Transmedia Franchise Development – The Narrative Design Exploratorium™

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.

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
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
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
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

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
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
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.

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
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
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 in
production 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 Exploratorium I’m Stephen Dinehart; thanks for reading.

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About this NDE Article

This page contains a single article by Stephen E. Dinehart published on June 28, 2009 10:40 PM.

Game Writers in the Trenches™ 6: Micah Wright was the previous entry in this blog.

Dramatic Play – towards a new form is the next entry in this blog.

Welcome to the Narrative Design Exploratorium. Please feel free to browse and comment.

Author Stephen E. Dinehart is a producer, designer, writer, and artist. You can find out more about him on his self-titled website.

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