PAX 2012 is now over, it took me a whole day to reflect on the amazing amount of energy and community that this conference contains. Let me start with the PAX team, they did a great job again this year in providing a venue for us gamers, geeks, and nerds to congregate with friends from around the world in one location to share in all things games. Even though I only play a small sliver of games, I could see the power in getting the whole community together; developers, creators, and players all in one location. The exposure to other game types like table top, indie games, and live action role playing (LARP) really helped expand my interests in other types of games. The biggest direct marketing game conference I think this year, and it was great to be able to be apart of it.
As I reflect on my three days of getting up early, standing in lines, walking the floors of the Washington State Convention Center, and meeting all the great people, two words keep coming to mind; “Information Overload”! This is not to say it was a bad thing, I was like a kid in a candy store the size of Costco, I didn’t know where to begin, where to end, and what to take in moment to moment. Between the games like Borderlands 2 and Assassins Creed II, to costumed cosplayers, to playing old arcade games like Dragon Slayer and Dragon Slayer II, it was just too much fun for this old brain to handle. These are just some of the things I was able to remember coming down from the daily high that is PAX2012.
Then there were the keynote speech, QA with Mike and Jerry, and panels with NASA. These were amazing to hear and watch. The keynote done by the Insomniac president and CEO Ted Price was informational and inspirational all at the same time. Then the QA with Mike "Gabe" Krahulik and Jerry "Tycho" Holkins, creators of Penny Arcade, we found out that next year PAX Prime will be 4 days and there will be a PAX Australia for our cousins down under!
Overall this was an amazing event for me to share with my wife and friends. I want to thank everyone at Penny Arcade, all of the presenters and exhibitors for their helping make this a great event. Above all I want to thank the attendees: gamers, geeks, nerds, and others, that make this a true sub-culture in our society. I finally feel like I fit in with a group and can talk to anyone without having them look at me like I am the weird one!
Entertainment is taking a turn for the greater multiverse, which means that it uses multiple entertainment media choices to widen the audience that a particular property or franchise can reach. You can see this while watching TV, with shows like Burn Notice where, during commercials, you are shown advertisements for complimentary stories on the show’s website using comic book style story telling. Other examples of multiple entertainment franchises are "Star Wars", "Star Trek", and "Alien Series", where there is a rich universe explored through many different movies, TV series, books, comics, and games.
I think it is interesting to have watched this unfold over the decades as more and more creators are waking up to the idea that their stories are not just one-dimensional pieces of work. They can create whole universes that can be told to many different types of people and appeal to them all using many different types of mediums.
What is multi-tainment then? In my opinion it is the combination of different media types like games, TV series, movies, books, and comics, that tell our stories from different angles, tailored to our audience’s preferred method of consumption. I have been noticing this trend that more and more content creators are experimenting with this type of entertainment, to help widen their audience (and revenue potential). George Lucas could be considered the first to do this in some ways; by retaining the rights to the Star Wars merchandising, he was able to create and control more of the story than by just telling one story through a two hour movie. The money he made off of merchandising allowed him to continue the story using different mediums. His success led the way for a whole new generation of content creators to look at how storytelling can be done.
I hope that if content creators are starting with a single story from one perspective, and knowing that they will build more into the universe later, they will start thinking differently about how to tell the story from the beginning. This is already happening to some extent with the example, Burn Notice: First Contact (http://firstcontact.usanetwork.com/) and more so with Defiance (http://defiance.com/en/). When telling the story, you want make sure there is room for expansion, intrigue and potential with new characters to tell their stories, and the most important thing: consistency. Consistency is a very difficult thing to do when your stories and creations are being developed by more than one person; it is hard with just one person, and adding more makes it exponentially more difficult. One method I have used to handle this is to first define a set of rules and parameters for the universe. Explain how this universe works and why. This is not easy to do, but it is important to keep everyone (even if it is yourself) on the same page and consistent. Next, set up if and how the characters are interconnected as this will help establish timelines and "family" trees. Once you have timelines and interaction trees, the stories become easier to write and consistency can be upheld.
Another benefit that I think about with having a multi-tainment universe is that you can explore different stories that lend themselves better to the media that they are presented in to the consumer. For example, a story with lots of action and puzzles maybe better suited for a video game, whereas a story with lots of dialog, complex emotions, and a narrator may lend itself more to a book. Then, if you have an overarching story that pulls many different stories together, but doesn't explore them all in depth, this may be great for a movie or TV/Web series. Then you can explore branching narratives in more depth with books, comics, games, or maybe even a combination of all three.
As I look at the entertainment landscape, I am starting to see a clear picture of our future consumption practices. They are not just about where, how, and who audiences get their content from, but also what content is tailored to their personal consumption. The added benefit to all of this multi-tainment content is that as the creator you have now widen your audiences, which provides multiple income sources to continue to create more and/or better content.
What will happen when all kinds and types of people start sharing a single universe through their preferred method of consumption? Will they be more likely to be more social outside of their circle of friends and/or cliques? Will the multi-tainment of content help break down communication barriers between different social, economic, or political boundaries? Maybe we can see shadows of this already coming with examples like American Idol, Lost, and the Olympics. We will have to wait and see how this all plays out in the next few years. I look forward to being apart of it and helping shape this brave new world.