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Monday
Aug162010

Metro 2033: book + game

Thinking about the interplay between narrative media forms and the shift in distribution structures that comes with such interplay in a Transmedia environment I was struck by the game Metro2033.

Metro2033 is a new computer game that I, along with many who have a passion for narrative-driven first-person gaming, have been somewhat eagerly anticipating. The premise is a post-apocalyptic Moscow where humanity has retreated to the subway Metro system. On the surface are mutants and desolation. Below is factional subterranean tribal states in the Metro tunnels.

Metro 2033 been getting rave reviews as a game but what’s interesting in the context of Transmedia is a) that its based on a novel and b) that the original novel was self-published online.

The strategy the author took was to make the novel free to read online and then sold copies via the website. The vague but indicative figures cited are 1million readers have read the book free online and it subsequently sold 400 000 copies in physical form in Russian alone. By any estimation this is rather successful. The sequel 2034 has sold 300 000 in just 6months.

This from an interview with the author, Dimitri Glukhovsky

  • Then I decided to publish myself. So in 2002, I designed and set up a Website, dedicated to the novel. (It is still available at http://m-e-t-r-o.boom.ru ). I dropped a couple of links to this website at forums of sci-fi fans, and it all started to spin out. Over the next two years, there were thousands of readers. And they started to ask me to revive the main character, Artyon, and to continue the book. So I did.
    I couldn’t just change the ending. I have to add 8 chapters. And I thought it would be a good idea to make the new updated novel interactive. So in 2004, I set up another website, http://www.m-e-t-r-o.ru , on which I published new chapter just as I finished them, one by one, transforming the book into a series, an Internet drama. Readers could suggest plot lines, make forecasts, criticize me. The book became interactive.
    By May 2005, when the new version of Metro 2033 was completed, it already hap dozens of thousands of readers and three publishers offered me to buy it.
    By now, millions have read Metro 2033 online. And just in less than 6 months the number of visitors of Metro 2034 Website (M2034.RU) has exceeded 500 000 unique readers.
    Internet is that jungle where the strongest survives. If your book is original, interesting, and simply well written, Internet users will spare you the costs of publicity. They will share your texts with each other and make you famous.
    Just make sure your books are original, interesting and well written.

Interesting particularly is that there was a game adaptation from the novel before a film adaptation – this is not all that common. And that the writer of the book was directly involved in developing the game – also not that common.

Of course Games from films are certainly common (Wanted, Avatar, Godfather, Scarface). Films from games likewise – though notoriously crap – (Doom, Max Payne and the soon to be released Prince of Persia) Films from books of course are too numerous to mention. There are even Games based on films that were themselves based on a book (lord of the rings) But games based directly – even collaboratively – on a book…. Not so common.

Will this set future pattern? Will game developers scour publishing houses and best-seller lists looking for books to option? Certainly the film and (to a lesser extent) TV industries have been doing this for decades. And, if that does become the case (as I strongly suspect it will if not already has – Tom Clancy games are an obvious example) will we invariably see the next step… 360 degree x-platform, transmedia development methodology for books as we are currently seeing for films? Already we see numerous movies that go into production in parallel with a game version. Avatar being a recent example where game and film were developed and released almost simultaneously. Likewise some blockbuster movies have seen a cheesy novelised paperback spat out so soon after that it must have be written at least partly in parallel.

Will we see Novels and their Game iterations being co developed. A writer simultaneously penning game narrative as they pen the book? Or a more macro transmedia idea – the creation of a diegesis as the primary creation from which all manner of media  iterations are spawned. Is it too far off that an ‘Author’ writes without a primary delivery/experience means in mind? A constructed diegesis of events, characters and worlds that are then appropriated into game, film, text, online, augmented reality vehicles of narrative and experience?

Maybe Pokemon has already done it….

The author was, aside from work as a journalist, unpublished as a novelist and so the strategy of free-online to garner sales of the book seemed to work. Give it away free but in a less than ideal format and then make it available in a format of choice for a fee (book, download, kindle file etc)

This idea seems clearly inline with a recent article I read by Mark mcLaughlin which makes a highly valid observation that users/audiences have Never really paid for content. Newspapers, TV, magazines and websites are all based on paying for the Delivery of the content and the infrastructure the content is conducted over rather than the content itself. The couple of bucks for the newspaper covers the cost of the petrol in the truck that delivers it but not the cost of paying journos to write it. I don’t pay to read online content but I do pay for the ‘delivery’ of the content in the form of ISP bills. TV has me pay for the infrastructure and hardware (tv set, ariel and electricity) in order to get the content for free.

The publishing model of Metro2033 as with many other online forms sees the content as free but payment due for delivery in a more practical, viable or desirable format (ie book or download). The economic model then exploits the idea that a certain percentage of readers will buy. That percentage may be low but if the free reader figures are massive then the revenue stream is solid. Hence the numbers of more than a million free readers leading to almost half a million paying readers.

This model might change considerably for an established author who already has a fan base. A strategy might be more applicable of direct sales from extracts or the first few chapters online, by-passing the establishment of a user-base from which a percentage of purchasers might be garnered.

The other element also at play in this case, that accounts someway to Metro2033′s success in its various media forms, is genre specificity. SciFi and Horror have such dedicated fans who are embedded within such highly dynamic transmedia networks (conventions, fan sites, online forums, video sharing, gaming, mobile, mmog etc) that tapping that audiences insatiable appetite is highly accessible. It’s well know in film and tv circles that SciFi/Fantasy/Horror is an almost sure-fire niche audience (whether networks think the niche big enough is a different story). Recently the director of the new iteration of the Battlestar Galactaca series in the US (an Aussie by the name of Michael Rymer) commented (in a class at AFTRS on Science Fiction) that ‘those scifi fans will buy and watch Anything and if its half decent they’ll buy it twice and tell each a hundred people about it’

Genres such as the ever-popular forensic crime thriller may also have similar opportunities. For genres less defined online promotion and transmedia opportunities might be less obvious. But certainly there are possibilities out there and an increasing body of case studies to prove it.

The unspoken and more significant factor however may be not in online publishing being simply a more efficient and direct B2C model but rather, that online publishing for a novel opens up a 360 mode of engagement with how a novel may be manifested in other media forms – game, ARG, online, movie, social network and so on…

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