InstaQuest is a new actual-play stream on Twitch. If these words seem like a foreign language to you, that’s fine, it just means you’re not as much of a nerd as the rest of us dice jockeys.
Translated for the rest of the world, InstaQuest makes use of the streaming service, Twitch, to distribute their videos in real time. This allows the team to interact with the audience in the moment. Taking advantage of the cultural resurgence of the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons, InstaQuest tells stories at the table that involve a rotating cast of characters, gleaned from the imaginations of uber-popular Instagram cosplayers.
That’s a lot of nerd in one paragraph, but it gets better. In order to create a totally immersive and unique actual-play experience for both the audience and the participants, producers Joseph Bohan (who also performs on-stream as the Dungeon Master as JoBo), Parker Howell, and Jay Stone, have created a visually immersive experience using virtual production images that allow both the audience and the actors to see the computer-graphic sets around them.
When every piece of actual play media is branded content for the game featured, this fantastically ingenious method of producing live video also shows off the skills of the producers behind the camera, and the actors in front of it. We sit down with producers Parker and Jay, as well as actors Lexii and Briana.
How did you initially develop InstaQuest?
Jay Stone, Producer: InstaQuest’s origins revolve around Joseph Bohan’s birthdays. We had started playing D&D with Parker and other friends every year for Joseph’s birthday, and the idea for InstaQuest began on our trip to Las Vegas to celebrate his 30th. On the drive out, JoBo told me about how successful D&D actual play shows were on Twitch. I looked through a few and gravitated towards the concept, but found it inaccessible as a viewer - even for someone familiar with D&D.
We realized that to improve the viewer experience we would need to add more visually immersive content. The original idea was to have the players play in costume in front of a green screen, then do a lot of edits in post. When we told Parker about our idea, he brought in his XR expertise to help create something better than we initially imagined with virtual production.
We use the term “XR” instead of “Virtual Reality” to discuss the innovations InstaQuest uses in production. Although most people understand what virtual reality is, We believe that “XR” is technically more accurate. X is a variable that could stand for any sort of enhanced reality: whether it be augmented, mixed, or virtual reality. When so many different components are utilized from each of these digital innovations, we just use the term XR to cover them all.
Parker Howell, Producer: When Jay and JoBo brought me their idea for the show, I couldn’t quite get excited about the green screen approach. Instead, I steered the project towards a more immersive and immediate virtual production, where all the imagery would be created live around the players and give them something to interact with. Having made a handful of virtual reality experiences people can enjoy by themselves, I wanted to create a world players could experience together. At its core, that’s what Dungeons and Dragons is all about; people coming together to co-create a story and figure out solutions as a team. The lessons of the game are just as relevant now as they were in the 70s.
What technological aspects of the production are you most excited about?
Parker: Once we decided the XR would be live for the players, we had to figure out if we could make it live for the audience as well. After the InstaQuest game engine was built, streaming it live was actually a very simple process. It allowed us to bring the audience into the story in exciting new ways.
Now that we have proven the viability of the technology, we can push it further, and incorporate more visually spectacular scenes in this fantasy world.
At certain moments, the Dungeon Master called on Twitch to decide what happened next in the journey. The viewers could actively participate by voting on the enemy encounters the players would face, as well as if the characters would be punished or rewarded for their actions.The audience got to see a real-time tally of their decisions, which created both a community within the game and a bond between the players and chat.
What was the experience like on set? How was it different from other productions?
Darth Lexii, Cast Member: The set is huge! Being able to see what’s happening around the character as the Dungeon Master explains it is absolutely incredible. I’m usually on productions where I get a script and know every detail of what is going to happen. InstaQuest, on the other hand, is a world of improvisation and surprise. It’s every actor’s dream to just go on set, play around in-character, and have fun. Essentially, I’m living the dream.
Do you think that brands are ready to embrace Twitch?
Briana DeCoster (UtahimeCosplay), Cast Member: Twitch has become one of the largest-growing platforms, especially this year, when people are choosing to stay indoors and are actively looking for new sources of entertainment and ways to stay connected. Brands are beginning to understand that partnering with Twitch creators gives them an opportunity for them to reach people of various demographics all over the world.
It’s estimated that by 2021, esports viewership will be in excess of 500 million viewers worldwide. Actual plays are a a massive market that smart advertisers won’t want to miss.
Lexii: Twitch is one of the largest viewing platforms for gamers and creators alike. It’s a huge opportunity for brands content to appear, especially if brands can integrate the product seamlessly. It’s a huge market.
Why do you think there’s so much crossover appeal between advertising, Twitch, and D&D?
Parker: Interest in tabletop roleplaying and D&D shows has spiked since Twitch came on the scene. The platform provides visuals and distribution built in. Tech giants battling for new content and viewership for their streams obviously see the appeal of Twitch. Additionally, the esports arena on Twitch already attracts massive sponsorship interest from brands, including Redbull, Nike, Louis Vuitton, Alienware, HTC, BMW, Honda, Nissan, Kia, Totino’s and GameStop, among many others. It’s estimated that by 2021, esports viewership will be in excess of 500 million viewers worldwide. Actual plays are a a massive market that smart advertisers won’t want to miss.
Jay: To add to this, media consumption has become progressively fractionalized and niche. Content from an increasing number of sources and topics is published online through an ever-growing number of social media platforms. Twitch has created a platform for communities of all types to access their niche interest. Consumers are able to quickly dial into hyper-specific subjects and products they love, without relying on mainstream media companies to cover their interests.
With the power to create anything in the virtual world, immersive shows like InstaQuest offer unique sponsorship opportunities available for advertisers to co-create an in-game advertisement or product placement that ties into the story with integrity. Twitch also offer tech brands opportunities to sponsor use of their cutting-edge technology on-screen.
Having made a handful of virtual reality experiences people can enjoy by themselves, I wanted to create a world players could experience together
Briana: The popularity of D&D has grown significantly in the past few years, in part because the game has gone virtual on platforms like Twitch, giving thousands of people the chance to tune into live campaigns 24 hours a day. Brands are starting to understand that D&D has diverse viewers who are also interested in software, music applications, gaming manuals, figures, technology, clothing, and more!
InstaQuest, for example, cast both veteran D&D enthusiasts and newer fans, meaning that the show will appeal to long-time fans as well as those just curious about what D&D is all about. Brands who partner with these creators have a chance to gain loyal new customers they may not have gained through traditional business marketing strategies. InstaQuest also gives D&D an opportunity to bring in a whole new demographic of fans to the game because the visual elements of the XR make it much more accessible for them.
What has the response been from fans and followers?
Lexii: I know that my followers loved watching the stream, and I’ve been asked several questions about the characters, game setup, and technical effects. They also loved how comical the team was and how well we worked together through friendship!
Jay: We had some initial skepticism from D&D purists who thought our game wasn’t going to be true to the heart of the cards D&D, but with Joseph’s masterful DMing, we were able to keep the integral parts of the game intact.
InstaQuest also gives D&D an opportunity to bring in a whole new demographic of fans to the game because the visual elements of the XR make it much more accessible for them.
Briana: There has been a massive, positive response to InstaQuest! It’s a literal game changer for the future of live D&D campaigns. I think many D&D fans were curious as to whether InstaQuest would be able to replicate the storytelling and roleplaying intrinsic to at-the-table campaigns. InstaQuest exceeded expectations with an intriguing new world and storyline created by the talented DM, Joseph, and the amazing cast of adventurers.
The visuals and costumes made by Parker and the production crew allowed viewers to be transported to this world and interact with the story, so they felt like they were a part of the journey every step of the way. I truly believe InstaQuest will only continue to grow in popularity because it is so unique and appealing to D&D and RPG fans across the board.
What are you looking forward to during the rest of the season?
Lexii: I am so excited to meet the rest of the guild! The InstaQuest world has an adventurers guild, so we get to see different players playing more awesome characters. I would love to have a paladin or a cleric join the team to explore the divine aspects of the story JoBo has created.
Briana: I look forward to seeing some new characters being added to the Guild and see how this awesome story progresses. There are so many cool places that have yet to be explored by the adventurers, so I can’t wait to see the phenomenal visuals of the cities and the enemies they will encounter along the way.
Jay: Now that we have proven the viability of the technology, we can push it further, and incorporate more visually spectacular scenes in this fantasy world. Not to spoil anything, but imagine how cool a steampunk airship would be in InstaQuest.
I couldn’t get excited about the green screen approach. Instead, I steered the project towards a more immersive and immediate virtual production, where all the imagery would be created live around the players and give them something to interact with.
Parker: There are two areas I’m really excited about moving forward. Technologically speaking, we’re gearing up to do some really fun innovative work with facial tracking and live motion capture via augmented reality. It’s going to push the interactivity to the next level.
Also, from a storytelling and gameplay standpoint, we’re going to start experimenting with new genres within the D&D universe. Episode 1 was very much a classic dungeon crawl, whereas Episode 2 will explore human psychology, political intrigue, and mystery.