…than Agencies and Filmmakers. Why do transmedia professionals have a difficult time achieving authentic and fluid transmedia stories and why do ‘existing’ branded entertainment & digital agencies tend towards lowest common denominator, tried and tested formulaic cross media, more about PR, advertising and marketing than real ‘story’ focused engagement. Against this and rather paradoxically we have the ‘so-called’ audience/users actually telling their ‘life’ stories across platforms in a much more natural and engaging way.
Having produced and studied cross media since 1997 (“What do Audiences Want” BBC pres) one very large and persistent problem has always been creating authentic transmedia stories – natural story arcs and bridges that lead you onward through a long format, multi platform experience. So why is this? What techniques do makers of user created transmedia (you and I wearing our normal, connected people hats) employ that make it more interesting to their target audience and what can the ‘artificial storytellers’ learn?
note: this is a personal/user POV condensed version of a longer chapter intro section in my wip book Networked Media Storytelling: Transmedia Design and Production.
Firstly excuse the use of the term ‘audience’ in the title, it is still a convenient catch-all for the ‘great unwashed’, old BBC term 🙂 or rather, non-professional creators. Of course we are equals and participant users when using well designed professional transmedia services, but what do ‘users’ do when telling their own stories, that pro “experience creators” don’t do and may possibly never achieve?
Before we proceed this is not comparing apples and oranges as on one side we have ‘user created transmedia’ (UCT?) ‘life stories’ aimed at a specific ‘user group’ and on the other professionally created transmedia ‘fiction’ aimed at fans or niche ‘players’. Both have a target audience and both have stories to tell.
To help frame this even more a ‘simple’ example. A typical well networked person wants to share an experience, tell a single (or part of a longer arc) story to ‘their’ audience, lets say (deliberately mundane!) a personally amazing chance encounter with a strange overseas friend who share stories during a mini afternoon catch-up adventure & challenges at various city locations. Challenges being obnoxious shop assistants or overcharging taxi driver etc: 🙂 Remember this is their, Hero’s Journey, we all have one every moment of our lives, some bigger than others. In this example the main user has a pre-existing networked media story environment (amongst other networked elements) consisting of:
500 facebook friends
run a well read blog
1200 twitter followers
regular FourSquare user
a heavily subscribed YouTube channel
a busy personal flickr account
use sms and skype a lot
meet up with their physical social circle regularly
Full size link – As the image illustrates I hope, and this is probably old hat to many reading this post, we can see how the rippling of moments (Laurel Papworth covers the social aspects of this in great detail in her post Ripple: Social Network Influencers) across the users ‘story world’ is constantly punctuated as the story develops. Also notice how the story world is setup – the Foursquare updates for example ‘this is where I am – if something happens you will already know…” reinforcing environment and back story. It is important also to take on-board that the user in this case feels the ‘need’ to share, part of their being is now about being constantly active in ‘their story’ network, that need will be reflected by by the network (aka a captive audience) – often it will be quick bursts of activity in real time, pushing messages outwards and occasionally responding to ‘influential’ friends as they know those contacts will proliferate the story even more. Notice also in the diagram that auto updates (twitter pushing into Facebook or flickr) are an acceptable part of more social storytelling as the need to know means a level of ‘spam’ acceptance. I could go on but this is to partly demonstrate how
Today’s socially networked users are evolving into the most talented and natural transmedia storytellers, able to fluently manipulate, create and respond across multiple ‘personally nurtured’ channels transforming in the process something very complex into something beautifully simple
OK the best pro-transmedia relies on the social media connections above to disperse their narratives but as with any form of 3rd party story, we see it is a temporary viral layer (movies, TV shows, games etc) on top of their deeper, personal life story…
The most successful element in user created transmedia are the natural bridges between channels and platforms whereas professional transmedia storytellers often force feed its audience explicit or contrived ‘in your face’ links
As usual my preamble has turned into a tome so without further ado here are ten sections that came from lectures I did on transmedia design at various presentations and higher ed establishments in 2008/9 which I will put up on my slideshare account along with some transmedia bible templates – highlighting some of the fundamental and underlying principles of an authentic networked story environment. I have compared responses to each from an UCT and professional creators perspective, across the specific kinds of interactions within the transmedia, social environment. These are all appropriate to drama, documentary and brand/ad transmedia design, production and storytelling.
NURTURING NETWORKED MEDIA STORYTELLING – WHY AUDIENCES DO IT BETTER
Have we reached a tipping point – with many more user hours spent with games than films are they now more culturally relevant (as in our cultures are saturated with them)? With most films having ‘game-like’ story arcs and, at the last count, nearly 80 films with stories based on game titles in productionI am starting to think so.
Game culture and their inherent stories are now absolutely mass media. In a low risk, and dwindling film business, creating stories around experiences that people have already spent 20-40 hours immersed in the story world, is a no brainer, so what we are seeing is a threshold now of game-like films but more importantly films based on games. Anyway more after the ten minute video – stick with it.
“Playing With Stories” THE CINEMATIC GAME. A Film by GARY HAYES
I am designing curriculum for cinematic games and virtual worlds at AFTRS but also doing another report on the market potential of this cross-media, gilm (game/film) landscape. In the process again I threw together a compilation video of notable examples (I know there are at least ten times this btw!) interspersed with tasty quotations. “The Cinematic Game” was initially designed to be a look at the cross-promotion and story development potential of this most powerful mixed-media marketing machine. But, during the process though I was staggered to see the number of major feature films in production based on new and existing game universes (listed in this post below and scrolling at the end of the video) – suggesting to me a tipping point.
Game story starts to lead film development?
TV and Cinema has already become much more of a background or escapist medium for larger numbers of media consumers. In homes around the world we are spending more time in online pursuits than glued to the content breaks, in-between the advertising slots of traditional TV. We are also immersing ourselves in the social and story ‘exploration’ of the current generation of PC and console games. So how will TV and Film survive in a world where social gaming and associated peer appraisal online is far more compelling? Also given the choice will we continue to passively watch the protagonist or ‘be/live’ the hero? It is interesting to see 8000 employee EA Games now developing major strategies whereby games are made to be easily adapted to comics, books, TV and Film. In the business week article “Morphing Video Games into Movies” they note how EA are trying to emulate small non-game companies have built mini empires on their ‘story IP”
The idea is to repeat the success of companies such as Marvel Entertainment (MVL) and Hasbro (HAS), which used their base of fans to transform from marginal companies into Hollywood players. After licensing Spider-Man to Sony Pictures for a string of hit movies, Marvel has created its own studio, with Iron Man and other films set for release this summer. The Hasbro-backed Transformers movie grossed more than $400 million in 2007 global box-office sales, which in turn boosted company sales of movie-related toys and games.
It is interesting to note that the music industry is also starting to ride the coat tails of the games world. Kotaku reported on a ‘run-in’ between Warner Bros. and Activision about Guitar Hero. Suggesting the music publishers should get more royalties from games that use music, Activision’s boss Bobby Kotick hit back at Warner’s and said the following (which implied as the Kotaku item said ‘Perhaps the record companies should pay us‘)
We’re going to favour those publishers that recognise and appreciate how much we can add value to their artists… in the case of those kinds of products, you should be paying any money at all and whether it should be the reverse.
Back to the main thread of the post, it does make you wonder how many screenplay writers are sitting in front of their XBoxPS3Wii’s looking for inspiration nowadays? Variety suggests that in fact ‘all’ games could be made into movies but I will be really interested in what kind of film comes from The Sims and already know the likely story arc of MassEffect having run through it a couple of times but many others on the list below will be of interest, especially World of Warcraft which has around 4000 story threads/quests – so which story will we be ‘offered’?Films of games have had a shaky past with only a few critical successes such as Tomb Raider, Silent Hill, Resident Evil (there are several on slide 75 of my game/story presentation below, that I did several months ago) but given the serious money and credible directors such as Landau, Lucas, Speilberg, Cameron, Jackson etc: plus a deep desire to properly reflect the integrity of the ‘interactive’ experience, the tide is turning. Being an avid machinima maker I know at first hand what it means to capture the ‘essence’ of game playing, adapt it, reflect it and, if you understand the culture of the game, interpret it – the good thing is A list filmmakers (as you can hear Peter Jackson say at the end of my video) understand it too.
“AFTRS new game design and virtual world graduate diplomas will push students to go beyond the generation of clichéd actions and stereotypical characters, students of these new courses will be encouraged to step up and learn how to create meaningful interactive experiences for a variety of platforms informed by the expertise offered in all of the other creative disciplines taught at AFTRS such as directing, screen composition, screenwriting, sound design, production design and more. The field of game design and interactive experiences is equally as collaborative as the world of filmmaking, drawing together diverse specialists who together create the whole – writers, screen composers, programmers, animators, art directors – at AFTRS all of these disciplines are already housed under one roof – with a track record of cross disciplinary interaction and a staggering successful graduates.”
More about my video
A non-exhaustive compilation of story rich games or gamic films including in order of appearance: Contact, Indiana Jones, Heavy Rain, The Game, Burning Crusade, Max Payne, The Matrix, Heavenly Sword, Final Fantasy, Lord of the Rings, Ironman, Call of Duty 4, Simone, Rage, Tron, Bicentennial Man, SpiderMan 3, War of the Worlds, Tomb Raider, I am Alive, WoW Lich King, Indigo Prophesy, Jumanji, Desperate Housewives, Da Vinci Code, The Beach, Assassins Creed, Thomas Crown Affair, CSI, Halo, Resident Evil, James Bond, Sleuth, Afrika, The Godfather, The Cube, Narnia, Time Bandits, The Golden Compass, Half Life, Never Winter Nights, Silent Hill, Hellgate, Beowulf and interviews with George Lucas and Peter Jackson plus quotes from many film directors and games designers
My film contains some of the better hybrids, either films inspired by games, games inspired by films or just very rich cinematic, story or character rich games. I make no excuses that I have used a mixture of cut scenes as well as ‘real’ game play in the video – that is really to show where we are heading as game graphics continues to hurtle towards the real time equivalent of the likes of Beowulf and other ‘trickle’ rendered CG features. After the quotes and textual references from the compilation below, are more elements on this very exiting hybrid cross-story, cross-IP, cross-reality world.
I want gamers to be surprised by their own creativity. I want players to feel not like Luke Skywalker, but George Lucas Will Wright (Sims, Spore)
We’re way beyond the notion of game-as-brand-extending afterthought. Let the virtual world–the vibrant, living world that people inhabit–let that influence the movie. Let it feed back into the process and provide unparalleled riches and depth to what we’re doing
John Landau (Titanic)
Games are already good at creating fear, suspense, excitement, shocked surprise, and laughter. Much rarer are games that create genuine sadness Ã¢Â€Â¦ I have never cried during a videogame
Marc Laidlaw (Half-Life)
I think the real indicator will be when somebody confesses that they cried at level 17
When I found out one of my guildmates had died, someone with whom I had fought monsters, explored exotic lands, shared moments of jubilation and defeat, I wept. In spite of having never met him, the knowledge that we would not continue the story together, brought me great grief. Laurel Papworth
We had a notion to take the stars of the movies and have them play supportive roles in the video game and tell a story that is a companion story to the movies
Joel Silver (Matrix)
If done well, I don’t believe a videogame itself can detract from a film experience. Ideally, it would be a complement to the film and a way for fans to further involve themselves in a world once they leave the cinema
Peter Jackson, (King Kong, Lord of the Rings)
There are scenes that start in the video game and will complete the movie – ¦and fell like it’s a part and experience of the movie
Joel Silver (Matrix)
Games and MMOs in particular are providing such a sustaining experience that challenges us to make the theatrical experience better
John Landau (Titanic)
The next big emotional breakthrough in gaming is being able to tell a story that is consistent throughout the narrative. If the game is 15 levels, it’s just like 15 chapters in a story
We’re trying to understand the language of the film, but diverge in ways that are right for the game medium.
Neil Young’ EA VP (Lord of the Rings)
Games sometimes can reveal things. To watch someone in movement, unconscious movement, can be very stimulating and revealing, whether they win or not.
John Turturro (actor)
People wonder why games don’t have the same emotional palette as movies. But that’s the wrong way to look at it. It’s like saying, ‘Why isn’t radio like reading a book?’ Games, inherently, have a different emotional palette, which is their strength
Will Wright (Sims, Spore)
Alone in the Dark 2
American McGee’s Alice
BloodRayne III: Warhammer
Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars
City of Heroes
Devil May Cry
Gears of War
God of War
Hunter: The Reckoning
Kane & Lynch
Legend: Hand of God
Metal Gear Solid
Mortal Kombat: Devastation
Paul Blart: Mall Cop
Resident Evil IV
Return to Castle Wolfenstein
Silent Hill 2
Sonic the Hedgehog
The Legend of Spyro
Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell
Tomb Raider III
Warcraft (based on World of Warcraft)
Mixed Reality Futures
As a lead into a post about to be published I have been talking for a couple of years now (The Mixed Reality Perfect Storm ) about the fantastic potential of the live and by implication shared TV experience to be enhanced by extending the world into online games. It is exciting to think where we will be in a few years once the ‘broadcasters & studios’ realise that keeping an audience involved in the ‘IP’/programme in-between airings or sequels is a good thing. Good for the story creators, the latent creative audience and of course advertisers who need eyeballs/hands/ears/minds and hearts.
A further afterthought there are several companies around the world developing Cross-Reality forms, one that I am heavily involved with‚ The Format Factory, are pioneering formats that bridge the space between compelling participatory TV/Film and online game worlds. They have a promotional video that metaphorically demonstrates some of the ’embedded’ world-within-worlds. A trailer video teaser for the mixed reality, inhabited TV formats being pioneered and piloted by The Format Factory.