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Transcending MMOs with Transmedia

Genese Davis Posted:
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For the past few decades we’ve seen transmedia evolve to offer multiple ways to explore the worlds we love. GI Joe transcended its world through comic books, cartoons, film, and video games, while Enter the Matrix, along with the Animatrix series, featured concurrent storylines with the Matrix films and provided details of backstory to enhance the Matrix universe.

And today transmedia and crossmedia platforms enable us to go beyond the boundaries of traditional MMO limitations and explore new subsets of these game worlds as well. Just last month, Syfy and Trion Worlds launched their transmedia project, Defiance. With this next iteration and first-of-its-kind transmedia effort, this collaboration hopes to entice non-MMO players to give the game side of Defiance a try, and get the MMO players to watch the show.

How effective is this marketing approach? Can transmedia experiments like Defiance bring new players to the game and new viewers to the show?

Here’s a moment when watching a cinematic film worked on me, and got me to try a game: My friends sat me down, turned on the projector, dimmed all the lights and turned the speakers way up. As the cinematic began, I remember the music and environment intriguing me immediately. I watched a storyline unfold between a son and a father. And although I later found out that the son became the antagonist in the game, I couldn’t help but still root for and revere him. He was a protector and a friend with a drive and a passion to save what he valued most, and yet still he fell to ruin. His story was very sad but also very heartfelt and relatable.

The cinematic was the trailer for Wrath of the Lich King, and because Arthas and his story captivated me, I told my friends I wanted to find out more. They introduced me to World of Warcraft, and this led to a great experience with that MMO.

This transmedia crossover successfully got me to play an MMO because the cinematic conveyed a story that really hooked me. Video games and movies will continue to borrow from each other to attempt more interactive and exciting entertainment, and therefore might have a real future for producing crossover media that won’t turn out lame like a lot of precursor videogame-inspired-movies or movie-inspired-videogames we’ve seen.

In an interview with IndieWire, Guillermo Del Toro said, “To me, videogames are a huge component of genre filmmaking in the future.” Endeavors like the Warcraft movie seem to be another example of this next step. Blizzard recently welcomed aboard Bill Westenhofer as the project’s visual effects director, and already speculations are circulating that if the VFX are anything like Life of Pi, the Warcraft film could draw crossover attention from many diverse groups of movie-watchers beyond the audiences familiar with the Warcraft universe. Ubisoft Motion Pictures is also working to produce its own brand of movies, such as an Assassins Creed series. And Microsoft produced their live-action series Forward Unto Dawn and the collection of animated shorts called Halo Legends which converted some non-Halo players to become full-fledged Halo Nation members.

With transmedia becoming more and more expansive, how is this going to impact MMO gamers and their passions? Did Defiance the TV show enhance the experience of Defiance the MMO? Some reviews are stating that Defiance is a form of transmedia “done right” and offers a way for non-gamers to be introduced to a game they wouldn’t have normally tried. And that MMO gamers adore bonuses like these that neither distract nor take away from the active-participant aspect of the game play. Players unable to get on and play can still watch the series, read a lore book, or pull out a mobile device for some side quests.

As we see more and more opportunities for expanding MMOs with cross-over media, will the content be standalone options that come free with the MMO—similar to Halo’s Spartan Ops downloadable content that was free with the game and extended the Halo experience. Or will developers require players to cross multiple platforms in order to discover the full MMO story, and if so, will this detract or enhance the game play itself?

Transmedia will continue to grow and create new ways to expand narrative, and one cannot help but wonder if side-by-side TV shows with MMOs will become the norm. Our response to Defiance can influence whether or not other developers follow in the same footsteps. How do you think it will go?

I love hearing from you; let’s connect! Find me at GeneseDavis.com and on Facebook and Twitter. Until then: Game on, and Lark Your Life. <3

Every week, Holder’s Dominion author Genese Davis opines about MMO gaming, the issues the genre faces, and the power of shaping online worlds.


Genese Davis

Genese Davis / Bimonthly, The Holder’s Dominion author Genese Davis opines about video games, the issues the industry faces, and the power of shaping online worlds. Find her on Twitter @GeneseDavis and GeneseDavis.com