Features// Transmedia - Seems to be the Hardest Word

Posted 7 Jun 2013 13:40 by
Gina Jackson
Gina Jackson
I was in a meeting recently during which I was asked how much the games industry was thinking about Transmedia. It rather threw me, I hadnít heard the term Transmedia used since Digital Shoreditch last year. Itís one of those horrible words like ďGamificationĒ where everyone apologises after they've used it.

And it's vague. Perhaps, in fact, itís easier to define it by what itís not...

Transmedia is not brand licensing where the same brand is used on different platforms, often developed independently but all at the same time. Itís not brand extensions on to other formats after the success of the first. Itís not cross platform development where the same game can be played via different devices and technologies such as Candy Crush Saga played via mobile, Facebook or tablet. Itís not game-friendly as the game component is normally very weak. Itís not easy. Itís not linked to the charity Trans Media Watch that improves media coverage of trans and intersex issues, as important and much-needed a service as that is.

Itís been described as multi-format support for storytelling but, to be honest, that really doesnít help me to understand what it is. There are Transmedia conferences and Transmedia training, so how can it be such an anomaly? Or is it still so new we have yet to define it? Let's look to the meaning of the word trans- itís from the Latin meaning across, beyond, through and changing thoroughly. So it could be partly cross-media, cross-platform but also something totally new that is changing our thoughts and experiences thoroughly.

So we know itís hard to define but itís also hard to produce. I believe one of the important issues to having great content on multi-platforms is it needs to be planned that way from the beginning, it needs to utilise the benefits of each device. It needs to draw on experts who understand different formats and media types to get the best out of each element. The balance of differences and constraints are always going to cause issues.

Can academia help us to understand these contrasts and provide clarity on how we can develop to each of their strengths? The University of Wolverhampton offer a MA in Transmedia Screen Writing covering books, TV and graphic novels whilst Syracuse University have a Department of Transmedia. Brian Baglow who runs Scottish Games also lectures on Transmedia at Edinburgh Napier University as part of their Creative Skillset accredited MA in Screenwriting, and will be presenting an introduction to interactivity with Media at this yearís Edinburgh International film festival.

Interactive documentaries such as ďthe journey to the end of coalĒ and ďPine pointĒ give a good indication of what can be done. I was enthralled by the story telling - itís not a game as such, but it's a lovely experience, an engaging way to tell a story and give the ďplayerĒ control of what they want to hear without necessarily seeing all the content.

Robert Nashak, the BBCís EVP for digital, recently spoke about their desire to make the interactive property more of an equal partner [to the TV show]. He also names Defiance from SyFy as a good example of Transmedia.

Danny Bilson, formerly of THQ and EA, has spoken about how he believes that mid-tier studios need ďto shift focus on to telling a strong, immersing story that involves the player, and gives them a wealth of media-orientated outlets. They need the Transmedia approach, and they need to be built by the same teamĒ.

I am not sure I agree that this can be done without collaboration with those that really understand the other formats and their limitations and business models, but it is a good option for games companies to consider. Iíd expect the media corporations that already have TV, film and games to be putting together teams and projects, although traditionally collaboration between sectors hasnít happened.

For me the best example of the potential for Transmedia doesnít involve a story. The Million Pound Drop TV show and companion second screen play-along game allows real time viewers to play along at home. The piece that made it transmedia for me was the link to Davina, the host, telling you how well individuals and users were getting on, who was still in play and which groups by age, gender or region were performing well.

This real time feedback that comes across from a different media connects to the experience of others in the studio and those watching. I am not saying this is an amazing experience but it has the cross media connection. It links viewers with broadcasting. We havenít even seen the start of what I believe is possible.

Is it important for games yet? I donít think it is now for most companies, especially compared to new generation of consoles and new business models, especially around B2C. These should be the headaches that businesses are focusing on but this shouldnít mean this is something we can ignore.

From a very UK-centric perspective, UK government has recently chosen to support high-end TV, film, animation and VFX with tax credits, games may join them soon depending on the results of the EU investigation. They have also announced significant investment into training across these four sectors and the games industry. This is also a time to look at how our sectors can start working together, how we create these connections and learn from and with each other.

This is part of a convergence but also the chance to increase our inroads into a mass market and with a level of acceptability we havenít experienced before. For those developers who have been focusing on work for hire, which has almost entirely dried up, there may be a new wave of investment from media groups or potential to collaborate with other media producers.

Gina Jackson is Games consultant at Blushing Blue / Visiting Professor in Games Industry and Business at Norwich University of the Arts
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