Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A Frank Discussion of Machinima Production Costs

I have written both here and elsewhere about the importance of promotional vehicles for artists, especially virtual artists. It is also widely known, now, that I produce promotion machinima clips dealing with artists whose work interests me in one way or another. What is not known as widely, in part because machinima is new, are the costs involved in such productions, nor their benefits. Here I present a frank discussion on both topics, both to drive home the importance of these tools, but also to help make artists aware of what the real costs involved are.

First, what is the importance of promotional machinima? I have surveyed the four individuals for whom I have produced machinima presentations (they are not strictly speaking promotional, as they were not developed solely for promotional reasons, but also out of personal interest). It has become clear that the machinima clips have garnered increased recognition for the artists concerned in all cases. Not everyone was able to confirm a direct increase in sales due to the clip, but at least one of the four more than quadrupled sales following the clip's appearance.

Having established the importance of promotional clips, let's now look at how different clips compare with each other and the relationship between production values and effectiveness. In a recent survey of youTube promotional videos, despite the very high numbers of videos stored on youTube, I found relatively few that sought to promote artists work, indicating that there is considerable potential to develop this as a promotional tool.

However, for artists, in general, the average view count is about 200 views per month. Promotional clips of Second Life artists, on the other hand, seem to generate no more than about 50 to 60 views per month. I also found a relatively strong correlation between production values and view rates - low quality productions had view rates below 20 per month, for the most part, while high quality productions were in the upper view rate bracket.

With regard to my own promotional machinima clips, involving exclusively Second Life artists up to now, I observe average view counts of about 135 per month, hence relatively high. My machinima clips aren't of the very best quality, rather they are of intermediate quality. I do not spend time trying to achieve the perfect sound or the perfect image. Hence there is room for improvement, but even so, they generate nearly three times the viewership as do existing machinima productions for Second Life artists.

Now let's look at the costs involved. I take roughly 25 to 30 hours, on average, to produce a 5 to 10 minute machinima clip (the maximum length allowed on youTube). A professional producer will typically charge 35$/hour to 50$/hour for their time. Hence a machinima clip will cost roughly 150$/minute, much more if one needs to hire actors to play various roles. This is, however, compared to a cost of 1000$/minute or more, typical for a short video production (that is, using a video camera in the real world). The optimal length for a clip varies depending on a whole range of factors, but will typically be between 3 minutes and about 8 minutes.

The decision to invest in a promotional machinima clip for a Second Life artist depends, therefore, on total current sales revenues, and on expectations or ambitions concerning the growth of these figures. If total revenues from Second Life products are no more than a few dollars per month, this is unlikely to be a viable path to promotion. If, on the other hand, one earns on the order of a hundred dollars a month or more, the production of a promotional machinima clip may be very appropriate. In between, it's a judgement call, based on any number of factors.

If you would like more information about the process of producing a machinima production as a promotional vehicle, or even simply want to talk it through, please contact me inworld, I'd be pleased to provide information and feedback, without any pressure. I am not so much interested in making money as in promoting Second Life artists. That said, I'm not all that interested in working for free.

Introducing Magellan's Productions

Within these pages, I propose to promote my own work as well as that of my subjects and clients, and relevant news concerning my network of contacts and friends.

My productive work is subdivided into roughly three areas:

1) Machinima productions on a range of topics
2) Mixed reality installations, involving both RL and SL components
3) Other initiatives, hard to classify

1) Machinima productions : My machinima productions may be grouped into two sections - (a) promotional videos for artists, and (b) videos that portray the special qualities of virtual worlds such as Second Life. These two sections are actually mutually supportive and form a conceptual whole. The Virtual Worlds videos, in some cases, are very popular - my Geography Overview clip has garnered more than 2000 views in the four months since it was posted on youTube, and they create what is called a "halo effect" for my more artistic productions. Since these clips were posted, viewership of my artistic videos has increased dramatically in a sustained way. I carried out a comparative study with view statistics for other promotional machinima clips for artists, and found that my clips garner about twice as many views as the machinima clips that are created by most artists themselves.

(a) Promotional videos : I produce a series of promotional clips for virtual artists, essentially, artists whose work interests me or that I find particularly original. I am, in general, more interested in art forms that are unique to virtual worlds than in art that is transfered to Second Life from so-called Real Life. However, I am open to developing promotional machinima clips for artists who approach me, at cost. That is, I will charge a modest hourly rate for my time so that I can recover at least some of the cost involved (which would normally include a contribution to overhead costs of the computer equipment and software required for these productions). I am also willing to spread the costs over time. I offer a tracking service to maintain information about viewing statistics to clients. At least one of the clips I have made so far has quadrupled sales for the artist concerned. The potential for improved revenues is therefore significant. All artists whose work I have promoted over the past six months have seen view rates in excess of 500 viewers.

(b) Virtual worlds videos : I also produce clips that explore diverse aspects of the unique experiences to be found in virtual worlds, especially Second Life. So far, I have explored Second Life Geography, Real Life to Second Life Crossings, Explanatory videos for Second Life, and Second Life installations. Several more machinima clips are currently under preparation.

2) Mixed reality installations involve the combination of Real World elements and Second Life elements to form combined installations. The first installation with this characteristic was the Leaves of Light / Enclume installation that was inaugurated in September 2007 (see article elsewhere). Two more mixed installations are currently under development, one a sound sculpture and the other a combination of folk music, fashion and folk dancing.

3) Other initiatives include the Embodied Research Group, a group of scientists studying embodiment in virtual worlds whose activities I coordinate, and the production of an online concert of classical lyrical music, currently under development.