Over the past couple of weeks, some friends and colleagues have emailed to ask me whether I’ve gone out of my mind. It’s one thing, they said, to prattle on for 40 minutes about what I do for a living at a seminar. That’s good business; keeps a high profile. But then they surf over to KidScreen last week and this giant page pops up telling them that at some kind of crazy Bootcamp in Santa Monica, Gomez is going to spill the beans about how to “do” transmedia. That is, he’s gonna go into detail, step by step, from idea to rollout.
“Are you going to give away the very thing that the majors are paying you big bucks for?” said one of them. “The seven secret ingredients in Coca-Cola? McDonald’s secret sauce? The Gomez Way of transmedia storytelling? What’s wrong with you?” said another. “Which syllable in pro-pri-e-tar-y do you not understand?” said a third (okay, that one was my lawyer; he yells).
Well, far be it for me to shy away from some valid questions. After all, for solid stretches of my career I agreed with them. This mindset is known as knowledge scarcity, that you should hoard your knowledge, because that’s what gives you power. Don’t let people copy your work! If you give them your best ideas, they’ll almost certainly steal them! We’ve all heard these since we were kids. Telling clients we had something exclusive—a better way of doing things that nobody else had thought of—that should have scored us the most lucrative deals, shouldn’t it?
That’s certainly one way of looking at things, but as I travel the world spreading the word on transmedia storytelling to potential clients, students and yes, rivals, my perception about withholding my methods has shifted. Words and turns of phrase that we’ve made up at Starlight Runner have entered into common vernacular. Our own definition of transmedia has been woven into the Wikipedia entry. Journalists and bloggers lift entire paragraphs from our web site and use them to explain multi-platform narratives and transmedia storylines. Some acknowledge my company, or me but most don’t. Conferences advertise me as a keynote speaker, and then throw my whole custom-created presentation up on the web the same night. And though all this might have bugged me at first, now it doesn’t.
So here’s why, and it’s also the reason I’ve agreed with KidScreen to do the aforementioned Bootcamp: I’ve come to embrace the knowledge abundance mindset, because sharing knowledge gives you even more power.
Now I’m not talking about breaking non-disclosures or betraying confidences. I’m saying if we’re going to be valuable to one another, improve the way we do our jobs, reach audiences that we’ve begun to lose, isn’t it wasteful or even harmful to horde what we know? For well over a decade I’ve been talking about the fact that a methodology can be devised to allow for stories to be told over the course of multiple media platforms in an engaging and compelling way.
People looked at me cross-eyed. As a comic book editor and writer in the mid-‘90s, I pulled off my earliest transmedia storylines (Turok Dinosaur Hunter and Magic: The Gathering, both for Acclaim Entertainment) by flying under the radar. “Who cares that the story starts in the comics, continues on that Internet thing and wraps up in a videogame?” said my publisher. “Makes no sense to me, but the kids are buying it!”
Frankly, I thought this kind of storytelling would have caught on a lot sooner than it did. It was only because so few were doing it that I got frustrated and set about getting it done myself. It kind of formalized in my mind while trying to sell it to companies. There was a method to this madness. And by the time I’d formed Starlight Runner and landed Mattel and Disney as clients ten years after my Acclaim heyday, I thought the process I’d come up with was a valuable secret. But it didn’t take long before I realized that didn’t feel quite right.
When I got out of college, I chose to become a schoolteacher. I taught K-6 in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn for a year and I’ve taken time to teach kids ever since. Nothing in my life was had been more satisfying than watching kids’ eyes light up when they made connections, when they learned something I was trying to teach them. They were grasping concepts that would hopefully prepare them for life, just as I would grapple with these strange notions of narratives and storyworlds years later. The work of superb teachers like Henry Jenkins and Christy Dena in recent years would help confirm or deny my suspicions, back me up with academic support. If they believed, then maybe I was onto something!
So I took it upon myself to start talking about transmedia, and it wouldn’t be long before I started teaching it. And I found that the more I taught the more people wanted to learn. Again, these people would post blog entries and critiques of what I had to say. People started to follow my Tweets! To my surprise and delight, the Producers Guild of America East started providing me with forums to talk about new multimedia paradigms and what transmedia storytelling could do for those of us who dream big dreams. It wouldn’t take long before it seemed that most of the PGA—on both coasts—had gotten behind the concept.
And within three years of first hearing the word from me, guess what happened!
And from the front page of the April 7 Daily Variety:
I’ll talk about the implications of this remarkable development in a later column. The point I’m making here is that the knowledge abundance mindset works. By sharing my secrets with you, I’m promoting new approaches that will help us all, and by asking me questions and sharing your own experiences, you’ll be enriching my practices and my sense of it all. Will I be creating rivals and making myself any less special by pushing you down the transmedia path? Maybe. But I have a pretty good head start, and I’m no slouch in the résumé department, so I’m not too worried.
I also caught a couple of snipes about how KidScreen is making you pay to learn about the hot new buzzword. Well, yeah, I’ve always believed that teachers need to be paid what they’re worth, so long as they drive it all home. If I do my job right at this Bootcamp, the money will be a small price to pay—and, as usual, I intend to over-deliver.
Special thanks to Cosmic Streetcorner friend Alan Berkson for introducing me to the knowledge abundance terminology. Check out Sacha Chua’s wonderful blog entry to learn more: