Recently, Nickelodeon asked iStrategyLabs to create a real-world skill crane for SpongeBob fans to control over the internet. The resulting project showcases the broad range of skills and problem-solving saavy we regularly employ at iSL to produce never-before-seen experiences.
Borrowing inspiration for our skill crane design from a popular episode of the show, we prototyped a 3D model of the machine in Sketchup and contracted a set-design shop to construct our physical shell—complete with laser-cut lettering and working lightbulbs. To bring the cartoon aesthetic to reality, we wrapped the shell in vinyl printed from a design we hand-drew using the amazing pressure-sensitive powers of our Wacom Cintiq.
Opting against “hacking” an existing skill crane’s hardware, our engineers chose to build the components that make our machine move, drop down, and pick up prizes—from scratch. With a collection of motors, belts, rods, joysticks, buttons, sensors and a steady stream of 3D-printed components (courtesy our office MakerBot) our team engineered custom hardware to interface with micro-controllers communicating with servers via the web.
The core challenge of this project was to convince our audience of the real-world impact of their digital actions. We bridged that gap via a live video feed from a camera looking into the prize-filled case of our physical crane. The video was then embedded in a web-based version of the skill crane, emulating the experience of literally standing in front of the machine.
It seemed we had done our job too well. During user-testing, many participants thought the contents of the livestream were computer-generated. Even though the actual crane was in the next room...which they could see. To hammer home the realness of this experience, we produced a brief into video, full of glamour shots of the actual crane, that would play whenever a new viewer visited the skill crane website, and succinctly explain a somewhat elaborate concept.
Designing this experience was challenging enough. Now consider what it took to make it function smoothly. Firstly, we developed the mechanisms by which a player could select a target based on what they saw in the video feed, make the machine attempt to grab the target, and alert the player as to whether or not they had won or lost.
Engineering the core functionality of the experience was one thing, preparing it for simultaneous interactions with thousands of players was an entirely new beast. Our team developed a sophisticated server structure with built-in scaling solutions that allowed our system to stand up to otherwise intimidating numbers of users.
Analyzing the evidence of our success is key and we collected some compelling pieces of stats. Drop off rates were low when requiring multiple information inputs before entering the experience and over time usage rates—the experience lasted for twelve days—grew over time.
Our final numbers tallied after the experience’s completion proved impressive as well, with over 1000 prizes physically grabbed by players and nearly 50,000 total views of our microsite.
Total Unique Players
Total Page Views
This project employed the broadest range of skillsets from it’s team members of any iStrategyLabs project to date. As such, we feel compelled to call out the talents of those who contributed.
When we dedicate ourselves to a project this elaborate, it’s always fun to pull together an internal recap of the experience. In keeping with that tradition, we’ve produced this video for your viewing pleasure. Enjoy!