Anki, the team who built the little robot that could, Cozmo, is about to conduct a social experiment never attempted on one of the internet’s biggest sites — and they’re a little worried.
Anki is going to give Reddit full control of Cozmo in its version of a Twitch Plays game, which it is calling “Cozmo Lost in Reddit.” Except the Cozmo they control is physical and they’ll have to guide him through a series of escape rooms. Unlike actual escape rooms, in which a group of people must solve a series of puzzles to advance, figuring out the larger, overarching riddle before the clock runs out, there won’t be any time restrictions on Reddit users. Each room is designed around the concept of numerous subreddits, like r/gaming or r/puppies, and Cozmo is awarded points for interacting with his surroundings.
This means that if Redditors want to spend the majority of their time watching the tiny Cozmo zoom back and forth with puppies instead of exploring the room based on r/gaming, they can. For the team at Anki, and chief marketing officer, Craig Rechenmacher, “Cozmo lost in Reddit” is an experiment in social psychology and a test of technological execution. The goal for Anki, along with creative technology group W+K Lodge, is to see whether Reddit users can actually pull this off. Nilesh Ashra, director of creative technology at W+K Lodge, told Polygon that although they’re expecting just about anything to happen, including total chaos, they’re also preparing for failure.
“The goal is to have Reddit help Cozmo escape, but we can’t force that to happen,” Ashra said. “So, yes, we’re prepared.”
While the installation is focused around Cozmo escaping the different rooms, the overall goal is to give Reddit, a community that Anki chief’s marketing officer, Craig Rechenmacher, describes as technologically inclined, a proper introduction to the little robot. The response to Cozmo when it launched it October 2016 was strong from the enthusiast community, but Anki wants to make it a household name.
“It’s possible that they [Reddit users] don’t complete all six challenges and unlock and finish the whole game,” Rechenmacher said. “But success for us is everyone gets a feel for Cozmo.”
Trying to turn a series of forums into a live, interactive social experiment is an elaborate and difficult task. The first time that Twitch tried to execute a game of “Twitch Plays Pokémon,” it took more than 15 days to finish. That was in February 2014, and, since then, numerous versions of “Twitch Plays” have appeared on the channel. Rechenmacher said Reddit was full of “manic puzzle solvers” who he thought would be better suited for completing escape room challenges.
“We know Reddit loves collaborating [in] solving puzzles, but they also have their own subreddits with highly engaged communities,” Rechenmacher said. “Reddit allows us to introduce Cozmo in a bunch of different ways. We gave them so many Easter eggs. All of these are homages to each different subreddit. Success for us isn’t scripting a game that they win in a structured way. We’re pretty confident they’ll solve the game, but we’re pretty confident that they will.”
The team is also very aware of how Reddit can react to an event their communities view as an intrusion, rallying together to tear that one event to shreds. Paulo Ribeiro, managing director of W+K Lodge, said the team is embracing the backlash that might come.
“We’re starting in r/hailcorporate, which it the most anti-advertisement subreddit on the site,” Ribiero pointed out. “We’re going to be very upfront that this is advertising.”
“It’s such a highly engaged and cynical community in a bunch of ways that it’s almost like that’s the cost to get in a concentrated window engaging,” Rechenmacher added. “We do expect some haters and some cynicism, but we also expect a lot of people from that community to recognize a lot of depth. It’s a tradeoff we have to take, which is when you put something out there, you might get the haters, but they might engage.”
With so much effort poured into the game design, including multiple teams of engineers on hand to execute the program, the lingering question is how does it work? The concept is, ironically, pretty simple and far less chaotic than an average game of Twitch Plays. Players will be presented with periodic pop up decisions they’ll have to make within a specific time frame. Once the votes are collected, Cozmo will do whatever the majority of people want. For example, if players are presented with the option to move on from the room with puppies or continue playing, players will be able to vote and then watch as Cozmo executes that action.
“This is a really intricately designed game,” Ashra said. “To architect a game where it’s happening live and your hero is an autonomous robot and your control pad is being controlled by a million people on the internet, that’s a super challenging starting point. We’ve had our game designers work on every avenue this game could take and really architect a game that would be both fun and surprising to play.”
Regardless of how much planning both Anki and W+K Lodge’s teams put into the project, the chance that it could all go up in flames will act as the element of surprise most Reddit users will be looking for. Kind of like watching a daring act that could result in grotesque injury, their hope is Anki and W+K Lodge pull it off, but people will also be tuning in to see if it all goes to hell.
“We planned for a lot of scenarios and we expect to be surprised many, many times,” Ashra said.
“Cozmo Lost in Reddit” kicks off today at 1 p.m. ET on Reddit and will last for six hours.