In the ideal form of transmedia storytelling, each medium does what it does best-so that a story might be introduced in a film, expanded through television, novels, and comics, and its world might be explored and experienced through game play. Each franchise entry needs to be self-contained enough to enable autonomous consumption. That is, you don’t need to have seen the film to enjoy the game and vice-versa. As Pokemon does so well, any given product is a point of entry into the franchise as a whole.Reading across the media sustains a depth of experience that motivates more consumption. In a world with many media options, consumers are choosing to invest deeply in a limited number of franchises rather than dip shallowly into a larger number. Increasingly, gamers spend most of their time and money within a single genre, often a single franchise. We can see the same pattern in other media-films (high success for certain franchises, overall declines in revenue), television (shorter spans for most series, longer runs for a few), or comics (incredibly long runs for a limited number of superhero icons). Redundancy between media burns up fan interest and causes franchises to fail. Offering new levels of insight and experience refreshes the franchise and sustains consumer loyalty. Such a multilayered approach to storytelling will enable a more complex, more sophisticated, more rewarding mode of narrative to emerge within the constraints of commercial entertainment.
And it also makes economic sense. Different media attract different market niches. Films and television probably have the most diverse audiences, comics and games the narrowest. A good transmedia franchise attracts a wider audience by pitching the content differently in the different media. If each work offers fresh experiences, then a crossover market will expand the potential gross within any individual media. So, women may not play games, but women who like Lord of the Rings might experiment on a related game title.
Have no fear-not all stories will flow across media. Most won’t, but a growing number will. Transmedia stories aren’t necessarily bad stories; they are different kinds of stories. According to Hollywood lore, a good pitch starts with either a compelling character or an interesting world. We might, from there, make the following argument: A good character can sustain multiple narratives and thus lead to a successful movie franchise. A good “world” can sustain multiple characters (and their stories) and thus successfully launch a transmedia franchise.
Many of our best authors, from William Faulkner to J.R.R. Tolkien, understood their art in terms of world-creation and developed rich environments which could, indeed, support a variety of different characters. For most of human history, it would be taken for granted that a great story would take many different forms, enshrined in stain glass windows or tapestries, told through printed words or sung by bards and poets, or enacted by traveling performers. Sequels aren’t inherently bad-remember that Huckleberry Finn was a sequel to Tom Sawyer. But Twain understood what modern storytellers seem to have forgotten-a compelling sequel offers consumers a new perspective on the characters, rather than just more of the same.