For most summer TV shows, once the season has finished airing and the final day of San Diego Comic-Con has passed there isn’t much to talk about other than new production photos and a re-run marathon. “Defiance” on the Syfy Channel is an exception. The first season may have aired its last episode at the end of July, but the show is still making headlines thanks to its transmedia video game experience. Yesterday, the first paid downloadable content (DLC) for the Defiance massive multi-player online video game developed by Trion Worlds was released. With the video game, second screen content, social TV conversation, integrated advertisers, and fan contests, it’s clear that Defiance and the Syfy Channel are (cue the Daft Punk music)…doin’ it right.
The integrated video game concept was a massive endeavor that took years of planning. While this was a first for a TV series, it is not the first time a video game has been used to tell a complete story by weaving in and out of a plot narrative. One of the best earlier examples of this technique was the 2003 game “Enter the Matrix” which was produced at the same time as the 2nd and 3rd films in the Matrix trilogy. Over an hour of additional film footage was written and directed by the Wachowskis for the game and starred the same cast from the films. When this footage is integrated with the film trilogy and the animated short “Final Flight of the Osiris” from the “The Animatrix” collection, the viewer will be able to see a full and complete story narrative.
In similar fashion, the Defiance game contains its own characters and city (set in San Francisco), but will occasionally integrate characters and story elements from the show (set in St Louis). For example, the character Rynn was originally introduced on TV, but when she fled old St. Louis we, as viewers of the show, had no idea what happened to her. Defiance gamers received a new episode related mission featuring Rynn who made her way across the country through the badlands to San Francisco. Another cross show integration involved a deadly plague which hit the game first in San Fran and later spread to the TV show city. Gamers were responsible for helping locate a cure and shipping it off to Defiance where it appeared in the show. Viewers who also played the game episode mission had a much deeper understanding on where the package came from and of the plague itself. This integrated digital platform experience (a game in this particular instance) that evolves weekly with the show story arc is a fantastic way to build fan loyalty by involving them in the narrative. While you could play the game or watch the show independent from one another and not reduce your experience, the combination does bring fans a more complete and immersive Defiance story.
Having a video game for your television show has other benefits as well. There are community forums, blogs, YouTube videos, etc. all talking about the various aspects of the game – which is generally standard activity for all console and platform video games. The fan community of the MMO experience helps raise awareness of the episodic missions and show integration as well as keeping the Defiance TV show top of mind for fans. Syfy and Trion have also done a great job of creating fan contests within the game. In the final episode of season 1, a gamer’s avatar was placed on a wanted poster and for season 2 the producers have a plan to create a show character based on a gamer profile. Even without the use of a video game, show-runners and network marketing teams should continually look for ways to bring fans into the storytelling environment.
During the episodes when fans are not playing the game, Syfy picks the Defiance ball back up with two different options for viewers: Syfy Sync and cast chats on Twitter. The Syfy second screen companion watching app is one of my favorites in the industry for a variety of reasons. Syfy takes my preferred approach of a single app for all shows rather than individual show specific apps. They use an audio content recognition system (ACR) powered by Gracenote technology to deliver fans interactive polls, videos, stills, behind the scenes info, advertiser placements, and highlights game crossover references. The iPad design also allows for a smaller window teaser for highlights taking place on Facebook and Twitter. Expanding this area opens up the conversation portal to a wider viewing area making it easy for users to follow show related feeds and add to the conversation. The ACR feed and social network windows are functional even in a time delayed viewing setting, but the advantage for real time tune-in is their weekly live chats with the show’s cast. The Syfy app integrates Facebook, Twitter, and GetGlue to let fans authenticate and generate conversations across a variety of outside social platforms. Weekly GetGlue episode stickers help aid in awareness not only in GetGlue trending areas, but across other platforms as well.
One of the most notable aspects of the Syfy Defiance game and TV show is one that doesn’t get nearly the attention that it deserves, the advertising sponsor integration. Two brands produced Defiance themed commercials for season one which were shown both during the broadcast and in Syfy Sync: Axe Apollo and Dodge Charger. Dodge took their sponsorship to the next level. One of the core vehicles in the Defiance game is the Dodge Challenger – the Dodge Charger can be seen in the show. Periodically, Dodge will host High Speed Challenge Weekends where gamers can race to unlock limited edition colors of the Challenger for use in the game.
For those who do not own the game, Dodge also created a branded microsite web based scavenger hunt game called the Dodge Defiance Arkfall Sweepstakes. The hunt takes registered game players to a variety of sites around the web (Dodge sites included) looking for scattered arkfall fragments. Arkfalls are an element seen occasionally on the show and are incidents that occur frequently in the game. TV characters Nolan and Irisa are arkfall hunters when we first see them on the show as well so this campaign from Dodge is themed to pair nicely with the world of Defiance.
Not all television shows will have the theme and appeal to work as a PC and/or console system video game, although there are a lot more shows out there that could leverage games in some form. What’s more important to take away from what Defiance and Trion are doing with the game is the use of a transmedia digital extension to bring fans closer to the show and create a broader story narrative. This can be done in a variety of ways beyond video games where the show audience demographics and theme will help drive the decision on how best to handle it. Syfy’s social TV efforts with the Twitter chats, leveraging GetGlue for awareness, and providing interesting synced second screen content are nothing unique though. Many shows are utilizing some of these with a few hitting all three. While no longer innovative, they are all critical to the companion viewing success of a show. The standout for me is the Dodge partner integration in the show, game, Syfy sync, and with their own campaign initiatives like the Arkfall hunts. If there is a single example that brands and corporate sponsorship sales groups at networks can reference as to what they should be striving for, Dodge and Defiance is it.
Transmedia, partner integrations, and companion viewing campaigns are all elements that can lead to a successful show. The real power comes from finding a show that has the right partners to make all of them work and work well together. Syfy has found that with Defiance and I’m looking forward to seeing what the game has in store for fans in the off season and certainly what the Syfy and Trion teams plan for season 2.