No Mimes Media 10/07/12
We continue our month of Transmedia Storytelling interviews with Steve Peters, founding partner of No Mimes Media. As a pioneering force in Alternate Reality Games and Transmedia Entertainment, he has worked on some of the biggest and most successful interactive experiences to date, including campaigns for Watchman, The Dark Knight, Microsoft, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Matrix and Nine Inch Nails. His Why So Serious campaign for The Dark Knight and Year Zero campaign for Nine Inch Nails both won the Grand Prix Award at the Cannes Cyber Lions ceremony. Steve talked to us candidly about the Transmedia vs ARG debate, and the three biggest challenges facing interactive storytelling.
As a pioneer of both ARG and Transmedia Entertainment you have a hard-earned and unique perspective. In the past, you have been at the center of controversy around the use of the term Transmedia. How do you define Transmedia and Alternative Reality Games and how do you compare and contrast them?
This is a great, if not contentious question! There are a lot of definitions being bandied about, but here’s what I operate under in my own head: A transmedia story is a single story that is told simultaneously across multiple platforms using current digital technologies. To me, the key parts of that definition (and the parts that make what I do unique) are the single-story part and the simultaneous part. Things all happen together in sync to tell the same story. The stuff I’ve been working on with Fourth Wall Studios at Rides.tv illustrates this exactly. What’s more, these stories are single-player, re-playable and shareable.
As for Alternate Reality Games such as the one I designed for the film The Dark Knight (Why So Serious), I consider them a unique subset of transmedia storytelling. How they differ from something like Rides is that they typically take place in real time over a period of weeks or months and are played by a community. ARGs are more like music festivals, while Rides are like MP3 albums, if that makes sense. Once an ARG is over, you can’t play it again, which I think is a huge limitation.
After many years of participating in multi-platform, interactive narratives, the general public is unconsciously familiar with the concept of story experiences. Despite this, there is virtually no mainstream dialogue about Transmedia. Is this a problem or is this to be expected given the infancy of the movement?
You know, I really dislike the term “Transmedia.” It’s academic and has become a buzzword that is used inaccurately more often than not. I think this will be solved once the first Big Transmedia Story truly goes mainstream. I think the audience will determine this more than the creators; the creation experience isn’t as important as the user experience. I mean, the audience didn’t refer to I Love Lucy as “a three-camera shoot.” They called it I Love Lucy. I don’t think the term “sitcom” came into being until much later.
Other than the many ground-breaking projects you and No Mimes Media have been a part of, are there other Transmedia or ARG projects (past or present) that you recommend our readers check out?
As I mentioned above, the most prominent is the work done at Fourth Wall Studios on Rides.tv. One of the series there, Dirty Work, just won an Emmy for Outstanding Original Interactive Series, so I think it’s really the best example of what’s possible. It’s unlike anything else out there that I know of.
The collaborative nature of Transmedia can sometimes mean an uneasy partnership between “professional” and “amateur” content creators. What kind of dynamics have you seen play out and what advice do you have for the two groups?
Hmm, it feels like the line between the two is very gray. I started out as a consumer and then an amateur and then transitioned into making it my profession. Personally, I consider the folks that develop these projects as a sort of global artist community that is growing daily. It’s still relatively small, but there are lots of folks sharing ideas and helping to develop best practices as best as they can, which is tough as it seems everything we’re doing hasn’t been invented yet. Transmedia projects truly bring people together from so many disciplines, and there is no real “right” way to put a team together. Nobody can do it all, so it’s best to surround yourself with people who are experts at what they do, regardless of whether you consider them to be a pro or not. It’s not like there’s a Transmedia guild or anything.
How do you collaborate with video post-production personnel on your Transmedia projects? Could you give us some examples?
Video typically plays a huge part of any project, but it really depends on whether it’s an ARG or a Ride. In both cases, it’s important to have an experience designer working very closely with the editor, as it’s really easy to unknowingly break something. A crucial name or prop that’s needed to find the next step, or enough time being cut in to cover the time of a real phone ringing – these are the types of things that typically aren’t taken into consideration during your average cut.
It’s also a sort of paradigm attitudinal shift. Up until now, the video has been the final product itself, whereas in a transmedia project, it’s part of a larger whole. It’s important that not only the editor but also the director and writer all have a firm grasp of the big picture and how what they’re doing fits into the larger project.
How important is it to corral, manage and archive UGC video content created during a project? What are the technical, logistical, and legal challenges?
Honestly, I’ve only really dealt with UGC during the Why So Serious project. Technically, it was easy – we just asked for YouTube links. The biggest challenge was actually getting enough usable stuff. I often sit in meetings and hear UGC touted as this amazing thing that people just sit back with a big net and collect something that makes their project amazing, to which I usually roll my eyes a little. During YSS we had an audience in the hundreds of thousands, but the amount of usable content was relatively minuscule, maybe in the low hundreds. And this was a project with a huge, dedicated fanbase. I think it’s a tall order to think that UGC can give you much added value for a property that is new or relatively unknown. Doing a video is a huge ask, and it’s just really tough to get people to take the time to do it. That’s something you always need to be asking yourself when developing UGC elements: Why would somebody do this? If you don’t have a good answer, then don’t do it.
What kind of effect will looming technologies like, say, augmented reality have on Transmedia Entertainment?
I’m hoping it will have a pretty huge effect. The promise of a story all around you will finally become reality. Ironically, it’s not the hardware that’s limiting this right now as much as it is the network itself. The cellular data pipes just aren’t big enough yet to be sending and receiving all this information over 3G. Maybe LTE will help, but it’s going to be an issue for a while. But ultimately, yeah, it’s going to be huge. And when people no longer need to be holding up their phone or tablet to see things around them, it’s going to change the world, really. Hopefully for the better. (I hope someone builds an AdBlocker extension!)
What are the biggest challenges for Transmedia moving forward?
- Technology (Accessibility)
First, the technology will need to settle in and become ubiquitous before Transmedia can truly go mainstream. It took a while for movie theaters to pop up, or for every home to have a television. This can still happen relatively quickly, but it’s not quite there yet. We’re getting close.
Second, standardization. I used to work in music and I remember how huge the impact was when the various synth manufacturers agreed on MIDI as the new standard for transmitting music info. MIDI revolutionized music production and led to things we couldn’t imagine. I think the same thing needs to happen now. Right now we have so many OS’s, browsers, etc. etc. It’d be like if there had been four or five television standards instead of just one. This lack of standardization is getting in the way of things going forward like I hope they will.
Last, the ever-elusive revenue model. Some things aren’t broken, but folks are used to getting online content for free. But look at how fast things like Apple’s App Store have changed how we think about purchases. Something will need to happen that gains critical mass. In the meantime, the more traditional ad-driven models will have to do. But I think there’ll be something else soon.
What are the biggest opportunities for Transmedia moving forward?
The biggest opportunity as I see it is that Transmedia is going to be become a new way of entertaining…something that’s native to the internet. Again, we’re not there yet. Movies, TV, radio, theatre, campfires – they aren’t going away. Some might have to change a little, but they’re not going anywhere. Transmedia has a chance to become this new form of storytelling that wasn’t possible even 10 years ago.
From an entertainment standpoint, Transmedia offers a chance to immerse your audience in amazing ways. I’m excited to see where things lead from here.