Creators of Transmedia Stories™ 5: Danny Bilson
Today’s creator is none other than the transmedia mover and shaker Danny Bilson. As Executive Vice President (EVP) of THQ Core Games he has helped refocus the juggernaut that is THQ to create “a rich offering of content distributed across digital platforms based both on all of [THQ’s] major core brands as well as new intellectual properties.” Danny joins us to talk about his work and thoughts on the burgeoning craft of interactive narrative design for transmedia experiences.
Entertainment is on the verge of something new; no not 3D, but a new generation of transmedia story experiences. Story worlds that, in a calculated fashion, cross from media to media providing players with new ways to experience, and immerse themselves in, an authored interactive world. In the past this was done solely for purposes of merchandising and franchise expansion, but in the present it’s being used to create fantastic story experiences. This NDE series, Creators of Transmedia™, sets out to explore what visionaries in the field are now creating, and what they believe tomorrow will bring.
Stephen E. Dinehart: As EVP Core Games at THQ what does you role entail?
Danny Bilson: I run the Core games business unit at THQ. Both marketing and product development are under my supervision.
That’s compelling. Marketing tends to be a different beast from development. Earlier in this series Jordan Wesiman spoke of his trials wrestling with the marketing department on “The Beast”. As transmedia product development reaches into what was once marketings’ sole domain, it seems even the big boys have to fight for creative control. Is having both marketing and product development under your supervision part of THQ’s restructuring and transmedia strategy, or is it unique to your SVP position?
DB: Partnering marketing and product development as we have done is essential in delivering a transmedia program. At our shop, content leads the way. All things flow from the ideas and the people to make them and sell them sit together. It is unique these days, I think.
You stepped out of your position as VP of IP Development at Electronic Arts to pursue transmedia storytelling more aggressively. What brought you back into the fold 2 years later to work at another major videogame publishing house?
DB: Building an independent transmedia studio on venture capital is much more difficult than introducing transmedia strategies to a major game publisher that already has financial and creative assets.
What does transmedia storytelling mean to you?
DB: It means giving people who love a property, more of it. It means extending a narrative or world into multi medias to communicate and engage with the property from many different, uniquely entertaining access points.
How does it differ from your past works in cross-media, like adapting properties like DC’s The Flash to Television?
DB: Robust transmedia means lots of platforms, each taking a unique portion of the story or IP. Back in the early 90’s on The Flash, we really had two, maybe three platforms. We had the comic series, the TV show and we were just getting some consumer products going. I remember a Flash Gameboy game that was not finished before the show was cancelled.
You mentioned at the recent Transmedia Hollywood Conference that there is immersive world building going on at THQ. Can you elaborate?
DB: I can only talk about products that we have announced. One of those, Red Faction is getting a full transmedia treatment. We will be talking a lot more about this in the summer, but one of the elements is a Syfy channel series covering another aspect of the Red Faction saga on Mars.
Why are transmedia experiences important to THQ’s current storytelling strategy?
DB: Our objective is to introduce new game worlds and characters in a more important way than has been done traditionally through advertising. We want to invite people to our worlds and have them adventure and explore there for years to come. When we launch a new property, my hope is that it will be seeded in different medias to create a larger canvas.
How will THQ fans and franchises benefit from transmedia story development?
DB: There will be multiple ways to enjoy the experience. A player could start on the console which can deliver both interactive and linear content, could go to a movie, read a book, buy some cool action figures and never leave his/her favorite universe. Of course we will create lots of community tools to allow those players an active role in the fun.
What about creating an immersive story world is most challenging for you?
DB: Getting all of the elements to arrive in an interesting and revealing sequence seems most challenging. I’m talking about both creative and production issues over time. Everything must be carefully planned and overlapped.
Where does the idea of decentralized authorship come into play?
DB: It doesn’t. There must be a creative center to every property. We can create tools to allow many contributors, but someone must own the “story” to maintain a controlled fidelity, certainly around the pieces created internally that we monetize.
Amen to that. Can you describe your creative process?
DB: Once I have a hook or high concept or core inspiration, I start at the beginning and build sequentially. That is personal style developed over years. Lots of methods can work, IMO.
Why is the product line diversity associated with transmedia storytelling beneficial for THQ, aside for the obvious potential fiscal benefits?
DB: I don’t’ know about diversity, what matters is getting to good. If story elements designed for many medias and centered in a consistent world get us more good. I’m in.
Having the creative capacity for both game story and cinematic stories do you see the two as diametrically opposed?
DB: Not opposed, just different. There are things from linear narrative that have great value in interactive story. Building to memorable moments and knowing how to string them together into a meaningful narrative would be an example.
How do you see the immersive worlds of tomorrow bridging that gap?
DB: It’s really about complementary products working in concert. The more dependencies between story platforms the more one might move the audience through them. But the transmedia designer must find the balance of the right amount of overlap so the user doesn’t feel like he is being forced to take on all of the medias to get the story…the more media, the richer. But essential experience must exist on its own in each piece. Requires careful planning and design.
Does your strategy in designing a transmedia spectrum (array of complimentary media or “entry-points”) vary greatly according to IP?
DB: Yes, everything should vary by IP. What in the IP is inspiring which Transmedia pieces?
What drives your desire to create transmedia IP?
DB: I’m just a Walter Mitty guy who wants to live in fantasy worlds.
Very cool. What’s the most exciting part of your job?
DB: The power to greenlight a project.
Ah, the touch of King Midas. How do you convince large media houses to actually engage in immersive world development via a seemingly abstract method like transmedia storytelling?
DB: Because they are so risk averse these days, they all want pre-branded content. Transmedia builds up the brand so the big entertainment corps can feel safer in their investment launching an original IP.
Finally, what do you see as the near future for interactive transmedia storytelling?
Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts with the NDE. I know I have learned, and somehow now feel more empowered than ever. Thank you for your inspiration.
Danny and his THQ Core Games group are key players to watch as the media moguls of the world turn their heads toward this exciting new form. By creating a spectrum of media sources to immerse players in the new universes they are developing new kind of story world, one which will give the players in the ultimate form of decentralized authorship –transmedial play using the power of imagination and the drama that it surely induces for the player. For The Narrative Design Explorer, I’m Stephen Erin Dinehart, thanks for stopping by. Remember, it’s only through play great stories happen!