Six to Start began life as a games developer working on websites, augmented reality and transmedia for companies like the BBC, Disney, Channel 4, British Museum and Microsoft, but it was the 2012 fitness game Zombies, Run! which put the company on the map. The app, developed with author Naomi Alderman, not only allowed people to track their running, but added a narrative element as they ran, outpacing the undead and earning resources for their community. Now Six To Start is expanding on that idea with The Walk, an NHS sponsored app which applies the same concept to walking within a conspiracy thriller framework. The Walk launches Wednesday 11 December 2013.
What can you tell us about The Walk and how that came about? Is this something you pitched to the NHS or did they come to you after the success of Zombies?
It’s being made as part of their Small Business Research Initiative competition; we went to them with the idea, and on the strength of that idea and also our success with Zombies, Run!, we went ahead with development. We wanted to make something that would be even more accessible than Zombies, Run! – playable by pretty much everyone.
It’s hard to have a story that motivates people and keeps them coming back – a little like making a successful TV or radio serial.
The fitness element must have to be very flexible. Is it hard to create a story that works for someone who struggles with a mile, yet offers something for people who can do a full 10k before breakfast?
It’s not that easy, no! It’s hard to have a story that motivates people and keeps them coming back wanting more, day after day, week after week, month after month – a little like making a successful TV or radio serial. In particular it’s not easy coming up with reasons why you’re running all the time!
From your perspective, is the wider media industry better informed as to what’s possible with gameplay these days, or do they need coaxing and educating to see the potential?
Most large companies are not institutionally set up to give new ventures and ideas the time and space and money to find success; it’s a classic innovator’s dilemma problem. I can’t say I have a lot of interest in coaxing and educating companies to see the potential of games – if they can’t see that by just looking at the market and spending a day playing with interesting games, I don’t see how I’m going to change their mind. I’d rather go direct to the customer and make games they want to play and buy. That’s not to say that it’s impossible to do something interesting but the amount of effort and nonsense required is too high.
TV is so powerful that it has a tendency to smother any other media that might be involved.
There’s clearly TV potential in the sort of gameplay you’re pioneering – a mix of narrative and reality TV in which real world outcomes impact an ongoing storyline, The Biggest Loser meets Derren Brown’s Apocalypse. Do you think transmedia ideas like that can work for hundreds of thousands of viewers, or are they best at an individual level?
Could you do some kind of reality TV health and fitness show combined with an app? Sure, it could be interesting. But TV is so powerful that it has a tendency to smother any other media that might be involved. I’ve done several transmedia projects with the BBC and C4 and the digital components are always second fiddle to the TV – I’m not complaining about that, that’s just the reality of the industry and the revenue models.