Jesse Alexander, the executive producer for TV shows including Alias, Heroes, and Lost, spoke at the Hollywood & Games Summit
on topics ranging from Lost's similarity to a video game, to how television and film execs should approach games.
Alexander was in conversation with GDC's Jamil Moledina at the CMP and Hollywood Reporter co-created summit in Los Angeles, and the title, 'Shepherding a Property Through the Transmedia Landscape', allowed discussions of subjects from games through Alternate Reality Games to pure TV properties.
Creating Transmedia Mythologies
The conversation started by looking at how Lost, which Alexander helps produce, has really used websites and online ARG-like structures to draw people into the show - Moledina suggested that the TV show has deep problem-solving skills like in games.
Alexander noted in response: “Yeah, that was part of what we wanted to make. [Earlier JJ Abrams-created show] Alias came out in 2001, the same time that Neil Young was doing [early subscription-based ARG] Majestic
. That was very inspiring to us. His keynote at GDC where he talked about that, was similar to us with Alias, in terms of serialized narrative."
He continued by asking: "What is the viewer's experience? What’s their participation level? We’re doling out info, and how much can you give them and at what rate? We just piled on the mysteries, and created an overwhelming mythology.”
Alexander continued by explaining this concept of trans-media promotion: “It used to be OK for [networks] just to make a TV show – that was fine, and that’s all they had to do. Not any more. Syndication is only 17% of the money now, and they’re looking for new ways to exploit their properties. There are traditional ways like merchandising, but also non-traditional ways like ARGs and online comics, that we do."
A Heroes Game, ARG?
The conversation continued by discussing Heroes, one of the hottest U.S. TV prospects right now. Again, Alexander referenced hidden ARG-like elements
in the show, but noted: “It’s difficult to call what we do at Heroes an ARG – we’re using some of that, but it’s sort of trans-media. With these large companies, they desperately want to do this, and are still trying to find a structure for that.”
He also suggested that the kind of website-based puzzles and extra information that Lost and Heroes tap into are much easier to design for in the short-term than gigantic console games: “That’s one thing that’s nice about the internet and ARGs, something that would be a console title takes a lot more planning. We made some choices this year [in Heroes] about ways to tell stories, and some of them had in mind the idea of console and PC game experience, so that if we create a game for Heroes, we’ll aways have resonance with the series. It’s important that any game you do based on a license connect to the property.”
Of course, Moledina countered, there's a competing licensing theory that you can sell games just based on the brand, to which Alexander agreed: “That’s true in the worst ways ever. [But] everybody in the gaming industry will eventually experience what we experience in TV – the only way to stand out is quality, with all the similar things out there."
He added: "When you’re doing licenses, you could find a way to do something shitty, put it out and make some money, but you could also build something great. Make a relationship with a studio, with a license, and make it great. That’s why the Lord of the Rings
games from EA are so great."
How Do Media Types Connect With Games?
Moledina then asked a sensible question - just how do you know who to talk to in a parallel field in order to get good work done?
Alexander agreed: “That’s a challenge – we don’t really have that pipeline. We can create an amazing team of writers and producers, but there aren’t clear roads on the landscape yet... There needs to be some trans-media czar who connects the creative people with the other creative people in these trans-media situations. It has to get done. I’m optimistic that that’s happening at NBC with Heroes. People that sell that IP, they regulate that relationship. We let them know we’re available."
And how about some advice to other television folks approaching video games and new media as a way to get a more loyal fanbase and widen their appeal across multiple media?
The producer explained: “I think television people need to educate themselves about the game industry and new media. I think that’s happening more and more, and it sounds like a plug, but obviously Game Developer magazine is a huge way I’ve learned about this business, and the postmortems are key to understanding that process."
He added: "I think it’s that education that needs to happen for producers and executives as well. But it has to be done by game companies too – they need to learn how Hollywood works. When the developers talk about “Hollywood-types”, ultimately it’s just guys in a room. People who make games have more in common with people that make movies than they might imagine. The way you manage talent, the way you manage a brand, the way you hit schedules, it’s all about management, all about creative vision."