Who knew that Twitch was game for original scripted programming? The online social video service is a natural destination for gamers who stream live content of their conquests and competitions but now the apparatus (and its live audience) are also being used by a series called Artificial to create meta entertainment of the moment.
The live, bi-weekly sci-fi series (which returns at 5 p.m. PT/8 p.m. ET April 17 for its Season 2 premiere) starts with a scripted storyline but then harnesses audience participation to change that story on the fly and incorporate those changes into the ongoing narrative foundation. But unlike, say, Choose Your Own Adventure stories, Artificial is not an individual experience. The show is tailored to the communal rhytyms of Twitch to become something that both reflects and enlists its reactive audience to collectively influence the story direction via real-time voting polls, submitting questions, and sharing input with fan mail and gifts sent to the characters.
The series follows Dr. Matt Lin (portrayed by Tohoru Masamune) as he engages the live audience on Twitch to help develop the Artificial Intelligence of his “daughter,” Sophie (Tiffany Chu), who is on a journey to become more human. Expanding the breadth of the interaction, a new tie- podcast called Artificial Uncovered will follow live episodes this season. Hosted (in character) by Carmen (La Trice Harper) and Justin (Justin Lee) the podcast, which recaps the episode and its different juncture points and invites another round of fan participation by encouraging theories and debate about the potential consequences.
Twitch co-founder Kevin Lin said Artificial series is a vanguard effort in devising next-level entertainment. “What we love about Artificial is that its audience can truly evolve the story both during and outside of the live broadcast over the course of the series to take full direction of the show,” Lin said. “In the many alternate universes that the creators of the series have envisioned and developed, the audience gets to see only one, but their impact, through the many polls and clever interactive prompts, is what makes every episode exciting.”
Deadline caught up with the show’s co-creator, Bernie Su, to find out more about Artificial and its restive approach to storytelling, interactive rapport with a live audience and the possibilities they present when bundled together.
DEADLINE: This seems like a meld of technology, performance, audience interaction, and meta-storytelling. What is the aspect that you are finding most satisfying?
SU: The most satisfying part for me is when we are building the audience into the story. Having the audience influence decisions big and small and then having to deal with the consequences of those shifts in the narrative is what makes the series so exciting to develop.
DEADLINE: What has been one of the nagging challenge you faced along the way?
SU: Now, I consider this a challenge, but not necessarily a nagging one. But it’s definitely the chaos. Now we are on Twitch, and I think anyone who knows Twitch would say that it’s unpredictable. You never know what the audience is going to do, and you are never quite sure what they are going to say. They surprise you in positive and negative ways, and that is beautiful chaos! The other major challenge is the turnaround. During those live segments, there are whole sections of dialogue that the actors are receiving minutes before they are performing them. Not only does this dialogue have to be responsive to viewer engagement and interactivity, but it also has to be in the voices of the characters and stay true to the narrative.
DEADLINE: Could you share an example of an interaction with the audience that illustrates some of these possibilities you see in the approach?
SU: So in Episode 4 of Season 1, we had what seemed like a trivial decision turn into a series-shifting event. Dr. Matt Lin gives the audience the power to determine what book Sophie, plays by Tiffany Chu, reads next. Now, a great book can influence people in different ways, and in that choice, the audience chose The Color Purple, by Alice Walker. Because that book deals with a lot of physical and mental abuse, a lot of which coming from a father figure, Sophie’s relationship with her own father figure changes. She begins to challenge him more, she becomes more idealistic, and more independent. It sends the relationship down a different path versus if the audience chose Pride and Prejudice, a story where the main character has a very positive relationship with her own father.
DEADLINE: What are three adjectives you would use to describe your plans for Season 2.
SU: First, I would say, is “consequential.” Making the audience even more consequential. We are telling a scripted narrative sci-fi series where the audience is part of our journey, and we want those who are participating to really feel like they helped Sophie achieve her goals or contributed to her failures. So, the example with The Color Purple? I want to exceed that magnitude of consequence this season multiple times.
Second, I would say, “seamless.” Seamlessly integrating more of Twitch’s technology tools and building more of them into the story. So in Season 1, we’ve already demonstrated the integration of commenting, polling, token monetization, and user subscriptions into an interactive scripted narrative experience. But like any tech platform, Twitch’s APIs allow for so much more. Artificial is a series designed to be on Twitch and we want to make it feel that way.
And finally, “demonstrative.” True demonstration of a live audience-interactive narrative format: I believe we have invented a format that is the future of a traditional scripted narrative merged with a true interactive communal participatory experience. What does this format look and feel like when applied to a sitcom, or a procedural, and yes I have put extensive thought into it.