It seems like a brilliant idea and a brilliant concept.
Here’s a “bring you up to speed” bit. SyFy in the US (the people that have brought you Battlestar Galactica, Caprica, Eureka, etc.) are launching a new show called Defiance over Spring 2013. Its premise is that aliens crash on a near-future Earth with an ark of animals and people and begin to terraform and cohabit with the humans.
Fair enough. But they are also releasing a game. Not a tie in, but a constant companion to the series. The game is set in a different city to the TV series (game in San Francisco, TV in St Louis) but it runs side by side with the TV universe. The stories, mythology and events of the series happen at the same time in the game. Characters jump from the series to the game and back out to the series to talk about what’s happened in the game. It’s what they call “Transmedia.” The game itself is a Massively Multiplayer Online First Person Shooter (MMOFPS) that will be on 360, PS3, PC and will have an iPad version. Here’s the website about it that gives you all the info and videos that you need. http://defiance.com/en/
This has been in development for 4 years. In that time, from the TV perspective, SyFy made and cancelled at least two major (costly) series; Caprica and Stargate Universe. They’ve ended Eureka and have given a very big paycheck and primetime slot to Vince McMahon for WWE’s Smackdown. That fact that this isn’t a tie in and the whole duality of both the TV and MMO game makes me nervous because it is completely new territory. The game doesn’t make me nervous at all as a single entity. The game, if it’s a good game, will succeed, regardless of the TV series. Or it won’t (e.g. APB).
This is where my fears lay however, the TV series. For those of you who know anything about how television works you may get this immediately. For those of you who don’t, here’s how it goes:
- Big series is developed. Lots of money goes into it.
- Series premieres to rave reviews and large audiences. TV rakes in advertising money and distribution rights.
- TV Execs immediately commission second series.
- Series begins to fall mid season where not much happens. Viewer numbers tumble.
- Series goes on mid season break. Viewers get annoyed with pointlessly long gap and forget series.
- Series returns with more viewers but less than the premiere. Execs move it around the schedule to get best audience, but ultimately lose it because they keep moving it around.
- Viewers fall completely with only peak at the end of season inevitable cliffhanger.
- Second series starts and audiences drop to a third of what they were.
- TV Execs continue to move the show around, hoping they stumble upon an audience like they’re drilling for oil.
- Series is cancelled by mid season break.
- Avid followers begin uproar; execs cite how much money they’ve spent.
- Series ends and Execs have stirred the fans into such an angry frenzy, they’ll bleed money from the huge DVD sales.
That’s pretty much it. With a show idea like Defiance, it has three major problems that will lose the casual massive audience it needs to prevent that from happening. Firstly, it’s Science Fiction. This is a harsh but true problem. With the exception of Star Trek: The Next Generation, there hasn’t been a successful mainstream Science Fiction show produced in the US in recent times that has kept a casual audience. In the UK, Doctor Who may be the only example of this. But as soon as you start putting in aliens, spaceships or whatever, casual audiences turn off. Secondly, its allure is innovation. This works incredibly well in a movie environment where it is a one off. But once its been done, its old and people will forget it. For all of Avatar’s innovation for example, there is hardly anyone that will argue that the story was more wooden than Joan River’s face. As a TV series, Avatar would have been a very expensive blue turd.
Thirdly, the idea of the computer game will possibly end its appeal. The risk is that the show begins to cater to the universe its in rather than the audience itself. The casual audience will scatter immediately leaving only the gaming audience who will either be a large community that love the game and find the TV show a distraction, or a small community that enjoy both equally but not enough to keep SyFy pumping the money into it.
I really am interested to see how this pans out because it’s a major risk from SyFy. But with great risk comes great innovation. If it works and it’s successful, it will completely rewrite the entertainment industry. Which will probably lead to Fox doing exactly the same thing, only much cheaper and with no care on what the show is about. But I fear that the American big audience, which it is mainly aimed for, will disappear. All that will be left is a core cult of people that the TV execs simply cannot justify spending multi-million dollar budgets on.
This is an intriguing multimedia proposal, but there is one other side note. Near-future alien/human crossover shows never last very long or aren’t very good. Examples being Alien Nation, Earth: Final Conflict, V, Alf… Ok maybe not Alf, but you get my point. Even the Terminator series only lasted for two seasons and those were human looking robots! There is an often mistaken theory in all walks of the entertainment world. If you throw enough money at it, it will be successful. I just wonder if the money spent on this could have been better spent on developing many new series instead of one absolutely mega blow out. We shall see.
Edit: Just discovered Bear McCreary is doing the music. It will be awesome.