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Storytelling startup Massiverse set to launch its first cross-media tale

Trying to tell a story (and capitalize on one) across multiple media is called Transmedia storytelling. And that’s what Massiverse is going for with its new Dragons Vs Robots property.

Today, the New York-based company is launching the transmedia property about an epic battle between science and nature, between sci-fi and fantasy. It starts as both a free-to-play online battle game, where you can start for free but have to pay for upgrades, and a kids’ comic book in the Japanese manga tradition (see image below of Dragons Vs. Robots: Blade Guardian). A live action film is under way in collaboration with Jinks/Cohen Productions, makers of the film American Beauty. Over time, the company also expects to produce novels, animated web videos, toys and more. Consumers can sign up for the game today.

Of course, this means that each property is a major bet. It can either be a hit across a lot of media, or it could be a bomb in a lot of different ways.

dragons-2The property targets kids ages 9 to 14. In the story, robots and dragons battle for control of the Earth. Humans have to decide which side to back. Players have to create their own characters, either dragons or robots. Then they send the creatures into battle.

The company was conceived in 2007 by Jesse Soleil, who recruited entertainment writer and producer M. Raven Metzner, whose credits include the primetime TV series Six Degrees. Metzner worked with Soleil to create the narrative behind the property. The team espouses the ideas behind transmedia storytelling — promulgated by thinkers such as Henry Jenkins, director of the Comparative Media Studies Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and author of the media culture book, Convergence Culture.

“This is about the future of media,” Soleil said in an interview. “We can tell the Dragons Vs. Robots story in so many different ways.”

The goal is to develop lasting relationships between consumers and brands across a wide variety of emerging media. This gives the consumer multiple points of entry into the property, depending on the kind of media they prefer. It’s sort of like going fishing with a lot of different kinds of lures in the water. It’s essentially a complete universe with a lot of different interlocking narratives. It’s like a virtual world with its own history and mythology.

While the effort is extremely ambitious, the company isn’t spending a ton of money at the outset. It only has seven full-time employees and has raised only about $500,000 in friends and family money. Metzner said in an interview that the goal is to leverage independent contractors that the executive team has worked with before on a variety of projects. They’re producing low-cost video “webisodes” first to hone the property and see what consumers like.

“We place smaller bets across a wider territory,” Metzner said.

Dragons Vs. Robots is the first of several original transmedia properties being planned by the company. The team behind Dragons Vs. Robots has worked on a lot of kids projects for companies such as Scholastic, The Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon and Disney. For the game itself, rivals include titles such as Runescape, an online role-playing game, as well as battle games such as Pokemon and Duells. The transmedia plan reminds me of Curt Schilling’s 38 Studios, which is developing a massively multiplayer online game and other properties around a single story.

The company has been running a closed beta for a few months with 500 children and is now ready to open it up. Massiverse is looking for another round of $750,000 in funding and hopes to be profitable in 2011.


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