The Guild is a popular webisode about MMORPG players and a great example of how internet content can attract niche yet critical mass audiences.

“The Guild” by Felicia Day is a prime example of how user-generated internet content or webisodes can capture the attention of new niche markets and gain critical mass, and how social media is vital for brands and entertainment towards attracting youth culture today. As the keynote speaker at SXSW’s Interactive segment last month in Austin, TX, Day put it this way, “Your social media campaign is not a booty call, it’s a long-term relationship.”

“The Guild” which is based on a group of MMORPG players and their interactions online in 7-10-minute webisodes is incredibly funny and authentic, attracting thousands of viewers with every new webisode and making the actors in the series cewebrities. Day, who conceived the concept and wrote it in-between acting gigs, not only produced the show on a miniscule budget, she also engaged enough fans to finance the shows from PayPal donations.

Felica Day, keynote at SXSW Interactive program and creator of The Guild.

Now The Guild has partners such as Xbox and Sprint, but its humble roots and core followers prove that a viral video web series is do-able and continues to happen in many different subcultures. According to Day, “There’s a certain psychology and humanity to the internet that people underestimate. If you’re going to make any content on the Internet, you’ve got to be able to have a niche. It’s aiming sniper rifle vs. a shotgun. It’s about finding the subculture.”

The Guild has succeeded where Hollywood never would by specifically targeting a niche and growing the pie from the bottom-up -with core fans which have now created a ripple effect attracting others who aren’t even gamers based on the nature of the webisodes.

Vimeo and Rovi
In related news of the growing success of user-generated web content, is Vimeo announced new HTML5 technology that will make it easier to watch their vids on TV, tablets, and mobile devices, and Rovi, a $7 billion company that provides metadata info to services to iTunes and Pandora, announced that they are opening up their database to user-generated content.

Such announcements are making mainstream TV entertainment companies nervous, which they should be. Their business model works on typical ads, dependent on Nielsen ratings, which often guide what shows make it or not, but often watering entertainment down to the greatest mass market appeal instead of smart entertainment that attracts core niche subcultures.

The problem with internet shows however is that most don’t “make it” via ad dollars, or at least not yet, which is probably how it should be. But with metadata opening up and Vimeo’s plans for more platforms, there may be more capabilities for fans to find what they are looking based on specific profiles.

According to a recent article about Rovi on Fast Company, Metadata is written largely by professional reviewers and editors hired by companies like Rovi, which have traditionally not used user-generated content. “Editors are extremely important to creating metadata,” says Rovi’s Chief Evangelist Richard Bullwinkle, “but the problem now is that content is being created at such an incredible rate that no human team can handle it.” Rovi’s database of metadata updates so often that Apple syncs their iTunes database with Rovi once per week to accommodate for new material. Comcast, another Rovi customer, syncs its TV metadata about every three hours.

Shows like Day’s The Guild, which is about video gamers, present a huge problem for a metadata company like Rovi. Although The Guild is not a studio production, it has acquired a critical mass of viewers who expect to find all the usual info on their favorite show when they search for, say, the show’s soundtrack on iTunes. But there’s no way for a company like Rovi to predict which amateur shows will be hits, leaving them in a perpetual game of catch-up.

Now, crowd-sourced metadata can help push fans to niche shows like The Guild and others as like-minded people may have more accurate ways of finding each other (and their content.)

Video Gaming and Education
On March 30, the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) along with education experts converged at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. for a discussion on how to incorporate computer and video games into classrooms across the U.S. called “Technologies in Education Forum.” The forum was based on how best to use gaming tools to bolster student learning and prepare the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs to compete in the global economy.

The forum’s three panels highlighted the many ways computer and video games can enhance education and transform the way students learn. Many participants noted games’ ability to motivate learning and keep students engaged, a particularly important characteristic given the current dropout rate of 25%. “Games create a need to know in the player,” said Constance Yowell, director of education for the MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning Program. Several panelists also described how games help illustrate abstract concepts, and demonstrate situations and cause-and-effect relationships that are impossible to describe in a classroom setting.

Katie Salen, executive director of the Institute of Play, noted that games continually signal to students when they have completed a task correctly or done something wrong. Panelists suggested this constant feedback loop could revolutionize assessment methods and help teachers individualize their instruction to specific student needs. Forum participants also pointed to the ability of computer and video games to support self-directed learning, enable collaborative problem solving, model scientific processes by challenging players with if-then problems, and advance systems thinking as additional educational benefits. Others argued that games can help students overcome fears of failure in the classroom. “The power of gaming is the kid who will lose the game, lose the game, and they keep coming back,” said Mary Cullinane, director of innovation and business development for Microsoft Education.

Several representatives of the Obama administration took part in the event, outlining new federal policy proposals intended to encourage the use of new technologies in education. Karen Cator, director of the office of education technology for the U.S. Department of Education, noted President Obama’s recent proposal to launch Advanced Research Projects Agency-Education, a $90 million grant competition that seeks to combine the capabilities of the public and private sectors to stimulate research and development of innovative educational technologies. The program will be modeled after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which develops technologies aimed at enhancing U.S. military capabilities. DARPA’s Russell Shilling noted during one panel that the military is already using games to train servicemembers, particularly in handling stressful situations and emergency medical care.

Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra closed the event with a keynote address that focused on the critical role of technology in increasing U.S. productivity and innovation across the economy, particularly within the education sector, and how an expanded adoption of learning technologies would enable the U.S. to “out-educate, out-innovate, and out-build” global competitors. Chopra also announced the winners of the National STEM Video Game Challenge, a competition to motivate interest in science, technology, engineering and math subjects by tapping into the natural passion of youth for playing and making video games. Twelve students in grades 5-8 were selected as winners in the Youth Prize category for their original game designs. Filament Games’ science-based You Make Me Sick!  won the Grand Prize in the Developer Prize category.

Label Networks will be covering E3 again this summer with more details on gaming. Also, the newly released Spring Youth Culture Study 2011 includes an entire section on changes in entertainment preferences, video gaming, TV, and Internet. For more information, email; (323) 630-4000.