‘In retrospect, Star Wars is the perfect transmedia model, it just wasn’t originally designed that way,’ says Raven Metzner, editorial director of fledgling New York-based entertainment company Massiverse, which was built with a focus on that word buzzing across everyone’s lips these days – transmedia. Metzner, who has 12 years of scriptwriting and production experience, along with his brother and Massiverse founder/CEO Jesse Soleil, set out to design a property with a back story, character appeal and narrative as compelling as George Lucas’s masterwork. So the company’s first offering has been designed from the get-go to engage users across multiple platforms.
Taking his most recent experience as a research and development lead at eScholastic, where he worked on multi-media book series The 39 Clues and tied together 10 novels, online gaming, trading cards and prizes, Soleil has frontline transmedia experience. He says the base concepts he learned in developing educational tech products gave him insight into the science behind how the brain works to connect content across platforms. ‘Kids,’ he notes, ‘get personal value out of connecting two pieces of media and reflecting themselves, their opinions and their personalities from that content.’
The business of transmedia
With that experience under his belt, Soleil saw an opportunity to enter the emerging transmedia market, as well as a need for content targeting tween boys. He had a hunch he could transfer the motivational strategies used to make educational products to a pure entertainment property. Soleil and Metzner, two self-professed geeks with a soft spot for comic book icons like Ultraman and Godzilla, then put their heads together to flesh out an idea for an IP. The resulting Dragons vs Robots is set to begin rolling out across various platforms in 2012.
With a solid property concept and business idea in place, Soleil recruited his Scholastic colleague and former VP of educational technology Jeff Schon as president of Massiverse. Ex-Chorion exec Eric Karp has also joined as EVP of global licensing, along with Michael Szabo as interactive director. He most recently co-designed and programmed Teen Titans: Battle Blitz for CartoonNetwork.com
‘Each piece of a transmedia system has to tell a story, be super engaging, drive you to want to connect to another piece on another platform, and continually reward you for doing that,’ says Soleil. ‘And not just one time or in one way. They have to provide a reciprocal model and then benefit from it financially.’ Key to the company’s DNA is making sure each component generates its own revenue and doesn’t just drive sales for another channel.
‘The piece that doesn’t create revenue is the weakest link,’ says Soleil. ‘It’s thought of as an expense and is more likely to be cut – and it also becomes less valued by the creator.’
The world of Dragons vs Robots
So in Dragons vs Robots, the year is 2089 and a worldwide energy crisis has prompted scientists to develop a new element called Protium, the invention of which awakens a race of dragons that have been slumbering through the ages. At the same time, the man-made element powers up a highly sophisticated artificial intelligence that ends up inhabiting the frames of giant robots. The dragons and robots engage in a battle to control the Protium stores, each forming six nations based on actual real-world cultures. An ideological conflict also erupts. The dragons want to turn the world back to a green and natural state, while the robots are aiming to create some form of technological utopia.
Enter Sid Oda, a 14-year-old boy from whose point of view the narrative unfolds. The son of a scientist who was involved in the original discovery of Protium, Sid grew up in a robot nation and is now on a quest to find his family, accompanied by a brooding dragon pup named Dog and a light-hearted robot named Chip. Sid also carries a sword that is adorned with the world’s only known piece of Negative Protium, a sought-after substance that can repel Protium powers.
Massiverse plans to present Dragons vs Robots differently on each medium. Sid’s adventures make up the primary story in the planned animated series, books and manga (licensed by a yet-to-be-named publisher). However, the online component,
dragonsvsrobots.com, takes a different narrative perspective altogether. Upon arriving at the site, users are prompted to identify and ally themselves with either the dragon or robot nation.
‘The engagement strategy is about helping kids imagine what it would be like to be on one of those sides,’ says Soleil. He explains that in focus groups, kids tend to be immediately attracted to one camp or the other. They then go on to create and customize a dragon or robot, venture into the online world of the property and engage in the battle for Protium to bank gaming points.
Massiverse has also created a concept for the toy line that takes the same game onto the playground with dragon and robots action figures. The two- to four-inch toys are technologically able to communicate with each other and play a logic game. The Massiverse team, however, was keeping mum on the proprietary nature of the game play as well as the master toy partner it’s planning to announce this month.
‘The heavy lifting we did on the toy front was validating – creating a toy that would replicate the core play pattern of the online experience,’ says Karp. After playing with the action figures, a record of the offline game can be uploaded to dragonsvsrobots.com and assigned points. ‘So not only are you rewarded online, but your toy gets better,’ he says.
‘We wanted to create a play experience with zero friction, so that kids could understand it and play it immediately and be able to translate what the property was about,’ explains Jeff Schon. Kids who first come across the property online will engage with the site’s game that leads to offline toy play, and as they become more engaged they will look to the chapter books to learn more information about the Dragons vs Robots backstory.
In addition, within the TV series, for which production and distribution partners will be announced this month, rewards for watching the show will enable kids to buff up their online avatars and become even more invested in the world. The company is also planning to tackle other platforms, including webisodes, mobile, feature films, trading cards and console games.