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Video games and television collide in Trion Worlds

NBC Universal's Syfy network and game publisher and developer Trion Worlds want to revolutionize the way we watch TV and play video games.

Since announcing their partnership in 2008, the two have been hard at work creating a new franchise that will launch simultaneously as both a massively multiplayer online role-playing game and a television show. Both will share the same fictional universe, the same characters, the same alien races, and more.

Right now, details on the project are vague. The MMORPG doesn't even have a name, simply a description: Syfy Action MMO. According to Trion Worlds website, the game will be a 3rd person action-shooter that will take place 80 to 100 years in Earth's future. "Footage" of player battles and other massive in-game events will be incorporated into the TV show, which will share the same look as the game by utilizing the same green screen technology used in the movie 300 and the more recent Assassin's Creed 2 short film.

"A television show that is on once a week isn't enough. The fans today want the experience to go beyond that," said Syfy's president, Dave Howe. "For example, we can tell them that there will be an alien invasion at a certain place in the game, at a certain time, and to be there with all their friends and be ready. The outcome depends on them. And then that battle will be part of the universe in the show."

Syfy Action MMO

Trion will be able to collect data from the MMO about which characters, settings and story lines generate the most interest amongst players, which will then allow the television show's producers to adjust their story lines accordingly. While some might be turned off by the idea of a TV show plot influenced by market research, giving the audience the ability to actively participate in a show's evolution is intriguing. There is also the possibility, however, that said ability will be dominated by the game's vocal minority, a problem commonly found on MMO forums. In order to craft a truly interactive experience with their players, Trion will have to ensure that more than just the loud and outspoken are heard. While players in the MMO will influence the course of the television show, events in the show will influence the game as well. Trion CEO and co-founder Dr. Lars Buttler says that new areas in the game world will open up as the TV series progresses, putting a fresh spin on how a game developer creates and releases expansion content. Stagnation is a common problem long-running massively multiplayer games face, and a game world that constantly evolves based on player input and well-written story lines could go a long way toward extending the life cycle of a MMO. "Trion's server-based games model is driving the future of interactive entertainment," said Peter W. Moran, a general partner of DCM. "Trion is liberating games and other forms of digital entertainment by taking them out of the package and putting them online where they constantly evolve for the end-user. Benefits for gamers, developers and publishers are seemingly endless."

Syfy Action MMO
One benefit gamers will see from Trion's server-based model is the elimination of high system requirements. Anyone with a good broadband connection, whether using a high-end Alienware desktop or a simple netbook, will be able to hop online and enjoy the same gaming experience. "Cloud gaming" is a buzzword that has gotten a lot of traction over the past year. I could write an entirely separate article on the pros and cons of cloud computing (and maybe I will!), but the fact remains that it is a concept that is only destined to grow as companies such as Trion, OnLive and GaiKai roll out their own server-based platforms. "This signifies a shift away from static retail products and towards games as dynamic services, which will be simulated increasingly 'in the cloud'," adds Buttler. "With its industry-defining server-based games platform, worldwide publishing capabilities, an ever-growing network of AAA development studios, unrivaled partnerships in media and technology, and now significant capital in the bank, Trion is uniquely positioned to be a leader in the next cycle of electronic entertainment." Significant capital in the bank indeed. Syfy and Trion have received major funding over the last two years for their joint project. Trion has raised over $100 million since its formation in 2006 - one of the largest amounts raised by gaming companies in recent history. The company also recently received funds from NBC Universal's and GE Capital’s Peacock Equity fund, which invests in digital media companies in the venture capital space. Buttler sees it as a vote of confidence in Trion's technology and approach to interactive entertainment. "This will be a state-of-the art game and it will be a strong television show, and watching how those two things interact will be fascinating," he said.

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Stefanie Fogel
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