Last year I posted an idea of how to document transmedia projects. I’m now back with an improved version
Note that this is another two-part post… kinda… with more downloadable content related to documentation and project bibles over here.
To illustrate my latest documentation, I’ve use the 10 minute ARG created by No Mimes Media LLC called International Mimes Academy. If you’re not already familiar with this game, you can download an explanation at the Unfiction forum.
This pictorial flowchart is pretty good because it shows the media and links or calls-to-action between the media and there’s an implied sequence of experience (from top to bottom).
Updating my earlier ideas, the diagram below shows how the NoMimes flowcart would be represented if the media were separated onto it’s only timeline.
What’s good about this approach is that it hits a lot of the goals desired by Christy Dena:
* indicate which part of the story is told by which media
* indicate the timing of each element
* indicate how the audience traverses the media (what’s the call to action?)
Separating out the media like this is particularly useful if it’s being created by partners or collaborators: it shows what has to be created and how it relates to other media. The colored vectors represent the different platforms and the thin arrows between them document the calls-to-action or bridges between the platforms. I’m sometimes a little inconsistent with how I use these linking arrows, erring on the side of better explanation than rigid documentation dogma.
One “exception” I made here is the inclusion of the final phone call. Typically I wouldn’t include the audience in the diagram but as it’s a concluding part of this experience it felt incomplete without it.
Although this is a nice example to start with, it doesn’t illustrate the strengths of my approach. Hence, let’s take a more complicated example.
The transmedia project documented in the following figures is called Colour Bleed created by Rhys Miles Thomas at Glass Shot in Wales, UK.
The first thing you see at a glance is the experience runs for six months in three phases each lasting two months and you can see that there are Offline and Online platforms.
You can also quickly see what platforms are being used and their relative timings. So, for example, you can see that “live performance” plays a significant role in this production – starting the experience and ending it. Indeed, Colour Bleed kicks-off with impromptu live dance performances at shopping malls and other public place – I’ve called them “flash dances” – intended to immediately draw a crowd and attention. But this is the start of a futuristic story in which kids rebel against an authoritarian regime that’s banned color and creative expression.
At the flash dances, members of the project team hand out business cards that contain the call-to-action to go online and check out the History of Colour website. Note that I’ve shown two types of video production – “our video”, that produced by the project, and “UG video, for user-generated video that we hope will be captured by bystanders on their mobile phones.
Both types of video are hosted at the website and shown as “uploaded”. This isn’t a call-to-action but it does link and explain how video features in the live performance and on the web. It identifies media that needs to be produced and can be assigned a responsibility.
Other notable things in Phase 1 and Phase 2 are the use of a “rabbit hole” to gain access to the ARG, graphic novels given as rewards for completing phases of the ARG and a series of barcodes given in newspapers to access the second phase of the ARG.
Note that the ARGs are shown as a single platform in this diagram but might they will have their own additional documentation showing a second layer of complexity that’s hidden here.
Phase 3 has slightly more complicated documentation because merchandise given away at a series of live events (DJ-led music events and dance offs) offers two paths to revealing the date and time of a final performance:
* A URL to an augmented reality app on the community website that requires the AR marker on the merchandise to unlock
* A phone number to a voice message.
The first video in Phase 3 is shown to require two pieces of information to unlock it – the webcam app and the AR marker on the merchandise.
Note that the final cinema screening is partially colored indicating that although the date & time is revealed, the event can’t happen until the location is unlocked.
This is a pretty good method for documenting the flow across platforms in a transmedia project.. unless you think otherwise?
Posted in ARG cross-media storytelling transmedia
San Diego Comic Con is a massive gathering of smart, tech savvy, nerdy folks. Every year, there are tie-ins there to all sorts of transmedia campaigns, and this summer Culture Hacker will be there, rounding them up.
We will be scouring the conference, but you can make it easier for us to find the good stuff. If you know where a great transmedia project can be found at Comic Con, and you want to see it here on WBP, please drop a line to our tip box.
All tips are treated as anonymous. Be sure to let us know where to go (booth number or room name), and when. Spoilers not necessary.
Lead photo courtesy Gary Scott.
Posted in crowdsourcing event events marketing television transmedia
I think we all dream of one day having a holodeck – the perfect storytelling tool. It would let us employ visuals, audio, touch, smell, and taste to pull the audience through our stories, allow us to mix archeaological, environmental and immediate storytelling. In some ways, transmedia storytelling nudges us toward that goal.
But our theater, the real world, is so diffuse. If we want to convey touch or smell, we have to compile a mailing list and send out packages. The bulk of our players generally have to make do with audio and visuals.
So one of my pet questions is, how can we broadcast more things digitally? With 3D television already on its way, it bears saying that I’m not talking about more vivid illusions, but about actual physical objects. Instead of a holodeck, can we just get a replicator and go from there?
Delivering Physical Objects Digitally
Of course, detailed patterns for real objects can be transmitted over the Internet, and we’ve been doing that for a while.
This complex paper model exists online in the form of a pattern that can be downloaded for free and built anywhere, by anyone who has a printer, a few basic office supplies, and patience. I really like papercraft – I’ve already written here about my love for simpler, less work-intensive papercraft as distributed art projects.
This gives us an idea of one way we might be able to broadcast physical objects to deliver a narrative through them. There is the issue, however, of skill. Putting together advanced papercraft like this one is very much like traditional model building, and not every potential player will necessarily have the skill or the inclination to build a complex model.
Papercraft has a history in alternate reality gaming. The Beast asked players to construct a real world paper crane from a digital design to solve a puzzle. The MSN Search ARG also included a casual link to a popular optical illusion papercraft, the Gardner Dragon, that players, myself included, actually built despite the fact that it wasn’t related to the story.
DIY culture is certainly on the rise, and anyone skilled enough can create virtually anything with plans and guidance from the net. But how simple does a building process have to be, and how important to the narrative, to reliably get players to make their own artifacts?
One alternate approach is to automate the process of making the physical object altogether. The reprap community and Makerbot are already working on desktop 3D printers that might, in the foreseeable future, allow anyone to just straight up print out objects. One day, you might be able to send your players physical puzzle pieces, have them build working devices, or make their own game pieces for a physical board game in real space with other players.
Some clever contributors to Thingiverse are already working on gamelike ideas that use 3D printers as a platform. Check out the Surprise box, a digital design meant to be printed out and opened to discover the actual contents!
The technology isn’t anywhere near inkjet printers in price or availability – yet. But in the meantime, as creators, we can design some transmittable objects that meet players half way. The key will be to use common technologies and keep the amount of skilled work to a minimum.
Integrating It Into A Game
In terms of gameplay and narrative overall, there are some challenges to transmitting tangible objects. Players have to want to make these objects. There are several different ways you can do this.
Embed some information in the physical object that would not exist in its digital counterpart. The paper crane from The Beast is one example, but I can also imagine designing an ocarina whose exact tonal properties couldn’t be known until it was printed out and actually played.
Have the players seek out other objects in the real world that interface with the ones they’ve made. This could basically be a cutting edge take on the classic “missing gear” puzzle.
Use the transmitted objects to play some other physical game. Imagine a papercraft tabletop war game, or a game played with irregular solid dice from a 3D printer.
Use the physical object as a costume piece to encourage roleplay.
Make the physical object a representation of some other thing in the game world that is intangible. This works really well if the object in question is sought after, beloved, magical, or lost. Fans will create representations of their favorite objects in a game world even without any extra encouragement. And if you don’t believe me, check these out:
Companion Cubes (Portal)
Katamaris (Katamari Damacy)
Make the tangible object perform some neat function all on its own. This is what drives people to download and build the Gardner Dragon, and it’s probably the best way to get people making things. Keep in mind that an artifact with a standalone cool factor could also go viral.
Of course, barring all that, you can always just make the tangible object look really, really cool.
Broadcasting physical objects to play a game with a widespread audience also breaks a lot of common game conceptions. For one, collectibility is right out. Set completion is in. Personal unlockables are out, but universal unlockables are very in.
The kind of stories that could be told using a mechanic like this would be very different from what we’ve come to expect of interactive online media. We can’t make the same basic narrative assumptions that we make when we’re sending out packages in the mail or leaving artifacts in a dead drop. In that frame, objects have a history and their origins can be sinister, uplifting, or mysterious. The players usually get these objects at the end of their journey, or pass them from one person to another.
In a world where the player makes their own artifacts, they are intimately familiar with each object’s origins. They are joining the object at the beginning of its journey, and where it goes from there is up to them.
Posted in cross-media experience transmedia
In my earlier post on Culture Hacker and in my SlideShare presentation created for the Sacramento Film Festival, I described the process for creating transmedia entertainment as shown in Figure 1.
In this post I’d like to focus on selecting the right platforms.
This post is in TWO PARTS.
This is the first part and the second part is at http://zenfilms.typepad.com where you’ll find downloadable content such as a nicely formatted & printable PDF of the whole post and an Excel tool for ranking platforms.
PART 1 of 2
Figure 1 The Development Process
In this post, when I say “platforms” I mean the combination of media plus technology and here I’d like to get you thinking about how you might go about selecting the right platforms. Of course there is no universal truth in platform selection – the right platforms are those that best suit you and the project. Although I would advocate that all projects have a community platform but that might not be part of your storytelling.
While keeping in mind the larger iterative development process, I recommend a similar five-stage iterative approach to selecting your platforms:
- Stage 1: go with your gut
- Stage 2: consider the relative strengths and weaknesses of each platform
- Stage 3: support the weaknesses of a platform with the strengths of others
- Stage 4: consider the timing of platforms relative to each other
- Stage 5: consider changes to the story to bake-in the platforms and timing.
1. Go with your gut
In the first instance, just go with your gut and list a few platforms that you think will suit your story and audience. This first pass will likely identify platforms based on the following:
- personal desire or bias
- popularity with audiences (including fashions and fads)
- ability to collect payment
- availability to find funding or sponsorship
- popularity with the press & bloggers (at certain times some platforms are more sexy that others)
- suitability to the story
- resources available.
Now take a closer look at each platform.
2. Determine each platform’s strengths and weaknesses
In determining a platforms’ strengths and weaknesses:
- first – consider the experience you’d like to create and which platforms are best suited to it
- second – rank a short list of platforms and ensure they create a mix that works synergistically .
Choosing the right platform for the right experience
A senior executive at Yahoo spoke on Fora.tv recently about how Apple asked Yahoo to design an app for the iPad that would be a “coffee table experience”. The idea was that the iPad would be out on the coffee table in the living room when friends visited and the owner would want to pick up the device and share the Yahoo entertainment with her guests. Yahoo tailored its online content to suit the specifics of the iPad – not just the unique form factor but the unique consumption context too.
Device manufactures spend a lot of time thinking about how their products will be used. Learn a lesson from these guys and don’t just partition your story across platforms but take time to adapt it so it works in the context of the device and the audience lifestyle.
Table 1 and Table 2 present possible ways to segment your platforms by the nature of audience participation. Use this type of approach to inform the platform selection around the type of experience you’d like to create.
Table 1 Possible platform segmentation 1
|Watching movie: mobile phone, laptop, slate
Reading: book, mobile, laptop, slate, Kindle
Kindle (interactive fiction)
iPad/Slate? – see comment above
Table 2 Possible platform segmentation 2
Façade projection mapping
ARG (alternative reality game)
AR (augmented reality)
Postcards and flyers
Find the right mix of platforms
Given that each platform will have its own strengths and weaknesses, the goal of this stage is to be objective about why a certain platform should remain in the mix. My approach is to score each platform based on the following criteria:
- Revenue gained
- Cost (inc. time) of delivering content
- Ability of platform to enable social spread of content
- Fit to audience lifestyle
- Remarkability (uniqueness/coolness/timeliness/quality) of platform or content
- Timing of release to audience
The table below shows how these might be scored from 5 to 1 and Figure 2 presents an example from the Excel spreadsheet tool that’s available for download from the Zen Films website.
While the exercise feels a little academic, if you have to justify external funding and justify to yourself that it’s worth putting time into something, it’s worth quickly running through the numbers – you might find some surprising results.
Table 3 Rating a Platform
Figure 2 Platform Tool Example
3. Have platforms support each other with calls-to-action
Now you know the pros and cons of each platform, you need to find ways to have them support each other. By this I mean that some platforms will be great for spreading awareness but lousy at making money. To combine the strengths of each platform means getting the audience to cross between platforms.
So how do we do this? Firstly it’s important to remember that crossing platforms introduces friction. So rather than assume that audiences want multi-platform experiences, it’s better to ask yourself three questions:
- What’s my objective in having audiences cross platforms?
- How can I motivate audiences to cross platforms?
- What’s the reward when they get there?
The Call to Action
Before I continue, I’d like to introduce a little jargon: the “call to action”.
In web design, the button and wording on a page that asks you to “click here” or “sign up” is known as the “call to action” (CTA). It’s a plea for the user to do something and good designers make these calls-to-action appear to be the default choice – you’re nudged to take action through clear layout, positioning of the button, use of colors and so on.
The term is also used in advertising: “for a limited time only”, “while stocks last”, “a once in a lifetime offer”. These are all calls to action to get you to do something now and not put off your decision.
A transmedia experience needs similar CTAs to get audiences to cross platforms.
What’s the objective?
Part of your objective will be to create a fun experience but it will also relate to your business model. Here are three examples.
Example 1. A transmedia project has a comic book and a web series: the comic book will carry advertisements because it’s believed that print advertising is less intrusive than pre-roll video advertising (because the ads won’t get in the way of the story). The value of the advertising is such that it pays for both the comic book and the web series. Both will be given away for free but the advertiser has been promised a minimum number of comic book readers. Hence, it’s important to get web series viewers to cross platforms to the comic book.
Example 2. A transmedia project has a mix of free and revenue-generating platforms: the free platforms build the audience and the revenue-generating platforms pay for the project.
In Example 2 Your first thought might be that CTAs are needed to ensure the free audience migrates to a revenue platform. But this only provides part of the solution. Table 4 compares the relative audience sizes and revenue potentials across platforms and offers possible strategies to maximize the opportunities. Note that CTAs are used not only to grow revenue but to grow the audience – migrating them to more social platforms and providing spreadable content with CTAs to promote further growth.
Table 4 Assessing your call-to-action: comparing audiences across platforms
||Audience Size and Loyalty/Enthusiasm
|Big Win. Keep the audience here and keep them spending! Refresh content, allow audience to create content (includes discussions, suggestions, live chat).
||Provide CTA’s to motivate audience to become Hardcore
||Respect this audience: don’t milk them for money. Use their enthusiasm to grow casual audience. Invest in community and provide spreadable content with CTAs to build wider audience.
||Small Win. Can a gentle CTA motivate them towards a bigger revenue platform?
||Provide CTA’s to motivate audience to become Hardcore – more revenue will likely follow.
||Maximize spreadability of content (see above). Provide gentle CTA to nudge onto higher revenue platforms.
|If revenue is important, need a CTA to send audience to a revenue platform
||How is this platform contributing to the experience?
||Maximize spreadability of content. CTAs to grow audience and nudge this audience to revenue platforms.
Example 3. In my Lowlifes project, physical and device-specific copies of the content is paid content while web-based content is free. My primary, albeit weak, CTAs are:
- the project “logo” that displays three media types – informing audiences that this story spans multiple platforms
- the story in each media begs questions that the audience desires to be answered – and expects to find them in the other media; hence enticing them to cross platform.
With Example 3 in regard to moving from a free platform to a paid platform, I’m hoping that the friction of being tied to a desktop (free platform) will encourage supporters to migrate to a paid platform for a better experience more in keeping with their lifestyle – for example, the ability to read a paperback book in the bath!
In these examples you can see that the business model creates different objectives for cross-platform traversal.
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Posted in cross-media storytelling transmedia