Thursday, April 11, 2019

Exploring the Possibilities of Multimedia in Publishing

How much could literary publishing actually learn from a shooter video game with no narrative? Well, it turns out, a lot more than you would think.  ♦ 

Overwatch and the Use of Multimedia

With the rising trend of book-to-movie adaptations becoming more prevalent, it’s easy to wonder how this might affect book sales. There is evidence that suggests these big features increase book sales; however, there are also many instances where the movie can take the place of the book. Comic book sales still continue their decline despite the plethora of superhero movies hitting our screens. I have asked friends whether they actually read books such as The Hunger Games before or after they saw the movie, and many say they hadn’t read it at all, thus there is truly a larger audience these movies aren’t providing their novel counterpart. So, the question becomes: How can publishers use other forms of media such as feature films to draw people to their novels instead of replacing them? Rather than making movies as replicates of the books, perhaps they should try coming up with narratives that complement the story in the novel, bringing purpose back to the book itself.

That’s what Overwatch did in promoting their video game. When Overwatch was first announced, Blizzard Entertainment staggered the release of animated shorts showing their heroes in action. By the time the game was released, people were already fans of the characters they would soon play as. They transformed their simple hero-shooter video game into a multimedia platform catering to the interests of several demographics. By telling unique and integrated stories in the form of animated shorts, comics, art, and professional eSports, Overwatch was able to attract attention from those who might not have otherwise been interested in a competitive shooter. It’s impossible to consume just one form of the media without losing out on the whole mythos and world-building created by the Overwatch team across every form. If you’re going to read the comics, you’re bound to get sucked into both the animated shorts and the game itself to see more action and stories from your favorite heroes.

This strategy also allowed for a platform saturated with representation. Our heroes are from all over the globe with different races, creeds, sexualities, and religions. The very face of the Overwatch brand, Tracer, is canonically lesbian. Everyone is able to find a character that they identify with; whether it be a gay Brit, a Japanese cyborg, or an Egyptian pararescue soldier. The sense of community born from the representation in all these different forms has allowed the foundation of the Overwatch platform to reach its current strength. The wide breadth and sheer quantity of media that Overwatch supplies its fan base allows each member of its diverse cast to receive the attention they are due -- each fan who identifies with any particular character is able to enjoy a satisfying amount of content surrounding them. There isn’t some African side character or bisexual friend-of-a-friend attempting to satisfy a diverse fan base, but rather a crowd of characters, each with their own spotlight. Because this diversity crosses many forms of media, everything feels new. By engaging with the audience in a variety of ways, the community can get excited about each character individually rather than getting bogged down in the vast world-building and character development within any singular platform.

Exploring Multimedia with The Hunger Games

How can this multifaceted media platform strategy be applied to literary publishing? How might novels benefit from a similar model of animated shorts or comic books that incorporate the mythos of their story without stepping on the toes of the already established narrative? How can this allow for a greater sense of community and for greater representation in the worlds that these authors create? Perhaps a hypothetical situation using The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins can help. We all know and love the story of Katniss Everdeen, whether we read the books, saw the movies, or both. But what would happen if the movies didn’t follow Katniss’s story at all?

In my fantasy marketing extravaganza, I would re-create the feature film of The Hunger Games to focus on the experience of Haymitch, Katniss’s mentor, in the Games. Viewers would still be able to experience the post-apocalyptic Capitol and understand the dynamics of the society, but they would also be granted access to a whole new perspective on the world. Perhaps there could be a cameo of Katniss’s parents at a young age, which fans could get excited about. Through an end credit scene at the end of the movie, there would be an advertisement to see more of the world of The Hunger Games through the books. This way, those who didn’t know about the books may be intrigued to learn more about the world, and those who have read them are able to get a deeper backstory on Haymitch and enjoy the expansion of their beloved universe.

I would also make a comic book series following Finnick and Annie’s love story, who become friends of Katniss later on in the book series. This would allow for the exploration of their relationship and could dive into Annie’s descent into insanity. At the back of each issue, there would be an advertisement for the book, leading those who enjoy the comic medium to explore the world they’ve come to love in the form of the novel.

Finally, I would make an animated short series, allowing brand-new characters to take the spotlight. These would be set in the era between Haymitch’s and Katniss’s Hunger Games, and focus on the stories of other children who experienced the Games. Each volume of animated shorts, which would last about 7-10 episodes, would follow characters from several different districts with unique relationships. This would allow for a better understanding of the different districts and their distinct social identities. The volumes would also reference beloved characters from the novel, comics, and feature film to bring a cohesiveness to the multimedia platform. The end of each short would include shout-outs to these other forms to draw attention to the various ways in which fans can explore the universe.

What Does It Mean?

After this exploration, we can ask what this strategy does for the world of The Hunger Games. This comprehensive multimedia marketing strategy gives people who enjoy a variety of media an inroad into the world and entices greater exploration through other forms that fans may not be as accustomed to. The references to other forms and their direct advertisements help persuade followers to explore these other mediums and bring in more foot traffic to bookstores as they pursue more stories within the world they have come to know and love.

This strategy has the potential to be a fix for the way that the Marvel Cinematic Universe failed to fully prevent the decline of the comic book industry. If there were shout-outs at the end of the films referencing specific comic books that fans should explore, this could draw more people into comic stores, searching for more exploration into the Universe. Books and comics can find their purpose once again in this multimedia-centered world if other forms are able to complement their narratives rather than copy them.

I understand that this strategy is a difficult task to undertake without an entire company supporting you financially and creatively, but it is something to be considered as a way to draw more people towards the novel itself. The greater diversity in both form and characters allows for an increased sense of community to be built around the universe, enticing fans to entrench themselves in the world the author has built. We already see this strategy forming in the world of literature, and I’m excited to see how it will evolve in the community as publishers rethink their marketing to reach a greater number of people and get fans back into bookstores.

  • About the Author
    Hannah Robertson is a senior at Miami University, double majoring in Biology and Creative Writing. She will be attending North Carolina State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine in the fall. Hannah spends her time volunteering with Alpha Phi Omega and writing short stories. She enjoys all things media, though Marvel superheroes hold a special place in her heart.

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