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Opinion: Where's that glorious transmedia future?
Opinion: Where's that glorious transmedia future? Exclusive
February 20, 2012 | By Leigh Alexander

February 20, 2012 | By Leigh Alexander
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    14 comments
More: Console/PC, Social/Online, Smartphone/Tablet, Exclusive, Business/Marketing



The relationship between games and media licenses is as old as games itself, but in the 21st century content creators and IP holders have been particularly keen to explore what opportunities the booming, fast-evolving video game industry can offer it to create more immersion and more permanence for their brands.

In the age of connected entertainment the possibilities grew ever-broader: What if worlds and stories could become platform-independent, with multiple entry points that could let users tailor their experience? People imagined a television show that evolved and changed based on what users did in an online game, or interactive books on mobile devices. Some even envisioned wearable devices that could somehow make people themselves the pieces in an ever-living game.

Now, we have an app for everything, but where is this glorious transmedia future? Video games are surely leading the social media revolution, leagues ahead of other spaces in terms of creating ways for players to share their experiences, play together and access their gaming properties from multiple points. Yet film, television and other forms of storytelling still seem slow to get on board.

The important lesson learned about licensed video games -- which are far from the guaranteed cash-ins they once were -- is that film and games appeal to audiences for fundamentally different reasons. One simply cannot take the action and story of a blockbuster film and shoehorn it into a video game and expect it to sell. Perhaps they looked like interchangeable experiences to the money folks that made them, and maybe even to the console-owning consumers who'd spot movie games on shelves.

But the consumer that buys video games is much more savvy now; even when we can expect quality from a movie game, it feels redundant. In more good news for the games space, consumers are much more amenable to the idea that games can have universes, characters and long-term storylines all their own.

That was one of the messages from Activision's Eric Hirshberg at the recent unveiling of the company's new Skylanders Giants, which he saw as proof that video games can generate their own strong brand power without having to borrow from other media.

Brand recognition is still considered an important driver of sales, so it's not like movie games are going to disappear from shelves any time soon (for as long as games are still sold on shelves, at least). But it seems that now rather than the knock-off console game, Hollywood is diving full-speed into the knock-off Facebook game or iPhone app.

The popular Hunger Games series of novels will shortly see the release of a highly-anticipated film, and there's a Facebook game slated to launch at the same time, but from the information available it seems more of a marketing tie-in than a considered attempt to more deeply engage the audience around the fiction.

Facebook is deceptively difficult territory, with user acqusition cost high and consumer quality expectations even higher. The precise balance of design elements that both genuinely entertain audiences and effectively monetize the game is still not well-understood. You'd think if the property-holders bothered to make such a significant investment in gaming at all, they'd want to do it in a fleshy, persistent way.

Especially as it wouldn't have been terribly unnatural to develop some kind of richer game experience related to the Hunger Games book and film -- the story, which pits teenage kids from 12 distinct districts against one another in a brutal free-for-all toward a final survivor -- is pretty much about a game already. Half the work is already done.

Is it too expensive to be the first property to take an earnest and well-researched leap into media crossovers? Too complex, too unproven, too much the unknown? Whatever the reason, efforts to develop properties across multiple media are still unexplored, let alone the sort of tandem media-agnostic world-building that transmedia advocates once visualized.

But if other media want to leverage the power of video games -- a field that seems actually to threaten to leave them behind in terms of their ability to keep fans captivated with a brand over years -- and if that transmedia future is ever to take place, they ought to look more closely at the massive fields of opportunity they let lie fallow. Maybe the wells of money they're leaving unmade will persuade them someday, too.


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Comments


Dennis Crow
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This would be an amazing accomplishment. If a brand new IP could have a movie to tell the story, a game to immerse the player into the world, and a TV show to produce additional episodic content, then it truly could connect with a huge audience in a way that hasn't been done before.



Unfortunately, I don't see how this could happen. Each form of art (Movies, Videogames, TV) requires such a level of specialization that any one company cannot be expected to compete in all categories. Hollywood studios have the money to fund large game development budgets, they don't have the game development talent in their arsenal to create games. Game publishers can create great games, but don't have the storytelling chops of Hollywood. Don't even get me started on TV, but since this isn't a reality show, they're probably uninterested.



So to imagine a future where one story is told in different ways across multiple forms of media (TV, Video games, Comics, etc..) you would have to have multiple companies working together on a scale that hasn't been seen before.



Here's how we can divide up the work :D

Hollywood -> Write a summer blockbuster (Jason Bourne blockbuster of something)

Videogames -> Create the huge FPS shooter to go along with the movie, but focus on Multiplayer (like CoD)

TV -> Shoot a reality show following a pro gaming house as it competes in eSports tournaments based around the FPS game. Add a Kardashian if need be.

Torben Jorba
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The true work is to get the departments to work within the business frameworks defined by the relevant industries. The game and probably the film (book, comic) would be the simple one, because that's somehow a proven concept (film->game and at least some game->film translations). But even that sometimes only result in a direct-to-DVD thing (looking at Mr. Boll :)



Another part of the equation is the (US) TV landscape. Its a complex one. Getting airtime depends on lots of factors. The content needs to be right. Shannon O' Brackne, the Farscape creator, is creating a FPS+MMO and a Scifi series with content based on the actions of the players.



http://massively.joystiq.com/2012/01/17/syfy-announces-star-of-th
e-defiance-tv-series/

http://www.defiance.com/en/



I don't know if this would work without TV. If you would add an insane amount of actual (TV-esque) HD footage to your project, you need very fast Internet lines. These are simply, even today, not necessary here yet. If Netflix is able to eat up to 40% of all US Traffic on some days, imagine 100s of Facebook games with Full HD streams.



Thats maybe a reason that nobody really thought about Cross-Media much the last decade.

Mark Ludlow
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The exciting thing is, people are already experimenting with this kind of thing. You have the ABC's (Australian) Bluebird AR which experimented with an online drama that was influenced by people's participation in the Alternate Reality game. There is also the Defiance project between SyFy and Trion Worlds in which they are tying together an MMO and TV series in which the events in one influence the other. There have also been a few instances I've seen where people on stage are "controlled" by audience suggestions in improv theatre.



I'm really excited to see where this leads.

Louis Png
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Very interesting perspective, and true enough, the media world certainly is not bonding as well as we thought it will.



While the term gamification is hanging around for the past couple of years, we certainly hadn't gotten to a stage where we could readily gamify the other aspects of art, yet. There still methods when we see how gamification tends to be rushed, or could not be developed properly, via movie-based video games.



But the way I see it, it's not that video games should be used to advertise or glorify one aspect of the art world (movie, music, art etc), but the other way round.



I believed that video games will and can be the next tier in the artistic world, as movies included in story-telling, graphics effects and audio, big titles such as Uncharted, includes them all and go to a further extent to engage the player to a whole new level of experience.



Give it time, and let our industry grow, and I hope that video games will be viewed less as just entertainment, and instead as forms of art.

Joe McGinn
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The obvious answer to "where is the glorious transmedia future?" is that it's wherever bad ideas go to die. No one ever wanted it. Frankly it just sounds like a lot of work and inconvenience. The last thing I want is social or interactive features in my TV shows and movies. It's as undesirable and nonsensical as wanting a stage play in a novel.

Benjamin Quintero
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Transmedia has many definitions and maybe that's why it might be seen as a failure to some. It has many definitions because there are so many combinations what can classify as transmedia.



I am working on a game that takes place at the same time as a book that's based on a game, if that makes sense. It's all good if it helps to enrich the content around that world.



We've seen games like Dead Space get a comic book series, anime series and 2 games, and frankly I think it would make for a pretty cool summer flick. It's there, you just have to notice it.

Christopher Engler
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Transmedia is happening whenever the market demands such from the IP. Look at the Star Wars franchise. There are six theatrical films, comic books, a television show, several video game incarnations, countless books and board games, a billion toys, and now two online worlds (yes, I know one is now defunct). The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter franchises are doing similar things with mixed success. IP heavyweights like DC Comics are only just now starting to find quality media crossovers in games like Batman: Arkham Asylum/City, but this is only after years and years of missteps. The problem is creating a new IP that justifies investment in multiple productions within so many mediums. That would be a huge risk for an unproven IP, and if it failed, it could bankrupt several companies at once. Hunger Games may be big enough to justify expansion into other media, but only time will tell if its audience will want more. Avatar (the biggest money-making film of all time) has failed (thus far) to expand outside of its movie ticket sales, so there are no guarantees.

Darcy Nelson
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Hunger Games maybe not such a great example. As I understand (haven't read the books) it's a bit like Battle Royale... not sure if you can sell a game about minors attacking each other with an accessible rating.

E Zachary Knight
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1) You don't need a rating for a mobile or web game.



2) It would be easy if you don't include all the actual blood and gore. You can keep the violence otherwise.

Joshua Darlington
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Right now, data attack has an advantage of data defense. As long as this dynamic continues, economics based on exclusive distribution (physical product, distribution deal terms) is in trouble. As the marketplace for IP transforms into monetization based inclusivity and excitation, old media like film will need to look at more transmedia type dynamics to compete (with pirates etc).



IMO Games with heavy use of narratology (cut scenes etc) already function as cinema with enhanced engagment through interactive action scenes. The 8-100+ hour consol format gives narrative games a unique flavor between studio tentpole action films and episodic television.

Jason Lee
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I think Batman Arkham Asylum/City is an interesting Transmedia case study. Comic books, both in-universe and out of universe, already address issues of various continuities and storylines, and have in turn successfully bred quality movies, TV shows, and games unlike other cross-media adaptations (*cough* Uwe Boll *cough*). Part of that I believe is the willingness to splinter off and create new continuity (comic book Spiderman is similar but not the same to movie Spiderman who is different from 90's cartoon Spiderman), which allows for a point of inspiration in the source work without a sense of slavish limitation of sticking to continuity. Another part may be that the expansive yet flexible lore of comic books more readily allows for something like a game to adapt it to fit its needs, while a lot of books or movies don't have the same scope of a universe when written, leaving it to a game to fill in gaps; this can cause problems however if a game adaptation is not allowed to take liberties or stick to the original story or events of the book/movie, rather than expanding and fleshing out the universe.

Natascha Roosli
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Trion Worlds with their Defiance Project comes to mind. http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/e3-defiance-tv-show-online-
194736 Not much news about that project lately though other then the announcement here: http://iqu.com/blog/trion-worlds-invading-china-and-your-tv

Jed Ashforth
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My worry would be that creativity and integrity on all sides would invariably be compromised just to facilitate the marketing needs of such a crossover.



'Matrix Reloaded' and 'Revolutions' suffered hugely for trying to cross-pollinate their story with the fictions of the console game, the MMO, comics, animation etc. I've yet to see an example of trans-media authorship that manages to keep the lightning in the bottle.

Douglas Scheinberg
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Didn't .//hack try the whole "cross-media" thing already?


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