LAS VEGAS — The production of Defiance, a transmedia property with both a game and a TV show, took place over an agonizing five years. The trouble was that both the TV show and the online game associated with it had to be made on very different, and terrifying, schedules.
But against the odds, the giant project is nearing its completion, and both the game and the SyFy cable-network TV show are going to launch in April. The top executives in charge of the project spoke about working together at the DICE Summit, an elite game industry conference in Las Vegas today. They also gave a joint interview to GamesBeat before the talk.
“This was a five-year journey of taking a hypothetical idea that has never been done before,” said Nick Beliaeff (pictured above, left), the vice president of production at Trion Worlds, the maker of the massively multiplayer online game. “It was turning a leap of faith into a reality.”
Many had tried to take a linear story from a film or TV show and make it interactive. But both parties were prepared to make huge investments. Trion raised more than $150 million and hired more than 500 people across a variety of studios to make dynamic MMOs, where the content could be developed in an episodic fashion, much like a TV show. The company launched its Rift fantasy MMO in 2011 and generated more than $100 million in revenue in its first nine months. Trion also has several other projects being launched this year, like Rift China, ArcheAge, and possibly the online real-time strategy game End of Nations.
But the flagship title that has consumed more resources than anything else was Defiance, which required 150 employees for the game and another 150 on the TV show. If you count contractors and outsourced workers, another 100 contributed to the game.
“We wanted to create something big enough where we didn’t have compromises,” Beliaeff said. “Or at least not fatal compromises,” Stern said.
“Which is better?” Beliaeff asked. “I’m not binary. I like both linear and interactive entertainment. There are different audiences and they complement each other,: said Mark Stern (pictured right), president of SyFy, a property of NBC Universal.
“We’re not binary when it comes to entertainment,” Beliaeff said. “We have touch-points. We don’t care how you get into Defiance, through the TV show or the game. We just want you in Defiance.”
Stern said that the companies found each other while Trion, which was just a year old at the time, was raising a round of funding from media partners. NBC Universal invested in that round. The idea of doing a transmedia property with a game and TV show combined came up. Stern’s team sent a bunch of scripts, some of which became good TV shows later.
But Beliaeff said that the scripts for the TV shows were too thin. They could work for a half hour of entertainment, but Trion needed a deep and complex story that could last for hundreds of hours.
They came up with separate territories for the show and game. The show is set in St. Louis, where political intrigue is the norm. The game is set in San Francisco, where combat is the reality. The story of the science fiction show is really more like a Western. The locations are close enough that a player can talk about hearing something that happened in St. Louis without having to go there on a daily basis.
“I didn’t want gamers running through my town with guns, shooting up the place,” Stern said.
Players will encounter a “changed Earth,” where aliens fleeing their own planet have crash-landed on humanity’s home. Their terraforming equipment has hit Earth and caused a lot of destruction. But the aliens, who are split among seven factions, also brought with them a new resource, Gulanite, that different parties will fight to control in a kind of gold rush. The game has a lot of “fast, kinetic action,” Beliaeff said.
Stern said the “terrifying” part was that his TV show team had to agree to a story and characters in the game so early, since Trion’s team had to spend several years creating an enormous amount of animated content. At one point, a proposed alien race eventually became a rock, the Gulanite resource. Still, Stern said it was difficult for the TV show crew to approve characters and a story three years before they started shooting.
“There were times when Nick and I had to get in there and pull people apart and pour cold water on them,” said Stern.
Beliaeff said the game will feature thousands of players at once, often teaming up to deal with events where they have to take care of various alien threats. Sometimes, “arc falls,” or big pieces of the alien ship, crash down to Earth. This creates a battle for the resources in the wreckage. The more players play together, the better the loot when they achieve their goal. That encourages teamwork.
Right now, the TV episodes are edited and are in the home stretch, Stern said. The game is in its “mastering stage,” Beliaeff said.
Soon, advertising will be everywhere. NBC has made Defiance one of its advertising priorities for the full year, with the full assets of the company promoting the TV show and the game, which will ship on the PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.
“The whole company is going to promote Defiance,” Beliaeff said. Products have been placed in both media. For instance, Dodge has its Challenger vehicles in the game, and Chargers in the TV show. Preorders have begun. And Stern said that the TV show team is working on Season 2.
Asked what he learned from the process and from shipping Rift, Beliaeff said, “We have learned to be responsive to what the players want. When we ship this game, it won’t be done. We will run it as a service.”
Beliaeff said that April is looking like a great release window for the game. When Take-Two Interactive announced it would delay Rockstar Games’ Grand Theft Auto V to September, Beliaeff said, “There was much rejoicing.” And Beliaeff said the team is starting to think about, “What do we do next?”