The audience defines the media

This is a bit of a corollary to my last post, about audience. The TEDxTransmedia talks are on Youtube now, and at the conference, Dan Hon (one of the big players of The Beast ARG in 2001) talks about “Dare to Play”. He starts with a very good introduction of The Beast and what it was to the players at the time. He talks about what it means to “play” -- and it isn’t just “gameification.”

But then he talks about something at the end: that the elements of The Beast that have come to be recognized as “ARG” elements -- puzzles, codes, complex work to further the story -- were very good at attracting their target audience at the time, that is, sci-fi/internet geeks. But they won’t be any good at attracting anyone else.

(And yes, when I first started getting into this whole ARG/transmedia thing, the puzzles and codes and ARG stuff excited me. But I’d never been part of an ARG. I wasn’t tired of it yet. I’ve since realized the folly of that, and that those kinds of puzzles would be a pretty significant barrier to me participating.)

This is partially what Maureen McHugh means when she says we need to move beyond the ARG model, that these kinds of puzzles will only serve to alienate a large part of the potential audience for a project.

I think this point is vital, though. If your transmedia project is going to find an audience, you have to know where to go. The audience for a sci-fi story like The Beast is absolutely going to be on the internet constantly, be knowledgeable about internet content and possibilities and coding, and be interested in mathematical puzzles and things like that. If your transmedia project is a romantic comedy -- then not so much. Alison Norrington talks about this a bit, too -- her audience didn’t want to comment on a blog and potentially affect the story itself; they felt safer in forums away from the story. She had to learn to go to them.

When you’re planning your transmedia project, you have to anticipate where your audience will be and figure out how you’re going to find them, and how you’re going to pull them in and keep them engaged.

It’s one issue I’ve been thinking about -- the long fiction I write is primarily for young adults. Young adults may be less likely to be involved in a blog network; they probably don’t use twitter in the same way a lot of industry people do. But they’re definitely on Facebook. Before I can plan a transmedia project aimed at young adults, I’ll definitely have to do some basic market research.

It’s a pretty basic fact of business, but it’s one we have to think about as transmedia artists. It could easily make the difference between the success and failure of a project.