Franchises Part 2: When It Works

bridge forest trees

So previously I went on why I’m suspicious of franchises, my thoughts codified by seeing the novel “Tarkin” where the Grandest Moff of Star Wars got his own book. It’s not “Porkins: Apocalypse” but then again maybe that exists. I’d rather not find out.

As noted I’m not entirely down on franchises, those extended, unified sets of media and product and more. In fact, I think there’s positive sides to them, especially in the world of literature and media. So for the sake of those of us involved in creating franchises, what I consider the positives.

Yes. Positives.

Here’s where I think franchises can be good.

The Creative Playground

Though we’ve all watched franchises go through the wringer and be transformed, I think a good franchise can produce a creative playground for people.

Consider what a good franchise can deliver – a series of properties that paint the picture of an interesting universe. That universe has rules and policies and reference points that make it understandable. In turn, that universe is fun to play in.

Be it an RPG or just a late night con conversation, a good franchise provides grounding for people’s imaginations to soar. People want to play with it, experience it, discuss it, analyze it, unriddle it. A good franchise is half-known, half unknown and it invites you to play.

It’s the equivalent of a Sandbox video game. Ever see people dedicated to epic fanfic or an RPG inside a given universe? You get the idea. It’s awesome.

The universe doesn’t have to be a work of art. “Fairy Tail,” an anime and manga of reasonable popularity has a dedicated fanbase with shared universe work in the US. I wouldn’t call the series epic by any stretch, but ti gave a world and ideas people had fun playing in.

(It also has a scene where wizard grabs another wizard, uses wizard #2 to hit a third wizard in the face, then sets wizard #2 on fire so wizard #3 in turn immolates. Top that Harry Potter and your non-flammable nemeses!)

I do think that he imagination-inspiring franchises either need an individual vision or careful monitoring. We’ve all heard about the insanity of the Star Wars Expanded (and now collapsed) universe.

Room To Build

A flipside to the fact that a good franchise provides a universe for readers/watchers/players to mess around in is that it can also be good for the author. A good franchise gives an author room to work in and explore.

When an author or authors has some fertile creative ground to work with, much like the fans, they can produce impressive works. As opposed to building from scratch, they’re building on what’s already established. They’re extending, extrapolating, and hopefully improving. Done well, it can be enriching creatively, professionally, and for the fans.

Of course done wrong and we’re back to previously discussed issues I complained about.

I admit that I think this happens best when it’s a small group of people, a well-managed group of people, or an individual vision. There’s a point past which the franchise setting goes to crazytown, and that’s usually when the rules of the world fall away for the rules of cranking out another book.

There’s nothing wrong with not extrapolating your universe. I just note done right it can build a richer story, a richer setting, and be a great creative experience.

A Good Brand

A good franchise can also ensure people they know what they’re getting.

Now this may not be good. Maybe their expectations are pretty low and you’re pandering to a lowest common denominator. But I’d like to focus on the positive side – building a franchise builds reliability.

It’s hard to know what to rely on. We’ve all been burned. Making a good franchise of your work builds trust and understanding. It shows your commitment and concern. It means that people can rely on you and your work.

Of course, again, it could be you’re in a horrible rut and your fans don’t care. So keep this in mind.

Cool Tie Ins

A good franchise can also lead to great tie-ins if done right.

Yes, we’re used to awful tie-ins. Yes I hate over merchandization. But that’s no reason to not keep the idea in mind this can be done right.

A good RPG or RPG supplement lets people experience your media in other ways. A video game tie in may actually be good (though the odds are usually against it, let’s be frank). A spinoff book or a world guide may be in order to provide even more interesting experiences.

Done right, again, there’s a chance to build some neat stuff in the world that builds on your work.

A Launchpad

And finally a good franchise can be the gateway to doing something else.

If you have an established body of work maybe at some point give a young author a break in a collection of short stories. Or give a artist a break doing posters for your comic. That reliability, that beloved franchise, gives you the ability to open opportunities for others.

Or maybe it opens opportunities yourself. THose three fantasy novels you wrote are great – so now it’s time to do that comedy fiction piece you wanted. Or perhaps you want to try your voice acting reading your books for an audio novel. WHo knows?

But a good franchise isn’t just and end – it’s a place to begin.

Keep In Mind, This Can All Go Wrong

Again, as noted, I’m always leery of franchises these days. I’ve seen them l=plot, be a bused, or just be stupid. Ive seen popular stuff be popular by inertia, ignoring decay. I’ve seen things that just don’t end when we’d probably be better off if they did.

But that’s no reason to ignore the god or the (oft-unrealized) potential for good in a franchise.

Maybe your works will mean I complain less about franchises.

Go For it.


– Steven Savage