Last year, EA launched The Controller as a web-based reality TV series for Battlefield 3. The competition had pro-gamers with people who weren’t gamers at all from a variety of backgrounds. It was a hit, and EA decided to continue the franchise for Medal of Honor: Warfighter, but this time with a slightly different format. This time, the teams were comprised of gamers and real-world tier-1 operators doing challenges both martial and virtual. We had a chance to catch up with Duncan Fairley, Manager of Web Video at Electronic Arts, and talk about making the second season of The Controller.
[a]list: What did you learn from last year’s edition of the controller?
Duncan Fairley: We learned a ton, we looked carefully at the feedback from each episode and gleaned a ton of interesting insights. First and foremost we drastically changed the style and format of the show. Together with our amazing production team we moved from something that resembled a traditional reality show to a show with much less exposition and personality-driven drama. It’s a strange to think about but on YouTube a sizable chunk of the audience will never watch the show the way we intended them to, they drop in and out of the narrative skipping episodes and or even watching them out of order. The production team did a great job making a show that is easy to get into and up-to-speed quickly, easy to pick-up and watch from any point in the series and above all: entertaining whether you were interested in watching the storyline unfold, watching a dramatic gaming competition or just wanted to see things being shot and blowing to bits.
[a]list: Why did you decide to mix pro-gamers and Tier 1 operators this time around?
Duncan Fairley: Some of season 1’s most interesting moments revolved around watching gamers apply the tactics and strategies they knew from the video game world to real-world scenarios. We really wanted to see if the reverse was true: If given the opportunity top soldiers would be able to use real combat training to succeed in a video game. We also wanted to upgrade from air-soft to live-ammunition and thought there would be no better teachers than warfighters that had used the same weapons in combat situations.
[a]list: How did you come to work with Machinima on the campaign?
Duncan Fairley: Since a majority of the contestants that we identified for the show were within the Machinima network it made sense to partner with them to release the series. We’ve partnered with Machinima on several other web series projects based on our games and since they have a long history of releasing videos targeted at the FPS audience it seemed like a great fit.
[a]list: What sort of feedback have you gotten from the fans on this latest edition of The Controller?
Duncan Fairley: The feedback for this series has been really great, people seem to enjoy the new show format and style. I was worried that the lack of exposition and set-up would make it difficult for the audience to follow-along with the story, but they seem to be picking up quickly on the premise and arc of the show.
[a]list: What way have you promoted The Controller socially?
Duncan Fairley: Because our gamers contestants also have active YouTube presences, promoting the show became quite a bit easier this year. The support of EA’s brand and game social accounts, along with Machinima’s social outlets and each of the contestants enabled us to get the show in front of quite a few potential viewers.
[a]list: How did you reach out to FPS Russia to work for this campaign?
Duncan Fairley: We have been big fans of FPS for a while and had been waiting for the right opportunity to work with him. We wanted to make sure that the opportunity would be right for his audience and the game so that we could organically integrate him into the concept. From early on we singled FPS out as our ideal host because of the show format and style, it worked out really well.
[a]list: I’m sure you’re not ready to confirm or announce anything, but is there potential to make The Controller and annual show?
Duncan Fairley: We’ve really enjoyed making each season of the Controller and think it’s been a great project for the company and the games associated with each season. We want to make sure we always have the opportunity to expand and improve the show so if we get the chance to do the show bigger and better with a game in the future it’s absolutely something that we’re open to.
[a]list: Duncan, thanks.