The recently announced changes to the core mythos of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the backlash from fans over the ending to Mass Effect 3 have ignited an incredible discussion about the rapidly evolving “collaborative” relationship between producers and consumers of videogames, movies, and similar “products.” Now it’s exploded beyond the secure borders of top news publications, gaming and entertainment websites. Looks like this long-bubbling cauldron of traditional ways and means, modern tech, web economics, core beliefs and future shock has finally boiled over...
Should you listen to your audience?
The gaming industry, and gaming media, is wrong to label upset consumers as ‘entitled’ or ignore the
investment of fans beyond simply spending their hard-earned cash.
They don't "owe" you anything. They make a product, and then you decide if you're going to pay for it. Since many of you think it's okay to download anything you want for free, even that second step isn't a guaranteed part of the process anymore. But it's a very simple transaction. They make. You consume. … Even so, you are not actually owed anything beyond whatever entertainment they produced for you in the first place.
It’s the question roiling the genre arts sparked by the release of Mass Effect 3 and speculation about changes Michael Bay may make in his reboot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles:
Should a video game creator rework a game’s ending if
enough fans are dissatisfied with the original?
Should fans’ responses to rumors about
projects-in-planning be a major consideration in
the creation of those projects?
In this article I contend that it’s not simply that the gaming and movie industries are mistaken to dismiss
disgruntled fans as nuisances deluded with a false sense of “entitlement” – I actually contend that commercial
storytelling across all media should increasingly incorporate community feedback as an essential element in a
project’s success. Fan influence might alter a project by 5% or 60%. It’s all in the balance of how fan feedback
is utilized in the process.
Let me make another important point. I’m always annoyed when the “they make – you consume” contenders try to moot or obviate the whole discussion of producers and consumers by referring to movies, games, songs, etc. as mere “entertainment”.
When I eat a cheeseburger at Umami, ride a rollercoaster, or laugh at a joke in a late nght talk-show host monologue,
I am partaking of an “entertainment”. These are those momentary pleasures in life that help you relax or give you a cheap
thrill – and they are instantly disposable.
But movies, videogames and music are different. We “invest” ourselves greatly in them. Ask any young fan who thrilled
to vicariously inhabiting one of the characters in the Hunger Games. Dick Clark once rightly said that music becomes the
“soundtrack of our lives.” Movies have always been (and now, too, videogames) the alternative “religions” or mythos that
we choose to identify with, and by which we often define and direct how we think about our lives, sometimes to an extent
exceeding actual religions or ideologies. What I’m saying is that the “psychic stakes” in this current dispute are a little
higher and more vital to our culture than it just being a “consumer complaint” situation.
From TheArtist GodsOf The Genre
There is no such thing as a singular fan reaction. Art is an interpretive experience. What you read in Moby Dick,
and what I read in Moby Dick, are different things. That is very much one of the joys of the arts. We don't have a singular
response. There's a quote which states, 'All art aspires to the condition of music,' and that's because music is infinitely
interpretable. Who would want to conform an artist's vision into something else?
No person other than the artist can make his or her art. Art is the manifestation of one man or woman's vision for a
better world. And, hopefully, that vision will inspire generations to create their own art. That's just the way I see it.
CliveBarker, as a uniquely modern renaissance man, is especially qualified to comment on our topic. Only Stephen
King rivals his fame atop the charts of popular fantasy and horror fiction. As a novelist his books include "Abarat", "Imajica" and "Thief of Always". The Candyman and Hellraiser films were based on
his writings. But he is also a renowned visual artist, his paintings and drawings having hung in prestigious fine arts galleries.
He has been creatively involved in videogames, comic books, films and even costume design. He has produced films as diverse as
Gods and Monsters and The Midnight Meat Train. His perspective is that of an absolute original.
In my personal experience, listening to the feedback of a rabid fanbase can be a double-edged sword. Say your film or TV show is
based on preexisting material like a comic. On the one hand, you have to be careful not to adhere too closely to the source material.
What's right for one medium (a comicbook or videogame, say) may not necessarily be right for a film. And vice versa. Secondarily, when
thinking about a film or TV show, you're talking about million or even tens of millions of viewers (as opposed to, say, 40,000 comicbook
readers). You are making a mass-market adaptation, so the broader audience may or may not be amenable to certain conceits.
But the flip-side is, ignoring the early adopters or original fans can be to your peril. Often, film and TV executives are far removed
from their actual consumers. Many of them no longer see movies in a public theater. More still, have never set forth in a comicbook
store. To some executives, there is literally no differentiation between, say, Superman and some small-press indie comicbook. They
perceive all comicbooks to be the same. They may have no understanding of the source material's DNA. I can't tell you how many times I've
had an executive suggest a change that I knew, in my gut, would send the fans screaming. It's hard to explain that to an executive,
sometimes. It's truly a gut-check kind of thing.
David Goyer provides invaluable perspective, having mastered every facet of the genre arts narrative. He is a
screenwriter (Dark City, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, Man of Steel) who has also written for TV, comic books and videogames. He is
a film director (Blade: Trinity, The Unborn) and producer (Blade II and Trinity, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance). He is a novelist
(Heaven’s Shadow). Heaven’s War, the second book of his sci-fi trilogy, is unleashed this July; The Dark Knight Rises, the film sequel
from his original story, is in post-production; and his newest creation, Da Vinci’s Demons will debut soon on Starz.
Personally, I think the best storytelling is the product of a strong, single voice. I think it's important for creators to listen to
their fans and to make adjustments along the way, but I'm not so sure that a collaborative effort can create a singular vision. I think a
creator should not only write to please their audience but also to occasionally surprise them.
Jeff KinneyAuthor/Creator of “Diary of A Wimpy Kid”
So what’s really going on with theMass Effect 3& TMNT showdown?
The makers of Mass Effect have, I imagine quite by accident, found themselves suspended over what they must find a frightening abyss, with
one foot planted in the old way of doing things, and the other foot toeing the unfamiliar terrain on the other side of the yawning chasm. They
encouraged fans to change the outcome of the game with their own decisions – but then largely ignored those decisions. Is this really a dispute
over creator’s rights vs. fan entitlement – or is it about how technology’s new tools are fundamentally changing commercial story narrative creation?
There have always been editors, censors, critics and all the other intruders necessarily a part of commercial publishing. And the “input” of public
readership has always factored in as well, with some artists cursing it and others embracing it. Rather than write “take-it-or-leave-it” novels,
complete at time of publication, Charles Dickens was famous for creating his serialized stories a chapter at a time, published weekly of monthly
in magazines or newspapers specifically so he could gauge readers’ response to each chapter before writing or revising the next. Great Expectations
is certainly the product of Dickens’s brilliant compassionate mind and expert writing talents – but it’s also to a tremendous extent a collaborative
creation with hundreds of “contributing authors”!
Having an open and sincere dialogue with fans has become an integral part of our business and our books. We value their passion
and input, so direct conduits like social media have helped us form a solid bond and bring us even closer in what is already a
tightly knit industry.
Ted AdamsCEO/Publisher of IDW Publishing
While I think there is a lot of merit to the idea of listening to the core audience of any given franchise. I think "caving" too
much to what fans want can lead to a watered-down product. Sometimes fans think they want something and as soon as they get it, the
franchise suddenly loses its dramatic tension. The bottom line, for me, is that sometimes there's a groundswell that is too loud to ignore.
If the majority of your fanbase is upset by something you've done or clamoring for a plot point that has been ignored, it would be
silly to dismiss it out of hand. But creators should also be wary of taking every single critique of their project too seriously.
Co-President and Co-Publisher, Ardden Entertainment LLC
Comic Book Writer, Flash Gordon and Phoenix / Founder, Macmillan Films
So Here IsThe Point
Dickens never would have made the mistake of incorporating his readers’ ideas throughout a novel’s chapters and then written a final chapter
completely at odds with all those ideas. The Mass Effect 3 mistake was to encourage player “revisions” to the storyline – but only as a gimmick
rather than committing to this new reality as an integral part of the evolution of the narrative. Any “narrative” today, to be commercially viable,
will have to be “written” for the full spectrum of storytelling demanded by the evolution of web production and distribution. Stories must be full
spectrum narratives, able to fit themselves to tellings as videogames, comics and graphic novels, traditional novels, feature film and television
and Internet productions (live action or animated). And all these iterations of a core story will be subject to constant fan comment for revision
and extension. This is the brave new world that Dickens would have embraced as liberating rather than destructive of his authorship, the tool of
“reader” feedback having now become an instantaneous and continuous global information stream that will propel forward those who learn to navigate
it, and drown those who fear a “loss of control” in uncharted waters.
So is “authorship” doomed?
Hardly. The new technology driving instantaneous feedback and a greater demand for reader participation is simply forcing writers and visual
artist/creators in other art forms to face new realities and make tough decisions about how their artistic expression is going to be distributed to the planet.
Every time a painting or journal is posted on deviantART it has the potential to be experienced by a thousand times the number of people who had access
to anything written by Charles Dickens in his time. And be instantly commented upon by those people. Personal artistic expression and connection
has been liberated as never before. But the conundrum remains: No artist has to ever alter or revise an artwork, but then again, no artist has to
ever make a penny from his or her art. Writers, and all artists, must find the spot on that “art vs. pay” continuum where they are most comfortable
and functional. There can always be art for art’s sake, unintended for sale, but there is now a radical new way of becoming a successful and
world-popular commercial storyteller. And the new way heeds the feedback enabled by the new tech from word one.
The new paradigm of feedback-fed conception, production and distribution will take a while to establish itself on the still “Wild, Wild West”
Internet, but it will provide producers of content-driven stories with a real security in the commercial success of their properties – rather than
the increasing chaos they are currently falsely fearing. In the end “authorship” will always be bestowed upon the artist individual who most
commands respect as the one whose efforts most connect with us, the readers or viewers, regardless of any input from feedback or cuts by editors.
Writers need not fear a degradation of their work, nor their becoming mere typists transcribing the public’s wishes.
In the end, as always:
True talent and true vision will win out.
Charles Dickens by JuanOsborne
Deviant Artists AlreadyEmbracing the Futureof Storytelling
yuumei, alexiuss and vesner are creative, visual and narrative storytellers who, with well over a million
reads each for their stories on deviantART, enjoy an unprecedented relationship with their online audience. Their input is informed
by their status as artists already participating in storytelling’s new paradigm.
Writers have editors, but who says the editors can't be the audiences themselves? If I were writing a story mostly for my own
enjoyment, then I have no obligations to please the audience. However, if I am creating something with the main purpose of
marketing to the masses, then my work should reasonably meet their expectations, and the best way to do that would be to listen to their opinions.
I believe in altering endings, as long as the fanbase demands it, but not in a way that the original book/game/title is heavily
edited, but rather in the way in which the 2nd story of the title continues. For example, if the protagonist dies in the 1st book,
he can be somehow brought back to life if the fanbase really really wants to read a 2nd book about him. Without this alteration,
one of the greatest books I've read called 'The Golden Calf' would not exist. Personally I'm very heavily influenced by critics and
fans, so if my work is lacking in some regard, I update it or try to improve on it.
People were disappointed with ME3's ending, not just because the developers promised something completely different, but because
players didn't just watch/play this story – they were an integral part of it up to that point. Every player who spent their time
playing all of the three games created a strong bond between themselves and Commander Shepard to a degree that, in a way, they all
became Commander Shepard. We all want to believe that our actions can change our fate and the fate of the world.
Dave Elliott and Jordan Greenhall are acute observers of the deviantART community and its impact.
Being in the comics industry, you are acutely aware of two things: 1) that every corporate character has a history
with certain aspects of that history carved in stone, and 2) these characters have a strong, ardent following that, if
you are going to change them, it had better be good, or you'll know about it via Twitter, Facebook, and deviantART. I
will no doubt face this myself 10 times over with "The Weirding Willows," which merges timelines and histories of more
than a dozen beloved, classic characters. Whilst being as respectful of the characters and their histories as possible,
I won't let that stand in the way of what I want to do with the possibilities represented. I'm looking forward to the
feedback I expect from this one.
DeevElliottAuthor/Creator - Weirding Willows
It is no stretch to recognize that the nature of a civilization is tightly linked with its form of media.
It must be understood that we are undergoing a media transformation quite as substantial as the invention of written
language. As a consequence, we should expect social media (or, better, what will come to be known as Transmedia) to reshape
our world in deeply profound ways. This movement from center to edge, from author to community, from broadcast to interactivity,
is a fundamental. We will be seeing it literally everywhere, including art. Especially art - as we come to discover that one
of the core threads of this transition is a (real) aestheticization of life.
In the modern day, where interaction on a global level happens in seconds, involving the audience while a work is in progress seems to be the best way to ensure success, so long as the writer makes an effort to consider all of the feedback they get, in addition to considering what story they intend to tell themselves.
3 in the AfternoonHappiness is when the door clicks shut
at 3 in the afternoon and sunlight
stalks in uninvited through the blinds,
making a sepia mess of the room, and you
are waiting, waiting, waiting, waiting
in the sunken sofa cushion like a lost
nickel looking to be found. The truth is
you found me, standing just inside
the doorway like a stray animal brought
home for the first time, imbalanced
ragged and confused. I stumbled on myself
that first time, making more contact
with the floor, tables and walls than I
did with you. In some respects, that
hasn't changed. I trip on my feet,
walk into walls and door frames still,
but every now and then I bump into you
and remember what makes this home, what
makes you home.
Feedback is a tool, sharpened by the instant communication and social networking options made available today; but like any tool, if wielded improperly it can deface a work of art as much as redefine it.
Massacre of the InnocenceGeorgie Porgie threw an orgy
just outside L.A.,
where Jack Be Nimble grabbed his thimble,
outing him as gay...
Little Jack Horner bought Time Warner
before the bubble burst,
though Jumping Jack Flash saw the crash
and liquidated first...
Jack said Jill was taking the Pill
to ward off impregnation;
the Three Blind Mice have lobbied twice
for victim's compensation...
Little Miss Muffet had her tuffet
and Little Bo Peep married a creep;
lamb chops gave him gout...
Jack Sprat's wife went under the knife
for Lap-Band surgery,
then Third Little Pig struck it big
on reality TV...
Old King Cole's gone on the dole,
exposed as a pretender;
while Wee Wil
There will always be astounding stories that pay no regard to what an audience wants and are all the more richer for it. And I'm bloody thankful for that…I certainly care for the opinions of my readers, and I have kept them in the front of my mind during one story or another.
People who create to be consumed would care about pleasing the audience, people who are consumed by their creation quite frankly care only to please themselves.
There is certainly a delicate balance between considering input from outside sources and creating something how you, as a writer, imagine it to be. However, that fine line doesn't make the input any less meaningful.
I Have HopeI have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I have to remember to breathe every time those words come, I don’t want to believe it. I still can’t believe it. I remember the first time my counselor looked at me and told me that my depression and anxiety might be something more. Great, I thought, What could possibly be worse than this?
Firstly, PTSD is not a disorder that only affects our war heroes, though that is what it’s commonly associated with. My own first thoughts were: “isn’t that a disorder for war veterans or someone who witnessed war first-hand?“ The truth is there are many causes for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, for example: witnessing or experiencing incidents, such as mugging, rape, child abuse, drug abuse, illnesses, car accidents, plane crashes, or natural disasters such as hurricanes or earthquakes can all trigger PTSD.
However, not every person who survives a traumatic event develops PTSD, as we all
QuestionsFor the Reader
As a visual artist, have you ever experienced being pressured to alter an artwork, either by a dealer to make it more “salable,” or by your watchers, critics, or friends?
As a writer, have you ever experienced being pressured to change an important part of a story, either at a prospective publisher’s or editor’s insistence, or simply because of a reader’s impassioned entreaties?
As a reader or viewer (of movies, TV shows, videogames, art, etc.) do you feel a sense of entitlement giving you the right to not only criticize but actually demand changes be made to a disappointing work?
Do you feel this entitlement is based in your great investment of both money and time in the work? Or do you feel this entitlement is based in your great investment of your head and heart in a particularly resonant storyline?
As a writer or visual artist, is the connection between you and your audience important enough for you to want to make a change pleasing to them?
As an online reader of Knite, Romantically Apocalyptic, or Off-White, is there an increased value or special connection you experience in being able to connect with the authors of your favorite works-in-progress and contribute your feedback?
Does the ability to offer comments, suggestions, criticisms, and encouragement bond you creatively to a property in a way eclipsing passive fandom?
Does Fan art and Fan Fiction created around an online story with author/reader interactivity become more of an integral part of the property than traditional offline fan art tributes?
If you played ME3, how did you feel about the ending? TMNT or TANT?