You know something big is happening at WGBH when you find a space station in its world-class recording studio.
The futuristic space station, built from scratch, will host an immersive interactive livestreaming escape game on Sept. 9. The adventure will be broadcast live via Twitch—a video platform where millions of viewers interact daily and learn from each other.
The wildly popular escape rooms—hailed by corporate teams and millennials alike—challenge teams to figure out how to escape a room, equipping them with only puzzles and clues.
The escape game is a pilot created by WGBH’s Emerging Platforms Initiative, which is discovering new public media audiences by producing bold experiments in the rapidly evolving digital media space.
Millions of 18- to 25-year-old cord-cutters are flocking to social video platforms such as Twitch, YouTube and Instagram to seek out entertainment and information.
“WGBH has a 65-plus year history in innovation on broadcast formats, and we are future-proofing ourselves by learning to produce in new ways,” says Tory Starr, director of the initiative.
“Our goal with Escape Lab is twofold,” she says. “Externally, we are increasing awareness and viewing of WGBH programming among younger audiences. Our second goal is internal—to improve the capability at WGBH to produce for new video formats.”
Earlier this summer, WGBH launched ReLive It, an Instagram series for young adults that brings to life historic moments from the year 1969. It features people who experienced some of the pivotal moments of that summer and fall, including the moon landing, Woodstock, and the first Vietnam draft lottery.
In its signature way, WGBH is making the already highly engaging escape game experience “secretly educational,” says Joanie Tobin, senior producer. WGBH’s own education group has worked closely with the team to embed science into the game and identify places where bots can expand on topics in the chatroom. WGBH also has consulted with NASA to ensure a seamless blend of education and fun.
About 30 more WGBH staff have contributed—the Production Group providing direction, lighting, cameras and sound mixing and others assisting with marketing, design, project management and more.
The game begins at 7 pm Eastern Time at twitch.tv/escapelab. Two teams of three will take on the escape challenge. Participants include The Skorys, four siblings with a 1.4 million following for their YouTube channel. STEM educator Justin Shaifer (aka Mr. Fascinate) will host, narrating the event and facilitating communication between viewers and players. A gamemaster will guide players through the experience, offering tips when needed. All the while, viewers can interact with the players via chat—offering ideas and responding to poll questions from the host.
To pull off this adventure, WGBH has been streaming on Twitch for over a month, offering a sneak preview and inviting viewers to contribute ideas. It also partnered with Trapology, a Boston escape game and immersive experience company, to design and build the experience in seven weeks.
The project has some interesting complexities, said Nicole Loeb, Trapology’s co-founder and lead game designer. WGBH and Trapology had to “double up” on all the technology, providing cameras for the gamemaster to see the game inside the space station. WGBH also needs cameras to be able to stream to Twitch. Trapology needs ambient lights, and WGBH needs lights that work well for streaming. Both need separate sound to hear what the game-players are saying, stream it to Twitch and provide audio to the host.
Jason Loeb, CEO of Trapology, says he leapt at the opportunity to work with WGBH.
“I loved the idea of doing something STEM-based. It was such a wild idea to stream online and also push a bit of education as well.”