Christoph Holowaty @ StoryDrive China, photo: C.Y.Schmidt

"Angry Birds couldn't go on without a Story"

- Is Transmedia Storytelling the narrative form of the future?

By Christoph Holowaty on June 25, 2012

Even in times of new media and digital sales and distribution, a good story remains the most important factor in selling content and retaining customers. What changes is the merger of different styles to provoke necessary feelings of suspense and interactivity: Film meets Game meets Novel. This creates a transmedia universe, offering the consumer a wide range of different ways to experience game and visual media.

Games like L.A. Noire or Max Payne use a cinematic visual language and an epic storytelling format. TV-broadcasts like Dina Foxx (ZDF) are played by viewers online. The one-dimensionality of the Ego-Shooters has passed into history now – today it is the complex story worlds that hold the attention of users.

German Publishers like Hoffmann und Campe or Rowohlt havealso experimented with new forms. Both publishers had developed Alternate Reality Games (ARG) which incited intrigue before the novel was released. Within an ARG, participants get the opportunity to enter into the story and experience characters from the book first hand. The story is told using websites, videos, real life events and interaction with characters via mail or chat.

In 2011 Hoffmann und Campe carried its readers of to the Basque region with Cagot to elucidate the mysterious disappearance of young Bea. The Alternate Reality Game was designed to bring the Thriller of the American Author Tom Knox to the forefront of discussion long before the book was published. In the meantime, Cagot is also available as an E-Book App.

In April of this year the publishing house Rowohlt in Hamburg also entered the world of ARG, featuring Ich bin der Herr deiner Angst (I am the lord of your angst) by Stephan M. Rother. Once again, the game was used for marketing purposes. “Being a publishing house, it is very important for us to try out new ways of marketing while keeping in contact with the readers via social media elements. In the case of Stephan M. Rother, the author is an integral part of the communication,” Jennifer Jones, director of online-marketing and social media at Rowohlt Publishing House, explains.

Telling a story also ranks first for the creators of one of the world’s most successful online games: Angry Birds. Meanwhile, developer Rovio, aside from having an international merchandising program, also plans to produce a series of cartoons covering 50 episodes this year. “Without telling a story, we couldn’t have made Angry Birds such a great international success,” Paul Chen, General Manager of Rovio China, tells in the context of StoryDrive China, the first Asian offshoot of the all-media-conference StoryDrive. Diligent planning is required to utilize the brand’s image. "To open up new platforms means we have to check and adapt our cross media strategies first, so that we can present our products in every imaginable form,” explains Paul Chen.

Nils Holger Henning, chief communications officer at Bigpoint, also rates storytelling as a key factor for the international positioning of a browser game. The realization of the fantasy-novel Game of Thrones is of particular significance to the company. With a budget of two million euro, the title, which has been successfully adapted by HBO, ranks among the three most expensive productions of the Hamburg publisher. Until now, Bigpoint had only spent two million euro on Poisonville, which was ceased in January 2011, and 2.5 million euro on Battlestar Galactica. Henning is confident: "Game of Thrones will be the graphically most attractive game in the browser game market. It will begin a new era."

According to Henning, the licensing of Game of Thrones is estimated to be even higher than Battlestar Galactica; the most successful Bigpoint game so far with over ten million registered players. While the prototype book of H.R.R. Martin has reached a number of 15 million sold copies worldwide by this time, Henning assumes that the realization of the series, which was celebrated by the critique, has created an even greater target: “We want to reach at least ten million users with Game of Thrones.”

BBC-Producer Joe Oppenheimer believes that the creation of a series plays a certain role with regards to story development and brand construction, taking the games industry as an example. “However, in the film business, series perform far less well than computer and video games. Actually, they are going in exactly different directions. Sequels of games are almost always better than the predecessors – pretty easy to understand because of the technical improvements,” Oppenheimer says during his speech at StoryDrive China in Beijing. However, in the film business, the limits of creativity are reached very fast. “There are very few films whose second, third or fourth part is better than the original. In the best case, one reaches the same result of the predecessor. The reason is that normally there is no new technology available and a story has to be brought to its end from the creative point of view sooner or later.”

“The growing mobile media use and the broad acceptance of tablets and smartphones create a strong demand for apps and interactive content. This development changes the business behind the scenes – different sectors getting closer and searching for cooperation,” says Britta Friedrich, Head of Conferences at the Frankfurt book fair. The business model and distribution of the whole entertainment industry have to be adapted to the new technological possibilities, especially to cross-media user behavior.”

“With StoryDrive we respond to the changed use of media and the increased desire of multiple creative branches for networking, exchange of information and new business models.”

Next All-Media-Conference StoryDrive: 10-11 October 2012 during the Frankfurt Book Fair

Christoph Holowaty is editor in chief of Germany.
Translated by: German Book Information Centre, Beijing