The true strength of video games is that it's more than a passive medium -- it offers consumers the opportunity to interact with worlds, stories and experiences. Now, through a series of partnerships, science fiction-oriented cable channel Syfy is hoping to use that interactivity as just one point of entry in rich transmedia experiences.
Cross-media properties -- IP that originates in no single medium but is conceived as platform-independent -- are a big part of Syfy's strategy in the years to come, with video games playing a pivotal role. In yesterday's Gamasutra interview with Trion
, we touched on the exciting possibilities for cross-media in the company's partnership with Syfy.
And aside from the company's partnership around the Trion MMO, Syfy has also announced that it's teaming up with publisher THQ
to extend the company's gaming properties, in addition to collaborating on new cross-media ideas.
"It's a very exciting thing for us to be doing," Syfy president Dave Howe tells Gamasutra. "And it's an obvious move for us, in the sense that we know that our audience is passionate about gaming, technology and popular culture."
Naturally the same audience that enjoys shows like Ghost Hunters, Firefly and Stargate would most likely be interested in video game IP, and passionate genre fans often seek ways to enjoy their favorite universes outside of the static TV experience, and it's to that passionate fan Syfy is responding, says Howe.
The 24-7 Consumer
"We really wanted to build a business beyond the cable screen, and video gaming is top of our list," he explains. "As a brand and as a genre it's a no-brainer, and I think we're being very strategic in terms of the partnerships that we've announced."
The main goal, says Howe, is to break new ground. "Co-creating and retrofitting IP" across media, as he describes it, is something that hasn't happened in a large or visible way yet. As Howe says, normally when a game ties into a comic, movie or TV series, it's directly derived from it, not created simultaneously. "If you conceive something from the get-go to be transmedia, to be platform-neutral, you know your chance of success is going to be greater that way," he asserts.
And the desire for transmedia properties is somewhat unique to the quintessential Syfy consumer, he continues. "We have this very passionate audience that wants to consume these properties, stories and characters 24-7... but between those [television] hours, there's no way for you to really interact on an ongoing basis."
"What's fantastic about this strategy is, if we get it right, we'll figure out ways for people to consume those characters and stories across multiple platforms whenever and however they choose to," says Howe. "It's an always-on world we're living in, and that's exciting to us. Dynamic, immersive experience is critical to future storytelling."
The Trion partnership was the first one the channel announced, and the THQ venture came about in a similar way, says Howe. The latter partnership will start out with Syfy and THQ working to figure out how to create a movie and TV series around colorful, friendly Wii title De Blob
That title, something of a surprise success for THQ, is a good fit for transmedia because of its all-ages vibe, and because of its universe -- its premise, about creating both literal and figurative color in an oppressive black-and-white world, leaves plenty of room for imagination.
"It transcends kids, because it has a smart adult vibe going on," says Howe. "These characters don't speak any particular language. It has a lot of things going for it."
Syfy and THQ will also work together on television properties around the Red Faction
universe -- "again, we see things in there that are very easy," suggests Howe, indicating that a "movie and potential series" are in the works.
In the long-term, however, the two companies want to co-develop properties. But what makes a good cross-media property, and what considerations come up in the creation phase of a truly platform-agnostic IP? How about in choosing the best partners?
"I think the learning curve for this has been fascinating," says Howe. "For these joint ventures, we want to work with companies who share our co-creation vision and actually are collaborative team players. The way that it's worked bringing together game and TV developers has been very fun to watch."
Fun, but also with plenty of learning opportunities on both sides, Howe says: "We're not experts in gaming, and these game developers are not experts in TV, so it's been kind of a win-win in terms of shared expertise."
"In terms of what you need to be successful as a piece of transmedia IP is you need to have those elements that work from a TV perspective around characterization, stories, real drama," he says. "You need emotionality and relatability, sufficiently well-defined characters with a backstory, and with vulnerabilities."
In his view, this is an element of games less well-developed that can benefit from a collaborative television partnership. "On the gaming side, you need mythology, you need the element of a quest, and you need an element of shoot-em-up action where appropriate," Howe says. "When you bring together all of the great ingredients ... you have this laundry list of things that you need to hit for this sort of property to work," he says.
"It's something that we're learning as we go," he adds. "We've come quite a long way and we won't come all the way until we launch something."
And when they do launch something, Howe hopes Syfy will be able to offer its audience more than it ever has, through the interactivity inherent in the medium of gaming.
"In passive TV viewing, we're always sitting there on the edge of our seats wanting to shout at what we're seeing -- we want to express some kind of opinion," he says. "What interactivity does is it gives people more of a stake in the entertainment experience. It gives them more of a role and a voice in shaping that experience, and I think that's very exciting for our audience."
Although Trion has declined to announce a date for its MMO, the first co-developed property in Syfy's transmedia strategy, Howe tells us they're targeting 2011. He also says he's been surprised by what a mammoth undertaking an MMO is: "We're used to doing a pilot and getting a series up and running within a year," Howe laughs. "So this is something that's been a little difficult for us to adapt to."
"But the MMO universe -- it's so phenomenally deep and detailed! I think if you look at our Trion game, its 'bible' is something like three inches thick," he says. "I'm just overhwelmed by the scale of it. A TV series somewhat more manageable, so there's been this element of 'where do we start'?"
"I think it's taken us several writers to get to a writer that really can make that work, so that's been challenging," he adds.
Another challenge in creating cross-media IP, says Howe, is the importance of ensuring properties still work on their individual platforms, no matter how agnostic the concept is: "You can't lose sight of that in the development process," he stresses. "You have to adapt to whatever the platform can provide."