Opinion – The Trouble With Transmedia

There’s been some hype as of late for MMO shooter Defiance. For the longest time, all I’d heard about the game was it involved publisher/developer Trion Worlds, creators of the semi-successful MMO Rift, and that people were excited for it. And you know what? All this got me somewhat interested in the game…and then I heard it’s a tied into a TV show on SyFy (which, by the way, remains the blurst name for a thing, ever –ed). And that’s where the scepticism comes in droves.

Yet, it’s a weird thing to be interested when it’s so incredibly easy to be cynical about it.

Defiance_quadOn a grander scale, it’s quite easy to be interested in the idea. MMOs are all about their expansive worlds, yet they’ve always been criticized for poor storylines. So what if the best, and most ambitious way, to fix all this is to tie it into a TV show on a popular network? Think about it: You have proven and established talent helping you to build and flesh out your world, you don’t need to produce any ARGs or other post episode content, you have it all in the game! Sounds incredible as a marketer, right?

It also helps that the game has been in a public beta for a while now, which is a fantastic way for Trion to help get players immersed in the world long before the show goes to air. To add to this, the game will also be hitting both the PS3 and 360, allowing for a much grander audience to get into the spirit of the project. So far, so promising.

But then you gotta factor in the SyFy network into all this.

I’m not going to blame them for being out of their league with this project — they’ve proven to think outside the box when it comes to supplementary content. Back when they were doing Battlestar Galactica, they produced numerous films and web-episodes to tide fans over and keep them engaged in the universe.

Then I remember the numerous times they’ve been involved with video games and I start to worry.

In 2011, SyFy’s branding was plastered on to two THQ games: Red Faction Armageddon and de Blob 2. SyFy were interested in developing film and television content based around these games. What we got was a Red Faction telemovie — the less said about that, the better — and several attempts at a de Blob TV show. As for the games, Red Faction Armageddon was less than stellar and de Blob 2 just never took off like the first game.

But let’s forget about SyFy’s prior affairs for now. Let’s consider something else for a moment: While both the TV show and MMO occupy the same world, will there be much interaction between the two? Will a story or a character that develops in the MMO become relevant in the TV show, or will a key plotline from the show be resolved or developed in the MMO?

This is the biggest issue I see the project facing: Just what happens if the fate of characters from one facet of this project is locked away in the other? In my view, you’d be crazy to do this, particularly if you don’t want to earn the ire of people who may not want to experience the project fully and are happy to stick with one or the other.

With all this said, I’m praying that SyFy and Trion Worlds have learnt from the lessons of similar experiments and don’t proceed to force fans to engage in every piece of branded media to understand it all. Take 2011’s Batman: Arkham City, wherein the setting of the game wasn’t established at all in the game, but in a six issue comic mini-series. But that’s not the worst example of the horrors of transmedia content. For this, we go back to 2003 with the release of The Matrix Reloaded.

If you watched the film like a normal person, you may have felt like you missed out on quite a few details that were core to the story. The core overarching plot of that movie (and its sequel, The Matrix Revolutions) was explained in an animated short as part of The Animatrix. And how did the resistance know about this overarching plot? To find out, you had to play Enter the Matrix!

Perhaps I’m getting a little ahead of myself. At the time of writing, the Defiance MMO has just been released and the show hasn’t aired, so who knows how it all will go? It’s just there’s so much precedent for this type of transmedia synergy rubbish to go wrong that it’s so incredibly easy to be skeptical about it. I’d really love to be surprised though.


Come back on Saturdays for more thoughts and views from the NG+ cast and crew.

[Image credits: Wikipedia; Trion Worlds; SF]