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A Transmedia storytelling analysis of Game of ThronesColtea Ruxandra

Media Communication II

1. Introduction

In this paper, entitled A Transmedia storytelling analysis of Game of Thrones, we aim to


present the Game of Thrones Universe and to analyse the project Game of Thrones (an
immersive fan engagement program based around the 5 senses). Even if it started as one medium
(book), it expanded over time. There are a lot of media products on the market that have grown
to be extremely profitable when introduced to the right audience at the right time. A Game of
Thrones is no exception. The unique transmedia experience we shall be analyzing was created by
the creative marketing agency Campfire, which is based in New York, and which addressed a
broad audience.

We will present some theory concerning new media and transmedia storytelling. Further on we
will take a look at the selected methodology.

The transmedia analysis was considered to be the most appropriate method of analysis in the
context of this paper. We shall follow the methodology suggested in Transmedia Project Design:
Theoretical and Analytical Considerations by Dr. Renira Rampazzo Gambarato. Many examples
will be given as to support the statements. Other research methods have of course been
considered, but none would give us the flexibility needed for this kind of analysis.

In the end we shall find out if the transmedia campaign for the first season of the TV series
Game of Thrones was successful or not and which transmedia strategies were used in promoting
the show. It is although relevant to mention the fact that Campfire was also behind HBO-s
previous hit success, with the campaign for the TV series True Blood.

2. Defining New Media


New media had a big impact on society, culture and communication. Of course, here we must
take into consideration the internet, which plays a very big role in the world today. We associate
new media with the internet and the rapid travel of information but this just a late 1990s
perception of what new media is. (Hendricks, 2010)

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A Transmedia storytelling analysis of Game of ThronesColtea Ruxandra
Media Communication II
The term new media has gained popularity only in the 1990s, and this due to the fact that is
became synonymous with the new developing computer technology. We consider old the
media technologies such as television or radio. As mentioned before, when we say new media
we basically refer to the internet. We can also define New Media as emerging media or as
computer-mediated communication. But regardless of the terminology, new media is
everywhere. (Hendricks 2010, 4)

The advertising industry now contains many large agencies which are running multi-million
dollar interactive advertising subsidiaries. In this sense, Interactive websites have become very
popular. We here have the example of the Game of Thrones project for promoting the series
mentioned before, done by the Campfire agency1. HBO asked Campfire to help build buzz for
the premiere of their new series Game of Thrones. To do this, using new media, Campfire
concepted an immersive fan engagement program based around the 5 senses.2

Since the new media, markets have been targeting specific audiences. But of course, new media
brought with itself a new fragmentation of the audiences (with different characteristics than
before). It also presented new ways of interaction between new technological possibilities and
established media forms (Lister 2009, 10).

3. Transmedia Storytelling
Nowadays no single medium satisfies our curiosity or our lifestyle, thus, we tell stories across
multiple media.

Using the advantages of new media, the entertainment and advertising media are turning toward
an emerging storytelling technique, also known as transmedia storytelling. When done well,
this new technique has helped bring television franchises enduring involvement and commitment
from their fans.

But what exactly is transmedia storytelling? In short, just as Geoffrey Long says, Transmedia
Storytelling is the art of world making (Long, 2007:28). It implies more than just having the

1 Campfire is a marketing agency that shapes perceptions and enhances brand


preference through social storytelling, digital content, and physical experiences.

2 http://campfirenyc.com/work/hbo-game-of-thrones

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A Transmedia storytelling analysis of Game of ThronesColtea Ruxandra
Media Communication II
exact same story told through different media platforms. It is actually about the worldbuilding
experience, unfolding content and generating the possibilities for the story to evolve with new
and pertinent content, as Renira Rampazzo Gambarato points out.

Normally, a transmedia story involves different dimensions. For example we have multiple
narrative spaces - location, characters, time, etc, and different types of audience involvement
-passive, active, interactive, collaborative. (Pratten, 2011).

4. Research design
4.1. Hypothesis

The main goal of this paper is to find out how Campfire implemented the transmedia storytelling
strategies in their project for the Game of Thrones TV series. We will find out which were more
of less the weaknesses and strengths of the campaign.

The main question here is:


1. Was the transmedia campaign created by Campfire for the first season of Game of
Thrones successful?
2. If yes, how successful was it, and which were the used strategies? Is then
transmedia storytelling one of the best way to promote movies or TV series such as
Game of Thrones?
3. If no, which were the reasons for its failure?
4.2. Methodology

The research follows the methodology suggested by Dr. Renira Gambarato in her article
Transmedia Project Design: Theoretical and Analytical Considerations. We shall try and
understand the transmedia campaign done by Campfire.

Thus, the transmedia analysis will take a close look the campaign from the following points of
view:

1. Premise and Purpose


2. Audience and Market
3. Media Platforms and Genres
4. Narrative
5. Worldbuilding
6. Extensions
7. Characters
8. Structure
9. Engagement
10. Aesthetics

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A Transmedia storytelling analysis of Game of ThronesColtea Ruxandra
Media Communication II
Renira Rampazzo Gambarato says that through this analysis we can highlight strengths and weak
points of the analysed project.

5. Analysis of Games of Thrones project


5.1. Premise and Purpose

The purpose of this transmedia project is to promote the TV series Game of Thrones, which is an
adaptation of the fantasy novel A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin. The focus is on
the first book of the series: A Game of Thrones. The main purpose of the TV show is to entertain,
through an exciting story and morally ambiguous characters.

The book was already very appreciated in the fantasy community and not only. But the aim of
this transmedia project was to increase this fan base so as to guarantee the launch of a successful
pilot episode of GoT. So, for this purpose, the Campfire agency, together with HBO, worked to
bring the incredible world of Westeros to life. The agency launched a series of interactive
experiences based on the 5 senses, so as to engage the aforementioned fans and for them to
also to influence a larger audience.

So, we can say that the focus of the campaign was mostly worldbuilding. Campfire used several
platfors to achieve its goal, such as: social media websites, a game King of Westeros- which
incorporated a different sense every week, a websitw with puzzles and clues -
themaesterspath.com and a real world experience HBO actually created scent kits which
included scents of some of the most important places in Westeros.

Needless to say, it worked very well. In addition to the books fan base getting interested and
excited about the upcoming series, a large part of the audience unacquainted with the book was
so impressed about the storytelling that then eventually ended up reading the book. This TV
series is actually the most recent big buget work that raised the popularity of the fantasy genre in
the mainstream media.

5.2. Audience and Market

Just like mentioned before, Game of Thrones storyline is mostly about medieval type of fantasy
and about war (being an adaptation of the book which is part of the sub-genre high fantasy).
Thus, GoT enters the category of adult fantasy television. Taking this into account, we may

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A Transmedia storytelling analysis of Game of ThronesColtea Ruxandra
Media Communication II
assume the fact that the biggest target audience for this group are probably males between the
ages of 18 and 30. Now, if we take a look on the ratings given by the users on IMDb, we can see
that there were more males aged 18-29 that rated the show than females in the same age group.
The same can be said about who gave the highest ratings.

Even if the ratings are from 2014, they are still relevant to our paper, since the percentages have
remained mostly the same:
Votes Average

Males under 18 7971 9.4

Females under 18 2957 9.6

Males Aged 18-29 206927 9.6

Females Aged 18-29 59502 9.5

Males Aged 30-44 92539 9.4

Females Aged 30-44 23526 9.3

Males Aged 45+ 12880 9.1

Females Aged 45+ 4621 9.3

US users 58359 9.5

Non-US users 383379 9.5

We can then conclude that the shows elements were created for a specific target audience, even
if it eventually reached a more complex audience.

The show first aired in April 2011 and had an initial audience of 2.2 million, which rapidly
increased3. Nowadays the series has an enormous audience of approximately 14 million and its
popularity continues to increase. GoT is the most popular HBO TV series since The Sopranos.

5.3. Media platforms and genres

As we have seen before, the initial platform for our story is the book written by George R.R.
Martin. Then, we have the TV series which is an adaptation of said book, and last but not least,
the TV series has been further developed in real life experiences on offline and online gaming
platforms. So, this project is digitally available on a computer, tablet or even a Smartphone.
3 http://www.fool.com/investing/general/2013/06/09/game-of-thrones-and-the-new-
golden-age-of-televisi.aspx

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A Transmedia storytelling analysis of Game of ThronesColtea Ruxandra
Media Communication II
The function of each of these platforms is to convey various content to the audience. The main
purpose is simple: the marketing of the TV show, but the platforms also help deepening the
engagement of the audience. The platforms are different and unique: even if the content they
convey might be similar, the methods they use are not the same.

The most prominent genre here is fantasy (more specifically high fantasy).

5.4. Narrative

The setting of Game of Thrones is a fictional world that bears quite a big resemblance to
medieval Europe. In just a few words, in both the book and the series: Several noble houses
fight a civil war over who should be king, while an exiled princess tries to find her place in the
world, and the kingdom is threatened by some rising supernatural threat in the north.4

Thus, the reader gets introduced to this mystical world which is populated by older civilizations
with mystical beings and characters that are involved in a good vs. evil like battle. The author
makes the reader believe that Europe has once been the home of magic, ancient evil, dragons and
other mythical creatures.

Because of all these elements, both the book and the TV series are highly addictive. One never
knows what might happen in the next chapter/episode. This story is, in one word, unpredictable.

5.5. Worldbuilding

The world presented in Game of Thrones has no specific name. But we can see in the map at the
beginning of the book and also in the official show opening of the series 5 that there are 3
different continents: Essos, Westeros and Sothoryos6. The story is although mostly centered in
the continent of Westeros.

4 http://www.shmoop.com/game-of-thrones-book/summary.html

5 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s7L2PVdrb_8

6 More information about the continents here:


http://gameofthrones.wikia.com/wiki/The_Known_World

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A Transmedia storytelling analysis of Game of ThronesColtea Ruxandra
Media Communication II
In creating the world, Martin was inspired by the War of The Roses, but also by many other
historical events of the United Kindom (take for example the division of the Seven Kingdoms :
they were inspired by the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy, the seven Anglo-Saxon kingdoms)

Due to Martins narrative style (from the third persons point of view), the audience shares the
characters perspective, which also means we do not have more information than they do. He
also said that he will never reveal an omniscient map of the entire world, so the storyworld shall
remain big and mysterious. This feature actually allows multiple expansions in the games
development.

5.6. Extensions

As we realized before, the transmedia experience started once with the development of the TV
series. The book has been adapted to TV series, and after that the list of extensions exploded.
Eventually, we have numerous ARG-s and computer games, board games, a tabletop wargame,
two tabletop roleplaying games and even collectible card game. Seeing as the popularity of the
show continues to increase, the list of extensions may probably increase in the near future.
Because there are many extentions to GoT, we shall tackle just the most relevant ones.

The most notable extension is of course the sensory transmedia experience created by Campfire
the launching of a series of interactive experiences based on the 5 senses, so as to engage the
aforementioned fans and for them to also to influence a larger audience.

Another important extension is the video game Game of Thrones Ascent7. This is a a strategy
game developed by Disruptor Beam. It is a very popular app on Facebook. On the games
facebook page we can see that it gathered a total of 154,241 likes. 8

There is also another popular extention: Game of Thrones The Game. This is a role-playing
game created by Focus Home Interactive for both PC and consoles (Playstation3, Xbox). The
audience can experience the world of Westeros in yet another (more complex) way.

7 https://apps.facebook.com/gamethrones

8 https://www.facebook.com/GameOfThronesAscent/likes

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A Transmedia storytelling analysis of Game of ThronesColtea Ruxandra
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These extensions serve the purpose of marketing. They keep the fans interested and engaged, and
they encourage them to spread the word. These extensions open up new possibilities for
various additional expansions.

5.7. Characters

The Game of Thrones cast is estimated to be one of the largest casts on television at the moment
(seing as the book continues to be adapted to the TV series). Here are some of the main
characters of the story9:

(Figure 2)

5.8. Structure

Seeing as GoT is the second most watched TV show on HBO, we can say without a doubt that
the campaign conducted be Campfire was a success. It addressed a large audience, with different
ages and interests. It was accessible and simple. Of course a big plus was the idea to construct
the campaign around our 5 senses, thus making it unique. As we mentioned in the purpose of the
campaign, they chose to address a different sense every week, which gave the project a nice and
clear structure.

9 A more complete list (with details about every house and every character) can be
seen at : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Game_of_Thrones_characters

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A Transmedia storytelling analysis of Game of ThronesColtea Ruxandra
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This campaign model was successful mostly because it raised awareness among both existing
and new fans. It also encouraged the target audience to share their experience through social
media (such as Facebook or Twitter)

It is a successful and complex transmedia experience, since it does indeed have a series of
individual stories pertaining to a bigger pervasive storyworld, which characterizes a transmedia
franchise, and is structured around a complicated sequence of puzzles that leads audience into
solving a mystery, which distinguishes a portmanteau transmedia. (Gambarato)

5.9. Engagement

The Game of Thrones transmedia marketing campaign came in 5 steps. The purpose of this
transmedia project was to promote the TV series Game of Thrones, especially the launch of the
pilot episode. So, for this purpose, the Campfire agency, together with HBO, worked to bring the
incredible world of Westeros to life. To engage the aforementioned fans and for them to also to
influence a larger audience, the agency then launched a series of interactive experiences (based
on the 5 senses). For the project to be successful the book fans had to be kept satisfied and new
fans with no previous knowledge of the book had to be generated.

Let us see how they engaged the audience by appealing to our senses:

- They created the scent kit to evoke scents of important locations in Westeros.
The already existing fan base of A Game of Thrones talked a lot about this kit on the
social media. This basically meant free publicity for the show
- All the talk about the scent kit lead the target audience to access the website
themaesterspath.com where they could experience other two senses: sound and sight.
Here they could for example witness (listen to) the conspiracies that were being planned
in the tavern of Westeros. They could also see the Wall that protects the kingdom. In
addition, they could download an application on their phones which would take them to a
place in Westeros, where the weather would coincide with the real weather from the city
where the user accessed the app. The fans of course shared these experiences through
their social media
- The celebrity chef Tom Colicchio cooked dishes inspired by GoT. This experience
taste aimed to engage an audience unfamiliar with the story. The dishes were
distributed in New York and Los Angeles with the help of a food truck.

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A Transmedia storytelling analysis of Game of ThronesColtea Ruxandra
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In short, the audience was engaged through The Maester's Path puzzle. By completing the
sensory experiences they could unlock a secret preview of the content of the show this was
the reward that kept the audience interested and active. Also a key element was that for the
user to be able to unlock the preview, he or she also had to invite 5 more friends to this
experience.

5.10. Aesthetics

By the means of new technology, all extensions have a very well executed design. The visual and
sound quality is very high. The atmosphere each of the extension created is of course one of
fantasy, but due to the budget of the show, it managed to look very realistic. The target audience
was mostly pleased with the experience.

6. Conclusions

The main goal of this paper was to find out how Campfire implemented the transmedia
storytelling strategies in their project for the Game of Thrones TV series.

After the analysis, we can say that the campaign created by Campfire was an obvious success.
The popularity of the TV show rapidly increased among both the existing fan base of the books
and the audience unfamiliar with the story.

The strategy Campfire approached is proven to have been the right one. Their multifaceted
sensory approach was very nicely executed and it eventually reached a high number of people.
The scent kit which was sent to the already existing fan base was very well received. The
people who used them then talked about this experience on their social media accounts (such as
Facebook or Twitter) which meant free publicity for the show by word-of-mouth. They aroused
interest mostly among the people acquainted with the story, but also among new potential fans.

In the end, this campaign managed to provide an initial audience of 2.2 million (for the pilot
episode), which rapidly increased. Nowadays, the series has an enormous audience of
approximately 14 million and its popularity continues to rise. Game of Thrones is the most
popular HBO TV series since The Sopranos.

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A Transmedia storytelling analysis of Game of ThronesColtea Ruxandra
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To conclude, in this context trying to promote a new TV show about a complex fantasy world
this approach was indeed probably the best one. It tackled the story from many points of view
(senses) and allowed the target audience to engage in the many offered experiences. One of the
most important aspects is the fact that the fans could/would then share their insights on the social
media platforms.

Bibliography

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Jenkins, Henry. Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York: New York
University Press, 2006.
Lister, Martin. New Media A Critical Introduction Second Edition. New York: Routledge, 2009.
Long, Geoffrey. Transmedia Storytelling - Business, Aesthetics and Production at the Jim
Henson Company. Master Thesis. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Cambridge,
2007
Pratten, Robert. Getting Started in Transmedia Storytelling: A Practical Guide for Beginners.
Seattle: CreateSpace, 2011.
Rampazzo Gambarato, Remira. Transmedia Project Design: Theoretical and Analytical
Considerations.
http://talkingobjects.files.wordpress.com/2011/08/bsmr_175x250mm_web_lk-80-
100.pdf

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