Jon Goldman has some advice for indie developers who are trying to manufacture transmedia IP from the get-go: Don’t. Transmedia is the intersection of different mediums, like launching a game alongside a comic book or movie set in the same universe — and it’s something Goldman is very familiar with. He’s the managing partner at Skybound Entertainment, which is best known for the comic series The Walking Dead. But he’s also a venture partner at the investment firm Greycroft, so he has insight into the creative side as well as how investors think about opportunities.
I interviewed Goldman after his fireside chat with GamesBeat lead writer Dean Takahashi at the GamesBeat Summit earlier this week in Mill Valley, CA. During his talk, he touched on Death Jr., a 2005 PlayStation Portable game that he tried to turn into a transmedia property when he was CEO of Foundation 9 Entertainment.
Tinkering with transmedia
Goldman says he’s been interested in “transmedia commercialization” since 2001 or 2002, and he seized the opportunity with Death Jr., which spun off into a comic book series. But this game received mixed reviews, and it never took off and certainly not the way The Walking Dead did.
“I guess what I would say is that the vision had always been there, but you can’t build it in the laboratory,” said Goldman. “You have to build it around something that fans are already developing an attachment and fandom to.”
The only way The Walking Dead could go to so many platforms was because it was already a successful series with an established community around it. “There was a lot of love poured into its entry point into the world of media, and I think to try and diffuse your talent and time and effort to build a business strategy is counterproductive in creative industries,” said Goldman.
Skybound recently launched a publishing initiative, bringing Monomi Park’s Slime Rancher and Hinterland’s The Long Dark to physical retail outlets. What Goldman is saying echoes Skybound president Dan Murray on its strategy as a publisher — it’s not necessarily looking for “transmedia opportunities,” but rather for engaging experiences. That’s not to say that developers can’t think about turning their games into TV shows, cartoons, or comics in the future. Rather, it’s about ramping up to that point after already establishing their game.
“We have a whole philosophy around increasing your chances,” said Goldman. “You can’t guarantee a hit, but you can put a number of things in place that increase your chances of getting the best talent and then being able to expand the opportunity once you see some momentum.”
Where investors are putting their money
Where Goldman goes to find the best talent spans the whole gaming industry. He actively invests in esports, virtual reality, augmented reality, and blockchain companies. It’s hard to predict what will be the next hit, but he has a firm belief in the new technologies he’s backing.
“You never know. But what I would say is, as somebody who’s looked at a lot of VR, for example, just qualitatively it’s really good,” said Goldman. “It’s a superior experience, to be completely immersed in the world of playing a video game, compared to watching it on a screen. I feel like I’ve known gamers enough over the course of my career to know that they crave that. Whether people want VR in the rest of their lives, I don’t know, but the industry is big enough to support this.”
Some investors have the strategy of looking to the developers. For instance, Goldman relays the story of someone he knows who browses GitHub, a site where many devs post their code and projects, to see where the creative interest lies.
“He just follows what smart developers are doing, and if they happen to spend a lot of time in blockchain, he may not understand it all, but that’s where he wants to get involved,” said Goldman. “He wants to back the smartest people. There’s a bit of that in blockchain. A lot of smart entrepreneurial people are focusing there, and so it’s worth spending some time.”
Funding tips for indies
One key takeaway for indies is how to make themselves attractive to investors — and that’s not necessarily through a grand vision for how the future will eventually look. Goldman says that investors look for “market opportunity” and demonstrable progress.
“Let’s say you get 18 months of financing,” said Goldman. “You have to nail some parts of that market opportunity within 12 months, so you have six months to beat your chest around the things you accomplished in 12 months.”
And folks who have landed investments will need to show growth in a few key areas, otherwise they may find themselves at the end of the runway with no further funding.
“They need to be able to make meaningful progress around product-market fit, customer engagement and retention, and monetization,” said Goldman. “Not all of them, but those are the things you need to solve in a venture company. You need to make some meaningful progress in that over the course of time before your money is going to run out. Particularly for very young entrepreneurs, which includes a lot of indie developers—they think closer to a publishing deal. ‘My money ran out and I need an overage.’ That’s where they can really run into trouble.”