The Message in the Medium

September 9, 2011

This is the second in a series of posts regarding shared story world design

Your decision about which mediums you want to play in for your SSW and which mediums you want to accept from contributors obviously have an effect on many aspects of your SSW design, marketing, and management. I can’t possibly go into details on every single medium, but I will offer some guidelines to help you think through your choices.

Unless you have deep pockets of funding that can support lots of mediums (and maybe even if you don’t), my suggestion is to focus on a single medium as the primary “platform” for your SSW. It could be a comic, fiction, or a web series. It could even be audio podcasts or role-playing game modules.

And your SSW can be a single-medium or multi-medium world. You don’t have to use more than one medium, but if it does, I encourage you to carefully justify which content is applied to which mediums. A story that reveals an internal character struggle may not be best told in a comic, while a picture (pardon the pun) may be worth a thousand words about the loss of a loved one.

Additionally, you might decide to use fiction as your platform medium, but you only allow photographs to be contributed. This kind of cross-medium collaboration can work well.

Let’s say you launch a SSW with an online multi-player game platform. It’s unlikely many people will create – on their own – a complete, standalone game set in your SSW (they may make an app or casual game, but even then, you won’t get many). However, you might get a lot of fictional stories and art set in your SSW (Blizzard regularly posts fan art on its World of Warcraft website).

Is it likely you’ll lose money on your game because someone chose to read the fictional stories instead? Even if the fictional stories are posted on a fan site? I would argue the reverse. You will likely increase the number of gamers and their in-game time by encouraging contributed fiction and giving audiences additional entry points into your SSW.

And while this kind of cross-medium fandom (an official game that generates unofficial fan stories) can usually work well since there isn’t direct competition within the official platform medium, even same-medium fandom enhances the value of the official content. How many novels did J.K. Rowling not sell as a result of all of the free Harry Potter fan fiction? I’d wager somewhere between zero and not enough to worry about.

If your SSW design supports it, encourage cross-medium pollination of ideas and storylines. Art can introduce new concepts that others can explore in audio, text, or video mediums (e.g., an illustrated monster by one person can spark another to write a story featuring that monster).

Whatever primary platform you choose, if you plan on creating most of the core content, I recommend choosing a medium you love and are comfortable working in. You may spend hours reading comics, but if you have never written a comic script or drawn one, you may want to consider another medium as your primary medium platform.

I’ll touch on submissions in a future post, but for now give some thought to how you will receive, review, edit, format, and publish the contributions you receive. Each medium requires a slightly different approach and has its own challenges from a content management standpoint.

Some Questions to Consider:

  • What mediums are you skilled in or knowledgeable about?
  • What medium best suits the primary or core shared world narrative?
  • Do you want to encourage cross-medium submissions, competing-medium submissions, or both?
  • What mediums would you like to accept as contributions (and are you capable of processing/posting them)?
  • How does your submission process change based on the contributions medium you choose to accept?

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