Transmedia means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. How do you explain what you do to someone who knows nothing about transmedia storytelling?
Everyone looks at transmedia through their own lens. Independent film makers may have the “bringing film into the digital age” angle whereas for others it’s franchising or adding interaction.
To me, transmedia is one or more stories that live on different screens. It’s about audience participation and the story changing with audience interaction, until that same story comes back and interacts with them in a different way.
The work you’re doing now is focused on the world of ARG [alternate reality games], but you’ve also advised brands like Ford, GE and Pepsi in your work with Undercurrent. How do these two sides of your work inform each other?
Sometimes my brand strategy work is directly informed by my gaming design. With Ford, for example, we designed the Focus Rally, which was an interactive race across the U.S. that we produced with Hulu and the producers of The Amazing Race.
They shot six competing teams in Ford Focus’ and we came up with this transmedia gaming strategy to let people at home live-stream the show, interact with the contestants driving, and influence the race. The team that had the most engaged followers won the competition.
Other times, it involves partnering our clients with indie game designers who are already doing awesome stuff. We help them make a big splash in a small community with what is probably, to a brand, a really small amount of money.
Do you think transmedia has the potential to cross-over to mainstream markets, or are you mostly catering to hardcore tech geeks?
We’re trying to figure that out. Socks, Incorporated was kind of R&D in that sense. We thought, what if we take some of the core principles of ARG and transmedia games and make them family-friendly, playable, light-hearted? Humour is a big part of our work, because we feel like it’s really lacking in the world of transmedia. So we tried that out and got a ton of research from the players.
There’s a ton of mixtures of technology that people haven’t tapped into yet, that alter physical and digital boundaries in a way that could make play happen anytime, anywhere.
Where do games fit into the free vs. paid content ecosystem? Are more people willing to pay for games than, say, newspapers and magazines?
We keep pushing our business models even further down the line. First you had to buy your Xbox game, then that was disrupted by games online that you could play for free with advertising or you would have to download the app and pay for that. Now, you can download the app for free but you have to pay to unlock additional content within the app.
I think the same thing is happening with transmedia, where the revenue models will be embedded within the story. We’re been toying with this model for the next phase of Socks, Inc., where you can play most of the game for free but then you’re going to hit a paywall where if you want to keep playing a specific character’s mission you have to buy their badge or buy their sock puppet kit.
It’s like a FarmVille model, where you pay for an additional crop or animal that you wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. You don’t need it, but because you’re so engaged in the story you want to have everything.
I want to ask you about Jim Babb as a personal brand. You seem to exist in a gazillion online universes and you even created a microsite for your marriage proposal! How consciously do you manage that brand?
I think it’s important to have elements of yourself in your brand and to do things publicly. If you don’t, if you’re not doing it somewhat consciously, then what’s coming out unconsciously is probably not what you want.
Personally, as the years have gone on and my different online identities have melded into one image of myself, I find that my work benefits from being personal and transparent and vice-versa.
At StoryWorld you’ll be presenting on “The Evolution of Gaming Behaviours” along with Gabe Zicherman, Steve Peters, Dan Hon and Evan Jones. What are you guys planning to talk about?
For the longest time, we’ve been going on about the 1-9-90 rule, the notion that 1 percent of people on the internet are going to creating content for your game, 9 percent are going to be curating that content, and 90 percent are going to be passively browsing the website and then bouncing.
But things are becoming so much more interactive. Are people evolving or are games evolving? Were we not making the right kinds of games for people before?
I think the name “Evolution of Gaming Behaviours” sets us up on a really interesting topic: Are gamers changing?
Sparksheet is an official media partner for StoryWorld Conference + Expo, which took place this year from October 31 to November 2 in San Francisco.