply a passive participant in some else’s adventure.

PANIVOX founders (L-R): Philip Oliver, Neil Campbell and Andrew Oliver.
PANIVOX founders (L-R): Philip Oliver, Neil Campbell and Andrew Oliver.

Fundamentally, games are all about choice and we’ve used various interfaces over the years to help players make those choices. Ultimately, voice is the most natural, powerful form of communication, and is the easiest way to indicate a choice – and, excitingly, both the hardware and software is now in place to help us create compelling narrative-based experiences around that interface.

There’s a huge, as yet mostly untapped, opportunity to add a new and unique layer to established media using voice as a key element, particularly when it comes to the tools required for user-generated, narrative-driven interactive content creation and distribution.

Consider: Passively-consumed UGC media like podcasts are a huge market, with tools enabling everyone to create and distribute audio-based content easily. Meanwhile, YouTube, Twitch and now TikTok make video-based content easy to make and distribute.

But where’s the equivalent for interactive rich media experiences? It’s coming. You see, until relatively recently, almost all interactive content development required programming skills, developer tools and software licences, etc. In fact, during my work as a consultant over the years, I have visited many developers and universities and was always struck by the notion that making games is much harder and more expensive than it needs to be – so many people want to do it, but the barriers to entry are high.

With the RichCast platform, PANIVOX is seeking to blur the lines between literature and entertainment.
With the RichCast platform, PANIVOX is seeking to blur the lines between literature and entertainment.

At our own startup, PANIVOX, we have set out to help people make their own voice-driven interactive content (not just for games) and distribute it as easily as people can make and distribute podcasts or videos, either for friends, interest groups, classes or to publish to the world (and earn some money along the way).

With our new RichCast platform, we are seeking to blur the lines between literature and entertainment, complete not only with voice and touchscreen controls, but also video, audio-visual effects and AI actors that bring new worlds – and words – to life.

But we’re not the only ones. In the realm of interactive narrative fiction alone, there is a burgeoning cohort of innovative companies and services out there that are doing great work to enable non-coders to create, share and publish interactive rich media experiences.

As these platforms become more established and their creator and player communities grow, opportunities will naturally arise for brands to engage through those same channels, particularly within the context of the metaverse – imagine delivering a story to your audience that responds to their reactions?

The headlines generated by Netflix’s foray into interactive storytelling with Black Mirror: Bandersnatch gave us a taste of how exciting that kind of two-way entertainment could be like, albeit with hugely complex production techniques and eye watering costs beyond the reach of bedroom creatives.

That was back in 2018. Now those same interactive storytelling production processes are being democractised and put in the desktops and mobile phones of amateur creatives everywhere. In the realms of immersive superfan engagement, that’s a very exciting future indeed.

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