Consumers will soon be able to zero in and immerse themselves in an army of weapons-wielding zombies, because The Walking Dead is coming to virtual reality with a slate of multiple video games scheduled to be released based on the show’s terrifying and visceral world.
Skybound Entertainment, the multiplatform entertainment company responsible for such TV hits as Outcast as well as the companion series Fear the Walking Dead, announced they’ll be partnering with Skydance Interactive, a division of David Ellison’s Skydance Media, to co-develop and produce a number of original VR video games based on the post-apocalyptic universe of The Walking Dead.
The VR game will feature an entirely new setting and cast of characters, and players will be able to experience the different world through an innovative contextual interaction system. The collaboration between the transmedia giants marks a multi-year strategy to further solidify a foothold in gaming by leveraging VR and the pop-culture phenomenon from the TV show, which is currently filming its eighth season. The Walking Dead previously went for a similar deadly combo by pairing the show with console and mobile games.
David Alpert, CEO of Skybound Entertainment and executive producer of The Walking Dead, joined AListDaily for a video interview to shed light on how they’re looking to build engaging experiences in new worlds while telling compelling stories.
On how The Walking Dead has built an emotional connection with viewers through storytelling . . .
What we’ve learned from making The Walking Dead is that you can have a really big world—you can go deep into a genre that most people don’t think would be for them—and as long as you keep a very simple, emotional hook at the center, everyone can relate to it. So if you look at the beginning of our show, it’s a man looking for his wife and his son, and when he finds them, he learns that she’s taken up with his best friend. So that’s a very simple, emotional concept that can connect with everybody. You don’t have to like zombies to like that story. You don’t have to like father-and-son stories. But that story is instantly relatable and emotional. And once people are in on that journey and that connection, they’re willing to go along with, “okay, the world’s falling apart, and the military couldn’t stop the zombies, and now there’s a zombie outbreak, and the zombies have formed herds and are taking over entire parts of Georgia.” So people are willing to go along with that because they’ve connected emotionally with Rick’s journey to find his wife and his son. I think the same things applies to VR. A lot of things we’ve seen have really put you in completely alien worlds and completely disconnected spaces, and those are fun. And for me as a fan boy, I love experiencing them, but I think they’re still a little bit esoteric in that they’re not giving me that instant, emotional connection. What we can get from emotion allows us to go into crazy landscapes and crazy worlds. But if you don’t have that emotional connection, I think you’re dead in the water.
On the impact VR has on marketing . . .
I think that VR is a brand and marketer’s paradise. Ultimately, people have described VR at times as an empathy machine. They’ve talked about the idea that it allows you to connect with a story in much greater detail, and much more emotionally and intuitively than you can just by watching it, or reading it and playing it. If you think about that—“what does a brand want?” A brand wants you connect with them. What does a marketer want? It wants to forge and emotional connection between you and a product. So if you can actually have that immersive experience in the world around a brand, and you have that emotional connection to it, you’ll much more likely be predisposed to it. You’ll be much more likely to make those connections. So for us, if you can come with a narrative-based solution in VR, and around a brand—that to us is sort of the holy grail of marketing.
On the challenges of marketing VR . . .
When you’re talking about marketing VR, I think we still have to get VR to be a thing. And honestly, when I say “a thing,” people don’t even really know what they mean when they say “VR.” A lot of people think VR is just 360-degree video. And yes, 360 video is a type of VR, but it’s really just video. You can watch 360 video on Facebook and on your cell phone. It doesn’t necessarily need to be [with a headset]. When you talk about fully immersive video when you have agency and control, that’s an entirely different thing. But I think the fact that there isn’t yet a unified term is part of the problem. Another part of the problem is also it’s still in the early adopter stage. You have tech heads and gamers—those are the people who’re really picking it up. Look at TV—everyone has a TV. They know what a TV is about. They understand what a TV show looks like. They understand all of the different things they can get from a television. They don’t yet think that way about VR, and I still think we’re a few years away from it. But I think the promise of what VR has, and that emotional, visceral and instant connection you make when you put on the goggles is the thing I think that gets everyone so excited.
On maximizing the potential of VR . . .
One of the things that we look at is, “how do we use the medium for its full benefit?” And the thing that VR does is it gives us a sense of presence in a way that you don’t really feel in film and television. So when you watch film and TV, you’re very cognizant of the distance between you and the screen, the fact that there’s a disconnect between you and the screen. And what we see in VR is you’re able to be placed directly in the center of the storytelling. Gone, Skybound’s serialized VR thriller, is about a couple of people at a park who are watching their kids, and then all of a sudden one of the girls goes missing. One of the great things for us about that story was, since you have presence, and since everyone’s kind of watching the kids together, you have a sense of culpability when the child goes missing. You don’t just feel bad for the mom, who just lost her daughter—you feel like in some way that you were responsible. The ability to evoke those types of emotions in viewers, those are things that we work hours and hours on any sort of scripted entertainment. Any experience that can inspire awe and fear in a five-minute short is really an impressive piece of filmmaking—it’s a medium really worth getting into.
On Skybound’s upcoming movie Invincible . . .
We’re stoked about Invincible, the longest and most successful superhero comic book outside of Marvel and DC. It’s one of the biggest comic book stories that has yet to be told, and we have millions of fans that are waiting to see it. And we couldn’t be more excited. It’s created by Robert Kirkman, who created The Walking Dead, and as the CEO of Skybound, it’s what I’ve been most determined to do right in my entire career. We found the perfect home for it by partnering with Universal Pictures, as well as Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg. They’re going to write and direct the adaptation for us. We’re incredibly excited about this because we think that the time is right—it’s a father-and-son story, but it has a little bit of that edge that Deadpool brings.