What is a chatbot? (And why we made one for a short film about pizza).

Over the last month we've been investigating chatbots as part of the West End Film Festival's Extended Experience program.

We had an excellent time exploring something other than apps, and we wanted to share our findings with you in case you're interested in finding out... 

  1. What is a chatbot? πŸ€–
  2. How can you easily make one? πŸ–₯
  3. Why we chose to make one for the short film Pizza Deliverance (an epic Die Hard inspired pizza delivery film)? πŸ•πŸ’₯

1. What is a chatbot?

Have you visited a website recently and had a message box appear in the bottom right asking if you need any help?


If so, then it  was probably a chatbot. πŸ€–

A chatbot is a fully automated way to interact with a computer program or AI via a chat interface - usually by speaking to it, writing to it, or clicking pre-programmed buttons.  

They're being used as a way for customers to interact with businesses for a range of different purposes. This includes ordering food, answering support questions, sending news alerts and even playing games. 

These days most chatbots are accessed via virtual assistants (e.g., Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa) or via messaging apps (e.g., Facebook Messenger, Skype, or WeChat).

    However, chatbots aren't all that new. Natural language processing programs have been around since 1966.

    You may remember the friendly AI from the film 2001 A Space Odyssey that the crew could talk to...

    "I didn't quite get that Dave. Please speak your mother's maiden name and birthdate again for verification." 

    "I didn't quite get that Dave. Please speak your mother's maiden name and birthdate again for verification." 


    But as we use messenger apps more and more to communicate, those messenger companies have provided better support for chatbot integration (e.g., Facebook Messenger, WeChat, Skype).  

    This has meant that we're seeing more and more chatbots appearing for us to interact with! πŸ€–πŸ€–πŸ€–

    3 popular examples of chatbots you can try right now include:

    1. eBay ShopBot (Browse, chat and shop on eBay using this chatbot).
    2. ABC News (A chatbot that delivers the latest news alerts).
    3. God of War: A Call from the Wilds (An extended experience for the popular new game).
    Testing the limits of the God of War: A Call From The Wilds Chatbot.

    Testing the limits of the God of War: A Call From The Wilds Chatbot.

    2. So how do you make a chatbot?

    We came up with the following process (influenced by how we build apps):

    1. Work out the goal of the chatbot
    2. Choose where your chatbot will live
    3. Work out how to build it
    4. Design, build, test (and repeat!)
    5. Advertise the chatbot

    1. Work out the goal of the chatbot

    The first thing you want to do is work out why you're building a chatbot.

    For this, think about who is going to be using it and what problem you're trying to solve for them by using a chatbot.

    This will help you work out whether a chatbot will actually be useful or not - an important first decision. πŸ˜…

    2. Choose where your chatbot will live

    If you've decided a chatbot will be useful, the next step is to work out how people will access your chatbot.

    Will it be via a webpage? Facebook Messenger? Skype? WeChat?

    This will depend on your current primary communication platform or how people are presently interacting with you the most.

    For example, if you find more people interacting with your Facebook page than your website, it may be worthwhile looking at creating a Facebook Messenger app.

    3. Work out how to build it

    There are many different ways to build a chatbot depending on your skill level. 

    You can code one from scratch using kits from different platforms (e.g., Facebook Messenger for Developers).  

    But! There are also platforms available that let you easily build chatbots without any coding (usually for a price if you find your chatbot becoming popular).  

    Different chatbot platforms include:

    1. Chatfuel for building Facebook Messenger chatbots (free + paid options).
    2. Collect.chat for building website chatbots (free + paid options).
    3. Flow XO for websites, Facebook Messenger, Slack & Telegram (free + paid options).
    Actually pretty accurate... you can get a basic chatbot up and running in minutes. 

    Actually pretty accurate... you can get a basic chatbot up and running in minutes. 

    4. Design, Build, Test (and repeat!)

    The next step is building the chatbot!

    Rather than jump straight in, it helps to draw out a flow diagram design with the different ways in which people can interact with your chatbot.  

    You'll need to consider different ways a user might interact with the chatbot, and if you're supporting text - how the AI will interpret the text and what it will present based on the interpretation. 

    When you're ready, jump in and build a test version of the chatbot. Start small, build little parts and test as you go. 

    When you've got a version that you're ready to share with others, test it with them. 

    Trust me, a lot of testing is needed to make sure there aren't any dead ends or broken links. So test, test, test!

    5. Advertise the chatbot

    Finally, it's no good building a chatbot if no one knows about it.

    If you have a mailing list or people who have liked your Facebook page which the chatbot is connected to then this may be a useful starting point.

    Otherwise advertising that you have a chatbot is incredibly important.

    Particularly if you've built it to provide an extended experience of your project or creative project. 

    Like a chatbot for a short film...

    3. Why did we make a chatbot for a short film?

    We were awarded with a commission to extend a selected film finalist from the West End Film Festival

    What is an extended experience?

    It's an in-fiction extension of a creative project (in this case a film). It's more than marketing - it provides a chance to extend the world beyond the existing medium for the audience.

    There's a great write-up here on the reasons for building an extended experience.

    We were given the opportunity to extend the short film Pizza Deliverance.

    It's an epic, action-packed comedy that's been likened to Die Hard, but with Pizza. 

    We considered a number of ways to extend the film and decided on a chatbot as we wanted to explore how chatbots could be used in a novel ways to let people explore narrative worlds.

    In this case we wanted to share some of the Pizza Deliverance world before ticket holders saw the movie so they could have a more emotional connection to the film. 

    So we built a chatbot that let anyone talk to Greg from Pizza Palace (one of the characters from afictional pizza business in the film). 

    Greg here! Employee of the Month. πŸ˜‰

    Greg here! Employee of the Month. πŸ˜‰


    We wanted to link the narrative of the chatbot to the film without giving away too much (but providing enough for people to make connections when they saw the film).

    So we decided to create an interactive experience where people could approve or reject new trainee applicants for Pizza Palace (inspired by the game Papers, Please).

    These applicants may then look familiar to ticket holders who went and saw the movie at the Film Festival.

    So we had an idea and a goal! The next step was to design and build the chatbot.

    We used Chatfuel to build our chatbot because we had some experience using it before. It's got a great interface and we could get a test chatbot up and running in less than a day. 

    The Chatfuel interface lets you easily create chat flows and interaction options.

    The Chatfuel interface lets you easily create chat flows and interaction options.

    After building a first version, we tested it and got a lot of good feedback.

    We went through a number of iterations until we built a version we were happy with for the film festival.

    You can try it out now if you'd like, simply press the button below and then click "Chat to Greg" in the messenger interface. 

    A few takeaways

    If you're considering making a chatbot, here's a few things we learnt:

    • Manage expectations: we initially called the chatbot a game, but using this word created certain expectations about the experience - so some testers were confused when they clicked the play game button and were presented with a chat bot. We changed the button to "Chat to Greg" instead in order to help establish that this was a chatbot and not a traditional game. πŸ‘Ύ
    • Advertise well: reach is going to be important for a chatbot like this, so advertising to your target audience clearly what it is you've built, why they should play it and how long it will take to play it is important.
    • Consider a pre- or post-experience: Consider the context of your implementation. A chatbot pre-experience aimed at an emerging fanbase may not be as effective. A post-experience would allow those who have seen the film that are now familiar with the characters to explore the world more.

    Overall we really enjoyed building this chatbot. It allowed us to investigate how chatbots can be used to extend existing creative works.

    It definitely won't be the last chatbot we build... we're already working on one for another app we've built. 

    I think we're going to see a lot more chatbots in the future, so be prepared!

    Have any questions?

    Do you have any questions about chatbots? Get in touch via our contact form.

    We'd be happy to share our experience with you or answer any questions you have.


    Zac Fitz-Walter