Here’s a dilemma every transmedia producer faces… You discover a new storytelling platform–maybe you get in to their invite-only beta–and you create a story that uses the strengths of that platform. The platform gives you a powerful new way to express yourself interactively, but then something happens. Maybe the startup runs out of funding, gets acquired, or changes their business model. Suddenly the DNA of your story is no longer available to you. Your story can no longer be told.
Participatory platforms that stop letting you participate
Two years ago, Theatrics debuted as a platform that allowed fans to make their own videos or stories to become part of a fictional world. When popular TV show ‘Psych’ used Theatrics to let fans share videos of their theories on a crime, it was big news in the transmedia world. Later, ‘Road to Sanditon’, the follow-up to ‘The Lizzie Bennet Diaries’, used Theatrics to let fans become characters in that world.
Theatrics has since changed their business model and now the site, with all of its user-submitted videos, stories, and blogs, is entirely gone.
If you choose to tell a story on a new platform, there’s a risk it won’t be popular enough to last more than a couple of years of the first round of funding.
At Sundance’s New Frontier this year, the big news was VR. I read about immersive 360 degree movies where the audience controls the camera. It brought up memories of watching an immersive 360 degree movie 15 years ago on RealPlayer filmed with a BeHere camera. The movie depicted a trip to the airport and you were sitting in a van with a cranky grandma and fighting kids. You controlled what you saw so every viewer made their own version of the movie. It was made by a Sundance alum and premiered at Cannes. [It’s amusing to read these articles from 2000 that still feel like news today: A New Kind of Storytelling and iPix and Be Here are Creating Participatory Video.] To my knowledge, it’s impossible to watch that first 360 interactive movie because it was tied to proprietary software. Even if I had RealPlayer and even if the BeHere plugin still existed, I don’t know where you’d find the movie.
Is future unplayability the fate of all the amazing VR projects at Sundance? What happens to stories created for Google Glass when Google doesn’t seem too hopeful for that product’s future?
How to prevent losing control of your transmedia story
As someone who loves to experiment with new storytelling platforms, one thing I’ve learned is to make sure the content I spend time creating will work on an additional platform.
For instance, if I make a movie in Plotagon, I make sure there is a way to export the final product to YouTube.
If I create an interactive video with Adventr, I make sure I could upload the source videos to another interactive video platform like Interlude or even just use YouTube annotations to link to different videos.
When I’ve finished writing a choose-your-own-adventure story in Inkle, I’ll use a browser that lets me Save Webpage – Complete in order to back it up.
I have an iOS app for my project Phrenic, but most of the content (aside from some games) is also available on a mobile friendly HTML5 website.
When I heard Theatrics was shutting down, I wasn’t worried because I realized simply using a unique hashtag combined with Instagram or Wattpad could do 90% of what Theatrics did, with a lower barrier of entry for fans.
What scares me is when the story is both created and delivered on a platform with no way to export it to a different format. When a company controls both the creative tool and sole delivery mechanism for your story, it’s time to run. Never trust an emerging platform with your source files because you may never get them back. I always ask myself how else I could deliver the story if a specific platform went away. Could the story still be told using web standards like HTML5, even if it meant losing a piece of innovative interactivity?
Another option is to just approach it sort of like a Buddhist monk making a sand mandala. You create new stories on new platforms and when those platforms go away, your stories disappear. It’s not about longevity or creating a timeless piece of art. It’s about speaking to the moment, creating something for right now. You’ll always be ready for the next new platform because you’re not tied down to last year’s innovation.
The Big Question(s)
The best way to overcome a crush on a new platform is to start asking questions…
How would I tell this story on a different platform? What will happen to my story if this platform shuts down? Are there existing, more stable, platforms I could parcel this story out to if this one disappears?
For me, the biggest question is always: will the time I spend building a story on this platform be worth it if the platform is gone in a year?