Monday, February 28, 2011

What Motivates a Transmedia Audience

This must be one of the things that creators of just about anything wonder about the most – will people, my intended audience, feel motivated enough to partake of what I have to offer? Will they participate like I would want them to participate? Will they stick around? Will they advocate my content to their friends? Or will they just turn their back and go do something else that they think is better?

This goes for blockbuster movies, for television series, for indie graphic novels and yes, for transmedia projects as well. To try to get to grips with this challenge, big-enough companies do target group research, polls etc, while smaller producers and creators poll their friends and family but mostly trust their gut feeling.

I struggle with this as well, naturally. I am in the quite luxurious position of having access to a laboratory and researchers focused on media and user experience, with whom we at the format development department work closely to get to know as much as possible about the experiences people derive from what we have to offer. Granted, many times the bulk of work goes to getting the testing itself focused to such a degree that it actually helps us in the development work. But as we work on it, we refine it and become better, naturally.

Something I’ll be bringing to the development work, and to the testing, is something I just saw. This very interesting video from RSA.org, featuring a talk by Dan Pink, is about what motivates people in the workplace. Do have a look, it’s (as all RSA-videos are) very good indeed. Basically what is said is that research shows that motivating people to work better with more money as the sole reward works fine as long as we’re talking only about manual labor. As soon as we go into any kind of task that would call for creative work, the people who received more money worked worse and failed more often. On the other hand, ventures like Wikipedia, Linux and Apache show that people – highly educated, motivated people at that – will work and give of their knowledge and skill, for free. So, what is the reward? Autonomy, mastery and purpose, according to Dan Pink.

We’re big on doing stuff that we want to do ourselves, not things that someone tells us to do. We’re also big on the feeling of mastering something, knowing that we know this thing and we are competent in precisely this regard. Finally, we’re big on having a purpose; of knowing that today is a step along the way towards a goal, whatever that might be – from ”making the world a better place” to ”teaching people”, for instance.

This was the workplace, mind you. I am quite convinced that this goes for a transmedia project as well, where you would want people to interact, to participate, to become a part of your story world. To put it into the categories of Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose, if you want the audience to immerse, engage and participate:

- You must not guide them too much, or the feeling of autonomy will be lost. It's a tricky task, to leave enough openness for everyone to find something "new", and to be able to make their own way through your story and your world, and make their own stuff there; too much and you have no control (which might be what you desire), too little and you will have obedient people following your instructions (if there are any people left for you to instruct, that is)
- You must not make mysterious content that no one will ever master, or they will never get the feeling of being competent in your story world. Instead, perhaps, leave areas where audience members can become masters; masters of what they themselves have created within the ramifications of your story, or masters at guiding other audience members in understanding the intricate fabric of the story and the world.
- Finally, you must not build a story where the participation of the audience has no meaning for anything, where their actions or lack of actions has no impact and it simply does not matter what they do or not. Neither can you build a story world that has no purpose in itself, or there will be no reason for anyone to engage in it.

I’ll take these thoughts into my development work. I’ll let you know how it plays out!

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