The full story – adventures in the world of immersive content

Can immersive fiction inform branded content? Yes, if you are willing to take the leap...

By: Clare Howdle,   3 minutes

I’ve been dipping my toe into the ever-quickening undercurrent of immersive stories, transmedia worlds and non-linear writing for a while now, since I started Feeding in fact.

From transmedia campaigns that augment films like Prometheus to the interactive storytelling that sits at the heart of filmic narrative games like BioShock or Beyond: Two Souls, I’ve been absorbing, considering and digesting. So when the opportunity to hear firsthand from Dan Clark, digital publisher at Random House popped up it seemed like a perfect way to Feed.

Part of the sandpit series up at AIR – Falmouth University’s research and innovation hub – Dan was offering a room full of us a slice of lunch time inspiration, talking about his work on a digital publishing project that blurs the boundaries of storytelling. An immersive free-to-play experience, The Black Crown Project grew from a University of Exeter MA Creative Writing student’s battered suitcase, and an idea for a story world that begged to be more than just written.

Part non-linear novel, part game, part interactive experience, the ‘story’ is contained – for now – within a URL, which as a user you log on to, plunging yourself into a world where you have to join the dots and discover the narrative your own way. Steam punk styling and intricate word craft pull together to create the sort of storytelling that just turning a page can’t offer, where you as the reader/user are in control, unlocking and understanding what happens on your own terms.

Dan explained that the model for the Black Crown Project – which sees 80-90% of the revenue generated by 0.5% of the ‘readership’ – is pretty new to publishing and is opening up whole new lines of opportunity. It’s immersive fiction with ROI and it’s something that seems to be getting the digital publishing industry pretty excited.

Rob Sherman is the author at the heart of the story, but it’s Dan’s vision and Random House’s support that have made the project possible. Which is what I found most interesting about the talk. The balance of commercial and experimental has been essential for The Black Crown Project to see the light. Dan explained that his chance to pitch this project came just after some pretty spectacular figures for 50 Shades of Grey had been bandied around his office. Random House was on a commercial high, freeing it up to take more experimental risks on forward looking projects like Dan’s.

When you start investigating, this notion of commercial success enabling experimental thinking is all around us. Dan’s project is being produced with partners Failbetter, an immersive storytelling company in Greenwich.

They’re leaders in the immersive fiction field and their interactive story platforms have legions of fans. Browsing around their website I found Sunlight and Shadow, a project Failbetter completed for 02 back in 2011.

Inviting 02 customers to upload their  photos to twitter and then writing two distinct narratives inspired by them, one light and one dark, the project really pushed the bracket of what content marketing can be and demonstrated extremely creative, experimental and progressive thinking on the part of the client.

These sorts of projects get me excited. Not just as a creative writer who is crazy about words in all their forms. Not just as a reader, who is finally beginning to dabble in worlds that exist beyond the page, where you can explore, discover and interact with a story for yourself, but also as a professional who works every day with brands and content.

The days of just telling someone about your product, just having a good looking logo and a strapline, or just trying to connect with your consumers through ad copy printed in the Sunday broadsheets, or an About page on your website are numbered.

Today, consumers are users, they want to discover brand on their own terms, they want to explore, discover and interact with the stories those brands have to tell, they want to be offered more than just the product itself. Today’s consumers are hungry for experiences and that’s what the smart clients are looking for from their content.

That opens up a whole new realm of possibilities for writers like us and the companies we work with.

These are exciting times. I can’t wait to see what happens next…


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