Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Transmedia tools – Conducttr Mobile and Weavr

It’s been a while – a year or more – since I last wrote something about possible tools to use for transmedia storytelling. In the meanwhile, so many new opportunities, products and tools have come up. What prompted me to write this post was two tools that are out there now and that represent quite different spectras of the transmedia field; both could be very useful for a given project, and I’d love to try them both out within the scope of a project. Basically, everything and anything that makes it easier for me to get my stories to the desired audience in a logical and engaging and compelling and immersive way, I’m all for it, and these two services might just fit the bill.

First there is Conducttr Mobile, launched at the Transmedia Living Lab in Madrid the other day by Rob Pratten. Now, Conducttr has been around for a while as a tool for automating the telling of a narrative over several platforms – online, text messages and so on. This seems like the very logical next step, to take it out from the laptop or tablet and into the world of mobile.

A three-part ecosystem, where the audience takes part of a mobile app which lets them take part of different ”Worlds”, each belonging to a separate story or story world, the designers of the narrative get a ”cloud-based network intelligence” and the developers get an API to play around with. All in all I think it’s a service that would be interesting to explore; many times costs, time and an inability to code oneself put stumbling blocks in the way when trying to create the experience truest to one’s own vision. Conducttr Mobile just might be the solution to many of those occurences. I hope to be able to get back with a review at some point; just need to find a proper project to use it in!

The second service I thought I’d mention is one called Weavrs. If Conducttr Mobile is about a controlled experience in the hand of any and all consumers, Weavr is about setting things in motion and letting go. It’s described as a ”character / animation / curatorship platform”, where anyone can create a Weavr, which forms from the social web, blog, comment, check in and chat. It can be given a Twitter account and interact with the rest of the world. A number of Weavrs can be set up to act in the virtual world; by being given some intial interests, Weavrs learn from their social web and learn new emotions, growing to reflect the world around them.

Sounds spacey? Yes it does. But I think that’s why I like it; the idea of creating a story (perhaps distributing part of it via Conducttr Mobile J ) and creating the characters – one or more – as Weavrs with carefully selected initial interests and characteristics, and then letting them lead their own lives in the virtual world… now that’s interesting. Who knows what new stories or story archs might arise from their interaction with each other and with real people?

One of several add-ons currently being produced is called MiniMonoMyth, something that is describes as ” dynamically generated narratives. Resulting in unique timelines of digital experiences; stories woven from the fabric of the web into the daily lives of your Weavrs.” Again, this is a service I would really like to try out; can it actually deliver the experience I’m hoping it can? Looking forward to finding out.

Now, these are two examples, and I’m sure there are quite a few others. Let me know in the comments what I’ve missed! 

Friday, May 25, 2012

Nordic Game and Nordic Transmedia Meetup

Yves Bordeleau from Cyanide and Asta Wellejus from Die Asta
Experience talking about the upcoming Game of Thrones game.

It’s Friday mid-day and the transmedia track at the game conference Nordic Game has about half a day left; right now I’m listening to a presentation of the game version of Game of Thrones (pictured above, sorry about the quality :).

Now, Nordic Game is a game conference. 1600 people, most of them coders, gamers and other industry people; lots of game showcases and a lot of talks on how to create and co-create and finance and market games and game content.

On the transmedia track, talks have been slightly different. The Nordic Transmedia Meetup day on Wednesday 23rd drew a crowd of 70+ producers from the Nordic countries. The theme was financing, with some sidetracks into unconference territory as well. Some key take-aways, especially from investor Doug Richards, was the importance of actually understand what need your project or product is addressing. It’s basically always useful to do a NABC (Needs/Approach/Benefits/Competition) analysis of any given project.  Another take away from Doug’s feedback to people pitching their projects to him was that one should never reveal too much about one’s company or product, especially when talking to potential investors. If no one knows your metrics and what you’re worth, you could be worth anything!

In the open discussions many different issues were treated by the participants; from the art of collaborating with music in a transmedia setting via how to create a framework engine for the pre-production of transmedia projects to an idea of a Kickstarter-like online service for selling content.

Randy Pitchford from Gearbox in the US – they’ve made games like Borderlands and Halo spin-offs – talked about how to manage the image of a company. He stressed the importance of letting the employed invest in the company, to encourage them to think about image and profit. There is, he observed, a need to really invest in the people at the company as well; as you spend a lot of time on yourselves, this investment permeates the image of the company.

Andrea Phillips gave a great presentation on ”Why Games need Transmedia”, highlighting the fact that games are about experiencing flow. By breaking up the frame of a game, it is possible to let the story flow over to other media. This would also, she argued, be the most natural thing. When a player sits at his or her computer or console he or she wants to game, not watch cut-scenes for minutes. There is also a real and tangible need to know the Context and the Backstory, in order to be able to create and develop it all into a coherent whole.

@jonatchoo on designing - "Don't Expect Anything Original from an Echo"

Jonathan Jacques-BelletĂȘte from Square Enix / Eidos talked about designing, issues and solutions that can be applied to a number of other areas aside of game development. Key take away would be the advice to use Originality mixed with Familiarity when designing just about anything – originality will make the brain log your content in more ways with more new connections, so that it can be retrieved easier, while familiarity will add a feeling of comfort, security and even nostalgia.

All in all the Nordic Game conference and the Nordic Transmedia Meetup was and is a success, in getting people from different industries get together and discuss the issues and opportunities gaming and transmedia can offer across the board. My only regret is that I've not yet been able to clone myself to attend more presentations, talk to more people and network even more. The next step in the Nordic Transmedia saga will hopefully be a Nordic Transmedia Finland meetup in Oulu at the Nordic Panorama festival in September. Details will be posted later!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Transmedia and the Audience

The Audience. Your task? To get them to turn around, pay attention and invest in your content!
In a post in February I talked about what I saw as the ”Five pillars of transmedia”, the different types of people that need to work together to successfully develop, produce and launch a transmedia project. There was a sixth pillar as well, which was the Audience. This is what I wrote back then:
All of this |the five pillars written about earlier in the post] leads to one thing; the need to create a transmedia experience that will engage, excite, enable and enrich an audience. This, while all the people representing the five pillars above need to communicate fully and thoroughly with each other, communication which may or may not include the use of translators and glossaries to assist with the understanding. 
What it all boils down to is that everyone must strive to understand everyone else and open one's eyes to the possibilities and challenges that will arise. Or, rather, open one eye to possibilities and challenges, as the other eye needs to stay constantly fixed on the audience, ready to adapt, respond, re-develop and communicate. The audience is the foundation that all these pillars need to be grounded on, else we’ll just have a heap of rabble in the end. More on them in another post.

I’ve been having a number of discussions lately on this subject, transmedia and the audience. Here then, a brief post looking at some of the issues:

Experiences from an earlier life

I have a solid background in traditional media, newspapers, tv and a lot of radio. I still think I could do a three hour radio show without breaking a sweat (although my music selection might be a bit dated). When doing radio, the target audience becomes extremely important. I used to close my eyes and imagine the persons I was addressing my next speak to; listening to it afterwards, the voice changes, the wording changes, the whole persona changes – which is something that cuts through the static and reaches people.

The same goes for transmedia project, only here it’s not enough just to close your eyes and imagine an audience. Having done that, you need to research that audience, find out what they do, what they like, how they behave, how they connect, how they share, how they play and who they really are. This is, in parts, gruelsome work, especially in the beginning. But the more data you have, the more knowledge you have, the more you have to build on for future projects, and the more knowledge you have about what knowledge is actually necessary to focus on. Whatever you do, don’t ignore the need to target your audience.

The inactive audience

This is a mistake I still do, when I get too caught up in the whirlwind of creativity. Fact is that the major part of your project’s audience, be it on TV or online or wherever, will choose not to be interactive. So, when planning and developing and producing anything, you need to make sure this large part of the audience are offered a full experience even without interactivity. That is, you need to make a great show or a great project, that simply becomes EVEN GREATER if someone chooses to interact with it. I’ve seen quite a few pitches go haywire on this point, as the show might be good, but no one on the creative team could answer the question ”what do the people who don’t have an iPad do then?”. Think of everyone in the audience.

The active audience

That said, you will (hopefully) have an eager crowd participating and being active and interactive. In which way this happens is of course dependent on your project and what you have developed.  One thing I’ve learned (and heard in discussions with a number of other creators) is that you can never create too for too much interaction. If you’re aiming for an ARG or for interaction with characters or for exploration of the greater narrative, the audience – if your content is compelling and engaging enough – will always be quicker than you anticipated. As you’d ideally like to have an audience hungry for more, you need to create more in order to not have a sated (or even worse, frustrated) audience at some point. This in turn takes its toll on resources and manpower; one solution is to design for audience co-creation in a more open environment, but this needs to be incorporated from the very beginning of the development process. Or the project will be limited in scope and time, which ultimately will make it more of a one-off. Choices, choices… but as a rule, use transmedia storytelling methods to always create more than you think you have to.    

Harnessing in the long run

In the same vein, think about what to actually do with your audience. Be they silent spectators or active participants, they have still invested either time or effort or both in what you have created. Providing the experience was a positive one you’ll have a more or less devoted audience to engage with. Many projects, for practical, financial or other reasons, think of their project in the scope of what is at hand, nothing more. I’d argue that it pays off to think a bit further, from the outset. Yes, it is harder to think of your project as a two- or three-step rocket. Yes, it is very much difficult enough to create ONE good project and get it financed and produced. But at the same time, not doing so will mean you’ll have to play catch-up at the point when you HAVE an audience, and that audience is clamoring for more. 

Also, think about what else you’d like to use your audience for; perhaps you’d like to do research on a very specific target group? Perhaps you’d like to engage them in a charity or get exposure for a start-up or something else? If this is something you want to do, you need to plan for it from the beginning, so that it in some way sits naturally in the narrative and the story world; having the main character support UNICEF at some point will make it possible for you to champion UNICEF’s cause to your audience, for instance. Bottom line, think ahead (there are always painkillers for the inevitable headaches).

Respect without groveling

Finally, I think this is a point well worth remembering. The audience deserves our respect. This would in my book involve not hoaxing them, not stepping outside given ramifications, not exploiting them, not treating them like commodity. ”Do unto others” is a phrase that comes to mind. That said, there is no need to grovel; you have created something, of which you have all the right in the world to be proud. If someone else starts giving you a hard time over it, just give them a friendly reminder that they can go do something else with their time. Haters gonna hate, no matter what; don’t let it get to you. Sensible and constructive critizism on the other hand, THAT is something you should let get to you J.

Good resources

I’ll finish by stating, as a disclaimer, that the views above are from my limited point of view. There are many others with insights greater than mine, who discuss the importance of the audience, who explore the interaction with audiences in their work and who are great people to keep tabs on in this regard. Lance Weiler comes naturally to mind, as do Nuno Bernardo and Gary P Hayes.  I will post a follow-up with more resources later on.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Closed or open participation in transmedia?

We hosted our bi-monthly MindClub in Vasa, Finland, the other day, and had the great pleasure of welcoming Christy Dena as our main speaker. Something in particular stuck to my mind from the chat with Christy and other participants afterwards, and that’s what this brief post is about.

See, transmedia is many times (and in my opinion most often should be) inclusive of the audience and encouraging audience participation in one way or another (just googling ”audience participation in transmedia” yields 80k+ hits, for instance). But then, opinions start to differ, especially regarding the level and the way and the openness of the participation.

Now, any participation must, naturally, make sense within the scope of the project and as a part of the story world. If this is a given, however, we come to the question of the nature of the participation.

Dirty Work, on the Rides engine
Will it be a closed participation, where the audience is given a set number of choices or alternatives to play around with, a participation that is 100% in the hands of the creators? The bonus is of course that the audience will experience more or less exactly what the creators have intended, the story arch will continue as planned and there will be no deviations, no trouble ahead, and the next instalment that follows will continue along a logical path and not confuse any member of the audience. The drawback is that it might be less engaging, as people do not invest anything of themselves in the content, and that the creators miss out on a potential huge mass of creativity by not encouraging the audience to create anything within the ramifications of the story world. The very interesting Rides engine by 4th Wall Studios could be considered to fall into this category.

Will it be a closed participation which gives the appearance of an open participation? This is most commonly referred to as ”sandboxes” or perhaps Jeff Gomez’ ”Swiss Cheese Model”, where certain ares, places or gaps in the narrative and/or the story world have been set aside for the audience to create stuff themselves. The bonus is a more engaged audience, a creative output within the context of the story world and the narrative superstructure and possibilities to spread the ”gospel” of the story world through eager audience members sharing their creations with their friends, becoming evangelists in the process. The drawback is an added need to create more in order to accommodate these sandboxes or cheese holes; they need to have logical places in the narrative superstructure. Another drawback is an added need for more manpower in order to moderate contributions and creations – a need that, with time, can be handed out to credible and realiable members of the audience, but in the beginning probably must be in the hands of the production team.

Or, will it be an open participation that also gives the appearance of an open participation? This then would go somewhere in the direction of the Shared Storyworlds propagated for by Scott Walker, for instance. I.e., the story world is created, a narrative superstructure is in place, and the audience is given more or less free reins within these parameters, to create, collaborate, share and design. Bonuses include a vastly increased mass of creativity around the content, the possibilities for new and unexpected (and brilliant) stories and facets to emerge and basically work power for free. Drawbacks include the need to be able to let go of the control of the content; either you don’t control it, and it’s open participation, or you try to control it, and it’s not. Can’t have it both ways. Moderation might still be implemented though.

Now, there is no way to say which of these is the right choice. Many I’ve spoken to would never go along with a totally open participation, which I understand perfectly. If I would propagate for any one model, it would be for an overarching strategy, planned for the very beginning, which gradually opens up the story more and more for participants. What starts off as a series of novels that no one can influence grows into an online experience with sandboxes for people to create their own characters and their own villages/cities/areas, which evolves into a shared story world where stories are told from all corners, within the parameters of the story world.

I’d join! J

UPDATE: Rob Pratten of Transmedia Storyteller and Conducttr wrote a post on his/their view of participation. This "layered participation", blending the ones defined above by offering one content "as is" to be consumed, while opening up the surrounding story world for participants to explore and add to, is definitely a very good way to go if it fits the context of the content on offer (and I'd imagine it'd do that for almost any kind of content, from fiction to documentaries and onwards). 
Layered participation could be seen as a well working blend of the types of participation outlined above, all according to the wants of the creators, the needs of the audience and the context of the content. 

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Five transmedia projects – May 2012 edition

It feels a bit like that good ol’ ketchup effect, when you squeeze and squeeze and mutter and squeeze some more and then, with a mighty BRRFPRPRRRTTT you’ve got half the content of the bottle all over your plate. It’s a bit like the transmedia scene right now, where people have been chipping away at projects left and right and now releasing them. It’s a great feeling and something I’ve been waiting for for quite some time; we’re rapidly moving in the direction where everyone can look beyond the ”oh it’s a new transmedia project!” effect and instead focus on the content, the context and the delivery.

Below is a list of five projects I’ll be keeping an eye on this month, as they all look inspiring in their own way. These are all quite subjective, from my point of view, naturally:

Dark Knight Rises. Well, it has something to live up to, as ”Why So Serious?” still functions as a kind of a blueprint of what can be done with transmedia when looking to raise awareness and market an upcoming blockbuster. Still, this one seems not to be willing to loom in the shadow of aforementioned ancestor, but is instead developing legs of its’ own quite rapidly. Let’s see when all those graffitis around the world have been decoded… J

Try Life. This is an interactive drama that I find interesting; granted, so far it’s ”just” a ”choose the storyline” drama, but it’s well produced and the creators are promising ”a lot more to come”. The series itself is in the educational vein, helping teenagers to tackle consequences of sex, drugs and violence, under the british National Curriculum. As an example of how to use new storytelling techniques for something else than pure entertainment and marketing, it’s looking quite neat. Also, 100k+ likes on Facebook must mean someone’s interested!

Alt-Minds is Orange’s new venture and is branded ”The Very First Total Fiction”. The teaser trailer is looking slick, and I had a chat with Stephane Adamiak from Orange at MIPCube; they’re drawing on some good experiences of earlier projects and are going to have Alt-Minds play out as a paranormal thriller on social media, apps and web TV. Will be interesting to follow.

Rides: Dirty Works. So, here it is, finally – the follow up to teaser ”Home: A Ghost Story”, the first series that shows what you can do with 4th Wall Studios’ Rides-engine. It’s a well written script and good actors; overall a good story. And yes, the Rides solutions do give that bit extra to the experience, once you get used to it – even if you just experience it online. I thought I detected some glitch in the logic of the script when taking part of some of the extra content, but that might’ve been just me. Looking forward to the next episode!

Endworlds popped up on my radar a couple of months ago; it’s initially a three-part online publication with strong online presence, live treasure hunts around the globe and a lot of FB and Twitter followers. I think it looks like an innovative way of telling stories, meshing marketing with user contribution with storytelling with good strategies, and will be following how it evolves.

All in all, exciting times. Looking forward to see what other new projects will see the light of day!