Friday, January 28, 2011

On transmedia and funding

Andrea Phillips wrote a passionate and very good post some days ago on why transmedia is not marketing. I can’t but agree with the points she makes in her post, as I am not a marketing person by trade, nor a born seller (although I’m getting better at it). On the other hand, I do believe that I will look at a couple of the points Andrea makes from a slightly different angle. She wrote:

For one thing, [marketing transmedia projects] are a lot more likely to be able to pay the team a living wage, which means the creators can afford to spend more time and care instead of working on it in off hours and weekends. And more money means a higher production value; dollars spent translates pretty well into better-looking video, better-sounding audio, and sleeker, glossier websites. Audiences like that.
And even more important than improved production values, money lets you promote the story. This is crucial -- you need to pull people into your project.

Now, in my book this is not a bad thing (and no, I don’t believe Andrea thinks it’s bad either, in itself). In fact, I feel it is a necessary thing, for any project, transmedia or not. Yes, I am a storyteller. Yes, I create transmedia projects. Yes, I want to get a living wage and pay the ones I work with a living wage as well. And yes, I want it to look as good as possible, give the best experience possible and attract as large an audience as possible.

To do this (unless you happen to film your kid getting his finger bitten by his brother and generate a gazillion views off of that), the project needs funding. To get funding, you need someone willing to pay for the project. To find those willing to pay for the project, you need to make it worthwhile for them. Therefore, as I’ve mentioned before, the crafting of a viable business plan that fits your transmedia narrative superstructure, but at the same time give sponsors and advertisers value for their money, is in many ways as great a challenge as creating the transmedia content itself. And these things are interconnected – your content, with your stories, your mythology, your theme, will point you in the right direction when it comes to finding possible sponsors and partners that will fit into your story and your storyworld without disturbing them and taking away from the experience of them. This in turn will give both you and your sponsors better value for the money.

The reason I started writing this post was an article from A Think Lab, written by Bonnie Buckner and Dr Pamela Rutledge about “The Power of Transmedia Storytelling – using the technique for effective marketing campaigns”. It has a number of good points that any transmedia producer, no matter how small-key or artsy, can take to heart and use to good advantage. No matter how small a producer you are, you still want a great number of people to take part of your content. Says A Think Lab re: the great possibilities a transmedia approach gives anyone who is in the marketing business:

A story invites rather than sells. […] Today’s consumer lives in a world where a genuine brand dialogue, not “marketing message,” is expected.
I feel we have an obligation, as early-wave transmedia producers and creators, to create not only great projects but financially viable projects that can be used when explaining the term transmedia to a business and media world that hasn’t really opened their eyes to the possibilities a transmedia approach provides yet. I would dearly like to point to a dozen great transmedia projects with a stable financial plan as a part of the project structure the next time I go pitch a new project to potential financiers :)

Monday, January 24, 2011

Doing it the transmedia way

Working with transmedia is one thing. Working transmedially, that’s something else, at least in my book. The two thing do go hand in hand, in a way – if you ARE working with transmedia, starting to think in a transmedia fashion about the way you work opens up possibilites.

In his book ”The rules of work” Richard Templar talks about roles in a working environment. He statest that:

Basically your Role is how you fit into the team – and yes, we are all team players. We have to be, in this day and age.

Looking at how many transmedia producers approach their work, this is very true. You need a transmedia producer to work with the other producers and the creator(s) of a certain property, especially if you are looking at developing and producing something a bit bigger. It goes without saying that defining the roles of these different team members is a crucial part of any project; who is responsible for what, who has clout when it comes to the development of a certain content and who needs to know what and when.

Working ”transmedially”

Transmedia, however much a buzzword it has become in the past few months, is a very powerful instrument when you get it right. So why not use it to make your teamwork better? If you build the storyworld, the mythology, of your project with the same careful and precise devotion as you build the storyworld that will be the content of your project, you will – according to my/our experience – receive a number of benefits:

- Everyone involved in the project will know their role intimately, and can naturally interact to change their role to fit themselves as persons even better – as long as it does not break the transmedia principles of theme and tone
- Integrating new co-workers or external partners in the project is easier when you have a story to connect to. This is not saying that you should start explaining transmedia principles or dive deep into storyworlds when talking to potential partners, but it will give you the means to explain the gist of the project in a coherent, logical and always similar way.
- Pitching your project suddenly becomes much easier. Not only do you know your content, you know your project and everyone’s role in it, and you know your own role as well.
- Defining a transmedia setting for your project also gives ideas on how to implement the project on different platforms, and how to use different platforms to the greatest advantage
- By defining the transmedia setting, the storyworld, for your project, you will by default also (at least partly) define the role of your company (and affiliated companies) in that setting. This can lead to new aspects on your company and possible future projects and cooperations.
- If you want to make additional material available, which in a transmedia project is almost a given, approaching the way you work transmedially will help you no end when it comes to amassing "behind-the-scenes"-material, making-of-documentaries etc

The roles

As for how to define different roles, it might not be the most productive way to go down the drama route, as there is less call on archetypes like ”Hero”, ”Sage” or ”Villain” when you sit around a table brainstorming stuff. I think the best way is to define roles according to the people connected to a certain project, but there are places to start looking if inspiration is needed.

For instance, Dr Meredith Belbin, who has been researching into team work roles for over 40 years, is one place to start with the definitions of nine distinct team roles at the core; the Plant, the Resource Investigator, the Co-ordinator, the Shaper, the Monitor Evaluator, the Team Worker, the Implementer, the Completer and the Specialist. Have a read at the Team Role Theory site for more information.


Taking the opportunity to apply transmedia principles not only to the content you are working on but also to the work processes themselves, has the potential to add a surprising amount of value to not only your work, but to the way you work as well. Try it – you might just like it.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Must connect, must make sense.

Today I read a good post by Pamela Rutledge over at Psychology Today. She talks about the psychological power of storytelling and brings up some points that I find are absolutely crucial for transmedia developers to take into consideration when developing their stories. I’ve touched upon the subject before, in Transmedia - the Story, the Experience and the Needs, since I believe that storytelling in a transmedia setting makes it possible to satisfy a greater number of needs than most forms of traditional storytelling. For example – we’ve all come out of a movie theatre, euphoric, with a deep sense of wanting to know what happened to the characters after the movie ended. Or, in the case of Avatar, LotR and many others, wanting to be a part of the world we have just gotten a glimpse of. Transmedia storytelling can fill this need, at least much better than other methods.

But we need to be wary and know what limits we are working within. As Rutledge writes:

In spite of all the excitement, however, the human brain has been on a slower evolutionary trajectory than the technology. Our brains still respond to content by looking for the story to make sense out of the experience.

And this is so very crucial. The different parts must connect, but must also make sense. Whichever way a user/consumer/viewer chooses to enter a narrative superstructure, they must fit logically into the mythology and the storyworld.

In a post about themes, deriving from Jeff Gomez’s and Starlightrunners way of working with coherent themes in transmedia projects, Lucas J.W. Johnson writes that:

…. there should be a broad theme present to unify the pieces, to actually allow for that dialogue between the stories of the property.

So this is one way of looking at it, although not at all at odds with what Rutledge writes about . As I wrote in a comment to Lucas’ post, the different parts of the terminology are not mutually exclusive in any way. Rather, they build on each other and support each other. With a solid theme to lean on, your stories will unfold HOW they should. WIth a solid world, they will unfold WHERE they should, and with a solid superstructure they will unfold WHEN they should, etc.

Always keep on track with your transmedia narrative. As Rutledge writes:

Humans seek certainty and narrative structure is familiar, predictable, and comforting. Within the context of the story arc we can withstand intense emotions because we know that resolution follows the conflict.

This is not to say that it doesn’t pay to experiment with storytelling principles, especially when we can plan for audience engagement and user interaction in a much deeper way, when planning transmedia. I simply find it is always of the essence to – from time to time – go back to the basics, to mirror what I’m working on against “how it always has been done”. A mix of both, with logical connections and attractive content coupled with clear calls-to-action, that is the future.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Tools for Transmedia part four - MyHistro and Magma

Screenshot from MyHistro

MyHistro - telling stories in a new way

I just stumbled upon an Estonian startup called MyHistro, which looks a bit interesting from a transmedia point of view. The idea is to tell stories, but to do it in a new and more social way. What you do is you sign up (it’s in open Beta, so go ahead and try it out) and start creating your MyHistro. It is an event-based way of telling stories, where you create your different events (you can check my test-event of a trip from Helsinki to Vaasa here), geotag with Google Maps interaction, add comments, pictures and YouTube videos as you please, and arrange these in the desired chronological order. Anyone viewing can then ”play” your story, which takes the viewer through the events with the possibility of stopping to read more, examine photos or suchlike.

Now, the ones using MyHistro at the moment are for the most part people trying it out – there are stories about Manchester Utd:s football games, one story from a person training for a ski competition later this year and so on. But for a transmedia producer, this tool could come in handy.

Firstly, it could be used to tell the development of your property in the real world. I would, for instance, love to follow the shooting of the crowdsourced Iron Sky movie via a service like this, instead of reading a blog or Timo’s tweets, as they move from Germany to Australia and onwards.

Secondly, as a part of a narrative, it could very nicely blur the lines between reality and fiction. A series like Lowlifes (which I thoroughly recommend everyone to check out) could perhaps have used this as an additional way of telling one side of the story. Just about anything set in the real world could use MyHistro to let a fictional character tell a story in a new and interesting way.

The stories are, of course, instantly shareable on the most important social platforms.

Magma - publishing made easier?

The second service that could be interesting from a transmedia point of view is Magma from Denmark. It is not possible for me to recommend this service yet, as I have not tried it out – it’s a 30 day free trial, but I have not yet started one – but on the surface it looks handy. Magma is about publishing for instance a magazine or a book. It lets you ”simplify your flatplanning, organize your content and resources” and the most important from my point of view ”Collaborate on content creation and keep track of photos, files and text.”

In a transmedia world where many (me included, if it fits the project in question) advocates the publishing of a graphic novel or similar, to enhance the value of your content and establish the mythology/canon in a more tangible form, Magma looks like a tool that might be useful. I have been looking at collaborating with people from all over the world on different projects, and Magma might just be the tool for that. I will get back with a fuller review once I’ve had the chance to use the service.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Quick post - Shadow Cities and context

Scott Walker asked me on Twitter: "Can you elaborate (or quick blog post) to clarify re: Shadow Cities and missing context?" This was in reply to me tweeting re: Shadow Cities that "been playing Shadow Cities for a couple of months now - verdict: yes, but would benefit from context." So here a quick post to elaborate, as 140 characters is a bit limiting.

To recap - Shadow Cities is a Finnish startup, in Beta mode in Finland. It's a quite nice iPhone game, that uses OpenMaps and GPS to put a magical layer on top of the "real world", a layer in which you and a lot of other mages do battle. Two teams compete, the Animators (or "Hippies", as we affectionally call ourselves) and the Architects (or "Narks") for the win in each campaign, which lasts about a week each. As a mage you can build Dominators to conquer Gateways and collect energy. With this energy you can maintain Spirit Catchers (to catch spirits, which you need to get points for your team or donate to research to get Mana Potions which replenishes your mana) or Beacons, which act as waypoints for your team mates to warp to, over great distances. You can also build Traps to thwart your enemies spells, or Heal other players or Dominators or Beacons, and you can naturally attack with the "Z" spell. You gather experience points and advance in levels and get more perks, better spells etc.

So, all in all a compelling game. These past few weeks have seen numerous rule changes - as it is in Beta mode - some for the better, some for the worse.

What I severely lack is the context, which I believe the game would benefit immensely from. The background story is flimsy to say the least; "Animators vs Architects!", yes, but why? There are no NPC:s, not even static ones... there should be a story world, as the game world has been built very nicely on top of the real world, a story world to get campaign ideas from and to let players draw more inspiration from. If Gray Area, the company behind Shadow Cities, would do that - get some good transmedia storytellers onboard - there is the possibilites for a major transmedia campaign; comics, board games, tv series, you name it. As it is now, it's a compelling game and a unique game plan, but not really there just yet.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Transmedia - The Steady Burn

There is an interesting discussion going on regarding the possibilities and implifications when talking about transmedia and localization – i.e. segmentation, catering for the needs of different demographics through the powers of transmedia. Simon Pulman wrote a great post stemming from Shakira, Jeff Gomez and Rosetta Stone, to which Alison Norrington responded with some good thoughts on the cultural perspectives and Lucas J.W. Johnson pitched in with an interesting post about the dangers of ghettoization (be sure to read the comments too, all good stuff!)

Transmedia - engaging in the long run

Looking at the issue from another angle, I have always felt that one of the major strengths of transmedia is the possibility to add the Steady Burn to any project you’re working on. If, in a project, the tv series premiere or the major motion picture release is the bright flash that catches everyone’s attention, the transmedia story archs can provide the steady burn that keeps people huddled around your story fire.

All previous advice still apply, naturally. The different transmedia parts of a story must fit together, they must stay true to the overall mythology and canon and they must be executed with utmost care. My point is rather to look at parts of what you’re creating as just that – the steady burn, the log you put on the fire to ensure it does not go out, that final piece of wood that makes the tinders just perfect for roasting your transmedia marshmallows on.

In this sense my thoughts tie in with the discussion above – I feel that including the awareness of localization, of catering to different segments of your audience via different storylines, is a powerful thing in this aspect.

To exemplify: If a tv series has ended and there will be over half a year until the start of the next season, you will have viewers that symphatize with different characters in your story. Now, as the steady burn until the next bright flash, let the ones following your hispanic character continue to do so via her YouTube videos, the ones following your gay character continue via Twitter updates, the ones following your divorced suicidal middle aged white mail character do so via his blog etc – and plan these updates to a) stay true to the story world, b) move off on their own mini-story-archs, as a sort of interlude and c) tie them all together, so that anyone watching the first one or two episodes of the next series of the tv show will find references to these storylines that have acted as interludes. (Of course, that first show must also work for anyone who has not been involved in the interludes as well, but that’s a given).

The Long Tail in a transmedia world

Now, Venture Beat has an eye-opening article on how social media advertising is replacing traditional media advertising. We all know this has been happening for quite some time already (just look at how traditional newspapers are faring) but when, for instance, Proctor & Gamble declares that they will be moving the lion share of their tv advertisement money to social platforms, this will have broad implications for anyone in content production.

Looking at the example above, I was talking about the tv series being the driving platform for the story line. This will probably be true for the forseeable future as well (even though the largest amount of people watching said tv series will have torrented it, watched it online somewhere or just basically NOT sat down in front of a television at a set time each week), since tv is a great media to tell stories via and since most people are used to the 30, 45 or 60 minute spot and it's dramaturgy. What will not be true - and has not been for some time now, regarding many productions - is that tv will be the major source of revenue for whatever story/property you are producing. The "long tail" model is no longer only about distribution but also production. Revenue will come from online, mobile, you name it, and the content will need to take this into accord, be tailored, localized - basically developed according to the best transmedia principles.

In the example above, I would look at a scenario in the very near future where the sole aim of the television series - even if it is am HBO mega series or suchlike - is to build the mythology and the story strong enough to engage people in the Steady Burn between series, where the major part of the revenue stream is found through subscriptions, donations, fees, etc.

Interesting times ahead.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Make sure it fits!

Note: this might be too basic for some, but as I noted above, I’m keeping this blog as a notebook for myself as well; most of the musings here have come as a direct consequence of pondering on the development of ideas I’m working on, and I know there is a considerable chance that I'll forget them if I don’t jot them down. This is a typical one :)

It may be a bit early to start talking about complacency with regards to transmedia. It’s a form of storytelling that didn’t have a proper name until some five years ago, and only during the past few months has managed to penetrate the minds of the industry and the audience to any greater degree.

Still, and I will willingly point the finger at myself as well in this case, any transmedia project (as with any other project) runs the risk of falling into the pit named ”We’re doing it as it should be done”.

Now, do read me right – there are a number of talks and presentations and discussions on the Net on how to create and produce transmedia, and these talks, presentations and discussions are for the most part spot on and simply required hearing/reading/watching. What I’m saying is that you always have to mirror the advice, the blueprints and the examples against what YOUR transmedia property is about.

As an example – in connection to one project I’m working on at the moment, I was quite convinced that producing something tangible in the form of a graphic novel, a photo book or a hard-covered short story would help the project along; grounding the mythology, the canon, in something tangible, while at the same time adding perceived value to pitches and discussions. Now, while this may be true for many transmedia projects, I have since come to the conclusion that such an approach will not suit this particular project. Yes, there will quite probably be printed material in the future. Yes, it will build on the same narrative supertstructure. Furthermore, it will have it’s own business model. But it will not be the first contact anyone will have with the particular project, simply because it it not in the nature of the project.

To conclude: evaluate each and every option and make sure that they themselves stay true to the core of your story. It is not merely about the content (although the content of course needs to be consistent, logical, engaging etc), it is as much about the way it is delivered, the way it is received, the feel of the communication… everything needs to fit. If you feel it does not fit, don’t do it – or at least don’t do it in the way that does not fit.