We recently had an opportunity to touch base with First Person Plural’s Alex Dulude, to discuss their new advertising technology and upcoming sponsor-supported competitive endurance racer, HumanLimit.

Shawn Snider (GamingExcellence): Hi there, and thank you for answering our questions. First off, can you tell us what you do at First Person Plural? What is your role in the development of HumanLimit?

Alex Dulude (First Person Plural): Hi back. My role at FPP is that of chief creative and technology officer. As such, I oversee the creative content and direction of FPP’s projects, as well as the choices behind technologies and their creative implementation. The idea guy. Otherwise known as that “freaky founder with all the toys in his office”.

Shawn: Can you please describe HumanLimit and the Witness Advertising technology?

Alex: Two very different things. HumanLimit is an endurance competition. A challenge sent out to everyone. A test of toughness. It is set in the modern world. I can’t really tell you what it will look like for YOU, you’ll see why in my Witness explanation. HumanLimit is a free game that will be distributed through our advertising partners, and the user will never have to pay a cent. In fact, part of our approach to advertising in game worlds is based on reward. So players will also win hundreds of prizes, all within the game, as well as have the possibility of simply clicking on objects to receive coupons or freebies throughout the competition. Witness is a real-time content management and verification system that commands and controls the throughput of information in networked environments. In a gaming context, Witness serves you a game whose textures, models, content and even “quests” are based on your specific profile. Your age, location, likes and dislikes etc. This is why HumanLimit looks different to each person. Gameplay fitted to you, instead of the other way around. Witness is not limited to gaming applications; however this is a subject for a later interview.

Shawn: From a gamer’s perspective, what makes HumanLimit appealing? Can you describe the gaming experience that we can expect to get out of HumanLimit.

Alex: To begin with, there are different “stages” to HumanLimit, and each will have a slightly different flavour. At first, you will play online, in a series of racing events with a jaw dropping number of possible directions / storylines, again based on your specifics. All these events and challenges will help you accumulate points, which are used to move your vehicle and driver further along. The attitude of the qualification rounds is one of humor, irreverence and wit taking part in a universe made for you. So the more you play, the more the game learns you as well, and generates a world that is more and more rewarding for you. Of course, as you play you will also be winning prizes from the sponsors. Not virtual prizes, but real world goodies that you are ACTUALLY interested in. A certain number of players with the highest scores will then be invited to a live competition, where HumanLimit really becomes the grueling test of will it is designed to be. I don’t want to give any details on the live competitions, as secrecy is an integral part to HumanLimit’s success. You’ll just have to stay tuned.

Shawn: Now, the same question from a marketing and advertising perspective? What makes the Witness technology appealing to advertisers?

Alex: What makes Witness so appealing to sponsors is its ability to dramatically cut costs all while creating a better and more positive dialog with the end-user of their product. I should add at this point that it is critical to draw a line between advertiser/sponsor and consumer/user. An advertiser tries to get the attention of a consumer in an attempt to sell them product. A sponsor supports users of their product in an attempt to advertise to consumers. Since prizes and promotion are an integral part of the HumanLimit experience, we don’t have advertisers, only lots of sponsors. By ensuring that a lipstick ad is never placed before ME (I don’t use it…duh), the sponsor can be assured that they are only paying for placement to an interested audience. Take some of those savings and put them back into the hands of your users. Witness allows a forward escape back to the golden age of television when sponsors rewarded us with programming. The real time placement and verification aspect of Witness is the heart of why sponsors are praising this so heavily right now. The ramifications of what a sponsor can learn about their product and audience is astounding. Witness is a toolbox that will allow a new generation of interaction between producers of stuff and users of stuff. Remember, we all use something, even if our job is making stuff for others.

Shawn: What makes the Witness advertising technology different from the regular advertising we see in movies and games every day? Product placement in motion pictures is becoming a more widely accepted form of advertising, what makes the advertising in HumanLimit unique?

Alex: In the context of product placement in movies; imagine a movie where each person in the audience saw different products, with a different cast, and completely different endings. Imagine there is a little printer in the armrest. It spits out coupons for your soda and candy to thank you for your eye-time. Now, imagine that a producer/sponsor could change it all on the fly, and verify what effect it had in order to enhance the experience for the next group of theater goers. That’s Witness in a movie context. This is of course very difficult to do in the real world, but it is what Witness does in virtual environments. HumanLimit will be the first iteration on a new way of experiencing content.

Shawn: What problems have you anticipated with this advertising model? How do you plan on overcoming the challenges of marketing to a modern audience used to ignoring advertisements?

Alex: Remove the advertisements, of course! Let’s all come to terms with a certain reality here: The trends we are seeing in consumer rejection of traditional advertising messages are based on the fact that communication tools have reached the point where we as consumers can speak up. They hear. They know there’s a problem. They know we don’t like it. But they have never had a means of ensuring that an unwanted message is never heard by anyone…ever. If every advertising message we had ever heard had rewarded us in some way, we may not be so eager to dismiss everything and anything so quickly. Unfortunately, we have been treated as cattle for a bit, and this is why I tend to reject most ads I see/hear/have had forced down my throat.

Shawn: What kind of information will you collect on gamers to target these advertisements and generate your user segments?

Alex: All personal information is kept completely separate from any data Witness uses to manage content. As for non-personally identifying information, we will try and provide users with as many possibilities to express themselves as we can, because the more you put in your profile, the better your game experience will be. We also will be talking with our users, to see what information THEY would like to see included. It’s our world, what do we want to see in it?

Shawn: Outside of the advertising perspective and back to HumanLimit - we really don't have much information on the game itself. Can you describe the basic gameplay idea of an endurance driving game, and how a gamer would just sit down and play?

Alex: As I said, the mechanics of the finals can not be discussed, but as for the online experience at home, I touched upon it earlier. Users will have a variety of POVs and gameplay modes. The game modes you prefer will be presented to you more often, and vice-versa.

Shawn: So HumanLimit will have competitions of sorts - what kind of prize model and incentives will you be utilizing in these competitions? I'd imagine it's primarily sponsor-driven?

Alex: Yes. What kind of prizes/awards would you see on a game show with millions of people at any given time? The more we are the greater the possibilities. Can you picture Survivor not limited to the “bathing-suit-body-endowed”? HumanLimit is not a competition “of sorts” it is meant to be the most demanding and grueling test of human limitations ever presented. We mean to push the edge.

Shawn: Speaking of the edge, what \"racing engine\" will HumanLimit be using? A licensed technology or in-house design?

Alex: We are using an in-house design.

Shawn: Will HumanLimit form into a massively multiplayer style of world, as in regular \"game\" content updates to keep players coming back?

Alex: Based on the unique content of each player’s game world, it would be impossible to create a persistent universe that would accommodate everyone. Therefore the community tools we provide our users with on the web-support side become the basis for community, interaction, and exchange.

Shawn: Finally - what timeframe are we talking about for HumanLimit? How would you say the game is progressing?

Alex: Our projected launch is for Q3 2007. Pre-registration and pre-launch prizes will be available by Q1.

Shawn: Is there anything else you'd like to add?

Alex: Only that we as a community need to come together and bring the reality of advertising and its effects into the forefront. If we don’t stand up now and demand a different approach, we will forever be locked into the status quo. Namely; the Advertiser decides, and we take it in. FPP feels there is a different alternative that benefits both sides. We need to look into this as gamers before it’s too late.

Shawn: Thanks so much, we appreciate you taking them time to answer our questions.

Alex: Thank you!

Special thanks go out to Kelly Ekins, Director of Marketing and Publication at First Person Plural, for providing this opportunity and co-ordinating this Q&A.