By Christy Dena
I was asked to write an article for this special edition on my company Universe Creation 101. I thought I’d share where I’m heading, which is a path others are taking, too. But first, I probably need to explain a bit about where I’m coming from. I’ve worked as a researcher and educator of ARGs for years, contributed to the first IGDA ARG SIG whitepaper, and conceived the IGDA initiative ARGology. I’ve created educational ARGs for film and TV practitioners labs, worked on pervasive art experiences, such as Love Referendum and Urban Codemakers, and large-scale ARGs, such as Tim Kring and the company P’s Conspiracy for Good with Nokia, Australian Broadcasting Corp.’s Bluebird Project, and No Mimes Media’s The Hunt for Cisco. I also work outside of ARGs, with film, TV, gaming, print and theatre practitioners in lots of different ways. However, right now, although there are some projects I am still working on, most of my time is dedicated to creating my own projects. So what was my cunning plan to make this happen?
It would make sense to create something that works as my calling card, if you like, to attract further projects to work on. But that is not my aim. I started the intensive self-learning process of my doctorate and worked in industry for all these years to get myself to the point where I can create my own projects, over and over again. I’m not trying to position myself to be hired; I’m trying to create my own self-sustaining business so I can create whatever, whenever I damn well please.
This is where the crunch comes. I had to make a decision about my creative project(s). I had to make a decision about how much I could and can spend and how many people I’m aiming to address. Why? Because the size of a target audience and budget influence what you create. The larger the intended audience and the more people and money involved, often the further from a personal vision the creation becomes. There are a few reasons for this, one being the need to justify every decision.
Why does the personal matter? For me, the process of creating is what I need to do to be happy, understand the world, contribute to it and be sane. But I guess the most important drive for me is I want to create what I don’t see out there. I want to share with others a way of seeing the world. In short, I’m “going” what some people describe as “indie.” I’m now talking quite subjectively about what I think and feel. I’m not being diplomatic and rigorous in my descriptions of what many think and feel. So when I say “indie,” I’m claiming my own description of what it means and identifying with people who subscribe to it in the same way. It is a version of indie.
So what is this version of “indie”? The chairman of the Independent Games Festival, Brandon Boyer, spoke about how he sees indie at his keynote lecture at Freeplay 2010. His talk was titled “All Play Is Personal,” and Brendan Keogh covers him as follows:
“For Boyer, this is how the indie movement is crucial to bringing the entire medium forward and why all play must be personal. ‘Existing and creating under your own auspices means the player needs to feel the “you” in your game. It’s what people respond to. They feel when your game was something you were burning to create. People say, “I didn’t know video games could do this.” That is exactly what we want.’”
I agree. In July, Lance Weiler quoted me in his Filmmaker Magazine article on story. He asked me what is needed to promote story more in transmedia projects. This is what I said:
“For me, what is needed to promote story in transmedia projects are practitioners who have something to say in this world. Many transmedia projects are mere engines for plots and characters that aren’t meaningful. Transmedia needs more practitioners to use the form to express highly personal or different visions of the world.”
This is a call for more personal visions being created in the transmedia world. Maureen McHugh calls it “authenticity.” There have been many examples already, such as Dave Szulborski’s Chasing the Wish, Jan Libby’s Sammeeeees, Brian Clark’s (GMD Studios) Eldritch Errors, Nonchalance’s Jejune Institute and Jim Babb’s Socks Inc., to name a few. But I feel that like Boyer, the whole area would benefit from more people being wonderfully unique. To me, it is about striving to create projects that are meaningful to ourselves and hopefully others.
This is all well and good, but what about the self-sustaining part? How can one be meaningful and make money? This is the second part of my long-term vision. I realized that if I rely on one income source, I won’t survive. To explain, I’ll draw on sociologist Norbert Elias’s conceptions of dependent, independent and interdependent relationships. To Elias, independence can be seen as a relationship characterized by detachment, dependence as a relationship characterized by over-involvement or suffocation, and interdependence as a balance between the two.
To me, these concepts can be juxtaposed to economics. I see many businesses depend on a certain clientele — companies that depend entirely on broadcaster commissions, agencies or brands or artists that depend entirely on funding bodies. Depending on one source of income for your career doesn’t work in the medium- and long-term. As a solution, contemporary practitioners talk about the freedom that digital technologies and the Internet facilitate and how they can bypass gatekeepers (these traditional income sources) and go direct to their audiences. But it seems to me this can be another kind of dependency. Whatever basket it is, you’re still putting all your eggs in one basket. What about independence then?
The idea of economic independence is perhaps an illusion. I don’t think it is possible to pay for the creation of my projects over and over again without any input from anyone else. But I guess the idea behind “indie” for some people is not necessarily having lots of money yourself but being independent of certain income sources. For instance, you can create without having to answer to a studio or client. But what I’m working toward is interdependence — giving and receiving from a variety of sources. What I mean by that is I rely on a diverse set of income sources for my business (such as contract work, public speaking, writing, royalties) and startup and creative projects (usage fees, subscription, brokerage, sponsorship, advertising, licensing). All of these are different income sources from different areas, whether they are the audience, fellow creators or other customers.
Another aspect of creating projects that make money is the role of design. I’ve already mentioned I don’t intend to alter my content (messages) too much, but I am looking at design. I am, for instance, developing a system for enabling scalability (to handle increasing players); replayability (people can play it more than once); repeatability (people can play it any time); accessibility (playable by people with scarce time or skills); and commerciality (earn money from it). But rather than just tick these boxes, I’m also ensuring the experience doesn’t negate a deeper, rich and complex experience for the hardcore and still enables the uniqueness of a live event. This isn’t just for me but for others to use, too.
Hey, if it works, awesome; if it doesn’t, I’ll just dust myself off and take what I learn to my next idea. I’ve got plenty. I just want to make sure they’re meaningful and somehow make money. It is scary turning down work in these shaky times to bet on this future I may create. But this is what Universe Creation 101 is all about at the moment. I’m not the only one exploring this path, and so I’m look forward to hearing other’s thoughts on how they’re managing or hoping to create their own projects.