Transmedia Franchise Development | The Narrative Design Explorer™

Transmedia Franchise Development

    The Transmedia SphereHaving developed franchises ranging in genres and game types,
    I’ve become versed in writing and designing transmedia narrative delivery within the rules of a given property. Like any creative endeavor blank slates can be harder to fill than a penciled page. Restraints based on franchise rules can be both detrimental and freeing. Balancing these concerns and knowing when to stick to a rule, and when to throw it out is vital to successful franchise development. At the end of the day it’s about pleasing fans, and surprising them too.

    This is a vital step, often truncated or overlooked in scope, but it is a large part of the process which can be time consuming.

    Step 1: Study the Franchise
    This seems easy, but it’s can be quite time consuming and difficult. You
    need to know a world well enough to author in it. This takes a balancing of your subjective take on the franchise with a more objective view of how the fans perceive it. Sure you can jump in renegade style and bang around until Batman is wearing skates and Dr.Freeze is a beef cake, or you can take care knowing you are stepping into sacred ground. Yes franchises are the place of fairy tales and
    make believe, they are intellectual properties which exist in the imagination. When you take the task of altering and or adding to a franchise you get a chance to contribute to the imaginations of thousands if not millions of people. It’s an opportunity best not
    squandered on sophomoric fearlessness. That said, some people know franchises too well to author in them, they become fearful of breaking the cannon of fiction for sake of damaging their nostalgic glamorization of what once was.

    Step 2: Identify the Pillars
    Look at the Franchise and ask yourself “What makes this strong.” “What does The Marvel Universe mean?” or “What is Harry Potter?” “What is Halo?” I find this is best done in a team setting. Key players a good team will have talents and likes which bring them focus on certain aspects of the franchise. Coming together to narrow and nail the pillars will be much more fruitful than if you where to attacked it yourself.

    Step 3: Characters, Locations, and time lines
    Who is acting within this world? Where are they and how have their pasts affected the present. You need to know this stuff. Think of these as inventory lists which you can later harvest for inspiration and function within your fiction design.

    Step 4: Identify the holes

    The story will have holes, it’s inevitable; sometimes BIG holes, ones you can’t cover up. That is, things will be unanswered for the audience, and some questions will beg to be answered. By no means are you required to address these holes, heck you might want to ignore them altogether, but you need to ask yourself and your team which ones are important to expanding the franchise and compelling it forward?

    Step 6:  Narrative Delivery
    Just how is a player going to experience your story? Or how will they create their own? Looking at narrative delivery in the previous installments and entry points to the franchise can help you identify key systems for development. This is true for any medium your transmedia franchise is covering. You need to study and identify these methods as both a historical and competitive analysis. Identifying the parts which deliver your narrative allows you to design the ‘narremes’, or story
    elements within a particular media, to fit just right within your transmedia sphere. A transmedia sphere is a collection of the media types you are using to execute the transmedia property. Your story content will be delivered with designed precision, your writer(s) will be more happy, and ultimately the player will be able to understand and experience more of your story as designed.

    Step 7: Throw it all away.
    Really; burn it. I was talking to a design director recently and asked him about some narrative design techniques that were used in the franchises last installation. What the team and I thought were pillars were in fact a patchwork of fixes put together to
    fix a poorly delivered story. People are human, and their creations are too.

    Step 8: The Transmedia Plan
    Map your transmedia sphere and created supporting documentation for rollout. What media elements are you using? Are these elements to be released at the same time?  Do they focus on particular aspects of the franchise? What do you expect to achieve with them? Understanding the media elements, marketing and distributions channels that will be used in you transmedia roll-out is vital information. Information which you need, both for yourself and your team.

    Step 9: Core Documents
    I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve seen the whole of a franchise being housed within a slide presentation created by an assistant producer from viewing media artifacts. If those who came before you were not wise enough to document the franchise during development, and to update it after development, please put everything on hold until this you have at least a first iteration, if not a solid alpha. You shouldn’t be 2 years into production without documentation about your product. It’s wrong and wasteful. Sure these documents will need updated and iterated upon, but this is a vital first step for organizing and developing the franchise.

    Step 10: Write
    This is a whole process unto itself, both vast and mysterious. A whole business sector has developed about writing instruction, so I won’t get into it. That said, it is a vital and time consuming process with no right answers. Listen to your gut, and to the critiques, no matter how harsh, of people you trust.

    Again here is a long and time consuming process which may involve 10’s of millions of dollars and teams ranging into the 100’s. It takes a lot of planning, talent and time. What is below is brief overview. Since your franchise might be staged, this pertains more to particular media elements rather than your entire transmedia sphere.

    Step 11: Phase Alpha
    The Alpha Phase of development needs to be directed at creating a first draft of all you media elements. Once completed you and your team will need to play, watch, listen and read. Testing these products and presenting them is a task unto itself

    Step 12: Focus/User Testing
    A vital step to any media production is testing, anyone whom has been on the team since the beginning with be saturated, and as such the quality of their opinions diminish relative to fresh eyes. Test the quality of you media elements, and their interrelation, by asking viewer/user/players questions which will provide you insight to how your media elements are lending to their ‘reading’ of the franchise. This will help you to restrategize for the next step.

    Step 13: Post-Alpha
    This is the time to update you documentation, and ask yourself where the most focus needs to be aimed to get your product finished. In all hopes it is brief and directed so you can move smoothly into Beta.

    Step 14: Phase Beta
    The Beta Phase of production is a time of sweating it out. If you’ve planned well, you shouldn’t be crunching, but polishing. This is when you are aiming at a final draft, your gold.

    Step 15: Gold
    This is when you media is ready for pressing, printing and distribution. It’s not a phase, but the end of Beta.


    Step 16: Roll-out
    This is a task which moves beyond franchise development and production, and into marketing and distribution, I’ve got my thoughts, but I’ll leave that to experts.

    Step 17: Keeping it live
    In today’s media landscape it’s possible to keep new content inproduction at all times, feeding your fans, and maintaining their
    loyalty and interest in the franchise.

    Step 18: Documenation (again)
    This is a great time to once again, update your documentation! If you stick with the franchise you be thanking yourself, and if you move on, the next team will be too. Documentation is the most key and overlooked aspect of any franchise I’ve worked on, giving it the focus and importance it deserves will pay out ten-fold as you franchise matures over what every creator, and investor, hopes will be decades.

    Transmedia franchise development is a long and resource intensive process, making sure you are planned and directed in you execution will ensure quality in your franchise for years to come. For the Narrative Design Explorer I’m Stephen Dinehart; thanks for reading.