Having decided that you want to get into transmedia and write a transmedia story, where do you start?
Well, I’d recommend that you start with what you know and branch out from there. But knowing where and how to branch out means considering the type of experience you want to create.
There are five questions to ask yourself (shown in Figure 1):
- What is the story I want to tell?
- How will I deliver the story?
- What kind of audience participation do I want or need?
- How will audience participation affect the story over time?
- How much is based in the real world vs a fictional world?
Figure 1: Transmedia Storytelling: Getting Started
The more audience participation you want or need, the more you’ll tend towards writing the storyworld before the story. Figure 2 illustrates what I mean by story and storyworld.
Think of a “story” as one implementation of the world of the story among many potential implementations. I guess you might think of story as one plot line and associated characters from a world of many plots, subplots, and characters and so on – I’ve called this a single “narrative space”. Figure 3 illustrates how an author might take a single narrative space (one story) and develop it into additional narrative spaces (new stories).
Figure 2: Story vs Storyworld
Figure 3: Narrative Spaces
When thinking about delivering the story, put aside the specifics of particular platforms (just for now) and think about the experience in terms of:
- the narrative spaces you want to cover (location, characters, time – see above)
- the number and relative timing of the platforms (sequential, parallel, simultaneous, non-linear)
- the extent and type of audience involvement (passive, active, interactive, collaborative) .
There’s a lot to consider here so let’s tackle it as a two-stage process:
- Step 1: decide the narrative space, number of platforms and their timing
- Step 2: decide the extent of audience involvement.
Step 1: Narrative Space and Relative Timing of Platforms
Figure 4 shows a “typical” Hollywood transmedia project. It’s a series of single-platform deliverables – a book, a movie, a game. In many ways the platforms are independent except that they often cover different narrative spaces: prequel, sequel, flashback which may dictate a release order or schedule. In any case there’s no apparent audience interactivity between the platforms.
Figure 4: Transmedia Franchise
By contrast, an Alternate Reality Game (ARG) might cover a single narrative space across multiple platforms – each alone insufficient to carry the complete story but like jigsaw puzzle pieces they must be assembled to complete the picture (well… you know… story).
Figure 5: Portmanteau Transmedia
These different types to transmedia can be represented by the diagram in Figure 6. Of course it’s also possible to combine different types of transmedia as shown in Figure 7.
Figure 6: Types of Transmedia
Figure 7: Mixed Transmedia Types
Step 2: Audience Involvement
Audience involvement in the story often bothers indie filmmakers. It’s not just that the indie wants to tell his story without interference; it’s also the fear that amateur involvement will sully the final result. And for those who have tried involving audiences there’s concerns about the effort of “community management” – the time and trouble to guide, motivate, appeal and appease.
It’s not only indie filmmakers that worry about how to tell their story and yet still find room for audience participation. Talk to game designers about audience (i.e. player) interaction and story and they’ll tell you that the more control you give to players (audiences), the less control is retained by the author. In fact the problem is even more pronounced in MMOs where virtual world guru Richard Bartle says “Virtual world designers can’t add story, they can only add content. Content provides experiences that can be made by those who come through or observe them into story.” So at its most open-ended, the virtual world (or transmedia experience) creates a world with lots of actionable content and choices but no plot?
This player-author struggle is tackled by games like Fallout3 and Red Dead Redemption (which are console games, not MMOs) by offering players the choice to explore (create their own stories) or tackle quests (follow the author’s story). Cut-scenes of course offer the most extreme authorial control.
It’s clear that transmedia experiences can borrow from the lessons of games and virtual worlds – creating a storyworld into which the author places a mix of story and content with opportunities for sit-forward and sit-back participation.
Looking further into audience participation I discovered the “storytelling cube” (Figure 8 ) first presented at the 2002 Game Developers Conference by Raph Koster and Rich Vogel to describe how narrative is explored in online virtual worlds. It applies particularly well to ARGs. The three axes are control, impact and context:
- Control: How much freedom does the audience have to create their own experience and how much control will you have as the author?
- Impact: What long-lasting impact will the audience have on the evolution of the experience?
- Context: How much of the experience is based in a fictional world and how much exists in “real life”?
Figure 8 Storytelling Cube (Raph Koster & Rich Vogel)
There’s no right or wrong position to be inside this cube: it’s up to you to decide based on experience, preference and resources. At one extreme you might have an entirely fictional world, tightly controlled by the author with no audience interaction and at the other you could have an experience based around real-world places & events in which the audience is free to completely change how the story evolves and is experienced. And of course the two can be mixed and there’s a lot of space in between.
To be continued….
Posted in arg audience-building cross-media social media storytelling transmedia
Power to the Pixel has just opened calls for it’s annual Pixel Pitch. Now in its second year the Pixel Pitch offers transmedia projects an opportunity to present their work to an international panel of judges consisting of producers, funders, sales agents and distributors. This year’s top project will be award a cash prize thanks to support from ARTE. To find out more read below or visit www.powertothepixel.com
The Pixel Market – How Does It Work?
Power to the Pixel will select up to 20 cross-media projects to be presented to potential international financiers, investors and partners at The Pixel Market, part of Power to the Pixel’s annual Cross-Media Forum held in association with The BFI London Film Festival. Selected participants will also gain free accreditation to Power to the Pixel’s Conference Summit on the first day of the Forum.
The Pixel Pitch, 13 October 2010
Up to half of the selected projects will be presented In Competition at The Pixel Pitch, a public event on the first day of the market on 13 October 2010 at NFT1, BFI Southbank. These project teams will compete for the £6,000 ARTE Pixel Pitch Cash Prize.
Producer-led teams will present to a hand-picked roundtable jury made up of financiers, commissioners, tech companies, online portals and media & entertainment companies.
Each team will have 10 minutes to pitch their project (including visual presentations) with a further 20 minutes for comments and feedback from the roundtable.
The Pixel Meetings, 14 October 2010
Day Two of the market is a by-invitation-only event. The 20 international teams selected for The Pixel Market will attend a day of one-to-one business meetings with potential creative and financial partners from across the tech, online, interactive, film, broadcast, arts, publishing and gaming industries.
This will be followed by an evening networking drinks reception where the Winner of the ARTE Pixel Pitch Prize will be announced.
1. Projects must have a Producer attached and be submitted through a production company
2. Submissions must be made by the Producer
3. Producer(s) must own the rights to develop and produce the project in all required media
4. Applications from producers who are students on the dates of The Pixel Market will not be eligible
5. A maximum of 2 members per team will be allowed to present In Competition at The Pixel Pitch (if selected) one of whom must be the Producer or Director
6. Applications and supplementary materials must be delivered in the English language
7. Power to the Pixel will give preference to projects whose team members have a track record within their sector (eg. broadcast, online, gaming, theatrical, publishing)
8. Projects must be at an advanced stage of development
9. Application forms and all supplementary materials must be delivered online eg. stills, storyboards, moving imagery (10 mins max) by uploading files and providing urls to where materials have been uploaded
10. All application forms and supplementary materials must be received by 18.00 BST on 6 August 2010 at email@example.com
16 June 2010 Call open for submissions
6 August 2010 Deadline for submissions (18.00 BST)
3 September 2010 Successful applicants informed
13 October 2010 The Pixel Pitch at NFT1, BFI Southbank in London
14 October 2010 The Pixel Meetings (venue tbc)
ARTE Pixel Pitch Prize Winner announced
Posted in arg cross-media design events gaming movies storytelling transmedia
Multiplatform Storytelling: A Master Class with Tim Kring at SXSW brought a rock star–sized following of fans and some press excited to see the architect behind Heroes. Brian Seth Hurst moderated it. Their discussion started with them revealing how George Lucas invented transmedia storytelling. Prepare to be shocked-it all started November 17, 1978 with The Star Wars Holiday Special. A mysterious new character appeared on this show. His name was Bobba Fett. Before long Bobba Fett could also be purchased as a limited edition action figure in toy stores. Fans were confused and excited about this bounty hunter who came out of nowhere. About a year later when The Empire Strike Back was released Bobba Fett showed up again. Many fans were already aware of him. It was the first time a character originated on one platform then moved to the “mother ship of the property”.
Next Tim talked about his experience in the TV biz, then and now. When he started out a viewer had limited options: passively watch a show, at a certain time, via their TV. Now technology has offered new ways to distribute content at anytime to viewers e.g. smart phones and computers. It’s a double-edged sword; this has also brought about new competitors-including social networks and casual games that can steal eyeballs from a TV show.
Here is data that shows how things have changed:
Casual game FarmVille surpasses 80 million users http://mashable.com/2010/02/20/farmville-80-million-users/
Nielsen data shows that U.S. Facebook users now spend an average of seven hours per month on the site.
Apple announced that more than three billion apps have been downloaded from its App Store by iPhone and iPod touch users worldwide. http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/apples-app-store-downloads-top-three-billion-80694707.html
Some people have looked at transmedia storytelling like a novelty; Tim knew it was a necessity. So for Heroes his strategy was to “fish where the fish are”. He created Heroes Evolution, which expanded his stories beyond a TV screen with weekly web graphic novels connected to the show, interactive puzzles that engage fans with text messages and phone apps, among many other techniques to reach an elusive audience who have migrated all over the place. Tim’s closing remarks were he recommended that young producers should prepare to pitch TV executives their shows with a transmedia strategy. For future projects Tim is considering making his story the mother ship where everything is connected vs having his TV show at the hub.
Posted in audience-building blogs community cross-media marketing
Transmedia designer and sometime WBP contributor Chrisy Dena launched a new site last night called You Suck at Transmedia, which plans to catalog transmedia failures and the lessons we can learn from them.
How do you/we/us stop sucking at transmedia? Well, this site is a step in that direction. This site welcomes contributions that really do aim to progress the state of the art. Here we can discuss the consequences of transmedia design, production and execution decisions.
In short, this site will cover transmedia decisions that never, sometimes, and always work.
The site already hosts one lovingly-rendered account of a failure scenario, as well as a great article on event scalability which asks my favorite question: “How can props be delivered in a replicatable manner to screens across continents?”
The blog is written toward encouraging discussion between creators. Drop by and join the conversation.
Posted in arg cross-media design transmedia