Fall 2009 has been a fascinating one for narrative endeavors on social media, three high-profile gaming experiments stand out as the vanguard of both social media and branded entertainment. Valemont by MTV and Verizon, Circle of 8 by MySpace and Paramount Digital are each standout examples of narrative storytelling rolling out utilizing social media to tell its story, create fan communities and market products.
Valemont is a webseries whose driving platform is television, first airing as Two minute thirty second spots during commercial breaks for MTV’s The Hills and The City. Valemont artfully utilized an alternate reality game (ARG) through the website, www.valemontu.com, to create a fictional world. Where their greatest achievement lies is in inviting viewers to enter that world and play along within the narrative. Creating a centralized online forum, Valemont Commons, a where fans pretended to be part of the story and worked together to create events and solve the ARG’s mysteries was essential to Valemont’s success. The game led participants to Facebook using a quiz application to drive users to a Facebook community and to further identify themselves within the narrative. Utilizing Facebook , a robust fan community fostered by the property’s online team who masqueraded as fictional characters, grew and after three months has thousands of active members, fan fiction, and spinoff groups created by fans themselves. Valemont is currently being considered for a second season, this time televised completely by MTV Networks. The social media groups already in place have helped put pressure on MTV but regardless of whether or not it becomes a TV show, new content is going to be created in the fictional universe by fans.
Circle of 8 is a movie released in ten parts on MySpace video will be released in 2010 on DVD exclusively through Blockbuster Inc. Circle of 8’s social media presence is undeniable, with over 100,000 MySpace friends. Yielded from promotions on MySpace’s front page and other traditional online advertisements, traffic has been driven to the movie and its associated products from Green Label Studios (Mountain Dew) and Kia. The question that Circle of 8’s rollout asks is why its fans are not as active on forums or groups as Valemont? The fan community surrounding Circle of 8 is participates less actively than that of Valemont, this is likely because it lacked a fan-interaction campaign like Valemont implemented. Complimenting the movie were a variety of branded flash games, contests and trivia games that led fans to clues in the movie’s mystery but did not support personal interaction, nor did it create a fictional space for the audience to play in. More interaction with fans has certainly created a more involved fanbase for Valemont but since Circle of 8’s story is self-contained the bottom line may be that the creators aren’t looking to expand the story into a sequel but rather are testing the waters for future project rollouts.
Narrative and social media are logical match, driving the creating of social communities and giving venues for marketing that are more subtle and palatable to audience members than traditional advertisements. These two narrative rollouts show the possibilities that are just beginning to be explored in the union of storytelling and social media platforms.
Caitlin Burns is a Transmedia Producer and Editorial Lead at Starlight Runner Entertainment. To read more analysis on Circle of 8 and Valemont, read her article in Multichannel News: The Next Wave in Branded Entertainment.