Two Big Things We Learned From Throwing Weird Events

This Saturday, we’re throwing our third big event of the year (fourth if you count our all-digital, week-long showtrial). It’s called PLEASE RESIST, THANK YOU Unlike other companies that do long runs of a single show, we only throw one-off immersive events since each one is a moment in our ongoing narrative. That means we only get one chance to nail an idea before we move onto the next, so iteration is key. Here are two big things we learned this year, and how they affected our next event.

1. Life is not a videogame. Except when it’s Starcraft.

Stick with us on this…

Stick with us on this…

At our first event, Please Party Thank You, we had actors set up around the space acting, basically, as NPCs in a videogame. Each one had a set script that they’d engage attendees with, presenting them with a “quest” that they’d have to do. The quests ranged from the simple (go take a selfie, with character X) to the insane (do whatever you have to do to procure a copy of Turbo Lover by Judas Priest on cassette). Fun right? And it was. Except actors can only engage so many people at the same time. Have you ever played a game where you had to WAIT IN LINE to get a quest? No. That would be insane (although the monetization possibilities would be fascinating). We encountered a few of these bottlenecks throughout the first event, some of which were exacerbated by the popularity of our most engaging, charismatic actors. They became victims of their own charm. Happens to the best of us.

So this got us thinking about audience flow, and throughput. How many people can one actor, or one game, handle in a given period of time? Once we figured that out, we decided the solution was to add MORE options, not reduce audience size. If a given layout seemed like it would slow things down, we would add other installations or games that didn’t have any kind of victory condition. Stuff people could engage with just for fun, as a break from the party and the storyline.

The original idea was to literally put computers running Starcraft into an early event as a mini LAN center. While this never actually happened, we started to call distractions like this “Starcrafts”. A poker table is a great example of a Starcraft, made even better when the dealer is an in-world character (we did that at our second event). Know what else is a Starcraft? Doom. Confusing? Yes. But our next event, PLEASE RESIST, THANK YOU, is going to have multiple computers set running doom, because it’s a “hacker party” and we think it’ll be funny. More importantly, they’ll be a place for people to screw around and play some games without worrying about doing any thinking, or using an actor’s bandwidth. No additional pylons required.

2. Hard-but-not-too-hard

Our second event, A Death Well Died, featured a series of bespoke antiques and artifacts, each containing its own diabolical puzzle devised by the late Paulbert Pontifex, our universe’s equivalent of a misanthropic Walt Disney. We hid messages in distressed journals, coded secrets into Cuban cigar packaging, and built a treasure map replete with hidden details. As we developed these props and puzzles, we kept asking ourselves: Is this too easy? Will audiences feel like they’ve gotten a full value experience out of solving these?

By the time we went live, the answer to that question was a distinct “no”. Weeks of development and experimentation and, frankly, winging it, lead us to a place where several of our puzzles were actually a little too hard. In fact, some of them were only completed by a handful of people over the course of our three hour event. It wasn’t the end of the world, but it got us really focused on progression. We needed to make sure our objectives were spread out in difficulty, so that attendees would feel like they were making headway, but that there were still puzzles hard enough to require some work.  So what does that mean for PLEASE RESIST, THANK YOU? It means that if you want to earn points playing pong, you can. It also means that if you’re a front end developer, and want to flex on us, we have a game for that too. Either way, it’s going to be a ton of fun, and you’re gonna come out of it with delicious merch.

See you there?