How do we make Content Development work?

In a month where new monies are announced for cross platform production, games funding, and media and content convergence the focus appears to be on the tech part of the creative industries rather than the content, yet it is the development of content which is still the weakest part of our creative environment.  We all know creating great content is difficult, and most people fail, but do we have to just accept this, and focus all our efforts on building better platforms, faster software, more integrated forms of delivery?  In this blog I will try to set out some key areas where we can improve content development.

1. The Culture of Development

There are two dominant problems with our current development culture.

a. The idea that no-one knows anything

This fatalistic, or cynical, vision which excuses ignorance and compounds the idea that anyone can do development as “no-one knows anything”.  The impact of this is to deny there is the possibility of learning development skills and acquiring development knowledge.

b. It is all about Storytelling.

From advertising agencies to games developers to TV and Film executive and publishers this phrase is used to make the art of development sound easy.  We all know what a story is, or so this approach claims! Yet story is only one part of the complex narratives contemporary audiences engage with and to reduce it to some simplistic notion of it is just being about story is to stop any proper engagement with the range of problems content development poses.

Creating a better informed, taught, and skilled, development culture is critical to future success.

2. Everyone is creative but not everyone is good at creating content.

Many people are creative in their work. Many bureaucrats and lawyers are very creative in the way they use language, many engineers are creative in the way they use materials, many parents are creative in the way they occupy their children.  These expressions of creativity are about solving practical problems with existing or new  tools.  Content creation is of a different order of creativity. It requires inventing in a ‘white space’ something new, which is capable of potentially engaging a minimum of hundreds and generally millions of different human beings in a dramatic experience.

In order to foster good development we need to stop confusing creativity with content creation.

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3. The Lone Creative v The Collaborative Team

The dominant vision of the creative person in modern society is still wedded to a concept of the lone artist, often jokingly referred to as ‘living in a garret’. The reality is within a digital age  the majority of content is developed by teams of creatives.  However, the focus on the out of date ‘artist’ notion means most of our resources, training and education are focused on individuals not on building teams.

Content development needs to focus on teams not individuals if it is to succeed.

4. The Idea is everything

In all areas of creative conversation people talk about coming up with ‘The Idea’, ‘The High Concept’ ‘The Hook’ ‘The Vision’ ‘ The Voice’ or its equivalent – yet audiences, readers, players, etc. engage not with an idea but a complex narrative experience which is pitched at the level of engagement which they find acceptable.  Millions of people have come up with good ‘ideas’ the issue is how do we turn them into complete narratives, which people want to engage with.

Without proper development an idea is worth nothing –  it is just a marketing angle.

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5. Development Costs

Development takes time, and commitment.  This means there is no short term fix for a project which is failing, or a quick route to successful content development.  If all the above points are addressed development time will be more effective, and more cost effective, but it will still take time.  The majority of creative successes are built on committed development from the multiple drafts of a feature film to the tens of iterations of a game, from the numerous re-writes of novels to multiple renderings of a drawing.

If content development is to work we need to move from short term models, often confined by annual budgets, and commit to longer term team and ideas development.

Creating great content  is difficult, and time consuming, it requires people to work together with a common aim of developing the best, new, original,work they can for contemporary audiences.

In order to do this we need to change our development culture, build and support teams, move away from finding the big idea, recognise the reality of content development and abandon this notion that it is all  a matter of genius and luck.

Some people do know somethings, and are capable, if supported, of creating world changing creative content, but not if we stay where we are.

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