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Open invitation to Arte : Fort McMoney: between RPG and documentary

Fort McMurray, a Canadian city of Alberta, is not a haven of peace. The city is one of one of the largest oil reserves in the world and is animated by an intense industrial and economic activity. Arte has chosen this framework to deal through Fort McMoney, a production that is a unique format between web-documentary and massively multi-player RPG. Alexander Knetig, head of Arte France interactive programs, answers our questions about it.   

Fort McMoney is described on its website as a "documentary-game". Was this format the initial ambition about Fort McMurray?

Clearly, the form and the content are related. This interactive program could not exist without these two components, namely the documentary and play. We are faced with a video game pure and respectful of the latest web-documentary developments. This project is also written and co-directed by David Dufresne who had already made the web-documentary Prison Valley with us in 2010. Fort McMoney is really an interactive documentary, more than a game. However, the ludic aspect is fundamental because our goal is to involve people, to show them that this subject is also important for them.

This project was born from a discussion with David Dufresne and his producer Toxa, a large Canadian company that financed his journalistic work in Fort McMurray in Alberta. They originally wanted to make a web-documentary but they quickly realized that the subject seemed very focused on Canada and therefore not very relevant for French or Spanish.

We had to think of another mode of operation, more engaging. The choice of online game massively multiplayer seemed best. The player is a character who comes to town, explores and interacts with other people. These interactions allow the player character to gain influence. Referendums are then organized globally (Our media partners around the world relay these referendums) and decide the destiny of the virtual Fort McMoney. Unlike web-documentary, the game has a goal, an aim: to overcome your worldview, to overcome the business, ecology or social, that is to say, the three points of tension in the game.

Fort McMoney will be a massively multi-player game. This requires a large number of players. What will be the ambition of the project?

Clearly, Fort McMoney is not addressed to a community of gamers, but to a community interested in new narratives, international relations and especially energy issues. We hope to mobilize thousands of people. Our web-productions can involve 10 000 to 800 000 people. We are aware of the pyramid of engagement on the web which means that 80% of visitors only have a look, 15-20% of visitors comment occasionally and a heart of 1% to 5% of players participates intensely.

It is for this reason that our media partnerships are very important. This is the same when we highlights it on air for Arte. Our specialized journalists in environment, economy and international relations play role of super-players. During the four weeks of the project, we also try to share the experience with a few curious onlookers, but we are lucid about the fact that the hearing of our TV channel is not the heart target for a massively multi-player documentary- game on the net.

Is it also a way to give visibility to the programs and services of the TV channel within the game?

Clearly. We seek to highlight Arte contents for players, wherever they come from. The contents of our media partners will also be highlighted in the game.

What was the role of Arte in the development of the project? What other actors were involved?

The idea was presented to us by the author. This is a very common configuration in broadcasting: having low internal production to act as support to the creative industry with external independent producers. This is a characteristic of the French public service. There is about thirty independent producers in Berlin against 450 in Paris. 70% of our grid is devoted to the original broadcast, about twenty projects are produced internally and sixty are produced outside.

The conventional production system usually assigned to the committee the responsibility to assess the applications received once a month. Once the project is selected, there is a development phase. 10% of the overall budget is then devoted to write the project. Then there is a development deliverable, often as a pilot. The production is then launched and lasts between two months and one year. The implementation phase line comes next.

In the case of Fort McMoney, the producer is a web agency. So, Toxa has been able to provide internally a large part of the production. They have a strong workforce, and they are very competent on the editorial part (they publish amongst others Urbania, the Quebec equivalent of Inrocks).

What is the role of traditional media involved (Le Monde in France for example)?

These are broadcast partnerships. We share content against visibility. Our contents are integrated into these media and give them visibility. These partners are not included in the production chain. It would also be difficult in Germany, where the web is less developed, which is due to a very healthy skepticism about the problems of Big Data, but also because they do not have broadband.

In France, the problems are more financial. Le Monde has already produced web documentaries but with clearly lower budgets than those of an audiovisual production.

For what concerns the funding, you also obtained resources from the Canadian Media Fund. Has it been difficult to get funded to produce a video game?

The CMF is probably the institute in the world that provides the easiest very generous funding for innovative projects. Although the current Canadian government is not very favorable to public investment, they invest nearly $ 100 million a year in innovative projects. In France, the CNC funds is approximately € 8 million for 2013.

They were interested in our approach, especially because the project is very Canadian. Arte is in the loop, but the project is supported by an author who lives in Canada and a Canadian company.

This type of financing would have been possible in France?

I do not want to comment on what the CNC must support or not, but I think it would have been quite favorable to this type of approach.

Have you set goals in terms of number of players? We know that the primary objectives of the Arte TV channel are not expressed in market share.

We're still two months prior to the launch so the objectives are not yet formulated. But there will be. We are a public service: we produce with the money from the license fee, so the project must be seen. We are in fact a large company based on the crowd-funding by the license fee.

We will calculate our targets in terms of number of players and visits. We also will formulate an objective in terms of influence, namely presence festivals (documentary or new technologies festivals such as SXSW) and in the press.

Is the funding model Arte crucial to be able to launch such projects?

We are the only European TV channel that works today without advertising. I think it is fundamental to our independence and especially in order to experiment with these new forms of storytelling. We are not a research center, but we are accountable every month. We have an obligation to create good quality contents and make them meet their public. In this sense, we are not a demand but an offer TV channel. Our goal is not to satisfy needs for sport, sex or violence, but to offer new forms of storytelling and some surprising things. On the web, we do not have projects for us but for our audience who finances us.



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