October 05, 2007

Weekend of October 05, 2007

*Editor's Note: FoE2 Registration, Communication Forum, and This Week's Update

*Opening Note: MIT Undergraduate Matt Cohen's Work on Girl Gamers

*Glancing at the C3 Blog

*Closing Note: Eleanor Baird on Valuing Fans, III of V: Weighing in: Fan Roles on the Behavioral Scales

--------------- EDITOR'S NOTE ---------------

Futures of Entertainment 2

As noted last week, registration is in progress for the MIT Futures of Entertainment 2 conference we are hosting here Nov. 16-17. We are hoping to see a variety of people involved in C3 as part of this Consortium event. Registration is available at the FoE2 site. A release about FoE2, including the speakers list, is available here. Please let me know if you have any questions.

Communications Forum with Heroes Team

Speaking of FoE2, as part of Futures of Entertainment, there will be a free communication forum open to the MIT community at large, on Thursday evening before Friday and Saturday's conference. This event will feature members of the creative team of the NBC hit Heroes, in a discussion entitled "NBC's Heroes: "Appointment TV" to "Engagement TV?" The discussion, with Heroes' co-executive producer and writer Jesse Alexander and transmedia creator Mark Warshaw, will focus on the nature of network programming, the way in which audiences are measured, the extension of TV content across multiple media channels, and the value producers place on the most active fan communities. More information is available at the MIT Communication Forum site.

This Week's Newsletter

This week, our Opening Note includes a summary of work done by an undergraduate during last winter's Independent Activities Period here at MIT, comparing the activities of girl gamers to a lobby group. This work is not meant to be a completed and polished research project but rather to give Consortium members access to a proposed idea that we generated within the Consortium and then assigned to freshman Matt Cohen, who tackled the project as part of his independent studies activities. We would be interested in any feedback you might have on this type of work and whether tapping into the creativity of undergraduates for these unpolished but hopefully provocative thought experiments is of value to C3 Weekly Update readers. A summary is included here, and the full version of Matt's study--unedited by us--is presented on our site. If you need any help access it, please let us know.

The closing note is the third in a five-part study from C3 assistant researcher Eleanor Baird, who continues to examine issues around valuing fan communities in the television industry. This week, Eleanor looks at the categories she proposed last week for creating measurement for the activities of fan communities, as mapped against the categories of fans detailed in "Fanning the Audience's Flames," among the first white papers completed by the Consortium. The full version of this piece, including the charts that are key to Eleanor's analysis, is available here.

As usual, the newsletter this week features all the entries published during the week on the Convergence Culture Consortium Weblog.

We are still in the process of ironing out bugs in the conversion to an HTML format, including testing out a new e-mail list. Please let me know if you had any trouble in receiving last week's C3 Weekly Update.

If you have any questions or comments or would like to request prior issues of the update, direct them to Sam Ford, Editor of the Weekly Update, at samford@mit.edu.

--------------- OPENING NOTE ---------------

Girl Gamers as Political Lobbyists

By: Matthew Cohen

Each January, MIT undergraduate and graduate students are given a month free from classes to pursue independent research projects, in a session known as the Independent Activities Period (IAP). During the 2007 IAP period, the Convergence Culture Consortium worked with a freshman at MIT, Matthew S. Cohen, to organize a research project testing out a hypothesis we had discussed at some of our meetings. We had discussed the ways in which fruitful observations may be found from comparing the activities of a fan community to that of a grassroots political action group.

Working with Sam Ford and Joshua Green, Cohen set out to research a case study of this hypothesis, comparing girl gamer fan communities to political lobbyists, for his IAP research project. The results of that study are summarized here and will be provided in full detail on the Convergence Culture Consortium Web site.

The results of Cohen's work are presented here as Cohen completed it. As such, this is not meant to be a finished piece of work, but rather a thought piece that will hopefully stimulate further thoughts on how we might learn more about fan community behaviors from looking at them from a comparison with grassroots political organization and activity. The purpose of sharing this work with the Consortium is also to showcase the work of an MIT college freshman and the type of media studies research project that might be undertaken as one of several activities MIT students engage with in their IAP.

Traditionally, the stereotype of a typical video game player is a pimply, teenage boy. Indeed, adolescent males have been the target demographic for the video game industry since its inception. However, recent studies show that the video game demographics are changing. According to a November 2006 TNS Worldpanel Entertainment report, the number of female gamers has grown dramatically over the past four years, increasing by 67%. Currently 40% of all gamers are female, 55% of mobile gamers are female, and 64% of online gamers are female. Clearly, our image of a stereotypical video game player is quickly becoming irrelevant.

Although females are clearly no longer a minority among gamers, the world of gaming can still feel very much like a "man's world." After all, an industry which was founded primarily by men and continues to employ mostly men is bound to present an image of being a male club. A few of the dissatisfactions which female gamers have with the gaming industry and community are listed below:

  • More male characters are offered in games than female characters.
  • Female characters are often hyper-sexualized to the point of absurdity.
  • Most gaming sites are intended for adolescent male audiences.
  • Girl Gamers are not taken seriously by the male gaming community.
  • There is a scarcity of females who work in the video game industry.

Girl Gamers are taking it in their own hands now to fix what they consider flaws with the status quo. In the same way that political lobbying groups vie for the attention of governmental officials, Girl Gamers must fight for recognition from the video game industry. Consequently, Girl Gamers utilize methods of operation similar to those used by political lobbying groups such as MoveOn.org:

1.) Use Internet as Primary Form of Communication: Girl Gamer sites provide comfortable environments, in which Girl Gamers can meet each other and escape the discrimination found elsewhere in the gaming community.

2.) Recruit New Members: Girl Gamers proliferate through grassroots promotion. These sites are aware that often grassroots marketing is most effective. Therefore, these sites help to facilitate and supplement such recruitment.

3.) Organize Gatherings: Similar to MoveOn.org's informal house parties which help to generate feelings of camaraderie among members, Girl Gamers often gather together for informal competitions in the comfort of their own homes. However, formal live competitions are particularly effective in strengthening the bonds of sisterhood among Girl Gamers because of the empowerment which such competitions provide to the community as a whole.

4.) Initiate Petitions and Boycotts: Girl Gamers use the Internet to express their "grievances" to the gaming community and industry. Most of the time, such expressions of frustration and disapproval take the form of blog posts.

5.) Attempt to Bring about Change from Within: Through direct communication with video game companies, conferences about gender and gaming, and career counseling, female gamers seek to bring about change from within the industry.

What can be learned from this comparison?

Recognizing the fact that Girl Gamers are no longer a fringe minority demographic is the first step in learning how to form a better relationship with half of your potential customers. This process consists of two simultaneous but related tasks:

1) Maintaining and strengthening your relationship with "hardcore" Girl Gamers by taking their concerns into account in game development.

2) Reaching out to girls who do not currently play games, keeping in mind that what appeals to the average non-gamer girl is probably different than what appeals to the current "hardcore" Girl Gamers.

And what are the best ways to better target the female demographic?

1.) Give the Player Greater Control: One of the major topics of discussion at the May 2006 "Girls 'N' Games" conference was "authorship." By allowing players to remain in control of many aspects of their gaming experience, games become flexible and appealing to a broader group of customers

2.) Advertise More Effectively: Perhaps the simplest reason why many girls never try gaming is because of the general perception that Girl Gamers do not exist. Peer pressure and societal expectations are very strong influences; if girls are led to believe that other girls do not play video games, then we have a self-fulfilling prophecy. However, if the industry leads girls to believe that other girls are in fact playing video games, then we can reverse this prophecy.

3.) Create Games with Women in Mind: In order to draw in those potential female consumers, companies must begin to develop games specifically targeted for females. Beware, however, because it is very easy for developers to fall into the trap of working off the pink, Barbie stereotype of what girls supposedly want.

Matthew S. Cohen is now a sophomore at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he is studying in Course 9, Brain and Cognitive Sciences.

---------- NEWS FROM THE C3 BLOG -----------

VOD's Business Model: Need for Advertiser Leadership? Video-on-demand is a viable field, but how can it be better utilized? Sam Ford looks at the question, in reference to Lydia Loizides' recent assertion that the answer lies in the hands of advertisers.

Wendy's Watermark: Experiment or Error? Sam Ford writes about a recent phantom watermark he saw during an edition of the CW Network's Friday Night Smackdown and whether this marketing "opportunity," whether a mistake or not, is a new branding method or just a bad idea.

DOCTV IB: Documentary Production and Regional Public Policy. C3 research assistant Ana Domb writes about the recent film series designed to fund films from Latin America and South America and package them for international distribution.

Spreading the Word about FoE2. Mention of the upcoming C3 conference have appeared on a variety of blogs, as we hope for some positive word-of-mouth leading into the conference next month.  Please help spread the word!

Looking Back at Futures of Entertainment 2006. In preview of the upcoming Futures of Entertainment 2, we look back at the posts surrounding last year's event.

Announcing Futures of Entertainment. Henry Jenkins provides his own preview of the upcoming FoE2, along with notes on the Communication Forum event with the Heroes team open to the public the night before.

Registration Opens Today for Futures of Entertainment 2. The second annual Futures of Entertainment event will be taking place at MIT next month, and we hope to see plenty of Consortium members present for the conference.

Lowes (tm) Sucks: Consumer Criticism and the Lowes Trademark Fiasco. C3 research assistant Xiaochang Li looks at the Lowes Sucks site and the trademark lawsuit from Lowes, again proving how trying to cover up bad publicity usually makes for plenty more.

Wrestling Fans Dissect "Save_us.222." A recent ARG-esque marketing campaign has gotten some viral traction from WWE, as they have aired little snips of a Matrix-like commercial during their shows, with fans trying to catch clues to understand what the video segments mean. Sam Ford traces the discusion of "Save_us.222."

Condom-Sponsored "Online Soap" in the UK. The newest in a continuing round of online soap operas is another example of branded entertainment, as British condom-maker Mates provides a soap opera that they consider a "sex-com." Plenty of genre-bending going on in the descriptions, but the series is an interesting approach, if nothing else.

Around C3: Askwith at the Producer's Guild and Interesting Writing from Consulting Researchers. C3 alum Ivan Askwith recently appeared on a panel about transmedia storytelling for the Producers Guild of America, while a variety of C3 consulting researchers do interesting work around issues we are studying here at the Consortium regularly.

A Guide to Social Networking Sites. C3 research assistant Lauren Silberman provides an introduction to the most popular social networking sites by doing a profile of them, social network style.

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Don't forget - you can always post, read, and carry out online conversations with the C3 team at our blog: http://www.convergenceculture.org/weblog/.

--------------- CLOSING NOTE ---------------

Valuing Fans: Producers, Audiences, and the Worst Episode Ever
Part III of V: Weighing in: Fan Roles on the Behavioral Scales

Comic Book Guy: Last night's Itchy & Scratchy was, without a doubt, the worst episode ever. Rest assured I was on the internet within minutes registering my disgust throughout the world.

Bart Simpson: Hey, I know it wasn't great, but what right do you have to complain?

CBG: As a loyal viewer, I feel they owe me.

Bart: What? They're giving you thousands of hours of entertainment for free. What could they possibly owe you? I mean, if anything, you owe them.

CBG: Worst episode ever.

Source: The Simpsons Archive: Comic Book Guy File, http://www.snpp.com/guides/cbg.file.html

Does Comic Book Guy's registration of disgust have value as a fan activity?

I would expect many people may answer that it would not -- on the grounds that it is bad publicity that might hurt viewership - but the answer may not be so simple. Maybe it is not positive word of mouth, but it is still discussion, and still shows interest and engagement with the media property. Although putting comments on the internet may seem worse than word-of-mouth at first glance, it actually provides depth and insight to producers who want to understand and anticipate reactions of their audience and to fix properties before extensive damage is done, all at an extremely low cost compared with traditional market research. The value of this activity would also depend on the type of show, the strength of the fan base, how negative and sustained the criticism.

In this installment in the series, I will take another step towards a framework for assessing the quantitative value of activities like this. I will look at how the types of fans described in previous C3 work relate to the three behavioral scales I introduced last time: consuming, activism and socializing. When this task is complete, we will have a visual representation of fan engagement that will help to measure, in a later piece, the overall quantitative impact of all fan activity around a media property.

This piece will focus on the following questions that I raised in Part I:

-Is there a way to categorize fan behaviors that helps us to better analyze their value?

-How do different fan behaviors interrelate?

-Can we assign values to non-monetary "transactions" among fans?

Setting the stage -- roles of a fan

In last week's piece, I outlined three behavioral scales, for consuming, activism and socializing. These were based on past research that has been done by Henry Jenkins and others here in C3. Last year, C3 produced a paper called "Fanning the Audience's Flames," which identified ten different roles that fans could take. What I'd like to do in this piece is to put each of these on the scales I created last week, as a step towards understand their relative value as engaged viewers and participants in television programming. In this analysis, I have removed the tenth role -- the fan as future talent -- because I think that the value of that is something that is much more difficult to quantify in our framework on the assumptions that the "payoff" typically occurs further into the future and involves much different rewards than that of the other nine. The behaviors are also covered by the performer and content generator roles.

To recap, the nine typologies, with extremely abridged explanations, are:

1. Loyals -- considered the most desirable fans, watch consistently, discuss the shows, engage in social interaction and exhibit good recall of commercials

2. Collective intelligence -- participate in franchises through interactions with content producers, socialize, view the show, use ancillary products regularly

3. Grassroots intermediaries (incl. pop cosmopolitans, filters) -- expand the market for media texts by leveraging existing social networks

4. Lead users -- adopt and adapt media properties, help articulate unrealized consumer preferences and needs

5. Surplus audiences -- dedicated fans outside of original target demographics for a media property

6. Long tail -- identify, advocate and circulate valuable content from libraries for redistribution

7. Tourists -- travel to "real world" versions of fictional locals of their favorite media properties

8. Performers -- enhance the experience for the rest of the audience by performing identities based on a media property

9. Content creators -- develop their own creative goods based on a media property

These roles do not exist in isolation: media property would have fans who play between one and all of these roles in different proportions.

An important note about the analysis I am about to do: it does not include responsiveness to advertising. This was intentional, as it is about reactions and impact, not about behaviors, which define the points on the scales. I will return to the factor of response to advertising in a later installment of this series.

Observations and Analysis

Based on the scales I explained last week, I assigned values for each point on the index according to our previous understandings of the roles of fans in last year's white paper, shown in detail in the Appendix. Figure 1 will provide a summary of these results in the PDF version of this piece, which is linked to at the bottom of this analysis.

The chart is essentially a visual representation of different forms of fan engagement, based on the three behavioral categories. The bars represent the total index points that each role received in the analysis (the absolute maximum was 45), and the colored sections the proportion of the points that came from each of the three behavioral categories (with a maximum of 15 points each). What this is doing is enabling us to visualize and scale the proportion of activity within each role that is related to consuming, activism and socializing relative to the other two categories and among the other roles.

I thought some observations were of particular interest:

-Loyals, the role traditionally considered the most valuable, did not get the greatest total index score in the absence of responsiveness to advertising, and when the yardstick was a spectrum of fan behaviors that could generate value.

-Grassroots intermediaries and long tail roles had the highest index scores, reflecting the many ways in which they distribute and promote content

-Content creators and performers, often considered the most involved roles, especially in older fan studies work, scored high, but were not the highest scoring roles

-Lead users and tourists received the lowest index scores, reflecting the specialization inherent in these roles

-The greatest number of points on the index, 39%, came from the activism behavior category

In my final two essays, I will discuss these observations and their implications in greater detail, potential monetary values of some behaviors, lessons we can learn from studies of sports fans, and what this means for our concepts of fan and general audience engagement as a value creation mechanism.

To see the charts this analysis led to, please view the PDF version of this piece, including the charts, here.

Until next time...

Part of the intent of this series is to encourage discussion of what I am attempting to do here, why, and how it might be a useful tool in industry. If any reader has questions or comments about the methods or data used here, please email me at ecbaird@mit.edu.

Eleanor Baird is an MBA Candidate, Class of 2008, at the MIT Sloan School of Management. She has worked as a Research Assistant with the Convergence Culture Consortium since February 2007.

Compiled and Edited by Sam Ford (samford@mit.edu)

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