The case of Rovio Mobile, a small finnish game developer company is quite astonishing. In2009, the company was the edge of bankrupt and their managers decided to bet their lastchances to survive on creating a game application for the growing IPhone applicationsmarket. They came up with a simple idea. An intuitive game where the player has to destroydifferent kinds of constructions by throwing small birds with a sling. Two years after, it is thebest seller ever in the Apple Store, just hitting 100 millions downloads. There isn’t properly anarrative. It shows a simple struggle between heroes and opponents. Nothing special indeed.What was really captive to the audience was the easiness of playing and its accessibility, thefact that you could play it while in a line or during a coffee break. The levels are short enoughand the format immediately understandable.
This has been possible thanks to the rise of big Internet aggregators, search engines andsocial websites allowing peer to peer interactions. Media companies have tried to cop with theshift in the demand from physical to digital goods moving their resources to the creation andsustainability of online businesses. People, in the meanwhile, have made that shift evenharder for media companies with activities like piracy, illegal downloading and not-authorizededitings of copyrighted materials. The same word audience isn’t anymore correct to definewhat isn’t anymore an undistinguished mass of people. Here, it’s more correct to talk about anheterogenous group of users prosuming content. Stories can now circulate also outside thetraditional boundaries previously defined, through the direct involvement of common peoplebeing, on a small scale, little media outlet.
The last example is set in a commercial context, where the concept of transmedia storytellinghas been adopted to strengthen the brand and engage potential and actual customers on adeeper level. A particularly common tool is to create an alternate reality game, an interactivenarrative that uses the real world as a platform, involving multiple media and game elements,to tell a story that may be actually affected by participants’ ideas and actions.For example, the alternate reality game created by Audi in 2005, called “The Art of the Heist”,consisted in a spy story built around the launch of the A3, the new company’s compact car. Itstarted with a staged car theft at a New York City dealership, the night before the dealership’sannual car show. The morning after, people who had been invited found on the dealership’sentrance the traditional police “crime scene” yellow tape and a sign saying that the show hadbeen cancelled following the theft of an unreleased car. From there on, from April 1 to June29, a series of featured live events, fictional websites and enigmatic tv commercials, thecampaign had been arising people’s curiosity, with, according to Audi, 500,000 activeparticipants.Although, it is still a practice whose economic returns aren’t easy to be estimated, more andmore companies are developing their own ARB, alternate reality branding.
Unlike before, instead of repacking a narrative text from one medium to another, it is nowpossible to flexibly stretch a single text into multiple media. This is also the coreassumption defining the concept of “Transmedia Storytelling”, “a process where narrativeelements of a fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple channels in order tocreate a unified and coordinated entertainment experience”.As a primary characterization, it may be useful to say what transmedia is not. It is neither aprocess of adaptation from one medium to another, as we have seen traditionally withbooks becoming movies, nor a process of repurposing, when the same story is expandedin different media without adding any original elements to the main narrative. A transmediaproject could be designed from scratch or be implemented on the fly. Early practitionersand experts like Jeff Gomez and Robert Pratten suggest that the earlier a project isconceived and designed to be a transmedia experience, the highest the probabilities thatthe project could be a success. This because the transmedia agency or producer is calledto directly manage a lot of story information and timely coordinate different groups ofcontributors working in different companies from different industries. A fundamental valueto preserve is “coherence” within the different story-lines that, as a puzzle, have to fitconsistently in the overall picture. This overall picture is mainly conceived as a world, astory world where related narratives happen.
The media-landscape was dominated by the established practices of content selection,packaging and delivery, typical of the analog world, where form imposed its rules overcontent’s consumption. Stories, besides those directly experienced by individuals in theirrestrict social circles, were almost exclusively a product offered by media companies to anaudience.The evolution of Internet from a network of computers to a network of people has changed thescenario, as you may see on the next page.
During this master of science, I focused particularly on media and their evolution. WithProfessoressa Dubini I had the opportunity to see and study phenomenona like digitizationand convergence. With this final work, following the precious directions of professor EdwardRozzo, I wanted to investigate how an old practice like that of storytelling can adapt andrenew itself in the new, as I defined, cross-platform landscape.While attending an exchange program at a Film School in Texas, I discovered what hasbecome the anchor point of my research trajectory: the concept of transmedia storytelling. Iapproached it trying to understand what is a transmedial story, what are its basic features andhow its life cycle develops from authorial conceptualization to audience’s exposure.In this work, however, this concept is both an arriving and a starting point.Looking backward, it is the highest expression of a profitable synergy between contents andmedia, where contemporary narratives enjoy the potentialities provided by recenttechnologies.Looking forward, it represents a new tool to create more and more immersive entertainmentand brand experiences, where people can become direct participants within the proposedfictional world.
Hence, the concept of author in a transmedial context is shifting more and more towardsterms like “curators”, “story architects” or “experience designers”, people looking for thecreation of story worlds rather than a linear stream of events.A story world is that fantasy space the user, the viewer, the player would hopefully like to diginto. To realize that, a transmedia producer should know at least few techniques. First, heshould be able to create multiple points of entry in different media, as well as multiple pointsof entry in the narrative, plotting its story in a way that make catching-up with the missed partseasy and practical. A transmedia franchise, is usually relying on a primary platform fromwhere it starts and on which the main story lines happen. In the meanwhile, parallel orperipheral narratives take place. So, a good story designer shouldn’t forget to place“migratory cues” in every narrative, indicators that reveal that there is something moresomewhere else. He should also place, for the hardcore fans, specific rabbit-holes, parts ofthe story where a real geek can spend hours of his time just to discover additional secondaryinformation. Finally, “the distant mountains”, a term coined by Tolkien when speaking aboutthe magic worlds he created, are those area of the narrative where facts and situations areonly mentioned, sparking off the audience’s imagination on what exactly could havehappened. They are functional because they place the narrative horizon a little bit further.If story world could be also a little bit undefined, asking to be filled with users’ mind, what for acore transmedia project must be absolutely well planned and managed is media timing. It isthe moment where media make their appearance and give their contribution to the franchise.
What transmedia storytelling as a whole seems to me is that it works as a compelling point ofexchange where a part, story-producers and brands, give away some control on the authoringand directing of proprietary elements while allowing users and consumers to enter theircreative worlds, having some degrees of influence on them and, hopefully, come to the pointwhere they immerse into them. Immersion means the elimination of the basic distinctionbetween the subject and the object, the person and the content of the medium. In the newcross-platform landscapes, where we are almost always and everywhere exposed to at leastone medium, immersion can be omnipresent. In my opinion, this could represent an issueputting at risk the most valuable critical resource we have at disposal when facing content:interpretation. On the basis of the multidisciplinary considerations developed in the first part ofmy work and, after an overview of how this cross-platform landscape is continuouslyexpanding while questioning its own functionalities, may I suggest to update the famoussentence “the medium is the message” into “the messages transcend the media”.
Here we have an hypothetical transmedia story taking place across multiple media. In this case we are talking about one ofthe major movie studios in Hollywood wanting to create a transmedia experience around a series of three movies forming atrilogy.To raise interest in the first movie, the company starts a promotional campaign both airing theatrical trailers on television andcreating a fan group on Facebook. The film comes out and, during the usual previews before the film starts, a contestchallenges audience to answer some questions in the movie website, about an unsolved mystery in the story. Here, onceanswered to some questions, it is mentioned that the real answer to the mystery will be revealed in an upcoming comic. Ifpeople buy that comics magazine, they may discover that, behind that mystery, there is more than what they could expected,a very intricate conspiracy. In the last page of the comic there is a code that, if texted to a specific number, allows readers toreceive a text directly from a character who has some hot information. Some days later, who has arrived till this step,receives an other text with a date, a time and place. Those are the coordinates of a public speech given by that character,revealing other information about the conspiracy. Official and un-official videos of the event are then posted both on youtubeand the main website. Contextually, this character starts tweeting regularly and his followers grow day after day. This led tothe event of the second movie, who can be easily viewed just having seen the prequel but that could be far deeply enjoyedonce you have taken part to all the other experiences. Between the second and the third movies, a Tv show series connect tothe third part of the franchise, while exploring a particular side-narrative in a console-game. As we have seen, we could havemany experience layers. It is up to any person to decide how much deeper he wants to go into the story.Here we had an example of a story able to spread across so many media. Realistically, such a design could only be plannedand implemented by a company with a big budget and a very good network of properties and partnerships. But transmediacould also be approached by smaller players once they realize to have a product strong enough in one media to try to extendits brand across others.
On this success, after having released special editions with additional thematic levels,Rovio has recently decided to make the Angry Birds world interact with other brands.Since a couple of weeks, it hosts Bing search engine as the tool some characters useto move in the fictional space, but, more remarkably, has signed a partnerships with20th Century Fox’s animation movie Rio. 10 days ago, Rovio released a new versioncalled “Angry Birds Rio” set in the same fictional world where the movie is placed. Wemay say that Angry Birds is at the moment “hosting” a transmedia project, but I don’texclude that in a near future, as one of his officers recently said, the finnish company isgoing to produce its own movie and making it interact with a new version of the game.
Moreover, Web 2.0., together with phenomena like convergence and digitization, has offereda unique possibility to make the outputs of different media coexist within the same platformspace.With the diffusion of broadband Internet, wi-fi and third generation mobile connections, theextremely content rich web universe can now spread on different platforms, such as smart-phones, tablets, Internet televisions and game consoles, creating what in my title I defined as“the new cross-platform landscape”.