One of the challenges transmedia producers face is coming up with a simple way to distribute all the crossmedia elements of their project. Done poorly, this ends up as an unnecessarily fragmented, disjointed experience for the audience. I recently noticed that VODO has started selling themed crossmedia bundles, along with an innovative payment method that feels part Groupon, part Kickstarter. I contacted VODO via Twitter to ask a few questions and Jem Noble replied with some great insights on how VODO bundles crossmedia for audiences.
What inspired you to take indie creations from different platforms (games, movies, comics, music, etc) and sell them as a bundle like you’re doing with the sci-fi themed Otherworlds?
VODO started up in 2009 with the aim of discovering new filmmaking talent and using the power of the crowd to distribute awesome new work and raise money for it. We began working with creators to put content out as Free-To-Share (FTS) downloads via torrents and made a facility for downloaders to support work by donation. We noticed that donations worked well when we added bonus content for people who paid, such as additional artwork, HD streaming, pdf books of hi-res production photography, music soundtracks and sometimes production memorabilia. This was the precedent from which we developed the VODO platform to offer bundles. We were inspired by the success of the model from the indie gaming sector and decided it would be good to formalise this as a discovery and distribution method for great work in other media, too.
Several of us on the team have longstanding experience curating art and programming film and we decided we’d go for a thematic approach, gathering different kinds of work together around specific ideas, which gives coherence to the search process and makes for an interesting compilation product. The first project grew around a conversation with Tomas Rawlings from Auroch Digital and Red Wasp Design in Bristol, where we’re partly based. Red Wasp made the HP Lovecraft-inspired game Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land, and Tomas had connections with other creators across a range of media through that project. He hooked us up and there was lots of interest in contributing to our first bundle––the HP Lovecraft bundle––which went live in Spring 2013.
Many people think of cross-platform stories as a single narrative where each platform tells a different part of the story. How do you see this working with multiple authors and multiple narratives all tied to a theme?
Our initial interest in bundles included the ‘true transmedia’ idea of distributing the same narrative world across diverse media formats. Our conversation with Tomas was actually about VODO Melt––a platform concept to facilitate development and distribution of diffuse narrative projects. It was a little too far out of our domain of experience to pursue at that time and we decided to grow our platform around the broader idea of crossmedia, developing the way we support discovery, promotion and distribution of existing movies, games, books and music. We’ve found audience responses to this curated approach to drawing in different works by different authors around a central theme really positive so far, although we’ve yet to see a review that goes into this aspect of the bundles in critical depth.
The platform as it is now is an ideal mechanism for delivering designed transmedia projects, too, as long as they’re the kind that benefit from centralised access to different dimensions of a work. We’re definitely interested in hosting high quality and innovative new work of this kind––if your readers have recommendations, please get in touch!
Audience participation plays an important role in transmedia storytelling. Will future bundles ever allow for unlocking a fan participation section where people can add their own stories or media?
That kind of enrichment is a great idea. Currently our model follows the time-limited format, where bundles are available for up to 21 days. We’re planning a separate strand of permanently available bundles aimed more at education and research interests but fan-content could also work as a permanent proposition, extending engagement with bundle themes after the initial offer is over. Food for thought!
How did you come up with your gamified payment system?
It comes from wanting to widen access to great content through Pay What You Want (PWYW), which is a principle we’ve used since 2009 in conjunction with FTS distribution, while also wanting to motivate upward movement in the amount of financial support customers are happy to give us and the creators with whom we work. 70% of net income goes to our content creators, we take 25% and 5% goes to a charity related to the bundle theme.
Including a Beat-The-Average (BTA) component comes from observing the way the bigger games bundle providers have successfully operated in the last few years and Premium is our modification to that, which enables us to work with some creators on the basis of providing a fixed fee per sale, rather than a percentage of the total net PWYW income. It’s interesting how each performs differently for creators depending on the way customers engage with different bundles. For example, a higher BTA to Premium rate can mean creators in on a cut of PWYW income can earn more than those getting a fixed-fee at the Premium level, but that also depends on how high or low the average payment level sits. We’re actually working with researchers at the Haas Business School at Stanford currently to analyse these behaviours and help understand how we can structure offers in a way that keeps prices affordable and engages more people.
We’ve just launched a new addition to the payment system, addressing the fact that enthusiastic high-payers can push averages beyond what some people are happy to pay. We now invite people to pitch to us what they would be happy to contribute to a particular buy-in level and every few days we select a handful of the best bids and give those customers the product at that price.
Has releasing content in multi-platform bundles taught you anything about how people consume entertainment?
We get some really interesting results. Fundamentally, we’re dealing with an emergent audience for a new kind of product, as the ‘crossmedia bundle’ isn’t a concept many people are familiar with yet, so its useful for us to look what it is people are accessing in their bundles to see if they’re being led by a specific interest––indicated by the ratio of film, book, game and music downloads or streams, for any given bundle, for example. We don’t have figures for how many Steam keys are activated, and we haven’t yet pooled data on what people access from their VODO library outside the bundle period (sales are time-limited, but the content is yours forever!), so it’s an incomplete picture, but books and music tend be more of a draw than we anticipated.
We’re also noticing consistently that when confronted with the Pay What You Want proposition, more than 75% of the audience beats the average, with around 40% of all payments beating the Premium rate. It’s an astonishing level of support and heart-warming that people are really invested in the principle of determining value, and rewarding creators for their work.
Next month we’re trialling a bundle that will be predominantly movie-based, in partnership with Cork Film Festival, which will be a fascinating test of cross-over between movie audiences and the bundle concept. This will sit in between the current Otherworlds release and the next crossmedia bundle, for which we’re currently hunting and gathering together different kinds of work connected through the (bloody) vein of indie horror. It’s such a rewarding job to be helping spread great work in this way!
More info: VODO Website