Roll the Tape — er, Game

A Birmingham startup is set to premiere a new genre in entertainment — a TV miniseries where video game players dictate the storylines.

In many video games, a player armed with an automatic weapon searches inside an old industrial plant for enemy personnel and shoots them. The number of hits determines a winner within the game, or multiple players can play over the Internet in a large-scale competition.

The formula has worked well for more than 30 years — the advent of personal computers in the 1970s made video games possible. Now a group of video-game executives in Birmingham are looking to turn the $21.3-billion industry inside-out by creating a new genre in entertainment called RPTV, or Role Play TV. In essence, RPTV is a reality-based TV miniseries in which gamers use post-episode video-game play to determine the next storyline of the live show.

“This is a game industry first,” says Doug Kinnison, producer and CEO of P15 Studios in Birmingham. “During an established window of time, we’ll take the most popular game-play results to drive the outcome of each live action video episode.”

The game will be updated every two weeks with a new map, weapons, and features. At the same time, the corresponding video episode will be downloadable to create a 10-show season and will be available on major consoles, including Xbox, PlayStation, and Nintendo.

In addition to allowing video-game players to determine the outcome of the shows in a given series — the first P15 series, a sci-fi thriller called Tears of God, is scheduled for release in 2011 — RPTV will be available at no charge. While traditional video games sell for $50 to $70 per unit, P15 Studios will allow gamers to simply download the show or game to their computer or console.

So how does Kinnison expect to generate revenue? By selling product-placement ads within the live episodes and the video games to major corporations like Ford, Nike, or Pepsi. Actors in a live show may be wearing Nike apparel or drinking a can of Pepsi, for example. Meanwhile, in the corresponding video game, a player may be driving a Ford Mustang or a Lincoln Navigator.

“The advertisers will be able to determine exactly how long a viewer or game player is watching a particular ad,” Kinnison says. “Our goal is to create this industry in Michigan and keep as much of the business [as possible] here.” RPTV will use up to 150 people to create the live shows, and more than 40 workers will create the corresponding video games.

“What we’re doing,” Kinnison says, “is bringing TV and gaming together for the first time.”

To help market RPTV, P15 Studios, through its subsidiaries, will release a series of iPhone games this holiday season. “It’s about building industry in Michigan,” Kinnison says. “I think it’s important that game studios know [that] the tax incentive applies to games, and not just films. If Michigan is going to grow, it’s going to be through innovation, new ideas, and [new] industries.”