The game of the movie or the movie of the game?: The opportunity of choosing the immersive over the immediate

(featured image source)

“Several years ago in the video game industry the big buzz word was “transmedia”.  it was a term that was coined for original worlds and properties that spanned multiple venues, from the game to the TV series to the movies to the books. everyone was aflutter with this idea; these mega properties were going to dominate the entertainment landscape and change how we consume media.

flash forward to now and it’s clear that very few studios were ever able to pull off this “holy grail” of world development. budgets skyrocketed and very few wanted to take a gamble on building a new world. Ubisoft, however, pulled this off with Assassin’s Creed, and they did it with flying colours.

let’s face it – we live in a digital and connected world. a distracted world. there are always multiple things vying for our attention, be it social media or mobile devices. in this era creatives need to craft games and worlds that gamers “marry” not ones that they casually “date”. there are numerous ways to accomplish this, but one of the best ways to do it is to make a game world that is so extraordinarily deep that it takes an army to sort through all of the facts and details. the world of Assassin’s Creed is one that is easy to get into but can take years to fully understand and appreciate.”

Cliff Bleszinski – Design Director, Epic Games

it’s strange reading the above commentary outside of a media planning text, the parallels are so similar as to be striking … “buzz word was ‘transmedia'”, “change how we consume media”, “a digital and connected world. a distracted world” …

Bleszinski’s comments were written for the prologue to the Assassin’s Creed Encyclopedia, a beautifully designed hardback book included as part of the Animus Edition of Assassin’s Creed Revelations.

Assassins_creed_2 Assassins_creed_3 Assassins_creed_4 Assassins_creed_5

Ubidoft’s unboxing video of Assassin’s Creed Revelations Animus Edition and images from the Assassin’s Creed Encyclopedia: careful, spoilers alert

that games now come with encyclopedias may be news enough for some readers, but the fact that Assassin’s Creed does (in fact there’s an audio CD and a short movie in the Animus too) bears testament to just how evolved some game worlds now are.

evolved, and big business.

a Guardian article last week reported that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 had set a five-day worldwide sell-through record, with sales of more than USD $775m.  it went on to comment that “the number also far exceeds the opening revenues from any movie or album release in 2011 – the biggest film of the year, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, made $202m in its first five days. It is likely that Modern Warfare 3 will join the select group of £1bn-grossing entertainment properties by Christmas.”

some digging courtesy of the same article notes that DFC Intelligence puts the 2010 global games industry figure at USD $66bn, whilst the LA Times puts the 2010 global cinema box office figure at USD $31.8bn and eMartketer estimate recorded music revenues at USD $35.1bn.  games win.  by a long shot.

the article ends however by observing that total reach of cinema far exceeds that of games, and comments that “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is big, that’s for sure, but as a mass cultural event, it still has a looooong way to go” … the fact that this observation is disputable aside (include social and casual gaming and there’s plenty of examples of games with scale and ‘cultural event’ status – Angry Birds anyone?), the difference between movies and gaming audiences is a reflection of the difference in the type of content/context between movies and gaming.

movies are inherently lean-back, immediate and assessable. games (casual and social aside) are inherently lean-forward, immersive and require time, effort and energy. it’s no surprise that the former has a bigger audience footprint than the latter, but that the latter generates significantly higher revenues per head than the former…

what’s interesting from a media planning perspective is the choice that it presents – ask yourself what context/content we in the advertising and communications industry generally create?  is it lean-back, immediate and assessable … or lean-forward, immersive and demanding of our time and energy.  advertising was born and grew up in the mass-broadcast era – its no surprise that we predominately not only produce in movie-mode, but have extensive metrics and marketing theories (Byron Sharp anyone?) to prove its validity.

and yet we know we have to move on.

we take our content and we re-purpose it.  we’re media and channel neutral, we create experiences and promotions and we socialise and innovate around our movies.  we create the games of our movies.

and in doing so we’re missing a huge opportunity.  because Assassin’s Creed and games like it don’t create games from movies (that would inherently limit their scope – search for ‘successful movie-based game franchises and you’ll see what I mean) … Assassin’s Creed creates movies from games, and more specifically, from an imagined world in which that game is set. they start, always and every time, with an immersive and lean-forward content/context – after which spinning out lean-back immediate content is childsplay.

the point is that we have a choice.  stay as we are – create in movie mode and spin out the immersive and engaging game stuff off of the back of it … or we can decide to more often start in gaming mode.  what world do we want to create?  what are it’s rules and stories and mythologies? (all brands have them – we just don’t think of them in these terms) … then how do we create lean-forward, immersive and rewarding ways into our worlds?  and then, and only then, how do we create content – of thirty seconds or three hours duration – that expands the penetration of our worlds, and of our brands, via more immediate and assessable means.

it’s harder to do.  it’s expensive to fund.  it’s difficult to measure.  and it takes longer to produce.  but that’s our choice … and as anyone who has ever completed a game will tell you – it’s more than worth it.  speaking of which…

4 responses to “The game of the movie or the movie of the game?: The opportunity of choosing the immersive over the immediate

  1. While I’d personally like to see more marketing take on a “lean forward” mentality, I think it’s only likely to be effective if used sparingly.
    People only have so much time, being the main consideration.
    And statements like this:
    that games now come with encyclopedias may be news enough for some readers, but the fact that Assassin’s Creed does (in fact there’s an audio CD and a short movie in the Animus too) bears testament to just how evolved some game worlds now are.
    lead me to believe that you’ve only recently started paying attention to the videogame industry (but hey, maybe this is a bad assumption and we just play different games.) This packaging of extra content with limited or special edition sets is far, far from something that happens “these days” – it’s been happening for at least the last 10 years, I’m not that hesitant to say “decades” at this point.
    Which I guess is an aside from the main thrust, which is that people simply do not have the time to invest in lean-forward experiences on the same level that they do with lean-back experiences. They’re too complex. Watching all the nerd tweets about the recent release of Assassins Creed, Skyrim, and MW3 has been like watching first time investors trying to figure out where to put their nest-egg.
    Sure, you’ll get greater engagement out of those who do choose to invest their time with you, but the drop-off will be significant, and if you’re dependent on getting your message across via immersion then you’ll lose a massive chunk of audience and the cost vs effectiveness starts to become a problem.
    You’re right that there are a lot of pages in the game-making manual that can, and should be applied to engagement design and planning, absolutely right, and not in a lame “we’ll just gamify it with badges, k?” kind of way. There’s also a lot of unexplored potential in partnering with gaming companies and game IP.
    It just feels like you’re implying that it should become the new, dominant form of advertising (perhaps I’m misunderstanding), and I’m not sure I agree.

  2. hey there Tali3sin
    first up thanks for the comments – really appreciated…
    fortunately I’m not new to gaming – from Wonder Boy through Lara, Galaxy and ICO I’ve happily gamed my way through the last couple of decades … I simply wanted to use AC:R Animus Edition to demonstrate the extent to which transmedia theory is now being played out in games
    but to the main point, whilst I agree that immersion won’t be the solution for every brand in every situation, I do believe that its easier and more effective to craft passive communications from an immersive place, than it is take passive comms to an immersive place.
    my point was that the default is all to often passive. we can’t add participation or pass-along designs and ambitions in at the end – they have to be ‘baked-in’ to our strategies and plans from the start.
    I wrote a while back about the need for schedules to accommodate the super-users and the passive massive…
    http://chrisstephenson.typepad.com/chrisstephenson/2009/07/a-new-lore-of-averages-what-clay-shirky-and-the-coney-island-mermaid-parade-can-teach-us-about-under.html
    I think this is as relevant here. I’m not arguing for consistent and continuous immersive experiences – that would get exhausting for everyone. but I do think we have to make starting from an immersive place the new norm …
    thanks so much again for the feedback and comments – genuinely appreciated

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