It's not unusual to see games made from TV shows or games that can be played on a TV, but a new project from the SyFy network will go a step further by making a game and a TV show that inhabit the same universe and can even affect each other's plot.
Trion Worlds, a game developer that specializes in Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) games, is currently working with the SyFy network to create a game that seamlessly incorporates an actual upcoming TV series.
This is more than just creating a game about a TV show universe. SyFy already has an MMO in the works that follows its recently ended Battlestar Galactica show, but that one doesn't interact with the show itself.
In contrast, the upcoming SyFy MMO will inhabit the same universe at the same time as the SyFy show. That means events in the show will affect the game, and actions of the game players will actually affect the plot of the show. An ambitious, and possibly risky plan, to be sure.
SyFy originally approached Trion Worlds with scripts from franchises it already airs. But it became apparent to Trion that in order to make a TV show and a game mesh, they would need to build it from the ground up.
"We realized that, with an MMO in particular, the needs are really different for a game that is on 24 hours a day and a TV show that is doing 13 episode cycles," said Nick Beliaeff, senior vice president of development at Trion. "We said to Syfy that we need to look at this a different way because we need to have a much deeper universe. We need to change the way that games and TV work together."
Integrating a TV show and a video game is difficult because of the varying timetables in the production process. Both need to be planned out well in advance, and all parts of the universe, lore and backstory need to match up exactly.
"We had to figure out what the touchstones between the game and the show are so that, when both are running live at the same time, people feel that there's a real connection in it," Beliaeff said. "We [Trion] need enough latitude to make and awesome game, and they [SyFy] need enough latitude to own key parts of the universe so they can make an awesome TV show."
But despite the difficulties, both SyFy and Trion feel that this SyFy MMO and its unprecedented integration with a TV show can grab the attention of gamers who are accustomed to seeing the same old games over and over again.
"The crossover between [Trion and SyFy] audiences is huge, and from Trion's standpoint we can get exposed to this TV audience we might not necessarily get otherwise," Beliaeff said.
Beliaeff says that when he tells friends about his project, that choices a player makes in the game can ripple into the TV show, and characters in the TV show can have effects on the game, "everyone's jaws just drop."
"We have this tremendous opportunity because they are both live and can influence each other," he said. "It's a real opportunity to think that fans of the universe, whether they come in from the show or they come in from the game, can find a really unique composition. And in between this season and the next, you don't have to wait for the next year. You can go and absolutely immerse yourself in it."
It goes both ways
Beliaeff described one example of how the SyFy MMO game and show will interact. The show can mention some sort of cataclysmic event, and then the game will allow the audience to further explore that event and its how it came about.
Eventually the audience will be able to find the answer through the game, and then the writers can mention, in a later episode of the show, the guild or players that solved the mystery first.
But Beliaeff admits there are still a lot of unknowns to deal with. No one has done this before, he says, so the "big wild card" is what happens to a game when you have a show on every single week, introducing new characters, plot arcs and concepts.
"We have no idea what happens," Beliaeff said. "We also have to consider where we want to be moving things. How can we in the game help the TV show set up the next season? What events, what key plot twists can we get to and address in a major way so that it's additive to the premier of the next season."
The production teams at both Trion and SyFy are already working on these problems the best way they know how.
"What's going to make us successful is just being in constant contact with SyFy because this has to be not only tremendously well planned out, but then executed as well," Beliaeff said. "You can't have the game guys in their little box over here and the TV guys in a different box and think they'll magically find some way to communicate with Dixie cups and string."
Advertisers are also starting to take notice of the possibilities that arise from a TV show and a game working together.
"When you talk to advertisers, they get really interested because most of them have a budget they put aside for TV commercials, and they also have a budget they put aside for product placement in games," Beliaeff said. "That fits us, and the advertisers get really excited about that because it broadens their reach."
Given the uneven history of advertising in games and consumer backlash from overdone ads in games, the developers at Trion understand they can't just do whatever they want. Advertising in the game and ad crossovers from the show are carefully considered.
"You have to keep it contextual, and I think that's the thing for us," Beliaeff said. "If there are things we can do for advertising in a way that will lend to the authenticity of the experience, then it makes it more real. As long as we do it well, and not cheesy."
Fortunately, the show takes place in a contemporary setting. So a billboard for Coca-Cola in the background won't seem out of place, Beliaeff points out.
For now, we still know very little else about the SyFy MMO or the show it accompanies aside from its modern setting. During the interview with Beliaeff, there were vague references to alien invasions and otherworldly vehicles – it is a SyFy show after all. Beliaeff also stressed that it would be action-oriented, "run-and-gun" game as opposed to the traditional RPG gameplay of MMOs.
Perhaps gamers will find an MMO that doesn't take place in a fantasy environment or rely solely on roleplaying game (RPG) tropes to be a refreshing addition to the MMO genre, but Trion and SyFy are both banking on the unprecedented influence of gamers on a TV show to really interest people.
"We think that this is one of those things where the two together are greater than any one alone," Beliaeff said. "We think that this unique connected entertainment is potentially going to create … [a] super product with more potential than either one standing alone. That's why we're so in love with it."