The City of Sleepers

In a futuristic world, all resources are in abundance and for sale to the trillions of inhabitants of the world’s major cities. Even bodily energy has become a purchased commodity. 

type: science-fiction, storytelling

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OVERVIEW

 

Summary
Watch Me! is a dialogue based full motion video (FMV) game about building relationships with online personalities. The player takes on the role of a viewer on a Twitch-like streaming service and is able to communicate with and support fictional streamers through the platform. Players earn channel currency, specific to each streamer, from tuning in to each stream. Tuning in on time also allows the player the opportunity to interact by selecting dialogue to send through the chatbox. By demonstrating their devotion to certain streamers and participating in the audience community, the player can be recognized and pursue a deeper relationship with the streamer as communication expands to direct messages (DMs), texts, private 1-on-1 streams, and even phone calls. Players can pursue romance, friendship, and emotional support as they get to know each character better. Watch Me! blurs the line between fiction and reality, demanding the player’s attention throughout their day and featuring gameplay which revolves around real time interaction.

 

Design Overview

Watch Me! plays like a visual novel, featuring branching dialogue and “routes” that pursue interactions with the streamers they prioritize. Progressing down a route unlocks additional scenes with that character and eventually a positive and negative ending corresponding to the route the player chose. While watching a stream or responding to messages, players can select between three dialogue options as a response to streamer actions and questions, or even interact with other audience members in chat. The three options convey positive, negative, or neutral responses and are a format commonly used in branching dialogue. Watch Me! also offers a fourth choice, where players can remain silent and not input any dialogue. This passive option encourages players to engage with the content, without forcing them to participate in any predetermined way.

Real Time
Interactions with streamers occur in real time. Players need to tune in during designated windows to time to participate in the chat during a stream, exactly like watching a real livestream. Streams are not recorded, so players will miss content they can’t tune in for. Any messages received from NPCs also have a window of time for responses or the conversation they could unlock becomes expired.

Full Motion Video

An important feature in Watch Me! is the full motion video (FMV) visuals, which strings together video clips based on player interaction. Streams generally last between fifteen and twenty minutes and are composed of short clips which are inserted, removed, or swapped in response to dialogue options the player selects and inputs into chat. If the player chooses not to interact and just observe, a default string of clips plays.
Jumps between clip merging is masked behind a low frame rate and buffering, borrowing from the technical problems of real streaming to excuse skips or snapping between clips.

 

DESIGN

 

Watch Me! opens in a separate window on the player’s PC, imitating a real application or browser. The mobile version is distributed through an app and linked by logging in with the same information from the PC application.
The landing page of the Watch Me! platform includes links to the player’s profile (which they may edit), to each streamer channel, and to the player’s DMs. This page also shows which streamers are currently live and  notifications of when streamers will go live if they have chosen to announce a start time.

 

Player Profile
The profile is a personal space for the player to upload a biography and avatar image, which can be referenced by NPCs and used in interactions. This section also presents the user with alterable settings, such as customizing how intrusive notifications are and if they want to prioritize notifications from one streamer over another.


Channels
The majority of gameplay takes place on the streamer channel pages. Each streamer has a personal page that they have customized and where they can post updates for their viewers. While a streamer is live, players can submit dialogue into the audience chatbox, which the streamer can see and will acknowledge at times. Players must be on this page to interact and to earn channel currency, which accumulates as the player watches a stream.

 

 

Direct Messages

DMs are private exchanges between the player and other Watch Me! Users, NPCs who are also seeking interactions with the streamer. These discussions happen in real time, allowing the user to reply to arriving messages within a certain window of time.


Chat Currency

Currency accrues while the player watches a stream and the currency is channel specific. Time spent watching then becomes a tangible way to engage the streamer by donating the currency or showing off how much currency the player has.

NARRATIVE

 

Structure
Once the game is started, players progress through a set amount of days where scenes can occur. Over seven days the player can pursue three streamers, each of which has two possible endings the player can experience, one negative and one positive.


The branching narrative utilizes the real time aspect of the game to have players make choices about which characters they want to prioritize. Rather than selecting which streamer they prefer through a menu choice, players have to choose how they choose to spend their time. As the story progresses, routes begin to overlap. During Day 2, the player receives a direct message from Streamer 1 during the time that Streamer 3 is live. The player has to choose to navigate away from the active stream to reply to the DM, or they can ignore the DM. Replying to the DM strengthens the personal bond with Streamer 1, but at the cost of channel currency and content that is only available while Streamer 3 is live.

 

 

 

The first “day” does not complete until the player has watched at least part of each stream to “meet” each of the available streamers. From then on, streams and interactions occur at scheduled time throughout the next six days. It is also possible that the player may not progress down any route enough to receive an ending for a character.

 

Characters

The three streamer characters featured in the base version of Watch Me! demonstrate a variety of streamer mentalities based on channel size. Each character also has a goal or secret which becomes apparent to the player after more personalized interactions.
 

 

The goals of each streamer affect what interactions they acknowledge and respond to during their stream.  Secrets and personal information are uncovered after the player progresses further down a route.

 

Impactful Moments

Players experience intimate moments with characters, which single them out from a crowded audience to provide acknowledgement. DMs which directly address the player create a feeling of intimacy. By communicating on a private channel, players can feel they are breaking through the curated persona a streamer maintains while live, and get to know them on a personal level.

The game calls upon the emotional impact of receiving DMs on a personal device from someone you care about which ask “Can we talk?”, “Hey, are you around?”, or “Can I tell you something?”. It strives to recreate those moments of lying awake in bed late at night clutching your phone, in disbelief that this amazing person is messaging you. Emotionally loaded conversations where the player can support streamers creates closeness in a real way which games often fail to capture.




 

DESIGN GOALS

 

Watch Me! is a romantic narrative game which makes a statement about the genuity of online friendships and the expected behavior of each party. It is a game which blends blends reality and fiction so intensely that players may become confused what the acceptable behavior is. Many dating simulation games present their narrative and characters in a way which is easy to abstract. Players don’t feel a need to act responsibly towards NPCs and aren't emotionally affected past a feeling of accomplishment for successfully pursuing a character.

Watch Me! seeks to invoke the anxiety and excitement of being acknowledged by a celebrity crush, which I believe is inherent in streaming culture. Streaming is ultimately a service which commodifies human interaction and provides emotional labor to viewers, so in reality it is unlikely that a streamer would ever engage in a closer friendship with a viewer. Watch Me!’s narrative provides commentary on this commodification of human interaction and willingly providing emotional labor for strangers as a service in exchange for money and/or fame.


TARGET AUDIENCE & MARKET


Otome games, or “maiden” games, are a proven genre that is made up of narrative games which focus on relationship building and romance. These games often deal with more mature content and are generally marketed towards an 18+ audience. Watch Me! seeks to capture this audience as well as to cater to stream viewers who are curious about the possible gamification of the format. The game merges a known genre and a popular form of entertainment into one piece of consumable media.

 

 

 

PLATFORM

 

The game is played on both PC and mobile simultaneously. Players are able to log in to stream sessions or reply to messages on their computer and mobile phone. After an interaction has completed, the game state is saved and stored on a server which can be accessed from either device and keeps both instances up to date.


The usage of two platforms simultaneously furthers the realism of the game by allowing players to tune in from anywhere and be contacted by NPCs at any time. The mobile phone is particularly important for this, as push notifications can alert the player when streams go live or when they have a special message they need to reply to quickly. PC provides the comfort and ease of use that many players prefer, but the game can be played entirely on a single platform if the player wishes to do so.

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© 2019 by Francesca Carletto-Leon

 

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