December 15, 2006
Firefly Universe Lives on through Massively Multiplayer Online Game

Last week, Mark Wallace had an interesting piece in Wired about how the narrative universe of Firefly lives on through an online product, with the launch of a massively multiplayer online role playing game based on the world of the Joss Whedon space show.

Firefly is an oft-cited example of a show that continued to be popular, despite getting cancelled after only one season, and eventually launched a film version called Serenity, based on the plot and characters from the show.

Back in June, Henry Jenkins wrote:

But Whedon got greedy--or someone got greedy on his behalf--and Firefly moved the wrong direction up Anderson's Long Tail--towards a blockbuster Hollywood movie which would have required even more viewers to be seen as successful than would have been required to keep the series on the air on a second tier network. Yes, it was way cool to watch those characters up there on the big screen, but Whedon set the bar much too high for the existing market for his property, and we all paid a price for his hubris.

This model is different, though. It's not trying to force the product up the Long Tail but aims to create extended ways for the existing audience to participate in the narrative world that Whedon and his team created.

The announcement was made by Multiverse earlier this month that a deal had been made with Fox Licensing to create a world for the "Browncoats," as Firefly's fan base is called.

Predictions are currently that the game will be available to play sometime in 2008.

Wallace writes:

Landing Firefly on the Multiverse platform would seem to be a sure-fire promotional move. But satisfying the show's committed fans will not be easy. Online communities like, the show's premier fan site, have generated an endless stream of fan fiction, art, blogs, pod casts, meet-ups and even a fan-produced documentary, Done the Impossible, which briefly broke into the top 1,000 in DVD sales on

Whedon's series seem to develop cult followings and create universes that people do not want to relinquish once the runs from shows are over. The same has happened with Buffy as well, which has lived on through a comic book run to keep the universe alive.

Also, see plans announced last month for yet another straight-to-DVD film from the Babylon 5 makers.



I saw this article and had been thinking about blogging about it myself. What strikes me as problematic about a Firefly MMO is what seems to be a misalignment of the appeals & pleasures of the TV series and a MMO. While a TV show can have a wide array of pleasures, Firefly seems primarily driven by characters, relationships, clever dialog, and an intriguing plot - none of these features can easily be imported into an MMO. What can be more adaptable is a compelling mythology & underlying storyworld - but Firefly is arguably less effective at this typical element of sci-fi than other properties. Really, the show's basic mythos is not terribly compelling or even specific (why does everyone speak Chinese but nobody is ethnically Asian anyway?). The underlying conflict between mercenary black marketeers and the semi-fascist government is pretty standard fare, without the specific history or rationale of other series or films (like Star Wars or Matrix, which seem better suited to MMOs, although they've both been mixed in terms of execution & adoption).

Do fans really want to play in this storyworld without being able to play Jayne or talk like Joss wrote their words? My guess is no, but I'm not a hardcore Browncoat...


Jason, not being a hardcore browncoat as well, I think you bring up some interesting points. I am doing a lot of writing and thinking about what I'm calling "immersive story worlds" right now, where transmedia projects are able to flourish becuase there is such a wealth of backstory and specific characters and interactions that there is ample room for continued user-generated content, etc.

The issue here is that MMO's are able to drive a lot of interest for fleshing out narrative worlds that are intriguing in themselves, but not nearly as good, as you point out, for stories most interesting for particular characters or particular stories. I think you are very right in pointing out that MMOs are indeed immersive, but that Firefly may have been immersive becuase of its story, not necessarily because of its world sans specific characters and plots.

So far, I have identified the two areas I've researched--pro wrestling and long-standing American soaps--as two types of entertainment that have developed immersive story worlds, in that there is such a wealth of backstory and so many characters in the official history of those two types of shows that they are narratives that viewers can become immersed in. The two major comic book universes, Marvel and DC, are another. MMOs provide a different type of thrill, but I think you are right that this may be a misapplication.

But fans may be able to appropriate this idea and turn it into something really interesting. Who knows...