2014 UK Mobile & App Design Awards

Sherlock: The Network [DRAFT]






Project Overview

Sherlock:The Network invites players to join the ‘homeless network’. Across ten cases, players help Sherlock and John solve cases; navigating virtual London on foot, by tube or by taxi; hearing from witnesses, collecting evidence, playing games and picking up cash and tools. As they progress, they move on to the more difficult task of sourcing intelligence and decrypting complex codes and puzzles with the ultimate mission of thwarting one overarching plot: the kidnapping of Mrs Hudson.

On the day of release, the app reached #1 on the UK App Store and reached #1 entertainment app in 36 countries.


The Project Factory


Sherlock: The Network is a joint venture between The Project Factory and Hartswood Films, producers of the popular BBC Sherlock series. Hartswood has long been interested in a game/app, knowing Sherlock fans were keen for an extension to the series. Hartswood selected The Project Factory based on the strength of previous work, the quality of concept and the agreement of acceptable commercial terms. Work began on the development of the engaging, immersive, narrative driven app July 2013 and launched January 2014.

Utilising the Appisodic platform (a platform delivering episodic or level based content via an app) previously developed by The Project Factory; the story was written by Interactive Writer David Varela with guidance from Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss and Series Producer Sue Vertue. They insisted the scripts be as polished as any TV episode – and Moffat himself acknowledged that the game’s writing was “annoyingly good.”

Sherlock:The Network invites the player to join the detective's ‘homeless network’, helping Sherlock and John solve cases. Tasks range from simply receiving and passing on messages, to sourcing intelligence, infiltrating the enemy and decrypting complex codes and puzzles. The ultimate mission across the various cases is to solve the overarching plot: the kidnapping of Mrs Hudson.

Using a messaging interface mimicking that of the mobile device itself, participants navigate virtual London on foot, by tube or by taxi, where they hear from witnesses, collect and store evidence, play games, earn money and pick up tools to accelerate their progress. The app features ten cases to crack, many of which link to the overarching game.

Key to the success was to ensure the game was strongly rooted in the story-world of the TV series; that it was sufficiently sophisticated and intelligent to cater to the die-hard fans; whilst also appealing to the wider TV/Drama audience.

The app includes exclusive footage of Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman and Mark Gatiss reprising their roles as Sherlock, John and Mycroft; communicating directly with the player via video messages, voicemail and texts.

The app launched with a strong social media campaign developed by The Project Factory. With no funding or direct support from the broadcaster, we have developed a commercial project that is both innovative and mould breaking: creating a valuable piece of IP for a market crying out for more. Our decisions have been validated by sales, by user feedback and audience response: the app rocketed to Number #1 on the UK App Store on the day of launch, reaching #1 Entertainment in 36 countries. An unqualified success for the TV producer, for the app developers and for the Sherlock brand itself.

Executive Producers: Jennifer Wilson, Kirsty Hunter
Technical Producer: Guy Gadney
Producers: Nathan Anderson, Rob Barnes
Writer: David Varela
Designer: Az Newman, Siobhan Willoughby, Matt Purchase
Developers: Andrew Natoli, Andy Skinner, Ingrid Anzola
Test Captain: Corey Knight

Project Brief

Sherlock is a clever television series. Sherlock’s fans are smart and Sherlock: The Network had to ensure this intelligence was not compromised or ‘dumbed-down’. It was paramount that the app stood up to the sophistication and high production value of the TV series so it felt like a genuine immersive extension to the TV series.

The brief was to create an intellectual, immersive, story driven narrative based game that harnessed and engaged both the die-hard Sherlock fan, the serial gamer and, perhaps commercially more important, the larger general television viewing audience. Sherlock: The Network had to be challenging and complicated, but not overly so, it had to anchor the player in the world that Sherlock inhabits, reflecting his thought process and powers of deduction; and it had to bring something new to the brand.

As well as testing the intelligence of our players, the production values – video, writing, game design –had to be at the heart of the project. Close collaboration and consultation with the producers of Sherlock, Hartswood Films, was required from the outset. The Project Factory were able to film exclusive scenes for the app on the Sherlock set in Cardiff. Along with scripts signed off by the series’ writers and great support from the case, we ensured that the high production values of the TV series were always retained.

Project Need

Sherlock: The Network is a deeply personal transmedia experience standing apart from other TV drama apps or games. The player receives text messages and voicemails calls directly from the characters, with additional video from Sherlock, John and Mycroft speaking straight to the player. This offers an unmatched sense of intimate connection. Many fans were overwhelmed by the level of immersion offered in this first-person game putting them face-to-face with Sherlock, being directly communicated with in a way that TV simply can’t match.

By working closely with Hartswood Films, The Project Factory created an interactive adventure that managed to match the phenomenal excitement, intelligence and humour of the hit TV show while delivering up this highly personal experience. Key to this was four key elements:
• direct access to the cast to create bespoke, unique video and audio, with access to the set to create assets from the familiar TV locations;
• a clever, carefully crafted narrative with the ‘voice’ of the series which presented challenges and solutions worthy of Sherlock;
• a ‘London Map’ as the main playing board of the experience, placing the narrative and game deeply in the real world context experienced in the TV series
• themed games designed to reflect the TV series, the role of ‘deduction’ and an appropriate level of challenge. These kept the player entertained, creating a sense of personal satisfaction, but allowing the user to skip through these where they were more interested in a narrative experience.

User Experience

The game is played through a hand drawn, accurate map of London, reflecting the city so integral to the series. Through this, the player receives messages from Sherlock, John and Mycroft and interacts with other characters who contribute to the story.

Created more as linear narrative experience than free-form game; the user is directed by the key characters to move, interview people, discover and collect evidence, ‘break’ into encrypted documents, decode files etc – all leading to solving the case. Six of the ten cases form part of the overarching mystery, the kidnapping of Mrs Hudson, the denouement of which is the ultimate case. We needed to place the user in game, build intimacy and a sense of urgency as well as allow the narrative to be the key reward. Navigation is themed, with the user taking a taxi, tube or walking – each with their own penalty of time or money. The decoder and unscrambler games require real deductive skills and we aimed to ensure the player felt ‘smart’ when they were successful. Testing with fans, public and the TV producers contributed to ensuring the experience worked.

“A fantastic interactive platform for fans to feel like they’re part of the team… A brainy app that isn’t just an easy way to profit off fans… The cases are intricate and immerse you in the Sherlock universe.” – MovieViral

“"If Sherlock himself designed an app, it would probably look like this!" – Digital Spy.

Project Marketing

The social media/marketing strategy for the app is multi-faceted. Prior to release, the campaign allowed users to unlock exclusive content on the microsite by tweeting using #jointhenetwork. A counter showed the audience how many had responded and within the first few hours, over 5,000 people did, increasing to 16,000 in three days and currently standing at over 30,000.

We worked with Sherlockology and BBC Worldwide to engage the wider Sherlock fan base, offering them 12 hour exclusives on content. As the audience engaged, Twitter conversation grew in anticipation of the release and by launch, a stimulated audience was hungry to engage. Personalised assets including the pick of press comments were re-visualized as memes, posted through social platforms, giving something back to fans and continuing the spread of the word. A comprehensive consumer and trade press PR campaign ran concurrently with this, with press receiving promo codes for advance reviews, exclusive interviews with the producers and coverage on Twitter of related live events. The collective marketing approach had the desired effect prompting consumer and trade press alike to sit up and take notice:

“A little bit of Cumberbatch in your pocket.” - Digital Spy
“Part game and part multimedia storytelling… Genuinely fun.” - Guardian
“Just like that dream you had last night… For the Sherlock obsessives, The Network has the goods.” – Radio Times

The marketing campaign has entered its third phase in preparation of the release of the Android version of the app.

Project Privacy

As developers, we are extremely aware of, and caring of the privacy of our user based. As Sherlock is an entertainment experience, we do not require significant personal user data.

The app uses user data in the following ways:
• The user has the option to register, non-obligatory, using either an email address or their Facebook login
• This data is encrypted and passed to a secure server
• The Project Factory encrypts all data on our back-end systems with two stpe authentication and secured access (industry best practice)
• Communication from the device to the back end is both encrypted and authenticated to ensure that spoofing is not possible

We also use automated testing processes, have in the past invited white hat hackers to test our systems and have been vetted and approved by several broadcasters (Australian and European) to validate the security of our system.

This category relates to games including Action & Adventure, sport simulation, educational, board, card and dice developed for the mobile platform.
More Details