Five tips for turning a book into an interactive game
Earlier this month we announced a rights agreement with Pollinger Ltd and the John Wyndham estate to develop an interactive game based on the author’s 1953 novel, The Kraken Wakes. The most common response from industry and social media has been genuine curiosity about how a classic fiction title can develop into interactive media. With the digital rights landscape continuing to evolve rapidly, here are the top five ingredients we look for to make a successful interactive adaptation.
Firstly, the creative treatment of books titles into interactive media can enable audiences to spend more time in the story than any other visual medium. The average console game has a playtime of 12 hours — time for the characters, themes and plot of a book title to be built up and extended significantly. A story which enables audiences to immerse themselves in the narrative and explore its themes will translate well into digital.
2. Strong characters
Secondly, the form of the story is important. Generally speaking, stories are made up of characters, narrative and storyworlds. Narratives are difficult to sustain in interactive media as the pace and tension is constantly being interrupted by, well, interactivity. Storyworlds work well as places to explore, but recreating Hogswarts, London, or even outer space is expensive. That leaves characters.
The internet is a communications medium, and it’s well-suited to the development of characters. Marshall McLuhan’s “medium is the message” holds true, and book titles with strong characters and relationships give audiences people with whom they can connect.
3. First person narrative
Number three is a personal preference for books written in the first person. There is no fourth wall in the interactive world, so voices that speak directly to audiences are closer to the personalised world of interactively. A film producer friend told me recently that books written in the first person are much harder to make into films. For us, it is a bonus.
The fourth is that certain genres make better adaptions than others. Tom Clancy’s action thrillers make highly popular 3D action games, but we find that crime, psychological drama, science fiction and espionage are more interesting as they ask questions of the audience. They engage directly with a player and ask the ‘whodunnit’ question throughout the whole storyline rather than just at the end.
Finally, the digital world is changing and accelerating on a daily basis. When quantum technology arrives it will spend up the average computer by 100 million times. To set strategies and understand this world, it is vital to share the knowledge and results of our projects with our partners. This knowledge of audience behaviour, download numbers, successful revenue models and new content forms is used to refine our own projects, and contribute to partners’ future digital strategies.
After launching the official app game for the BBC’s Sherlock, we could see that users were finding it difficult to solve the first case. So we made it easier, dynamically updated the storyline for level one, and could saw an immediate increase in the number of players completing the game. All this data — including detailed revenue reports — was shared with our partners so they could learn as much as we did.
With The Kraken Wakes, we dealt with Lesley Pollinger and Katy Loffman at author agency Pollinger who are progressive and knowledgeable about digital. It is an excellent partnership and is useful — for all parties — is that we will be sharing data about audience behaviour and revenue.
The Kraken Wakes is not the first adaptation that we have worked on, and it will not be the last. For those rights owners who are confident and keen to reach new audiences, there are opportunities to evolve and learn with minimal risk. The new business models and creative opportunities are evolving rapidly as digital media evolves.
A digital adaptation enables growth of the book and the author’s brand. And with direct links in the game through to online bookstores to capture impulse purchases, as well as the usual tie-in promotion, sales increases can be quantified.
Experimentation, partnership and learning need to be at the heart of growing an author’s brand and value in a cross media world. Our view is that interactive media offers both a creative a commercial set of opportunities that can build products that are attractive to the book industry and audiences alike.