Why Transmedia. Part 1 of n.

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This is the first time I’m able to share some of the thinking behind my upcoming story project We Dream of Nothing.

Depending where you look or who you speak to, transmedia gets championed, misunderstood, knocked, supported, defined and re-undefined. What I want to add to the conversation though in these next few posts, is a look at some of the practical and creative things in the pipeline, focussing particularly on what can only be explored because of the interactive, multiplatform nature of this story: A story which flows the Audience through multiple physical and virtual spaces in order to complete it.

Some of the paragraphs are specific to the shape of WDON, some I think are more general things, but unique to transmedia.

Apologies if some bits sound vague, I want to throw some ideas out without spoilers attached. All thoughts welcomed.

First among the upcoming assumptions in this post is that the reader values story first, but is also interested in new/additional/different ways to speak to/with an Audience.

We Dream of Nothing is an original, science fiction fantasy story that connects two characters at opposite ends of the universe. The story is hidden inside the female lead’s dream research website. From there the Audience can explore the story through 28 episodes – combinations of video, comics, audio, collaboration, data swapping, and, well… all sorts of other fun things to see and do.

Playfulness & Exploration are Integrally Optional.

There is a scale in my mind as to what an Audience member can get out of the WDON Story Experience. Sit back and spectate with an occasional cheer, or get deeper into the story and deeper into yourself.

Being able to shape a story that has different weights of interaction is a way to tell one story to many types of audience. You have your subtexts, layers and inferences that people will and won’t ‘get’ – as per any story medium, but also you can also write/design for time rich and time poor, for audiences who are fans of a particular single medium to draw them in to the bigger picture and Without losing focus of the story, you can also promote specific content to, for example comic blogs, radio play fan forums, AR enthusiasts, book clubs etc.

So if your specific content is delivered in a way that a specific audience member (initially) prefers to be entertained and it stands alone with a great hook that tempts exploration through the other mediums – you have made yourself a transmedia convert – huzzah!

From the writing, design and production side I get to be playful with the language and mechanics of all the mediums the internet. I like this A LOT, so benefit from continual motivation boosts throughout design, production and delivery. Knowing the work will exist, change and grow, is satisfying in a way that writing a screenplay and hoping it will one day exist without being messed up by the production and distribution process – is not.

Futures that change the past.

Mostly, WDON is structured sequential step by sequential step, but some of the episodes are, what I can only describe without showing you as –  Interactive Areas. These allow, for example, the global content of episode 14, to be fed by the individuals actions in episode 19. Each Audience member’s journey is naturally linear, but I am hoping conversation around the fluid content in some of the episodes leaves nice gaps for the Audience to play with and talk about outside the confines of the main website.

I’m sure there is something interesting there beyond just playing with foreshadowing so I’m going to look at it a bit closer.

Dispersal and Clarity

Although some of my favourite projects are made like this, I can’t yet bring myself to design a story that exists entirely scattered and relies on people to piece it together. My mind just doesn’t work like that. Maybe I don’t have enough faith in people? The structure I have gone for is that although story elements are dispersed, most of WDON is also contextualised through one website. This gives advantages described further below but also provides an element of security to a wider audience who are not used, or prepared to go hunting (though I have left room so they still can).

Values of Scarcity.

The front face of the story is at the homepage of a website, but the full on interactive beastie is only accessible when a password is entered in the search box. You could equate this to a secret film screening without being weighed down by the practicalities of continuous rent or having to get everyone there on one night only.

Sp a pressure you can remove working this way is the reliance on ‘launch’ and opening weekends. To a degree the product exists continually and you can launch it every weekend in a new blog, magazine or newspaper review. Although relative to the audience member, newness is still sought by big-media-press of course. You can negate this a little by offering something unique to each niche-media-press or online community you approach – discounts on the ticket price, bonus points for already being in a community that is thematically linked to your story, or something tangible.

This to me is a kind of evergreen scarcity using the language of the internet. For example the use of the secret password can’t dilute beyond its optimum point where everyone knows what the password is (without it being posted by the story itself). I can tease new people in with rewards as I see patterns in the audience that point to new niche places. On the flipside I do freak out sometimes that no-one will ever ‘get-in’ but it is one of the ideas I think will work well and I’m determined to try it out.

Hack Proof, Copy Proof, but Oh So Shareable

There are 28 episodes in the first part of WDON. Sometimes a video, sometimes audio, sometimes comics or interactive mini sites.  Because the context of the curated content IS the story and the way the Audience member interacts with and shares the curated context IS The experience – there is nothing to copy. The story is available optimised for every device and requires connectivity. It would be completely pointless to take the story to a DVD or a torrent or anywhere else but its home, because it just wouldn’t make sense.

I cant think of anything but native transmedia that lets you shape or protect entertainment this way.

Ticket Prices.

I’ve thought about this a lot and have decided that after the first few free episodes, there will be a ticket price on the Story Experience. Here’s why.

1. Some of the services I’m using will cost me money per ‘user’. I don’t have a sponsor and can’t pay out for the inevitable millions who will flock to the site. So everyone must pay their way and I must make sure the experience is worth more than it costs in cash.

2. Charging provides something for me to ‘offer’, namely a discount. The full ticket price will be on the site, but I have laid out ways that early project supporters can get discounted and free access to the story.

3. This really is particular to the design of WDON I think, but with regards to rights, I am producing a lot of the content myself (for season 1) but also contextualising content that stands up in its own right that I have asked others to produce. i.e I am charging for the story. If I do this then it means core creative contributors can benefit in a measurable way –  on this in the next post.

Ultimately I think, if original, indie/published, interactive, multiplatform, transmedia stuff is to stick around it just has to have a ticket price. So I will be charging people for my project, trusting to reviews, testimonials and word of mouth to convince good people it is worth the buy. It will cost more than an app, but less than a hardback I think. I’ll let you know how that goes!

Flexible Future Opportunities

With stats and feedback you can quickly, very quickly, see who your audience is and then make informed decisions with regards to just about every future direction. React, ignore, push, pull, dance – whatever.

As WDON is the first part of a three part story, how the Audience reacts to part one will inform how I shape parts two and three. Creating a fluid framework that is not detrimental to the story  is surely something you can only do with multiplatform / transmedia methods (this is why it needs to be story first and not screenplay or novel first). The info gathered will help me decide wether to stick to a web centric approach, push for broadcast or movie conclusions, bundle the whole thing in an app or what exact combinations of all of the above do people want.

Market research as you go – however large or small the numbers are they will be a real start to building an audience.


Thanks for taking the time to read this. To come in part 2! Rights and AccreditationNativeness, Literalness, Motivations and Familiarity in Disguise.