I had the privilege to spend some time online with Alex Beck. He is the man responsible for putting together search4e and took a little time to fill in some background and give us a peek behind the scenes.
Search4e is a non-linear, interactive story played online. It involves the search for Ed Sobian and is filled with intrigue, puzzles and potentially prizes. It started around April 2002 as a test and is officially going live this evening.
We have about 120 players following the story already and it’s already proven itself to be a compelling story.
wb: Hi Alex!
wb: Thanks for taking the time to chat. I really appreciate it, especially on such an important day.
wb: Why don’t we start with some brief background information.
Can you give me a little background on who you are and how you became involved with the search for Ed Sobian?
Alex Beck:: Sure. Hold on.
Alex Beck:: I’m a former producer with a number of small ad agencies in Boston and NYC. I spent some time in London and Berlin. I’ve done a number of meetings and events and it was through this work that I came to know Steve [Massarsky] and Waldemar [Korzeniowsky] — and it was through them that I was introduced to search4e.
wb: What was it about Search4e that caught your interest?
Alex Beck:: I have a lot of friends involved in traditional forms of entertainment and there’s an aspect of it that feels like the same thing over and over. This felt entirely different and new. I mean a whole new form of entertainment that we were inventing as we go. It’s not that often in life that you can feel like you’re actually on the cutting edge… and there I was. So here I am. With lots of big plans for the future.
wb: How would you describe this new form of entertainment?
Alex Beck:: Highly interactive. In many ways, the players actually influence the direction of the story. It’s also a combination, and in some ways a culmination, of the capabilities of multiple media. The fact that this simply couldn’t have happened or taken off even two, three years ago is something I find very exciting: that this is uniquely native to and suited to the Web.
Alex Beck:: Let me add this. When I say “highly interactive,” I mean that if players show a lot of interest in a certain character or part of the story line, theyr’e bound to get it. We’re flexible and that feels right.
wb: That cutting edge is often called the “bleeding edge.” It’s tough treading new ground. What kind of things have you run into that were unexpected?
Alex Beck:: Yes, we’re all a bit scarred and battle weary, but the wounds are already healing nicely. We’re dealing with a melding of technology and information and content and navigation and it doesn’t always blend seamlessly, especially first time around. Things take longer than we’d like or expect. But we have a great team and we’re on target for launch tonight.
wb: If I understand correctly, Second State is a joint venture between BPictures and Bizincu. How does that all fit together?
Alex Beck:: Second State is not a joint venture. It’s a standalone and it’s a partnership between Steve and Waldemar. But you’re correct that these business entities fit into their past and to some extent present existences.
wb: Who’s brainchild was Second State and the Search4e? How did you identify the opportunity and get it all started?
Alex Beck:: It wasn’t me who identified the opportunity, although I was quick to jump on it when it was offered. It was originally Waldemar’s idea, and he and Steve have been working together to modify it and shape it into what you’ll be seeing tonight.
wb: The beta period has been running since April making Search4E the longest running venture of it’s kind (even though it hasn’t officially started). Is all the information and research that’s been done still important or are we starting with a clean slate?
Alex Beck:: Definitely don’t wipe the slate. Search4e is continuing and ongoing. The launch signals a reorganization of material and information as well as the introduction of new material that we’re pretty excited about.
Alex Beck:: For example, wait until you see the opening trailer.
wb: Cool. We’re all very excited about the launch as well.
wb: The press release mentioned a lot of exciting possibilities and a tie-in with Lycos. It seems this genre is pretty boundless. What kind of things can investigators expect to see?
Alex Beck:: There are lots of plans for other deals as well. With Lycos we’re waiting for word about doing a Jeremy Denauer chat next week. I think part of the newness of this effort and this form of entertainment is that people (i.e. big companies) are open to talking and the prospect of various kinds of partnership, but the specifics are not yet set in stone. We have an educational burden to show these companies that there’s really an audience for this kind of entertainment, and that people will be attracted to it.
Alex Beck:: In fact, that’s where players come in. Because on some level we count on you guys to get out there and preach the gospel.
wb: Who is Jeremy Denauer?
Alex Beck:: Who is Jeremy… hold on.
Alex Beck:: Check Collective Detective today or this evening. Jeremy is a former cop and FBI agent who’s been engaged by TCP to serve as lead investigator and add a measure of professionalism to the archiving of material around here.
wb: Are you also responsible for search4e.org?
wb: Everyone is anxious to have access to the notebook and other features.
Alex Beck:: To the extent of my own capabilities. I have certain responsibilities, but there’s a team. Everyone reports to me and I report to Steve and Waldemar. But this is an open-door operation, so it’s safe to say that everyone reports to everyone.
Alex Beck:: That’s great to hear — that people are anxious to see what’s new about the launch. We worked hard on the notebook and are anxious to get feedback.
wb: Can we expect all of the features on search4e.org to be live with the official launch?
Alex Beck:: Well, as you know this is a dynamic project. It will always be a work in progress. So it’s not like we launch and that’s it. So you can expect many, but certainly not all of the features that we have planned for the coming months. What fun would it be if we gave you everything at once?
wb: Which features will be available tonight?
Alex Beck:: Certainly the notebook. The trailer. A new intro page. An option in terms of ways to navigate the site and acquire information. New boards. And more.
Alex Beck:: What did you take away from beta period that you think might be helpful for us to know?
wb: Are you familiar with other similar games like The Beast?
Alex Beck:: I am familiar but it’s the creatives who have to be and are much more familiar than I am. I’m more product manager than game designer, but from a personal point of view I’ve noted a see saw effect of early games trying to establish the right balance between story, game and interactivity. So far I don’t think any have hit it and I think we’rve addressed many of the problems and are moving in the right direction.
wb: To answer your question, the more real you can make the players, websites, and events, the more immersive the entire story becomes. You guys have done a great job expanding the characters for us. The players have to have a pretty clear understanding of what we mean when we talk about the curtain or it blows the suspension of disbelief that goes along with this type of adventure.
Alex Beck:: That’s great to hear. We’re working hard to ensure that this kind of verisimiltude continues.
wb: For those that are new to the search, what do you suggest they do to get up to speed?
Alex Beck:: I think getting up to speed is going to be a lot easier with the new user interface and Jeremy. We’re also all incredibly grateful to the players for the sites they’ve put together, like sobiak.com and and beth’s files. We’re also launching a board exclusively for newbies, and we hope that some of you will be there to guide them.
wb: We certainly will. I’m sure you guys are considering what’s next. Do you have any plans to use the Search4e story in any other media?
Alex Beck:: Definitely. Already working on film deals, for one.
wb: Are you going to wait to see how this plays out before you start on any other projects?
Alex Beck:: We’re certainly not opposed to concurrent — in fact, ideally there would be crossover elements. Oh — Steve just walked by and said to say hi to you and that I should get back to work because we’re launching tonight and the moments are clicking. One more question, if you like?
wb: One last question I promised I would ask, Have you ever met Ed Sobian?
Alex Beck:: =P~ Not that I’m aware of.
wb: Alex, thanks very much for your time. If you think of anything else you would like me to include, let me know and I’ll post it as a followup. I really appreciate everything all of you have done and we all look forward to a great experience!
Alex Beck:: Thanks so much, WB.