Media is Evolving! How a Transmedia Approach can Supercharge Content

Dec 10, 2021

The Modern Crucible of Content

In today’s modern entertainment world, the borders between mediums are starting to fade away. The mass adoption and expansion of the internet has had a homogenizing effect; content and communities that would never have mixed previously do so daily, exchanging ideas and barbed insults, often within the same Tweet. 

A natural consequence of this is an increased appetite for content in general; and with the internet giving people whatever they want, whenever they want it, many simply want more of what they’ve enjoyed in the past.

Enter Transmedia; the idea of expanding the world of a piece of media by creating new content for that world in another medium. Enjoyed the Stranger Things TV show? Maybe you’d enjoy a novel or Dungeons and Dragons module set in the same universe. Fan of World of Warcraft? Maybe you’d like to delve deeper into the stories of your favourite in-game characters in books, or a film. Or, to evoke the hallowed name of the mega-franchise referenced in this article’s title; Liked playing Pokemon? Feel free to check it out in pretty much any other media format as well.

It’s not a new idea. The Matrix franchise was a notable early example, telling parts of its story through graphic novels and a video game. These weren’t non-canon side stories either, but official Matrix content that bridged the gap between the original film and its sequels.

Creating additional content like this is a great way to expand the world of your content, but it’s also a powerful tool for growth. For perhaps the best example, look at the Harry Potter franchise; The books were very successful, yes, but it was the release of the film adaptations that really transfigured the series into a global phenomenon.

Top Tips for Transmedia Triumph

There’s perhaps no one as keenly aware of the power of transmedia to supercharge a franchise than Houston Howard, Chief Storyteller and Co-Founder of One 3 Creative, a company that specialises in transmedia storytelling. Howard is also the author of several books on the subject of transmedia, including ‘You’re Gonna Need a Bigger Story’, across which he champions the idea of a ‘Super Story’. He’s an expert in the field, adopting a uniquely casual, yet highly practical, style when he presents his ideas. 

At Pocket Gamer’s recent Next event, he did just that, flying through a bullet-point list of tips for creatives keen to explore the transmedia space:

1: Always Expand the Story

Howard opened with a key point; that expanding your story into new mediums shouldn’t just be viewed as a way to redistribute your existing material, but rather an opportunity to tell new stories in new ways with the new medium you choose, your existing material serving as a base camp for interesting exploration.

This is hugely important, and highlights Howard’s understanding and respect for Transmedia as a concept. It’s easy to go down the direct adaptation route, and there is value in straight transfers to other mediums, but the franchises that really take advantage of the tools that open up when they expand into new mediums will be the ones that make the most of the leap to Transmedia.

2: Develop Your Storyworld

In this tip, Howard advocated for fleshing out the world your franchise takes place in as though it were a character in itself. This is a crucial point when trying to tell stories that expand beyond the usual limited cast of characters, since the world will be the connective tissue that holds all of the disparate elements of your Transmedia work together, when all is said and done. This also served as a nice segway into tip number 3:

3: Remove your Main Character

A simple but powerful suggestion; if you can remove the main character from your storyworld, and have it remain interesting, then you have a world that’s suitable for Transmedia. This tip, along with the previous one, hammers home the way that building a story out into a Transmedia project refocuses your priorities; you’re no longer just working on a single character or story, but something much broader, and each piece of the whole must stand alone as well as synergise with the other pieces. 

4: Think in Groups

Continuing down the overarching narrative thread that his tips were weaving, Howard discussed the importance of avoiding individualist thinking when creating Transmedia works. The best strategy is to instead focus on groups of characters, and the interpersonal relationships between those characters. This allows you to create more potential for side stories and spin-offs, which are the key pieces that slowly build up your Transmedia universe.

5: “Blair Witch” your Characters

Evoking the name of one of the most iconic examples of Transmedia in history, Howard advocated for the creation of real-world presences for the characters in your world. Famously, the doomed filmmaker trio from The Blair Witch Project were reported missing in real life around the time of the film’s release. This, combined with the fact that the film was framed as genuine found footage, led some to believe that they really had fallen victim to fell forces in the forests of Maryland.

The acceptance of this story as true owed a lot to the early stage of the internet at the time, and something like this would likely be impossible to pull off again, but the huge advances in social media technology since 1999 have opened other doors for Transmedia characters, giving them room to bleed out into the real world, and impact fans in places they wouldn’t expect.

6: Create Good Backstory

In this tip, Howard raised the idea of presenting the backstory of your characters via alternative mediums. Rather than delivering this information via flashbacks in your main work, which many consider clunky and inelegant, you can deliver it in a separate piece of content, which fans can choose to engage with or not. This is a nice compromise, and a great practical use case for Transmedia.

7: Produce your Characters’ IP

Ending on a fun note, Howard discussed how you can really bring your franchise’s world into the real world, by creating real-world versions of your fictional world’s media. For example, if your main character is a writer in your story world, you could release a real-world version of their novel. A recent mainstream example of this is the ‘Awesome Mix Vol. 1’, the mixtape that Star-Lord listens to in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, being released as a real-world CD. There are other examples of this too, and it’s a great way to expand your world into additional mediums in a way that feels natural.

Reaping the Rewards

Looking over all those tips, it’s clear that there are a huge range of benefits to moving your franchise over to Transmedia; not just increased exposure to new audiences, who may then go on to enjoy the original content having enjoyed the expanded universe, but also for creating interesting new avenues for exploring your existing world and characters.

The advantages of moving a story that was originally a book or game into the world of film or TV are obvious; since these are the two biggest mainstream content forms, moving into these can bring a huge amount of attention to your franchise, possibly even launching it to mainstream success.

The advantages of moving from film or TV to games are less obvious, but no less worthwhile. One of these advantages is the opening of additional revenue streams, whether through advertising or in-game purchases. 

AdInMo’s InGamePlay ads provide an excellent way to do this. Their non-disruptive nature means that they can provide additional revenue without compromising the integrity of your storyworld like traditional in-game ads. With a range of placement options, InGamePlay ads are more akin to product placement than typical ads in games, and can even enhance your game with an added sense of realism depending on the setting. If you’re thinking of turning your story into a storyworld, keep InGamePlay advertising in mind, as well as the myriad other advantages of developing into the fastest-growing entertainment medium.

The idea of building a Transmedia franchise isn’t a new one, but it is a powerful one; as mega-franchises like Marvel, Harry Potter and the like dominate every area of entertainment, competing with such goliaths requires a carefully-crafted slingshot of your own. Transmedia can be that slingshot, letting you reach more people in more ways. And done well, it can offer exciting new experiences for your fans that wouldn’t have been possible with a traditional story structure. 

As the borders between mediums collapse into dust, being among the first to cross those thresholds will prove very rewarding indeed.

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