ARGs and interactive books: Evan Jones interview
Evan Jones is the founder of Stitch Media, an interactive media production services company focused on telling stories using new technology and timeless techniques. Evan is also the creator of Together Tales, a new platform which brings reading, games and real-life activities together. Here Stephanie Cox interviews him.
1) Tell us a little bit about your background and career
Early in my career I became obsessed with Alternate Reality Games. ARGs are a style of narrative that really couldn’t exist before the internet, because they rely on the audience as investigators who connect different types of media together to make a complete story. They’re also intensely interactive and the best ones consider the audience as collaborators – their theories and solutions inspire the creative team working behind the scenes.
I’ve had the good fortune to collaborate with incredibly talented people on projects across every genre. We’ve worked in comedy, drama, documentary, horror, science fiction, children’s, lifestyle – but always with an interactive point of view. Stitch Media is the company that you call when you want to push the boundaries. I’m always working hard to stay ahead of the curve on new technology but more importantly the media trends that are shifting around us.
2) Together Tales – what’s the premise?
Together Tales are Adventure Kits that combine physical books and artifacts with interactive challenges. Parents bring these stories to life as an insider working with the author to plant clues and create coincidences.
For kids aged 8-10 reading the adventures, it’s like the whole story surrounds you. You are a character in the books and your actions end up saving the day. We’ve had a lot of feedback that this product is perfect for ‘reluctant readers’ because it’s broken into short chapters that connect with activities both offline and online.
For parents, it’s like having a creative sidekick for those moments where you want to want to play along with your kids but don’t always have the time or energy to make it up. Adventure Kits give you all the tools you need and simple instructions via email to prompt you at the perfect moment. You’re playing alongside your kids with a cheat sheet from the author.
3) What made you, as a media and TV professional, look at the idea of interactive books? How did the idea and the concept of Together Tales come about?
We didn’t set out to make an interactive book. Our company never starts with the technology first. It’s that old adage “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Instead we started with a question: “How can recreate some of our fondest memories of childhood?”
We loved reading books, of course – books are imagination fireworks where you can do anything at all. We also loved simple games like scavenger hunts and puzzles. But the secret ingredient is the name of our product – it was those moments we spent together.
Together Tales is a platform to combine all of these things. We rely upon an ‘Insider’ who truly knows the reader. We use the shorthand of parents but it could easily be grandparents or that cool uncle or an amazing teacher. The point is that our adventures come to life in through others – they are the ones who personalise a letter online, print it out and tuck it under the child’s pillow because they received an automated email yesterday explaining that the Magician will be answering their dream questions tomorrow. It’s a system to make more of those memorable moments by connecting them together with a story.
4) What kind of success have you enjoyed so far?
Our first success was convincing a jury to give us the CMF Experimental Fund – it allowed us to build the technology and test the concept until we got it right. The one thing we needed after that was the money to pay for our first print run. We created four Adventure Kits in our first year and launched the concept on Kickstarter – that was really when Together Tales took off. We’ve shipped hundreds of kits out to families now and the response has been incredible. The five-star reviews on Amazon have really inspired us – parents talk about how excited their kids get about reading the stories and their adventures.
It’s also been a huge boost for us to be recognised by our industry. We were nominated for the BookTech prize in the UK this year and for the Canadian Screen Award for Best Original Interactive Project. These endorsements help a great deal in promoting sales.
5) Anything that has been particularly challenging?
Our biggest challenge is everyone’s biggest challenge – discoverability. Our target demographic is parents with 8-10 year old kids and I’m one of them. It’s a very busy and distracted group of customers and we don’t have a marketing budget to spend yet. We know that families love the product but we haven’t yet mastered the way we reach that audience.
6) Why do you think there’s a market for this kind of publishing?
Publishing is not going away. Yes it’s changing but all of the media industries shift when a new paradigm appears. We know this is a crowded market but we feel that Together Tales is something truly new and will strike a chord with the right type of customer.
Together Tales is also built to empower authors to write their own Adventure Kits. Our platform expands with every new book as we build a library of games and technology which are reused in subsequent stories. They’re also not tied to a particular platform. We’re not thinking about the issues of paper vs tablets because we use them all in the way they were intended. Media consumption habits for us aren’t an either/or proposition, they’re all potential for us.
7) Have you found that you have been able to reach out easily to children who may not be particularly enthusiastic about reading?
Together Tales is very accessible because the story is portioned out. The child never sees a huge book because the story is divided into chapters and interactive moments. The first chapter looks like a comic book, but once you’ve read it you’re hooked. The characters need your help and a game begins. It’s not hard to convince kids to play games but when the game is over you want to see how it affected the story. That’s when the second chapter magically appears (thanks parents!) and the cycle continues.
To read the full interview, head over to Stephanie’s blog: Words are my Craft.