PLAY Pilots

Three PLAY Pilots live games


PLAY is the work­ing title of an ini­ti­at­ive to cre­ate a place for play­ful cul­ture in the city of Utrecht. It is the brainchild of Jeroen van Mastrigt and was con­ceived at sev­eral city labs with muni­cipal and pro­vin­cial sup­port. Leading up to the real­iz­a­tion of this place for play­ful cul­ture, PLAY’s stake­hold­ers felt the need to ini­ti­ate pro­jects at a smal­ler scale and with a more prag­matic bent. In this man­ner, the ideas around PLAY would be embed­ded in the city’s cul­tural eco­sys­tem and aware­ness would be raised amongst the public.


We were asked to lead the pro­duc­tion of a series of games for a num­ber of the city’s cul­tural fest­ivals. Each of these so-called live games would be cre­ated by a local games stu­dio. In this man­ner, the hope was to demon­strate the value of play for more tra­di­tional cul­tural domains. Through play a festival’s cul­tural offer­ing would be made access­ible in an altern­at­ive man­ner, with the ulti­mate aim of attract­ing a lar­ger and more var­ied audience.

In addi­tion, we were expec­ted to pro­duce a web­site that would present these games to a wider audi­ence. This web­site would not only list the games, but also cre­ate a record of people’s activ­it­ies at the live games. We were also asked to think of a way to con­nect all these play­ful activ­it­ies online and to cre­ate a place where the cre­at­ive pro­cess behind the live games would be visible.


The first activ­it­ies around this pro­ject con­sisted of a round of inter­views with around 10 Utrecht fest­ivals. We used these inter­views to get a sense of each festival’s aims, its audi­ence and any spe­cific chal­lenges it might be facing. We also spent some time dur­ing each meet­ing to brain­storm pos­sible applic­a­tions of play for the festival.

We then went back and sketched con­cepts for each fest­ival. We presen­ted all of these ideas at a city lab meet­ing atten­ded by all fest­ivals as well as a num­ber of Utrecht games stu­dios. During this meet­ing we were happy to get an enthu­si­astic response from both fest­ivals and stu­dios, giv­ing us the man­date to move ahead.

Concept sketches

Subsequently we selec­ted three fest­ivals for which a live game would be cre­ated and selec­ted stu­dios that would be a good match for them. We wrote briefs for each live game and coordin­ated the pro­duc­tion of them.

In par­al­lel we planned, designed and pro­duced the web­site. We named the pro­ject PLAY Pilots and cre­ated a brand iden­tity. A first ver­sion launched shortly before the first live game. Subsequent updates included gen­eral improve­ments as well as the fea­tures required to con­nect the live games to the website.

The PLAY Pilots logo

Of course, we also atten­ded the fest­ivals them­selves, assisted with the live games where required and observed their impact on the event audiences.


This pro­jec­ted res­ul­ted in three live games by three stu­dios for three fest­ivals. They are, in order of launch date:

Wip ‘n’ Kip by FourceLabs for Stekker Fest

Claiming Wip ‘n’ Kip race data

Wip ’n’ Kip by FourceLabs for Stekker Fest. Players raced each other on adult-size spring riders that con­trolled a digital coun­ter­part on racetrack on a huge screen. Each race was recor­ded with a high speed video cam­era. The record­ings and the race times could be claimed online.

De Stereoscoop by Zesbaans for the Netherlands Film Festival

Claiming Stereoscoop achievements

De Stereoscoop by Zesbaans for the Netherlands Film Festival. Two turntables allowed play­ers to scratch and mix samples taken from 30 Dutch films from the past 30 years. The install­a­tion con­tained around 200 such samples. Players were awar­ded for inter­est­ing com­bin­a­tions with achieve­ments which could be claimed online.

Bandjesland by Monobanda for Le Guess Who?

Bandjesland record­ings online

Bandjesland by Monobanda for Le Guess Who? A col­lab­or­at­ive dance music mak­ing machine that used old-fashioned cas­sette tapes stuffed with new-fangled RFIDs. By pla­cing tapes on a table loops would start play­ing. Players could record their own samples at the event and link them to these tapes for imme­di­ate use. All music and samples were recor­ded and made avail­able online.

The stu­dios as well as the web­site team wrote so-called week­notes on a pro­cess blog. All the posts are still avail­able and provide a wealth of inform­a­tion with regards to the con­cep­tual and prac­tical chal­lenges con­nec­ted to mash­ing up games and tra­di­tional culture.

The PLAY Pilots online game

The web­site itself con­sisted of pages describ­ing each live game, the related stu­dio and fest­ival and a record of the play­ers’ activ­it­ies. The web­site — which is still online — also con­tained a social game that piggy­backed on Twitter and allowed play­ers to battle each other using ‘moves’ from sub­cul­tures in a kind of com­pet­it­ive slot machine.

All live games got tre­mend­ous responses from play­ers. Festivals got valu­able exper­i­ence with com­mis­sion­ing games, and an increased under­stand­ing of the work that goes into games like this. Studios were able to present their work to a large, non-games audi­ence. And per­haps most import­antly, all parties involved are keen to con­tinue to innov­ate in cul­ture using play and games.