Interactive drama for experimenting with behavior and encouraging behavior change

Interactive drama for experimenting with behavior and encouraging behavior change

United States
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Players interact with emotional, conversational animated characters to experiment with their own behavior, encouraging and rewarding behavior change.

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Plot your innovation within the mosaic of solutions
Which of these barriers is the primary focus of your work?

Product Design Orientation

Which of the principles is the primary focus of your work?

Emotional Health

If you believe some other barrier or principle should be included in the mosaic, please describe it and how it would affect the positioning of your initiative in the mosaic:

This field has not been completed

What is your signature innovation in one sentence?

Players interact with emotional, conversational animated characters to experiment with their own behavior, encouraging and rewarding behavior change.

Describe your innovation. What makes your idea unique and different than others doing work in the field?

We are developing artificial intelligence technologies and game designs for interactive characters capable of natural conversation with players, set in dramatic, emotional, interpersonal conflict scenarios. Players express themselves in their own words, and the computer characters react immediately with meaningful, personality-rich vocal dialog, emotive gesture and facial expression. Story plots are flexible and adaptive to the player, creating an overall experience that is highly engaging, entertaining, immersive and impactful for players. The technology enables the production of serious games that can teach players about their own behavior and the behavior of others, supporting and rewarding experimentation with behavior change, in a variety of mental and physical health domains. Our first game built with this technology is Façade, an interactive drama about marital crisis, giving players agency and encouraging experimentation in an emotionally-charged interpersonal conflict.

What barriers exist that are creating the problem your innovation is hoping to address/change?

Games to date are primarily about physical action, largely incapable of addressing more meaningful topics such as people’s emotional and inner lives. Typically the interface given to game players is a controller with a few buttons, offering them little means to express themselves beyond running, jumping and firing weapons. Conversation between players and characters is typically limited to multiple choice menus, and the story plots and conversations tend to be simplistic branching structures.

Delivery Model: How do you implement your innovation and apply it to the challenge/problem you are addressing.

We have built a novel software architecture that integrates natural language understanding, interactive character behavior, drama management and expressive animation, to be available for commercial and non-commercial license. This technology is the result of several years of our self-funded R&D, as well as research conducted as part of Carnegie Mellon’s Oz Project. It includes several new programming languages and authoring tools enabling our internal development team, as well as external teams, to create a wide variety of health issue-oriented interactive games revolving around human behavior. In 2005 we released the freeware game Façade, placing players in the center of marital crisis, offering the unprecedented experience to safely experiment in a psychologically and emotionally challenging interactive scenario. Subsequently, the system was used at USC’s Institute for Creative Technologies to build a military training prototype focused on soldier-civilian interpersonal conflict.

How do you plan to scale your innovation?

We are seeking funding to enhance our tools and technologies to make them available to the health-game development community and beyond. Our current authoring tools require an additional 1-2 years of development to make them broadly accessible to designers and artists that lack advanced programming skills. Once we complete this phase of tool development, already underway (primarily self-funded so far), we expect to make the tools available for both commercial and non-commercial license. This has the potential to enable a variety of new interactive drama games being produced for both education and entertainment. In particular, several groups in the serious games community have expressed interest in the tools. Further, we will be continuing to increase the capability of the technology over time to enable ever-more effective games using dramatic conversational characters and highly interactive story plots.

Provide one sentence describing your impact.

Over a half-million people have played our first interactive drama game that educates and allows experimentation with interpersonal conflict.

What impact has your innovation had to date? Exactly who are the beneficiaries of your innovation?

Façade, our first game using our interactive drama technology, has had widespread impact among people seeking more serious, meaningful game experiences about people and behavior. Game developers, including those of health-oriented games, have expressed interest in using the technology for their own games. Over a half-million people have downloaded Façade to date, with hundreds of blogs discussing and critiquing it. Press coverage includes the New York Times calling Façade “the future of video games”; Newsweek said “Façade takes character to a new depth... trying to push the boundaries of both gaming and AI”; the Atlantic wrote their first-ever feature article on videogames, focused on Façade’s attempt to expand the scope and meaningfulness of the medium. Façade won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2006 Slamdance indie games festival. Ernest Adams of Gamasutra wrote, "Façade is one of the most important games ever created, possibly the most important game of the last ten years."

How many people have you served directly?

To date, Façade has been downloaded over 500,000 times worldwide. We believe the majority of downloads are the result of millions of people reading about Façade in mainstream press articles about the project and our company. Based on download statistics, the game is as popular in Europe as North America, despite the fact that the Façade requires players to understand and type in English.

How many people have you served indirectly?

Façade is already taught in several university courses as an example of games innovating towards meaningful interactions about people and behavior. We have given several lectures describing and sharing our results at the annual Game Developers Conference, the Serious Games Summit and a variety of AI and technology meetings, and have published several detailed papers on the system in computer science and game development journals and proceedings. Further, the variety of mainstream press articles has helped inform the general public of the potential for this technology to create new, more meaningful games that can teach players about their own behavior and the behavior of others, in a variety of mental and physical health domains.

Please list any other measures reflective of the impact of your innovation
What are the main barriers to creating your impact?

We require funding ($1MM+) to continue enhancing the tools and technology, allowing developers of health-oriented games to more easily access and use it for their games. We are also planning to build our own drama games using the technology, focused on interpersonal conflict. Although our first game Façade has been popular and our approach deemed promising, conservative investors tend to find it risky enough to be cautious about investment. More games built with the technology are needed.

How is your initiative financed?

To date, the technology and the construction of our games have been primarily self-funded, with a bit of support from academic institutions. We are currently actively seeking angel investment, game publisher investment, corporate partnerships, and possibly venture capital. We may supplement our budget with grants from organizations promoting serious game development, however our budgets are larger than the typical size of such grants. We may also pursue SBIRs and the like.

Provide information on your finances and organization: annual budget, annual revenue, number of staff:

Currently our staff consists of a small, self-funded team of developers based in Portland, Oregon, some full-time, some part-time. Once we reach our investment goals, we plan to operate a fully-staffed team of 10 full-time people with an annual budget of $750K - $1MM. To date our games have been released as freeware, generating no revenue other than donations. However we plan to sell our future games, with an anticipated annual revenue of $2MM+. This revenue will further fund tool development, enabling the licensing of the technology to health issue-oriented game developers.

What is the potential demand for your innovation?

We believe the popularity and critical acclaim for Façade proves there is true demand for games that allow players to learn about and experiment with their own behavior and the behavior of others, an approach as applicable to health-oriented games as leisure-oriented ones. Conversational characters and high-agency interactive stories have been holy grails for players and all stripes of game developers; our technology makes significant strides toward reaching these goals and tapping new markets.

What are the main barriers to financial sustainability?

We need seed funding to make the technology accessible and licensable to health issue-oriented game developers, as well as to help fund our own for-profit game focused on the interpersonal conflict that has both educational and entertainment value. The revenue generated from selling such a game as well as commercial licensing of the technology should allow us to fund additional technology enhancements.

The Story
What is the origin of this innovation? Tell us your story.

Our technology and the game Façade are the result of a multi-year collaboration between Andrew Stern and Michael Mateas.

Stern was a first employee of one of the most innovative independent videogame studios of the 1990s, PF.Magic in San Francisco. He became a lead designer and engineer of the award-winning Dogz, Catz and Babyz games, the world’s first virtual pets, that sold over 3 million units worldwide in the late 1990s. Stern's work included the use of sophisticated AI techniques to endow the virtual characters with rich emotions, personality, goals and memories.

Mateas is at the forefront of academic research into creating artificially intelligent characters and stories. He pursued his doctorate as a member of the pioneering Oz Project, the first academic research group combining AI and interactive entertainment.

Stern and Mateas became interested in more ambitious characters and stories, such as adult human characters speaking and understanding natural language, embroiled in interactive dramas about relationships and the psychology of interpersonal conflicts. At a series of conferences on AI where Stern presented his work on Petz, he met then-graduate-student Mateas, and the two formed a partnership that would eventually see the founding of Procedural Arts and the development of Façade.

Dr. Mateas has gone on to become an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and recently, the University of California at Santa Cruz.

Please provide a personal bio. Note this may be used in Changemakers marketing material

Andrew Stern and Michael Mateas are designers, writers and engineers of personality-rich, AI-based interactive characters and stories. In 2005 they completed the interactive drama Façade, a critically acclaimed 5-year research collaboration. Previously Andrew was a lead designer and software engineer at PF.Magic, developing Virtual Babyz, Dogz, and Catz, which sold over 3 million units worldwide. Michael is an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at the University of California at Santa Cruz.

How did you hear about this contest and what is your main incentive to participate? (this is confidential)

Direct outreach from Robert Benedict