Aug 27, 2013
How an audience receives video game content now is increasingly different to how it was 15-20 years ago. The advancement of gaming technology has taken a large step forward with what gamers come to expect from high-budget releases, and the idea of trans-media content is starting to be a significant thing to consider when developing a gaming franchise. When the SNES and Sega Megadrive held centre stage of console gaming, Super Mario Bros. and Sonic the Hedgehog were arguably the most well-known titles. The mechanics were simple, as were the world’s that the characters inhabited, and when the games were released, a metaphorical line was drawn under it. Trans-media content was not necessary, as there wasn’t these vast gaming worlds we have today.
In the present, gamers have grown to expect more from the final product. When the game is released, there are still layers that can be added to the world outside of what is played out on screen, and no, this doesn’t include DLC. In comparison to the TV/Film and publishing industries, the gaming industry has grown and developed on a much faster scale over a shorter period of time. By dipping its fingers into these other medias, game developers can build a more complete story universe for its audience by generating more content to help explore gaming worlds in ways that are easier to portray in other medias. This is ‘transmedia’ engagement, and it is the future.
Gears of War has five novels published, all considered canon and directly attach to the franchise and each explore and detail events outside of what is experienced in-game. The Gears of War world exists beyond what is played in the games, and it can be experienced and enjoyed more extensively because of trans-media content.
Gaming Novel Tie-ins
Video game tie-in novels are growing in popularity as the gaming audience broadens. Tie-ins purpose is to allow its audience to build upon the worlds they’ve personally played in, and by immersing themselves in additional content in a different media than the game. This all helps to develop a greater understanding of the overall story universe. For the developers, these novels already have a core audience and fan base it can cater to, so spreading information of a tie-ins release instantly has potential sales with little marketing required, which is even more relevant in a world where Twitter can function as a method of press-release.
However, tie-ins can also function in the opposite way. An avid reader may pick up a tie-in gaming novel, and potentially lead them to purchasing the game. Some tie-ins, however, are just retellings of the original game’s narrative, but can still be used as a means to broaden its audience. Also, if people are happy to re-play their favourite games, why not experience it through a different media?
Recently I spoke with Kate Mills, Fiction Editor at Orion Publishing, to discuss video game tie-in novels, and how the two co-exist from a business and sales point of view. She commented on how “We [Orion] approach the gaming companies, but I’m sure there will be a time when gaming companies can work out they can do it on their own.”In the UK, Orion have published Battlefield 3: The Russian, two Crysis novels, and Fable: The Balverine Order, to name a few. She also mentioned how one of their imprints, Gollancz, hosts a discussion blog where games and tie-in books are discussed in tandem by the fans, and noted that it was something developers should be aware of.
The investment required from developers for tie-in novels and short stories to produce canonical content is inexpensive in comparison with live-action television or film. For instance, the money invested in creating the Halo tie-in novels, of which there are 13, is much less than what is being invested in the new Halo live-action series announced at the Xbox One reveal. Considering that historically, television and film live-action content based on video games has for the most part flopped, there is still a desire for it to be made.
Gaming Trans-media: Film and Television
The Halo television series is a huge step up in trans-media story development from a gaming perspective. By including Steven Spielberg in Halo’s production, it demonstrates just how ambitious the project is going to be, and that a film titan like Spielberg wants to invest his TV and cinematic knowledge in a video game/live-action cross-over that has a tendency to disappoint.
On top of this, is the expectation of its audience. Gamers seem to be more defensive when it comes to live-action being constructed from their favourite game franchises. Of course, they want the projects to be successful, however there is always a fear that what is produced steers too far away from the source material and it butchers the characters and worlds that they have grown to love. There are of course games that have achieved success in the box office, such as Tomb Raider and Prince of Persia, but for the most part, the thoughts going through gamers’ minds at the announcement of a live-action franchise is doubt and panic, accumulating in pessimism. However, Halo’s announcement with Spielberg’s involvement appears to have given second wind to cross-media optimism.
Gaming and technology is at a stage now, where bridging content across multiple platforms can act as a gate-way for a broader audience, while engaging its current audience on a larger and more ambitious scale. It has the potential to expand on story worlds much greater than it could have achieved 10-15 years ago. The connectivity created by the gaming industry, technology and the internet is begging for a key title to push the boundaries of trans-media content and make it a feasible business plan for game developers to consider.
A developer that could successfully pull together a story franchise, starting in a gaming world, and successfully build on it with live action TV/Film, and short-story/novel content has the potential to produce a narrative triad that could revolutionise how we receive and engage with entertainment. It has huge creative potential that would pull together audience’s from the three different medias, creating multiple layers of story-telling and hopefully pave the way for future cross-platform and trans-media content.