The bleeding edge of screenwriting and media convergence

February 2003

by Terry Borst

filed 01 January 03 Copyright ©2003 alt.screenwriters

Microsoft would like to own your living room. Not the room, per se, but the entertainment you get there. At least a good portion of it. In this, Microsoft is no more “evil” than Sony, Viacom, or Disney. And screenwriters who are used to dealing with Sonys, Viacoms, and Disneys should begin thinking about what they might have to offer to Microsoft.Microsoft’s “Trojan Horse” into mainstream narrative entertainment is its gaming console Xbox. But calling the Xbox a gaming console does it an injustice. The Xbox device plays DVDs, connects to the Internet, and in the future, will undoubtedly embrace Tivo-like functionality and also work as a home networking hub. Just recently, Microsoft launched its online “XboxLive” service, allowing its gaming audience to directly compete and communicate with each other in real-time.

Tim Petras, Director of Business Planning for Microsoft, says that “a portion of our long-term growth will be fueled by delivering broader forms of interactive entertainment which will appeal to those who haven’t played many games.”

Because of this, Microsoft is “open to exploring new forms of interactive entertainment with content creators.” What would these “new forms” be?

“The spectrum of possibilities is very broad,” says Petras.  “For example, what if you could explore the Egyptian Pyramids at your own pace in a highly interactive, almost game-like way that made you feel like an archeologist?  Now that video games are going online, what about episodic game shows?  These are the types of scenarios that get non-gamers excited.”

After the initial flurry of experiments into interactive storytelling in the ’90s, there has been a great deal of re-examination of the attempts — with many questioning whether true interactive storytelling is really possible.

But Petras remains convinced. “There is definitely a role for non-game interactive storytelling; this content is at the heart of our search.  We have not defined what genres or subjects might work best, and are exploring all options.  However, we have discovered that people are comfortable with different levels of interactivity, and each interactive story must accommodate those different comfort levels.”

Petras believes the online component of entertainment has barely been tapped so far. “Online is a new medium for content creators which will reach massive proportions over time. We think magic can happen when bleeding-edge animation, sound, and online technologies and tools get into the hands of people with new ideas and hot brand properties.”

Microsoft is not out to compete with Viacom directly. “Our core competency is creating platforms,” says Petras. “These platforms then allow our creative partners to realize their visions.”

However, in order to maximize this platform, Microsoft is prepared to go farther. “We have development resources and marketing know-how that can be leveraged.”

To this end, the door is open. Now. “Professional screenwriters and producers will definitely play a central role because the heart of this ‘convergent content’ will be great stories.   As a first step, we encourage them to contact us directly so we can explore ideas.”

And screenwriters looking ahead to the next decade or two of their careers should be thinking about new forms of entertainment. Petras forecasts that “‘lean forward’ experiences will cut into the share of time spent in the living room, because they are fundamentally more stimulating and accessible for hundreds of millions of people worldwide. From the side of content producers, the current system of delivering entertainment content will be more interactive, on-demand, and user-centric than today’s ‘push’ model.”

The current Xbox device is only the first generation of this entertainment platform, and there is no question that Petras is already thinking ahead to the second and third generations of this device, which will become vastly more powerful and capable. Future generations of the Xbox could well be a key component to enabling true, two-way interactive TV.

And there can also be little doubt that if Microsoft is thinking this way, Sony is too: after all, its Playstation is an entertainment platform destined to be around for a decade and more, also becoming ever more capable in each successive generation.

Got an idea for 21st century interactive entertainment? Tim Petras wants to hear it, and you can find him at

Written by tborst

January 1, 2003 at 2:18 am

%d bloggers like this: