From beginning to end, a transmedia story should be a social phenomenon, one which draws people together and unifies them through shared experiences. At present, the industry is obsessed with creating toys and applications which are too exclusive. They do not address the primary goal of storytelling—bringing individuals together by revealing some truth about the world around us.
Like the ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ stories of the 1980s, these gimmick driven products isolate rather than connect your viewers. Well designed alternate reality games are popular because they immerse players within the same social experience (the same way big talent shows like American Idol or The Voice do but on a smaller scale). The players are unified toward a common goal against a common evil.
If transmedia is to be even more successful in the future, we need to concentrate on designed experiences that are socially inclusive which have the power to bring people together through common interests and goals. This will require that we take more care in designing the path along which our readers and viewers access our stories. Transmedial producers have a tendency of creating interactive experiences that are overly complex which ultimately deter audience engagement across every available piece of content. We need to define the ‘path’ between audience access points much like the map function on a video game so that audience members know where they are in relative to the story as a whole and where they’re going, regardless of which piece of content they’ve accessed.
Procedural dramas owe their popularity to the fact that their audience knows exactly what to expect from their format. These types of shows open with the bang: a crime is committed, and the audience is among its witnesses. As the investigators search for the killer, the audience is kept just ahead of their deductions by a steady stream of key information. We might see a confrontation the police weren’t privy to or a clue they overlooked, and in the next three to five minutes we’re encouraged to solve the mystery ourselves. If our point of view was aligned with the investigators’, the show would be tedious, and viewers would switch off.
This sort of experience design is relatively easy to achieve on television because you are restricted to a linear format. Transmedia narratives, on the other hand, are disseminated across multiple platforms. Without a proper ‘map,’ piecing together so many disparate pieces of content can become a bewildering experience. Like a two-thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle, audiences need the overall image to make sense of each individual piece. It’s crucial that we, as transmedia producers, dedicate more time to creating a fluid path so that whatever experience the audience becomes involved with they know exactly where they’re going.
To this end, our priority should always be rewarding our audience as opposed to ourselves. No matter how cool a platform or an experience may seem to you as a producer, your project will be more successful if you design content respective to the audience’s point of view. Always ask yourself what your audience gains from each element of your property. If they spend ten seconds or minutes or hours reading and watching and playing with your content, how are they rewarded? Keep your audience’s most basic needs at the fore of your production plan; make them laugh and cry. Thrill them. Frighten them. No matter what you do, keep your audience emotionally challenged. Put simply, better storytelling is the ultimate reward.