The Hype Curve Intersects With Long Tail Enthusiast

The Hype Curve is a wonderful abstraction that, while it may or may not have a sound theoretical underpinning , does have a certain compelling internal logic and some wonderful “retrofitted” graphs. Even TechCrunch quotes it this year.

Wikipedia puts it well – “Flew (Flew 2008) states that hype, generally the enthusiastic and strong feeling around
new forms of media and technology in which we expect they will modify everything
for the better, surrounding new media technologies and their popularisation,
along with the development of the internet, is common characteristic. But
following shortly after the period of ‘inflated expectations’, as per the
diagram [below], the new media technologies quickly fall into a period of
disenchantment, which is the end of the primary, and strongest, phase of

The technology trigger for machinima and user animation was the release of free / cheap modding tools for well known computer games such as Unreal / MovieSandBox, Half Life / Gary's Mod and The Sims. It was quickly followed by a peak of enthusiasm, where over 300,000 people were said to be uploading about 1 movie a minute to sites like The Movies Online, and where a fan site for The Sims could claim millions of subscribers who were all sharing content.  To some, this was the peak of the hype.

Machinima itself now appears – to some – to be in the “trough of disillusionment”. The mod tools are too hard for most, and the graphical quality of others simply does not have mass consumer appeal. That negative view is based on the experiences of a very small 'core' of active (some would say 'hard core') animators, all of whom appear perfectly competant to use the most advanced 3D and 2D animation suites costing $'000s, but who chose to torment themselves in the name of their art by adapting games engines and other software to their creative ideals. While I love them, and every movie they make, it is simply not a passtime that “Jane and John consumer” are going to enjoy. Machinima per se is a wild fringe blend of art, moviemaking, software hacking and pure technological skill. But expressing yourself in animation is something that any child might want to do, if it was easy, fun and if the resulting movie was something that got social reward from the peer group. So, where does that take us on the Hype curve?

On the curve, we can see that as a technology climbs out of the trough, it reaches new users and finds new ways to be adopted. Just because it appears that the “hardcore machinima” community is rather down-in-the-dumps right now, I think it is wrong to think we are climbing out of the trough next. I think we all missed the need for social AND technology forces to align to create a genuine “hype curve”.

The social forces are only just integrating with the technology tools. I've just seen the first really excellent user created content for our application. Not just “quite good”, but staggeringly impressive works from unpaid fans of Moviestorm. It made me think about how they influence what we do, and whether this differs from “old school modding” in any material way.

One is traditional (though slightly tongue in cheek) sci-fi from a really talented amateur movie maker which is discussed and shown here

Another is amazing modern Japanese sets and props and is discussed here

Old Japan theme showcase from trev2005 on Vimeo.

And finally a childish, but useful alphabet mod

Created in Moviestorm

What we are seeing – as in the two examples above – is that users are
not only making content, but they are influencing and even making the
creative tools that make the content (IYSWIM). While they have been
making “modded content” and “mods” for a while, this has been for a
self-referencing community, and both the community and the content were
not targetted at adoption by the wider non-technical creative consumer. To harvest another analogy, mods may be a silver bullet, but they had no gun. Now they do: they are making content with mass appeal (bullets) and helping at the same time to drive down the technical difficulty in the tools (a gun that works). These factors can only act as an accelerant to the
development and adoption of the new tools of video creativity. The ride
is going to become faster with each iteration.

However, (and you expected a punchline, didn't you?) I think that this upward blip is not the precursor to the plateau of productivity. No. Rather I think that all the ups and downs in machinima and user generated content have been merely the very early instability and they are the mildest foretast of the huge growth that user generated creative tools are going to create. To put it bluntly – there has been no peak yet, that is still to come.

The need for a social process to work in parallel with the delivery process to create a massive burst of growth in a technology has already been covered rather nicely by Amplifying Your Experiences  and Jeanie Duck has shown (in the book entitled “Change Monster” ) that there are similar curves with changes introduced along with other technology and processes in general businesses.

I think we are seeing the first signs of the convergence of the social forces (modders / UGC) with a mass market delivery method (tools like Moviestorm) and that they are beginning to form the trigger that will ignite machinima / animation as a media creation craze. When that begins, life for us will get really interesting!