Four Points of Interactivity

Interactive stories are not the same as traditional stories with linear narratives stories. As an associate producer at Verse and a freelance writer/consultant for PocketGems, I’ve spent a fair amount of time trying to understand interactive narratives and how they work, and I’d like to share a bit of what I’ve learned.

Here are four simple — but hard-won — points to consider when creating a great interactive experience:

1. Trust Your User’s Curiosity

If you stuff your main narrative with every fascinating nugget, then you will leave nothing meaningful for your user to discover when you provide them with branch-offs. Don’t be afraid of your user missing something because that’s part of the allure of interactivity: the user has control of their experience, not the creator. Users want to discover material on their own terms and they are not going to feel that thrill if you make your narrative 100% baby-safe.

One of my favorite Verse stories is “The Last Move.” “The Last Move” tells the story of Michael Thomasson who has to choose between keeping his 11,000 video game collection or helping his family. One of the things that surprised me is how much interesting and insightful information can be found in the first Q&A with Michael. Information such as what was his first game or how he finds new games can be found in the Q&A. These are certainly fascinating tidbits that could have been added to the main narrative, but by placing them in the Q&A, the user is allowed to discover it on his or her own and that’s part of the fun.

2. Reward the User

With every choice, must be a reward. Interactivity should be thought of as a conversation. When a user feels unrewarded by selecting on a hotspot or a particular pathfinder option, that user is going to have less confidence in the other choices that you provide them. One of the great temptations of Verse is that you can simply dump everything you have in terms of content into different sub-chapters and then link it with different hotspots, but if material isn’t new and engaging, it’s going to fall flat.

In StatNews’s Verse story, “The deadliest race on Earth”, the main narrativ details one of the deadliest motocross races on earth and the hotspot material is used to give more in-depth information. For example, there is a hotspot that goes into the layout of the course along with the number of fatalities in each section. The story also features hotspots that give you profiles on one of the racers and his mother. All of these additional features, give very specific information/rewards to the user for clicking on them.

3. Be Genuine

I was recently attending an animation conference and talking to some of the leading animation houses in the business and the big buzz-word is interactivity. The problem they’re having: How do we do it genuinely? It’s not enough to simply slap on a button that takes you somewhere else. It has to be genuine to the story experience and therefore integral. A great example of this is the Webby award winning “Second Life for Star Wars Sets” Verse story. When the story starts, you’re greeted by a short intro and then taken to a screen where you get to choose which set you’d like to examine. This is a very smart, but also a genuine choice. It fits the experience that the creators are creating.

4. Provide Unique Experiences

Your most powerful tool in interactivity is that you can provide video and other content that normally can’t be see in traditional narrative. While choices should always inspire curiosity, be rewarding, and be genuine, they should also be unique. We give you two options for interactivity as mentioned before: pathfinder and hotspots. If you choose pathfinder then you’re saying to a user either option is crucial, but if you use a hotspot, you’re subtly telling a user that they can peruse it if they wish. This allows you to put in footage that wouldn’t be able to fit into a normal narrative or photos in a slideshow that just wouldn’t normally fit because users know what they’re looking at and also can back out at any time. And that’s part of the beauty of interactivity is that people want this material, they just need a way to enjoy it. So as you create your Verse stories always think am I creating choices that are personalizing, rewarding, genuine, and unique? Check out other great Verse stories at