Home > ARGs, NATPE > Alternate Realities and Tasty Pies: Notes from the NATPE Exhibit Floor, Part 2

Alternate Realities and Tasty Pies: Notes from the NATPE Exhibit Floor, Part 2

January 30th, 2008 | Jonathan Gray

Fallen image

I’m sitting in a session about branded entertainment that’s using Axe’s Game Killers as a case study, and I find myself in an odd position. They clearly did a fantastic job, very successfully using multiple media and seamlessly moving the text across these various platforms. But the text is about dudes trying to hit on women and getting blocked. So this marks one of the first times when I’ve seen a masterful transmedia presence for something about which I don’t care for one iota. The resounding cynical question in my head: aren’t guys on the prowl usually their own perpetual alternative reality game already? Usually, a good transmedia attempt excites me, but not here. More after the fold…
But another key difference lies in how these people are talking about the text – it’s all “franchise,” “content,” “branded entertainment.” Nobody on the stage seems to have passion about the text, and I haven’t heard anyone speak about it as anything other than a way to sell Axe deodorant.

(Ironic but necessary interjection: as I typed that previous paragraph, an odd question from the floor interjected considerable passion, as one woman burst onto the microphone clearly with no intent other than to pimp her show to the audience [a lot of that happens here, but hey, what’s different from academic conferences?], and she ended by glowing about Axe that: “It smells so good. My boyfriend used to wear that, and he got me into bed everytime.” Wow. Thanks for sharing, but let’s observe the privacy line, please).

I contrast this session to a great session yesterday afternoon with Stephen Andrade, Senior VP of Digital Development and General Mgr. at NBC.com, Patrick Crowe of Xenophile Media, Inc., and Matt Wolf of Double Twenty Productions, about alternate reality games. Despite the topic, this was one of the few sessions I’ve been to here where I felt back in my own reality. Crowe and Wolf actually make ARGs, so from their mouths, I heard words like “story,” and they talked of “connecting with” audiences, not just “monetizing” them, “growing” them. I’ve heard a lot of people in various panels talking about “making the pie bigger,” but Crowe and Wolf were two of the only people who’ve reflected on what that pie tastes like. Even Andrade (the designated suit on the panel) seemed genuinely enthused about transmedia, stories, and storyworlds, and eager to keep the discussion going afterwards.


Fair enough, that at an exec convention, my favored words and frames won’t be used, but Andrade showed that you can talk monetization and fan interest without automatically making the latter a mere tool to achieve the former. As for Crowe and Wolf, each have developed really intriguing and cool ARGs, the former developing ReGenesis, the latter Fallen (see the lead photo). Both won Emmys for them. And both legitimately “made the pie bigger” if by “the pie” we mean the story, the text, and what audiences really get enthused about. An Axe pie, by contrast, sounds a little gross, doesn’t it?

Oddly too, given the WGA strike, these guys were two of the only (North American) writers here this week. Which makes me wonder how long until their work is regarded highly enough to be seen as more than just promotion, branding, franchising, and/or backroom baking, and instead respected as creativity and as storyworld construction. When are alternate reality games seen as real innovation and artistry?

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  1. January 30th, 2008 at 19:01 | #1

    Yeah, ReGenesis. Best show you’re (probably) not watching!

    I like the question of quality versus quantity (or “taste” as you put it so nicely). If transmedia storytelling is actually meant to expand the entire world, it needs to be an integral part, not an ad supplement. (and now it’s your faulty I have deodorant on my mind : )

    Thanks for the notes. They’re much appreciated!

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