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Innovating and Designing an Engaging and Differentiating Inclusive Digital Experience

 

Scott Daniels
Global Head of Studios, TCS Interactive
15 August 2019

In conversation with Scott Daniels, Head of Studios, TCS Interactive

Equality, inclusivity, and diversity aren’t just buzzwords anymore; they’re business imperatives. Every day we are confronted with stories that confirm the need to unite around inclusion. The feelings that these stories generate are not left at home when we all come to work. That’s why it is essential that we share our commitment to diversity and inclusion and continually reinforce diversity as a business imperative.

What was the initial request from the New York Road Runners?

Inclusivity is absolutely at the center of “Marathon City: Sprint to Win,” a 3D running game showcased during the TCS New York City Marathon. New York Road Runners (NYRR), the nonprofit organization that organizes and runs the TCS New York City Marathon, approached TCS Interactive with a unique challenge: create a gamified, fitness-based experience with a tie-in to the Marathon. NYRR wanted something to use during the week leading up to the New York Marathon as a way to engage fans, but that could also be used as a draw for other events throughout the year. 

Can you talk about the journey, challenges and/or “Eureka” moments?

We had just two months to ideate, design, build, and complete the project, so we got to work with a small team of people with experience in hardware, software, 3D avatars, design thinking, UX/UI design, and project management. Together, we came up with Marathon City: Sprint to Win, a 3D racing game that gives fans a glimpse of what it’s like to compete in the New York City Marathon, the world’s largest and one of the most prestigious racing events in the world.

Players run on specially designed floor mats that read every footfall and move the player’s 3D avatar down the course. Significantly, we wanted the game to be accessible by wheelchair users, who figure prominently in the actual New York Marathon. We used a wheelchair trainer (similar to a treadmill but built for wheelchairs) and equipped it with sensors to translate wheeling into on-screen motion. In another nod to inclusivity, the team created a library of diverse avatars (runners and wheelers) that each player picked before competing.

The game was built for two participants at a time; their 3D avatars move towards the finish line. The faster the players run or roll, the quicker their characters move. One of the coolest features was that wheelers could compete with runners fairly. Wheelers tend to be quite a bit faster than runners, so we calibrated the game to account for this. 

We added a leaderboard to showcase the names of the top 10 finishers and their times. When the game was rolled out across three Manhattan locations during the week before the Marathon, players lined up to play from the moment we started until the end of each day. The leaderboard encouraged players to keep checking back to see if they still held the best time; when they noticed someone else had beaten their time, many would play again to keep their name displayed in the top 10. The top finish time at the end of each day won a gift card, which also helped to motivate re-plays.

When the game was installed and live at the TCS New York Marathon, can you describe the reaction of NYRR and the fans?

Marathon City was a huge success at the 2018 New York City Marathon – the game garnered significant media coverage and the overwhelming sentiment of participants was delight, evident in the photographs and video of actual gameplay. The New York Road Runners continues to use the game in connection with other events to engage fans and promote fitness in general as well as the sports of running and wheeling.

Marathon City: Sprint to Win was installed at multiple locations in New York City during the Marathon’s Race Week. We estimate that more than 2,000 Marathon City races were run that week, which means more than 4,000 people played the game. In the Marathon Expo, approximately 110,000 attendees would have seen the game being played and thousands more would have seen the game at the Marathon’s facility at the finish line and at the Run Center at NYRR’s headquarters. 

Why was this project unique?

The process of creating a gaming experience that had never been conceived of or built was at times chaotic – full of false starts and outright failures before we developed a solid prototype.

For example, a technology “must” was to capture footfalls and translate them into on-screen movement. We considered technologies like smartwatches and 3D cameras (such as Microsoft Kinect) before setting on the dance mats (we designed a branded overlay for them). We also adopted a low-poly visual look, which reminds many users of older video games, because it had a fun and retro appeal. This approach had technological benefits in the form of lower computing overhead in terms of real-time rendering and playback, and it produced smoother, higher frame rates during gameplay.

Do you have any last thoughts? 

Despite the challenges, the project was a blast! I’m very proud of the team that created Marathon City: Sprint to Win, and extremely gratified to have a client open to new ideas. And, of course, everyone at TCS Interactive is proud that this effort has been recognized with the prestigious Red Dot “Best of the Best” Brands and Communication 2019 award.

About the author(s)
Scott Daniels
Global Head of Studios, TCS Interactive

Part of TCS’ Business Transformation Services group, the TCS Interactive Design Studios leverage design thinking to help customer organizations fundamentally rethink business models and user experiences. Our design studios act as the “tip of the spear” for TCS Interactive’s design-led engagements, creating ideas and strategies that can really transform a customer’s business.

As the Global Head of Studios, I lead our multidisciplinary and talented teams of designers, UX experts, creative producers, engineers, researchers, and design thinkers. We use the principles of Human-Centered Design and leverage current and emerging technologies to help customers solve business problems and create unforgettable new experiences for end-users.

We work on innovation and design initiatives for a multitude of customers across industries. Our portfolio of projects is diverse. We have created AR/VR-based immersive entertainment experiences. We have designed and built voice UIs, chatbots and mobile apps. We have undertaken large channel transformation and service design engagements.

Before coming to TCS in 2013, I held senior-level design and leadership positions at IBM and Microsoft, where I built new design studios and managed large creative teams. Before working for technology companies, my experience as a documentary filmmaker helped fine-tune my storytelling skills; today, that experience helps me tell digital stories and empower users. I subscribe to the belief that great experiences live at the intersection of humanity and technology.

Outside of work, I enjoy spending time with my family, travel photography, going to meet-ups, and working with middle school students as part of TCS’ go-IT STEM mentorship program.

 

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