Building a universe around a franchise is one of the most important ways to create longevity for a series. We can already see it with some of the most popular franchises – Star Trek, Star Wars, Doctor Who – that not only have the canonical movies and shows but have expanded into other terrain. From merchandise to spin-offs, side games to detailed backstories, these franchises have sucked fans into their world and not just provided them something to watch. But how important is world-building for a franchise?
How Can a Franchise Expand Its Universe?
American Horror Story (2011- present) recently announced another spin-off in 2020, American Horror Stories. The anthology show would then be split into further anthologies, spanning an episode instead of a season. This means that the world of the show will further expand alongside the four more planned seasons. The nature of the show’s nine seasons so far has created die-hard fans of certain seasons and defenders of others. As each season is a spin-off of sorts, each season has the benefit of hooking in new fans as well as appeasing their existing ones.
View this post on Instagram
Star Wars – with a global total gross of more than $10 billion – shows us that world building can be a fine art. Not only do fans have the original trilogy and the prequel trilogy, but they have the promise of a range of new ways to engage. The potential for Star Wars led to the 2012 purchase by the Disney company for $4 billion. So, providing a franchise that extends beyond one medium can be lucrative. Games such as Star Wars: Battlefront (2004) were set in the universe but didn’t rely on the characters as much. Lego Star Wars (2005) added another element to the series. 40 years since its inception, Star Wars has created a universe that fans can enter and explore through a range of mediums – comics, books, games, the films, TV shows (such as 2020’s The Mandalorian which united previous franchise elements) and much more.
Out of the Box Universe Expansion
Expanding the universe of a franchise doesn’t just mean creating spin-offs and merchandise tie-ins, however. It means taking a concept and applying it to a completely new platform and new format in order to tap into a new audience. We can see that franchises that you wouldn’t necessarily expect to tap into new audiences are taking advantage of doing so. For instance, the Deal or No Deal Live game at Betway takes the popular TV gameshow format and blends it with online casino gameplay, helping it expand the franchise and provide fans with another outlet for engagement. Elsewhere, the Monopoly promotion that McDonald’s runs annually provides special prizes alongside Monopoly property stickers with their meals. That helps create excitement around the game while increasing spending at the restaurants. Similarly, the 2013 Call of Duty: Ghosts game included Michael Myers from the 1978 film Halloween (and its sequels) in an example of strange universe expansion.
Why Does a Franchise Need to Expand?
There is nothing that declares a franchise must expand beyond its films. The original Indiana Jones trilogy (1981-1989), for instance, developed a cult following with just the three films and few major tie-ins. Games eventually followed, but the power of the character of Indiana Jones helped the franchise. But in the 2020s, to keep fans engaged, big productions should consider how they connect with other mediums.
Game of Thrones (2011-2019), for example, was so panned by critics and fans for its finale in 2019 that almost overnight it was erased from pop culture. But as the spin-off series is underway, many will no doubt flock back to be reminded why they were so hooked on the medieval House of Cards in the first place. The spin-off could work to give back some goodwill for the series that was so avidly viewed (13.6 million watched the finale).
Expanding the universe of a franchise is the best chance to keep it alive. This provides fans with more ways to engage with the characters and themes of the franchise, as well as more opportunities for new audiences to stumble upon it. Digital technology means that there is almost no end to how franchises can continue their expansion.