Transmedia – the future of storytelling?

In an age where we have many channels through which we can digest entertainment it is perhaps inevitable that storytelling keeps getting more engaging. The edges between platform, media and gameplay are blurring. Fiction and reality are combining to form a new hybrid. A form of storytelling that impacts directly on your life.

Actors of your favourite action show performing a scene right in front of your eyes on the streets of London like a flashmob, to supplement a plot point in the show. Playing a video game of your favourite sci-fi show so that you can feel what it is like to be the main character. Interacting with your favourite soap opera drama to help determine what the plot outcome will be. These are all possible examples of transmedia.

It’s nothing new. The phrase was first coined in 1991 but variations of the technique were being used earlier. The 8-bit computer game Elite in 1984 came bundled with a novella called The Dark Wheel which immersed you in the world of the game before you played it (very clever as the game was only depicted using wireframe graphics). Small examples like this are quite prevalent, but it has become more and more intricate over the years.

The Blair Witch Project in 1999 is a famous example which could be classed as transmedia where they placed spoof ‘missing’ posters on billboards to raise awareness of the characters which they pretended were real. They also published a dossier of one of the main characters that people could read to learn more. This helped paint a richer world and made what was a low budget film seem to be something bigger than what it actually was.

Transmedia seems to be a hot topic right now, perhaps as the public has a much greater appetite for multi channel consumption helped in no small part by the second screen phenomenon. The biggest hyped transmedia project right now is the brand new TV show/game Defiance which aired last week. This is being made concurrently as a TV show and a video game which allows you to explore the world depicted in the TV show.

The reboot of Hawaii 5-0 also recently did a Choose Your Own Adventure style venture where they allowed the audience to determine the final ending by voting on Twitter.

But it doesn’t all have to be the latest social media techniques. Doctor Who recently aired an episode where one of the characters was reading a book and this book held clues to part of the storyline. The BBC has now published this book as an eBook for viewers to read and help understand some of the backstory to that episode.

Transmedia is spreading. The balance, however, has to be struck. The more channels you use or the more tactile or interactive you make these channels then the more real and immersive your world becomes. Too many channels and you risk spreading the story too thin, and at the end of the day you still have to have a great story otherwise no-one will keep tuning in. But if done well it can bring the story to life and immerse your audience ever more into your fictional world.

I’m excited to see what other storytelling methods will be used and what new technologies will help to enhance these even more.

(This blog was also posted on LEWIS 360 –

Image source -

Storytelling in Movies and Video Games

I’ve always found it a bit strange when video games are made into movies. The whole essence of games is that you get to control the character. You have a certain amount of freedom to explore the environment and do what you want. Films are in many ways the antithesis of that. You have no control. You are a passive observer. Perhaps the games industry sees it in a way that a movie can be one big advertisement for their game and help them sell more units, in the same way that the He-Man cartoon was an advertisement to sell more Masters of the Universe toys. The fact remains that the games industry is bigger than the movie industry. That’s been known for a while. But which medium is better at telling stories?

Movies are very well controlled. They are linear and the director can carefully construct all the various elements at their disposal (lighting, music, pacing etc) to take you down a path and feel certain emotions. But there is no freedom. You are a passive observer who has to watch the characters in the movie and empathise with them. You are strapped in for the ride.

Games let the viewer have control. You are free to move around and interact with people and objects. You have immediate cause and effect in relation to your actions. You experience the story with yourself as the main character. But this freedom can also let the player stray off the path and get in the way of the experience of the story.

J.J. Abrams and Gabe Newell from Valve recently discussed this at the DICE Summit keynote in Las Vegas. They explained how there are many obvious differences between the two forms of media, but that there are also many similarities. The illusion of freedom in games can often have a complicated hierarchical structure, similar to story arcs in movie screenplays, which will always bring you back to the same ordered key points of drama in order to move the story forward. They both use misdirection to focus your attention on particular elements. They use setup and payoff to make you feel more involved in the storyline and to connect more with the characters. In both there has to be a balance between immersion and storytelling, and they play to their own strengths. But in both there is always a storyline spine throughout. Without a story there is no connection with the audience.

They finished their talk with the news that these behemoths of entertainment would be collaborating on movie and game ventures. Personally I hope they don’t just make a movie of Portal or Half-Life or a game of one of Abrams’ movies. I’m hoping they somehow try to bridge the two mediums in a way that hasn’t been done before. Perhaps some kind of interactive YouTube movie or get Abrams directing elements of a game to a level not seen before.

But for me it’s just great to see the video games industry all grown up and teaching Hollywood a thing or two about how to entertain people. That’s a good story in itself.

View the keynote

Image source - Variety YouTube video

Social gaming – are we having fun yet?

Gaming is no longer the domain of the teenager or young adult. And I’m not just talking about video games. They became mainstream years ago. Now we are all allowed to have fun, and we’re allowed to have it anywhere we want. This act of gamification is evident everywhere, from unlocking badges in FourSquare or Gowalla, to making exercise and education fun in video games such as WiiFit and Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training. Fun is being used as a way to instigate interaction and participation. The brilliant Fun Theory videos by Volkswagen take this to another level such as their video where speeding drivers’ fines get put into a Lottery pot which is won by one of the safe drivers on the same stretch of road. Everything now needs fun and rewards.

There’s no question that social gaming has almost always been preferred than playing games on our own. Watching experts play Street Fighter down the arcade was better than just playing against the computer in your bedroom. Playing with a friend on Bubble Bobble or with several friends on Gauntlet are some of the seminal moments in gaming history. And more recently technologies like Xbox Live have revolutionised the gaming experience. This social gaming mentality is now crossing borders and is breaking into mainstream activities. Is it the competitive element we love? Or the rewards? Or just the fact that we can have fun doing things that used to be boring? In a time where recession depression looms permanently overhead, our common woes are being relieved by bouts of social gaming. You know that other people, including your friends, are playing these games and so you feel a part of a bigger group. Or to put it another way you know that you are not alone. After all, isn’t that our biggest fear? Being alone? Stats reveal that some online games have higher audiences than prime time TV shows. Farmville recently had 30 million players per day while Dancing With The Stars in the US had about 24 million viewers (stats via

Nintendo’s new handheld console the 3DS has a groundbreaking 3D technology which doesn’t need glasses. That’s amazing. And yet this isn’t the feature that is drawing everyone to the device. It’s their Street Pass technology, which for example allows users to play a game of Street Fighter wirelessly with anyone else on the train who happens to have a 3DS, or exchange game puzzle information with each other even when the device is in sleep mode, which is proving to be attracting many people.

And no article about social gaming would be complete without mentioning the phenomenon that is Angry Birds. Even though I am one of the few who don’t actually like it (I can hear you gasp as I type this – I prefer Cut The Rope), there’s no denying that Angry Birds has become a behemoth of social gaming. Not only is it linking in with Facebook (almost a necessity these days), where it can access all your personal data, but it is also becoming a mega brand of its own. Over 12 million paid copies have been download, and over 30 million of the free version. It is generating over $1 million a day in advertising and is moving into the areas of clothing, plush toys and even a full length feature movie. All from a little game you play on your smartphone.

One other very exciting technology is Screach which allows people with any smartphone to join in a game, using the phone as a controller, such as on a big screen in a bar and compete with their fellow patrons. It could revolutionise the pub quiz. Every interaction has a value and advertisers might pay to join in those interactions or the user might pay for the experience. This paves the way for the main investers in social gaming: advertising, vouchers and coupons. More and more we are seeing adverts placed inside the games themselves, such as real products being grown within Farmville or in-game billboards in many titles. And vouchers and coupons which have been used in networks such as FourSquare, Gowalla and Groupon for a long time are now making their way into games. One user has a value, but when that user is part of a network with similar interests and has a passion for achieving fun goals, that value is multiplied.

So next time you’re enjoying playing a social game, think about all those people who are benefitting from you having fun. It’s good to share the love. Just remember that, as in any game, we can’t all be winners. Or can we?

[Via LEWIS 360]