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AGDC: Paharia, Andrade On Making Dunder Mifflin Infinity
In a unique keynote for the Worlds In Motion Summit, Bunchball's Rajat Paharia and NBC.com's Stephen Andrade discussed the creation of the Dunder Mifflin Infinity website, a promotional website for 'The Office' TV show which has surprisingly detailed and
September 17, 2008
4 Min Read
In a unique keynote for the Worlds In Motion Summit, Bunchball's Rajat Paharia and NBC.com's Stephen Andrade discussed the creation of the Dunder Mifflin Infinity website, a promotional website for 'The Office' TV show which has surprisingly detailed and game mechanic-inspired social website. Paharia explained the concept behind his firm Bunchball, that "gaming should be multiplayer". The firm originally developed a synchronous game-related set of websites, and gradually built 'level up' mechanics into their business model, and have essentially "turned game mechanics into a service" for multiple websites - rewarding achievements. Thus, Bunchball and NBC Universal created the DunderMifflinInfinity.com website, which is essentially a 'level up' centric social website, including lots of in-game game challenges and competitions to win 'Schrutebucks', with teams competing against each other to be the best 'branch office' in the game. The project started with 100 'branch offices' recruited, each consisting of viewers banding together -- later increased to 200 offices. In total, they had 160,000 people playing the advertising-supported game - but why did people do this? Andrade noted that these people were "pretending to be members of a corporation", which is a little bizarre, to say the least. But, as Paharia noted, the concept of virtual currency really helps people want to contribute -- as do leaderboards. DMI had multiple leaderboards -- with both individuals and teams referenced. In addition, levels are really important to the game-based mechanics behind DMI. As you earned more Schrutebucks, you can move from Temp to Assistant Regional Manager in the game. And virtual goods were also a key part of the Dunder Mifflin Infinity experience - you can buy items for your virtual desk on the site -- and there were some items that you could only buy at certain levels. As an example, a competition was based around an excruciating dinner party with a song called 'That One Night' on it - with a user-created music video based on the terrible song. Schrutebucks were given out to the winners -- and with lower levels of participation, perhaps, but in much more detail and with impressive user contribution. What worked in relation to the show? Well, these 'Creative Social Networks', with significant game-style scoring and competition elements in them, really help create more interest in the show and also increase traffic. In fact, the site has a 120% traffic increase on previous years, and with advertisers very keen on associating with 'The Office', Dunder Mifflin Infinity was a big hit for them. Andrade noted that the simplest casual Flash-based games were the best for getting the mass market involved, and they're going to ramp these up for the next version of DMI, but the more complex ideas like video creation worked well too. He explained: "You've got to throw some more complex, more involved tasks in there to keep the hardcore people interested." As for lessons learned, the big virtual branches tended to win a disproportionate amount of the tasks, because the quantity of employees often trumped the quality of the submissions - but "this time around we're going to try to solve that problem." In addition, allowing branch managers (actual users) to choose their own employees was a little too restrictive, and people got left out in the cold. As for Bunchball, Paharia noted that it's important to get your client (in this case NBC) to be self-sufficient, while keeping a certain degree of background help. It's important to watch the show, he noted amusedly, to make sure that the call to action on network television didn't melt (or "spark") the servers. He also noted that revenue opportunities with virtual currencies -- with Mastercard and Toyota sponsoring virtual items -- are also a great opportunity. Going forward, what's changing in DMI 2.0 is that they're going back to 100 branches, and everyone gets to choose the branch we want. In addition, players will start fresh with new Schrutebucks and job titles, and regional managers have to prove themselves in order to get the job. Of course, there will be a desk upgrade, with new items, and item sellbacks. Regional managers can now moderate their branch forums, and they can choose the Employee Of The Week -- and also award gifts to employees with corporate money. They've also fixed a possible gamesmanship element, in that employees can't vote on their own submissions, and branch members can't vote on their branch's submissions -- helping to stop the biggest branches dominating excessively. So what's next? On the first night of The Office's current season, September 25th, Pam creates an ASCII art illustration of Dwight -- so DMI employees are going to be asked to do their own ASCII versions of Office characters as the first challenge. In addition, NBC is adding other similar creative communities based around The Biggest Loser, Jay Leno's Garage, Chuck (an Inside Buy More site) and Heroes.
About the Author(s)
Simon Carless is the founder of the GameDiscoverCo agency and creator of the popular GameDiscoverCo game discoverability newsletter. He consults with a number of PC/console publishers and developers, and was previously most known for his role helping to shape the Independent Games Festival and Game Developers Conference for many years.
He is also an investor and advisor to UK indie game publisher No More Robots (Descenders, Hypnospace Outlaw), a previous publisher and editor-in-chief at both Gamasutra and Game Developer magazine, and sits on the board of the Video Game History Foundation.
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