To define the business plan for our Transmedia Extension Project for television series Numb3rs we decided to take a critical look on a similar extension product of alternate video game based on TV series – ReGenesis. ReGenesis is a Canadian drama television show which runs about agents who work on bio-threat cases, aiding The North American Biotechnology Advisory Commission (Ghellal, et al., 2008). As this project is very similar to ours, we will first discuss the business plan used for ReGenesis and take a critical look on it.
The Alternative Reality Game extension of ReGenesis TV series was launched in March 2006 as an additional boost to the start of the second season with an aim of building a hardcore audience. Xenophile Media created a unique model of alternate video game synchronized with the plot of TV series which allowed the players to get in touch with the world of the agents and encouraged them to become an investigator themselves. The game attracted 110 000 active players and increased the popularity of the series by 10-30% (C21Media, n.d.). Thanks to the first outstanding implementation of ARG with a successful television broadcast, the transmedia extension became an incredible success and won several awards for its outstanding cross-platform (ReGenesis, 2006).
The company tried to make the ARG accessible to various types of audience, thus, they used several platforms such as website, email, voicemail, voice-on-demand, and real world events (Ghellal et al., 2008). Using the official website, players could access the instructions for the case they were working on; they could watch videos of main protagonists, read their files, etc. It was only accessible to those who signed up, as the creators wanted to avoid the discussion of the various game stages. Attracting non-players too, Xenophile Media used voice-on-demand, so that the audience who was interested in extended reality story could follow the updates (IGDA, n.d.).
Generally speaking, all Alternate Reality Games share a very similar layout of business plans. As the extension platforms are mainly online based, and free to use by participants, the only way to finance them is through marketing (commercials, creating a buzz, etc.) and advertising (viewing of the TV show, product placement). Thus, these projects are mainly financed by advertisement and marketing revenue (Ghellal et al., 2008). As Ghellal et al. (2008) explained “compared to the other business models […], the cost for production is much higher in this case; a TV show must be produced, fake websites and digital minigames need to be created” (p.15). The overall budget for ReGenesis extended reality climbed up to $340,000. This was mostly funded through broadcaster license fees and New Media Fund, advertising and marketing (C21Media, n.d.).
As mentioned before, Xenophile Media created a model of an alternate video game that was synchronized with the plot of the TV series; they used different media platforms as a website, email, voicemail, voice-on-demand, but they also used real world events (Ghezzal et al., 2008). They put a really clever business model in terms of arranging everything; they were revolutionary in their field and won several prizes for that (ReGenesis, 2006). Due to the publicity, ReGenesis raised awareness amongst people and created a buzz around ARGs which is basically one of the main goals of transmedia franchise (Kapoor, 2012). As a result of that the popularity of the series also increased by 10-30% (C21Media, n.d.).
The process of coming up with a transmedia project can be described by the transmedia project workflow. This workflow consists of different parts, such as definition, development, design and delivery (Kapoor, 2012). Definition covers the goals and the target audience which for Xenophile Media were already existing viewers and fans. Development covers the actual development of the project; question like what is the storyline, who are participating and copyright issues are being covered in this department. In this case Xenophile Media allowed the players to get involved with agents and even to become one of them themselves. The design covers the more technical aspects as the interactivity, the controls, the merchandise etc. which in this case would be very diverse, as there are a lot of media platforms used. Delivery focuses on the actual delivery of the product, so that would include the launch, the operation, the testing of the product etc.; in this case, the ARG was released before the start of the second season aiming to create a hardcore audience base.
The budget used for the ReGenesis ARG reached $340,000 and most of this was raised through advertising, marketing and broadcaster license fees (C21Media, n.d.). A higher budget could have been realized if the company made use of crowdfunding; the idea behind is that people basically donate money to fund the project. As a reward, the company returns something to the people too (Kapoor, 2012). Xenophile Media could, for instance, have a ‘design-a-banner’ contest, where people would have to design banners, of which the best one would be used for the actual ARG. This way the company would get free advertisement and funds for your project, while minimizing the expenses.
We can conclude that the overall business model of Xenophile Media was a success. It built a strong audience which instantly raised the views of the TV series up to 130%, It raised awareness amongst the audience and created a buzz with the implementation of innovative transmedia extention – the alternate reality game. The choice of ARG brought the company several award winnings and helped to put their name out there. The downside of the business model was the production cost. Although they were sponsored, they could have increased their revenue by implementing crowdfunding strategy. Nevertheless, the goal of the Xenophile Media was fulfilled and its success exceeded all of the expectations.
Alternate Reality Games SIG/Whitepaper/Current and Recent Games. (n.d.). Retrieved from The International Game Developers Association website: http://wiki.igda.org/Alternate_Reality_Games_SIG/Whitepaper/Current_and_Recent_Games#ReGenesis
Announcements. (2006). Retrieved from ReGenesis website: http://www.regenesistv.com/ indexframeset.html
Ghellal, S., Holopainen, J., Honkakorpi, M., & Waern, A. (2008). Deliverable D4.7: Final Business Guidelines. Integrated Project on Pervasive Gaming. Retrieved from http://iperg.sics.se/Deliverables/D4.7.pdf
Kapoor, R. (Lecturer). (2012, October 12). CM2052: Transmedia Entertainment & Marketing – World Building. Lecture presented in Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands.
Stretching the imagination (2). (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.c21media.net/archives/24053