[Gamasutra editor-at-large Chris Morris looks at how initial releases in game franchises are extending across film, books, action figures and beyond, talking to THQ's Danny Bilson about the just-announced Homefront prequel novel and why the "fiercely competitive" market demands that extra transmedia step.]
The video game industry, if you haven’t noticed, isn’t just about games any more.
Sure they’re important, but for many publishers, they’re the hub of a broader entertainment property.
In the end, that property could be one that’s more inviting to a larger audience and one that can prove to be a lot more lucrative than a standalone franchise (even an enormous one) could ever be.
THQ is certainly taking note. The company on Monday announced it had partnered with Random House’s Del Ray label to publish a novel set in the Homefront universe early next year – a short while before the game ships to stores.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg for the company, however. Already in the works is a pilot episode for a show based in the Red Faction universe for the SyFy Channel, which will bow right as the next installment of the game hits stores.
And later this year, the company will announce a major motion picture tied into an as-yet unannounced new installment in what the company describes as one of its ‘major franchises’. (Let the guessing games begin: Saints Row?Full Spectrum Warrior? Paws & Claws?)
“This one game next year that will have the movie will also have a Facebook game, and Xbox Live game, licensed apparel, action figures and things like that,” Danny Bilson, executive vice president of core games for THQ, tells Gamasutra. “It makes [the property] more a world of the game instead of just the game. That makes the game itself more exciting.”
THQ is hardly alone in expanding its titles beyond the console and PC worlds. World of Warcraft, Halo and more are bookstore standards now. And Red Dead Redemption ran a 30-minute machinima short film on Fox shortly after its release.
The larger entertainment world, of course, has been doing the same thing for decades. Star Wars is the shining example, with over 30 years of cross-pollination among entertainment mediums – and no signs of any pending slowdown.
Do the additional marketing outlets lead to more game sales? It’s hard to quantify that. But they certainly raise awareness of the brand – especially among people who might not consider themselves gamers, but are still drawn in by the worlds developers create.
And any title that has the buzz of an entertainment “event” is more likely to stand out from the increasingly large crowd of games coming out. “People don’t buy video games because they’re video games anymore,” says Bilson. “Now it’s fiercely competitive and only the best games and most interesting games are going to succeed.”
That cuts both ways. Because the broader entertainment landscape is so competitive, studios, publishers and other content providers are more eager to tie into something that has a built in audience – especially if someone else is footing a part of the marketing bill.
“What [these companies] are afraid of is risk,” says Bilson. “They know we’re shipping a game with a certain amount of marketing and suddenly it’s branded ‘entertainment.’ … So having a game makes the property more appealing, not less appealing. It’s easier to get a movie or TV show going. It’s easier to get a book going.”
For partners, it’s a chance to ride the coattails of a major game. For THQ, at least, it’s a chance to expand income – since these partnerships cost it nothing, but give it a share of additional revenue streams.
The trick to success is two-fold, says Bilson. First, the experiences must stand-alone, so they can accommodate the different audiences.
For Homefront, the book is meant to introduce people to the game world. It's written by John Milius (screenwriter of Oscar winning film “Apocalypse Now”) and Raymond Benson (who has penned two Metal Gear Solid books and multiple James Bond novels).
But the story does not center of the game’s characters (though the book’s hero does meet them), rather on a reporter who survives the Korean invasion and eventually becomes an armed insurgent and the “Voice of Freedom”--an underground radio broadcaster.
Perhaps more importantly, there needs to be a consistency among the various entertainment properties – and not just a casual one.
“In addressing the first write of the Red Faction pilot, the author adapted it in the same way many people have adapted a property in the past,” says Bilson. “And we made it clear that adaptation is not the same as transmedia. Every single thing has to be the same. As soon as something is different, that breaks the rules – and that breaks the experience.”