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The definition of transmedia: is it just brand extension?

By on June 20, 2011

The GAMESbrief guide to marketing and gaming has been very popular, and huge thanks to everyone who has shared it via Twitter, email and Facebook.

There has been some negative response though. In particular, some people took issue with my definition of transmedia.

“Transmedia is taking a media property and extending it into a different medium”

Not so, said some commenters. That’s just brand extension, or even cross media.

Transmedia is about telling aspects of the same story in different media, such that you cannot understand the whole without reading all the parts. It’s not just about giving consumers a different angle into the the same world; it’s a different angle into the same story.

A tale of two definitions

I have a problem with this definition. Well, actually, not with the definition, but with the outcome. Basically, by this definition, transmedia makes content a bit rubbish for all but the most committed fans.

[Warning: slight spoilers for The Matrix: Reloaded coming up]

I don’t know if you remember Enter the Matrix, a console game designed to tie in with the second movie in the Matrix franchise. (Don’t worry if you don’t. It didn’t sell very well, which is why it is included in Ten turkeys of the Noughties.) The Wachowski brothers got very excited about transmedia, and made a movie where certain events took place in the console game.

if you hadn’t played the game, you only saw the results of entire levels of the game appearing in the movie. You saw a character who had spend an entire game level manoeuvring a car through freeway of traffic to catch Morpheus when he was punched off a lorry suddenly appear out of nowhere in the movie.

The result was an overwhelming sense of deus ex machina in the movie, where Morpheus and Neo were rescued by Jada Pinkett Smith’s character with no buildup and no warning. The idea was to make the console gamers feel more involved because they contributed directly to events in the move.

The practical outcome was to make the movie disjointed and disappointing. (I’m not saying this was the only problem with the second Matrix movie, but it was definitely one of the problems.)

I fear that when transmedia is defined as telling the same *story* not showing the same *world*, it starts to break some basic tenets for success. Instead of the initial IP (the Harry Potter books, the Star Wars movies) being the core that everyone experiences, with the other elements (such as the Star Wars Expanded Universe) existing for the fans, you have an experience that you *can’t* enjoy unless you do all of it.

Which is bad for audiences, bad for story-telling and bad for revenue.

Aren’t you just saying that bad transmedia is bad?

I am definitely saying that bad transmedia is bad. I am also saying that I prefer my definition, which focuses on giving consumers a different view on the world of the IP, not the story.

But GAMESbrief is a blog, which means that I want feedback and iteration on what I write. What do you think? Is my definition too broad? Does it seem like brand exploitation, not transmedia?

Please let me know, and have a lively discussion. When it’s all over, I’ll update the original post to reflect the new points.

Over to you.

About Nicholas Lovell

Nicholas is the founder of Gamesbrief, a blog dedicated to the business of games. It aims to be informative, authoritative and above all helpful to developers grappling with business strategy. He is the author of a growing list of books about making money in the games industry and other digital media, including How to Publish a Game and Design Rules for Free-to-Play Games, and Penguin-published title The Curve: