Friday, December 30, 2011

Storyworlds - Part 1

Ryan notes that events provide a temporal dimension by creating a history of the changes that occur in the time span framed by the universe (Ryan, 2011). This temporal dimension allows for the development of dynamic storyworlds rather than static text worlds. A disadvantage, however, is that if every sequence of events generates a different storyworld it is difficult to create multiple stories within the same storyworld (Ryan, 2011).

A more flexible way to deal with the temporal dimension is to have an inherent property of the storyworld and by extension the existents, events, settings, and stories that are contained within that storyworld. This temporal dimension can be identified as storyworld time (see Figure 1). The use of the temporal dimension is a key method for organizing information and a timeline can be a powerful tool for organizing the various elements of the storyworld. Existents, events, and settings can be placed into the storyworld at the appropriate point on its timeline (see Figure 1). 

Source: Peter von Stackelberg
Figure 1: The storyworld consists of existents (characters and significant objects), events, and settings that exist at points in storyworld time.

The time dimension can be stretched as much as needed to accommodate these elements. A story can be established with its own timeline – story time -- within storyworld time (see Figure 2). The “present day” of the story is established when the main part of the story begins. Prologues typically present a portion of the narrative that precedes the “present day” and is “outside” of the story.

Selecting from among the existents, events, and settings of the storyworld within the timeframe of a story (see Figure 2) provides the basic elements from which to create the story. 

 Source: Peter von Stackelberg
Figure 2: A story establishes a timeline within storyworld time, with the story's "present day" typically occuring when the story starts.

Selecting a different set of existents, events, and settings provides the elements for a different story, even if the same timeframe is used (see Figure 5). Shifting the story timeframe results in a different set of existents, events, and settings being available and the emergence of a different story (see Figure 5).

 Source: Peter von Stackelberg
Figure 3: A number of existents, events, and settings are selected from the storyworld to use in the story. 

Source: Peter von Stackelberg  
Figure 4: A different combination of existents, events, and settings selected from the storyworld produces a different story, even if the time span of the story is identical to another one.

Source: Peter von Stackelberg
Figure 5: Using a different timeframe for a story results in a different story with different existents, events, and settings.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Storyworld Level Design Tasks - Overview

The second level of design tasks occurs at the storyworld level (see table below). At this level, the storyworld is created, level of user engagement and degree of user agency determined, and high level transmedia narrative’s interactions are documented.

Design at the storyworld level is an iterative process in which the overall transmedia project design evolves as the author works through the various steps of the narrative, engagement, and interaction design. New information or changes in one design area can lead to changes in the other design areas as well.

Storyworld Level Design Tasks
Narrative Design
Engagement Design
Interaction Design
  • Create storyworld
  • Develop storyworld tagline
  • Select storyworld genre
  • Determine if storyworld is fictional, non-fictional, or hybrid
  • Create characters
  • Create significant object(s)
  • Create events
  • Create settings
  • Develop storyworld synopsis
  • Determine desired level of user engagement
  • Determine degree of user agency
  • Determine user control of characters
  • Determine user role (internal or external)
  • Apply principles of human centered design
  • Develop “rules of engagement” synopsis
  • Develop design aesthetic
  • Develop style guides
  • Develop preliminary wireframes
  • Determine entry points to transmedia narrative project
  • Map storyworld level navigation

Monday, December 26, 2011

Ontology: Transmedia Narrative Design

One of the key aspects to understanding how to create transmedia narratives was developing an understanding of the many different elements that went into a transmedia narrative. Equally important was understanding the relationships between those elements. The result was an ontology.An ontology is a description of objects, entities, and concepts and the relationships that exist between them in a particular domain of knowledge. (Gruber, 1993).

A challenge for the emerging field of transmedia narrative design is that concepts and terms may not be fully defined, may conflict with each other, or may simply not exist. The ontology developed here and in subsequent posts provides a framework for looking at transmedia narrative design. To my knowledge, this is the first attempt to fully document the "objects, entities, and concepts and the relationships that exist between them" for transmedia narrative design. As such, it should be seen as a starting point for discussion.

This thesis develops an ontology for transmedia narrative design. Three key design phases (see Figure 21) have been identified as being critical to designing an effective story using a transmedia approach:

  • User Engagement Design: The user engagement design phase focuses on designing aspects of the transmedia narrative that primarily involve users’ engagement with and participation in the narrative.
  • Narrative Design: The narrative design phase focuses on the design of the story elements of the transmedia narrative.
  • Interaction Design: The interaction design phase focuses on how users physically interact with the interface and navigate through the transmedia narrative.

While these three areas involve separate sets of skills and may involve different members of a large production team, they need to be well integrated if the overall transmedia narrative design is to work effectively.

Source: Peter von Stackelberg
Concept map of transmedia narrative design and linked user engagement, narrative, and interaction design

Friday, December 23, 2011

Transmedia Project Level Design Tasks - One Story vs. Multiple Stories

Deciding whether a transmedia narrative involves a single story told using multiple media (intracompositional) or multiple stories told using multiple media (intercompositional) will shape the structure and focus of the narrative. The Matrix is a frequently cited example of an intercompositional transmedia narrative. Three films, several video games, a series of animated short films, and a number of comic books form The Matrix’s storyworld. Each of the works in this storyworld is a fully developed story or game that can stand on its own.

Transmedia narratives like Must Love Robots and Animism: the Gods’ Lake are intercompositional transmedia narratives. In Must Love Robots, each element of the story contributes essential information that the user needs in order to fully understand the story. A single story is central to Animism: The Gods’ Lake and a variety of media, live events, and an alternate reality game provide additional information related to the primary story. Alternate reality games and stories structured using “narrative hubs” are closest to being “pure” intracompositional narratives.

Stories that involve either a central character or a central mystery are well suited to an intracompositional narrative structure. Intercompositional narrative structures are better suited to a number of individual stories that set in the same story world and which may or may not be interconnected.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Transmedia Project Level Design Tasks - Gamification

Transmedia narratives provide users the opportunity to engage in more active roles (user agency) than traditional narrative forms. Some examples of user agency include spatial navigation, problem solving, incorporating game play within narratives, and traversing links in hypertext narrative.

Computer and console games that incorporate elements of narrative have captured a significant audience. In these games, users have a sense of free will that is often conveyed by enabling robust forms of spatial navigation and interaction with objects in the game world. This has resulted an obsession with the idea that “the more agency, the better” (Mulholland & Collins, 2002). However, the degree of user agency needs to be considered carefully when designing a transmedia narrative.

Determining where on the narrative-game spectrum the project falls will determine what kind of transmedia work it will produce. At one end of the spectrum is narrative, which has a high degree of author control over the narrative flow and meaning, while on the other end is game, which gives the user/player a high degree of control. Towards the middle of the spectrum are alternate reality games (ARGs) in which control in shaping meaning, and to a lesser degree narrative flow, is shared.

“Gamification” is becoming increasingly popular for a variety of applications (Peters M. , 2011). Games and game-like features are finding their way into transmedia narratives. At the other end of the spectrum, increasingly sophisticated games are including narrative elements to enhance their entertainment value.

Any “gamification” of a transmedia narrative should add significant narrative potential. In order to do so, gaming elements should be rich enough to create purposeful and meaningful experiences that can be used as the source of the user’s own narrative. Transmedia narrative designers should avoid including games that encourage mindless attention and passive participation (Screven, 2000, pp. 166-167).

The Burn Notice website for the television series of the same name is an example of how games should not be used as part of a transmedia narrative. The site has ten games including “See It Like a Spy” and 12 quizzes like “Can You Outsmart Michael?” (USA Network, 2011). None of them are integrated into the ongoing narrative of the series nor do they provide any narrative content themselves.

Source: USA Network (USA Network, 2011)
The USA Network's Burn Notice series uses gamification in an attempt to boost user engagement

“See It Like a Spy” is a simple click-drag-and-drop game in which the user has to move three graphics onto a graphic of a workbench to get the correct answer. The “Covert Ops” game is more sophisticated, putting the player into the role of an associate of the protagonist in the television series using a first-person perspective, but there are not narrative elements to the game. The quizzes are little more than a series of questions with four possible answers for the user to click on. None of these game elements have any significant connection with the on-going narrative in the television series nor do they extend the Burn Notice storyworld in a meaningful way. Rather, the games and quizzes provide the user with features that promote mindless rather than mindful attention (Screven, 2000, pp. 166-167) and fail to deepen user engagement with the narrative.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Transmedia Project Level Design Tasks - Media & Platforms

Knowing how your audience accesses content will also shape the structure of your transmedia narrative. The experience of watching an episode of your narrative on a big-screen television is very different from watching the same episode that has been downloaded to a smartphone.

One of the most interesting new devices from a transmedia perspective is the tablet computer (i.e. Apple iPad, Samsung Galaxy Tab, Amazon Kindle Fire, etc.). However, these devices are just starting to enter the mass market phase of adoption and many potential audience members for transmedia projects don’t have them. In addition, content designed for one tablet may not be compatible with another brand. Knowing which technologies your audience uses is important when deciding how you will structure your transmedia project. Examples of technology platforms for transmedia projects include (Hayes G. P., 2011, p. 13):
  • 2D PC Web: These are traditional browser-based websites that can include Flash, HTML 5, or similar rich media elements.
  • 3D PC: These are isometric or full 3D applications or browser-based game-like engines.
  • Mobile (Generic): These are well connected handset sized smartphones, including SMS (texting) only handsets.
  • Tablets (Generic): These are mobile, connected devices with larger screens than smartphones.
  • Connected TV & Set Top Boxes: These are specialized hardware connected to or integrated into large-screen TVs or cinema screens that effectively combine TV content and the web.
  • Specialized Consoles: These are large games platforms, media boxes, or handheld game devices.
  • Augmented Reality: These are technologies that allow the layering of digital content over the real world and are primarily marker or location-based.
  • Real World: This is physical space in the real world.
  • TV Sets: These are conventional television sets that receive traditional broadcast or cable signals.
  • Cinema Screens: These are traditional movie theater screens.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Transmedia Project Level Design Tasks - Consumer Types & User Gratifications

Knowing the audience demographics and psychographics is not enough when designing a transmedia project. You also need to understand how your audience "consumes" your transmedia narrative and what they want out of it (user gratifications) should be identified early in your project.

Content Consumer Type
The type of content consumer your audience is will influence how you structure your transmedia narrative. For example, if you find that the majority of your audience consists of single story consumers that are only going to stick you for one story you may want to rethink the whole transmedia approach.

A good story well told may keep single media consumers coming back if you provide them with a series of live action videos but you risk losing them if one episode of your transmedia narrative is video and the next is a comic book and the third is a live event. Perhaps the best strategy is to find one medium that works for most of that audience for the core of the narrative and have a limited number of extensions win other media.

It is the audience that consists of transmedia consumers that you are looking for. These are the consumers who embrace stories told across many different media. These are the ideal transmedia consumers. However, the concept of transmedia narratives is so new that it will take time for the mass audience to become use to this form of storytelling. The best strategy is to exceed this audience’s expectations and have them serve as evangelists for the transmedia project.

User Gratifications
Users have a set of needs and expectations when they make the decision to use a transmedia narrative. They decide to use that transmedia narrative because they are seeking something to satisfy those needs and expectations (known as gratifications sought). A user seeking a short break from a hectic lifestyle, for example, will look to the transmedia narrative for an escape from the real world. Knowing this single piece of information about the user will help the author structure the transmedia narrative so it is fictional and entertaining rather than non-fictional and informative.

User gratifications for most media use fall into six broad categories:
  • Information seeking
  • Aesthetic experience
  • Monetary compensation
  • Entertainment
  • Personal identity
  • Social integration and interaction
Consciously or unconsciously an author will know early in the process of defining the concept of the transmedia narrative that the project will do for the audience? Will it entertain? Inform? Help them with their social life? User gratifications are the needs and expectations a user has of a medium. The author needs to determine the primary gratification the transmedia project will address as that decision will strongly influence the overall structure and content of the project.

While users often seek more than one gratification, it is important that the author of the transmedia narrative pick a primary gratification that the narrative will address and keep any others as secondary. Attempting to satisfy two equally dominant gratifications is very likely to result in mixed priorities with neither of the gratifications being adequately satisfied. A more effective approach is to select a primary and a secondary gratification. An example of this approach is The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, a political satire that uses a television news format. The primary gratification The Daily Show satisfies is entertainment through comedy with the secondary gratification being political information. If there is a conflict between these two gratifications, comedy wins every time and information takes the backseat.

What the user seeks and the author intends to provide may not always be what the user actually gets (gratifications obtained) from the transmedia narrative. The creator of the transmedia narrative should plan to survey users to determine whether they obtained the gratifications they were seeking.

A gap between gratifications sought and gratifications obtained needs to be addressed so that users have a positive experience with the transmedia narrative. Any gap is likely to result in disappoint and dissatisfaction. Finding out why there is a gap is vitally important to correcting problems with the transmedia narrative.

Audience Media Usage

Knowing what media your audience uses will shape structure of your transmedia narrative. If your primary audience avoids social networks, for example, publishing a significant portion of your narrative on Facebook means that you’ve lost a large portion of your audience.

User Segments

After audience characteristics (e.g. demographics, psychographics, user gratifications sought, etc.) have been identified, user segments and audience profiles can be developed. User segmentation involves dividing the potential user base into groups in which the individuals have similar ages, genders, interests, media use, and other user characteristics. Using segmentation makes it easier to target specific groups within the overall audience for a transmedia project.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Transmedia Project Level Design Tasks - Audience

Understanding the audience is an essential part of storytelling. Telling a great story to the wrong audience can make the story fall flat. The author of a transmedia project needs to identify who the audience for that project is and what its characteristics are. With this information in hand, the transmedia author can look at the project’s theme, genre and characteristics and make adjustments to either project or target audience as required.  

Audience Demographics

The demographic profile of your audience should tell you about their key characteristics – age, gender, race, ethnicity, where they live (urban, suburban, or rural), income level, price and time sensitivity, their favorite brands, and so on.

Audience Psychographic Profile

Psychographics is an approach used by marketers to understand the motivational and cognitive drives of a target audience. The psychographic profile tells you more about the personality, values, attitudes, lifestyles, social goals, and interests of your audience. A psychographic profile differs from the more traditional demographic profile of your audience, although they should be used together to get a better picture of the audience segments.
Psychographics can easily be misunderstood or incorrectly applied. It's quite common to contrast them with demographic variables such as age and gender, or with behavioral variables such as usage rate. In fact psychographic variables and the other major analytic variables work in concert. Each is related to the other and affects the other. A marketing approach that is focused solely on one such area can miss critically important information.

Psychographics remain a valuable tool in effective market segmentation, since lifestyle, attitude, emotions and preferences are crucial factors in analyzing how consumers and business people allocate their money. Demographic and behavioral analyses give detail and data, but psychographics is needed for understanding the consumer in depth. (Market Segmentation Services, 2008)
Content Consumer Type
The type of content consumer your audience is will influence how you structure your transmedia narrative. For example, if you find that the majority of your audience consists of single story consumers that are only going to stick you for one story you may want to rethink the whole transmedia approach.

A good story well told may keep single media consumers coming back if you provide them with a series of live action videos but you risk losing them if one episode of your transmedia narrative is video and the next is a comic book and the third is a live event. Perhaps the best strategy is to find one medium that works for most of that audience for the core of the narrative and have a limited number of extensions win other media.

It is the audience that consists of transmedia consumers that you are looking for. These are the consumers who embrace stories told across many different media. These are the ideal transmedia consumers. However, the concept of transmedia narratives is so new that it will take time for the mass audience to become use to this form of storytelling. The best strategy is to exceed this audience’s expectations and have them serve as evangelists for the transmedia project.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Transmedia Project Level Design Tasks - Overview & Purpose

In the next few posts, we'll look at the top level set of design tasks involved in a transmedia project. A number of key decisions need to be made very early in the design process for a transmedia project. These decisions will shape the direction in which the project will develop, so the transmedia designer needs to consider them carefully.

The Transmedia Project Level Design Tasks table outlines a series of tasks the transmedia narrative designer should do at the start of the project.There is no strict sequence in which the design tasks at the transmedia project level need to be completed once the project has been initiated. Much of the transmedia design process involves multiple iterations as the purpose of the project defined, audience research data is gathered, and general structure of the project is developed. However, all of the transmedia project level design tasks should be largely complete before work begins on the details of the storyworld and stories.

Transmedia Project Level Design Tasks

  • Initiate transmedia project
  • Create transmedia project tagline
  • Identify the purpose of the project
  • Identify audience demographics
  • Develop audience psychographic profile
  • Identify content consumer type
  • Identify user gratifications
  • Identify audience media usage
  • Identify user segments
  • Identify media/platforms that will be used
  • Determine project type
  • Determine if the project is intercompositional or intracompositional

Definition of Transmedia Projects

If the planned project tells one or more stories based in the same storyworld and uses two or more media, it is a transmedia project based on the criteria set out in this thesis. This definition is less stringent than the American Producers Guild (APG), which requires at least three stories told across multiple media. A strict interpretation of the APG definition favors intercompositional transmedia narratives while eliminating intracompositional transmedia narratives from consideration as transmedia projects. The less stringent definition is used here so that both intracompositional narratives (a single story told across multiple media) and intercompositional narratives (multiple stories told across multiple media) can be included as transmedia narratives.

Transmedia Project Tagline

The transmedia project tagline is a single-sentence hook that “teases” potential users about what the project “will achieve or what questions it raises from an experiential point of view” (Hayes G. P., 2011, p. 4). The best taglines include the user with the term “you” (e.g. “Your journey into the dark heart of Wall Street”, “How do you save a man condemned to death?”, etc.).

Purpose of Transmedia Project

The purpose of a transmedia project will influence the intended message, how the content should be presented, and how users will navigate through the project. Designing a transmedia narrative for entertainment but targeting users who are looking for specific, factual information is likely to frustrate those users.

If the transmedia project is intended for educational or informational use, the users are known as “knowledge seekers”. These “knowledge seekers” are characterized by their interest in finding information related to a very specific topic (Lawless & Schrader, 2008, p. 271). When navigating the web, these users typically go to screens that contain information that increased their comprehension of the topic of interest. They are strategic in the selection of links and tend to move toward the content as quickly and directly as possible.

A transmedia narrative intended for entertainment, on the other hand, is likely to have a large number of users who are “feature explorers”. “Feature explorers” are characterized by their tendency to spend a disproportional amount of time interacting with the most noticeable features of the transmedia narrative (i.e. videos, animations, sound effects, etc.) (Lawless & Schrader, 2008, p. 271). This type of user typically spends more time learning the features of the transmedia environment than understanding the content.

Players of alternate reality games might be considered an extreme example of the “feature explorer” type. For ARG players much of the pleasure comes from exploring the features of the created environment to discover clues that will allow them to move forward in the game.
The purpose of the transmedia project will shape the message the user is intended to receive. A marketing and branding transmedia project will have a message that ultimately promotes a specific product, service, or brand. A transmedia narrative focused on activism may have a message that argues one side of a social or political issue. That message may be very pointed, like the perspective Collapsus presents on the perils of industrial society’s dependence on petroleum products, or it may have a more subtle but still clear point of view on modern industrial society as in Animism: The Gods’ Lake.

It is not necessary to take an either/or approach to determining the purpose of the transmedia narrative but one purpose should be dominant. For example, an educational/informational transmedia can be entertaining, but the entertainment value should be secondary and designed to support the primary purpose without distracting from it. Hayes identified a number of points that can serve as examples of what to look at when identifying the purpose of a transmedia project (Hayes G. P., 2011, p. 16):
  • Purpose from a user perspective
    • Stimulate community-based storytelling
    • Get the audience to be highly active during a live broadcast
    • Create deeper engagement between scheduled events
    • Get the audience to become active outside the home
    • Stimulate massive community created content contribution
    • Make the service highly personalized
    • Develop a powerful “tease” service to a must-view linear property
  • Purpose from the author perspective
    • Reach a younger or older demographic
    • Experiment with never before tried multi-platform concepts
    • Improve the skills of the creative team
    • Raise awareness of issues, social good, or other media property
    • Build a strong female or male viewership
    • Build a loyal local and/or international community for a creative property
    • Increase the overall audience

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Transmedia Narratives - Bibliography from Thesis

Rather than trying to include a bibliography of citations in the individual posts on this blog, I've decided to list the entire bibliography here. In addition to referencing individual aspects of the blog posts, this bibliography can provide a useful guide to literature relevant to transmedia narratives.

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Brown, J. S., Denning, S., Groh, K., & Prusak, L. (2005). Storytelling in Organizations: Why Storytelling is Transforming 21st Century Organizations and Management. Burlington, MA: Elsevier Butterworth-Heinemann.

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Coyne, R. (1999). Technoromanticism: Digital Narrative, Holism, and the Romance of the Real. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

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Day, L. (2008, January 9). Tone Language. Retrieved October 11, 2011, from Time Magazine Arts:,9171,1702111,00.html

de Haas, D. (2011, October 30). Transmedia Design Questionnaire. (P. von Stackelberg, Interviewer)

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Dena, C. (2011, July 9). Authentic in All Caps: a Playful Comedy-Drama by Christy Dena. (A. Vasile, Interviewer)

Dena, C. (2007). Patterns in Cross-Media Interaction Design: It's Much More Than a URL...(Part 1). Sydney, Australia: School of Letters, Art and Media - University of Sydney.

Dena, C. (2011, July 1). The Process of Creating Quality Transmedia Experiences. Retrieved November 12, 2011, from Connecting:// arts audiences online:

Dena, C. (2009). Transmedia Practice: Theorizing the Practice of Expressing a Fictional World Across Distinct Media and Environments. PhD disseration . Sydney, Australia: University of Sydney.

Denning, S. (2011). The Leader's Guide to Storytelling: Mastering the Art and Discipline of Business Narrative. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Denning, S. (2001). The Springboard: How Storytelling Ignites Action in Knowledge-Era Organizations. Boston, MA: Butterworth-Heinemann.

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Earnshaw, R., & Vince, J. (2001). Digital Content Creation. London: Springer-Verlag.

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Ellis, M., & Martin Ellis, M. (2008). The Everything Guide to Writing Graphic Novels. Avon, MA: Adams Media.

Evans, E. J. (2008). Character, Audience Agency and Transmedia Drama. Media, Culture & Society , 30 (2), pp. 197-213.

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