The Great Transmedia Experiment Begins

While evolution tends to be a slow, multi-generational process, the entertainment industry has an amazing ability to take huge steps forward in very little time, allowing people to witness impressive leaps in technology and narrative before their very eyes. Film and television are the most popular and accessible forms of entertainment for the majority of people, making them the bellwethers and main indicators of this creative progression, but it cannot be denied that video games are a major reason why the entertainment industry’s evolutionary wheels continue to spin faster and faster as we move forward into a brave new world.

What makes games such an important aspect of this “entertainment triumvirate” is the fact that it is only through games where we will be able to see a truly symbiotic relationship between the mediums take hold.

Partly because of this innovation from the game space, technology has grown to a level in which we are able to create a new term: “Transmedia storytelling.” First coined by USC professor Marsha Kinder, and expanded upon by MIT Media Studies professor Henry Jenkins, transmedia storytelling has the potential to develop a more compelling experience through “the coordinated use of narrative across multiple platforms.”

The term has expectedly taken awhile to become a true buzzword, due to many technological and logistical constraints, but with the runaway success of Telltale Game’s The Walking Dead and the popular Defiance game/tv crossover, it seems that we are finally entering an age where this exciting prospect can actually take shape in a commercially viable way.

Following the bankruptcy of THQ, the visionary former chief, Danny Bilson, has been hard at work creating the next big thing in transmedia. For all the mistakes that THQ made over the past few years (some of which Bilson is to blame), they were nothing if not innovative. While companies like Activision fed off of their flagship titles, THQ continued to try and push the game space forward.

They failed, but at least they tried.

One such experiment was Red Faction. A successful series in its own right, THQ attempted to turn it into a crossmedia IP by developing Red Faction: Armageddon, and the SyFy movie tie-in, Red Faction Origins. While the quality of both productions were readily apparent, neither were able to achieve widespread success, eventually leading to an abandonment of the expensive franchise

With the invaluable knowledge gleaned from these failures, which, as we know, are commonly more helpful than lessons of success, Bilson is looking to use his experience to help usher in a new age of interactive entertainment. Partnering up with Lloyd Levin, producer of the Hellboy, Watchmen and Tomb Raider films, Bilson has begun to discuss his still unnamed game and film crossover.

Speaking at the GameHorizon conference in the UK, his plan is engage people who desire to go beyond passive fiction and want to become a part of it. Sounds like gamers to me. What he wants to do is marry linear and interactive experiences through character and narrative, and then “seed” this into several forms of media, effectively creating a larger canvas with which to develop an immersive and engaging intellectual property.

As a way to start the process, he wants to launch 3 two-hour episodes a year, while releasing two multi-chapter “narrative style” games in between. He likens these games to The Walking Dead but with “more features and interactivity.” The same writers and actors will be involved with both, while the viewing and playing will be done on the same device, be it PC, tablet or anything else with a browser, creating unprecedented consistency across multiple forms of media.

“It’s going to be a “high concept, micro-budget movie and connected game series, primarily[designed] for streaming, where the stories are continued across multiple media with each product supporting the other.”

Three separate series are being planned at the moment, with each looking to take on a different genre, with Bilson mentioning the inclusion of science fiction, fantasy, and horror themes. The project costs, which are much lower than AAA game titles, will give the developer a great deal of versatility, allowing for more experimentation, which is vital at this stage in the process. If one or more of these initial series take off, Bilson imagines it extending into comics and other areas. Basically, the sky’s the limit if they can make an engaging product.

So what does this mean for gamers? In Bilson’s own words “It means giving people who love a property, more of it. It means extending a narrative or world into multi medias to communicate and engage with the property from many different, uniquely entertaining access points.”

Whether or not Bilson succeeds, it is courageous endeavors such as these that will truly push the genre forward and make gaming an increasingly important part of mainstream society. Being able to interact with, and immerse yourself, in a show you just watched is one of the most exciting prospects of future entertainment, and I am happy that those with the means and influence to start on this path are willing to roll the dice and attempt something great. It is Bilson and Levin who will help usher in a new age of interactive entertainment, and I for one will be following this evolutionary process with great curiosity.

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