Ever heard of a web series called Video Game High School? No? Me neither! Not until this weekend anyway, while I was perusing Kickstarter's offerings for new projects worth a look.
I took an exit onto the list of "Most Funded" projects - the campaigns that have ended with the highest amounts of money raised - and that's where and when I first learned about Video Game High School, which is apparently a very popular web series set in an unusual, exciting future earth.
Here's how the the creators describe it:
It's the near future... professional gaming is the biggest sport on earth. Around the world, millions of players duke it out in fighters, RTS’s, First Person Shooters and more... The best young gamers are recruited by elite boarding schools to sharpen their skills. The best of the best go to VGHS: VIDEO GAME HIGH SCHOOL... It follows Brian, a young FPS player stuck in a town where he doesn’t belong. His fortunes change when he scores a massive kill against the world’s top amateur player: VGHS senior “The Law.” Brian rockets into the national spotlight and lands an invite into the hallowed halls of VGHS. There his skills will be tested as he fights to fit in with the most talented gamers alive. Along the way he’ll make unlikely friends, fall in love with no-nonsense FPS hot shot.. and face powerful enemies.
I'm really late to the game, because, earlier this year, the series completed funding via Kickstarter for a second season, raising over $800,000 (they asked for $636,000)! I checked out the pilot episode of season one and I suppose I can see what the attraction to the series is - a combo innocent coming of age high school drama, and an almost super-hero-like action narrative, with cool (albeit lo-budget) special effects work mixed in.
The first season's 9 episodes are averaging around 2 million views a piece! That's huge!
In fact, the team behind the series used Kickstarter to raise funds for the first season of the series (they asked for $75,000 and ended up getting $273,000. Wow!).
The team includes Freddie Wong, Brandon Laatsch who run the YouTube channel http://youtube.com/freddiew (which they say is the 7th most subscribed to YouTube channel of all time) and Matt Arnold, as well as Will Campos and Brian Firenzi (founder of 5secondfilms.com).
If you're curious, check out season one of Video Game High School in its entirety HERE.
The $800,000+ campaign ended in February, and the team is currently at work on season 2.
So you haven't head of Video Game High School, you say? How about the Cyanide & Happiness show? Nope, I hadn't heard of that one either. But millions of others most certainly have.
It started out as a comic on the web, written and illustrated by Kris Wilson, Rob DenBleyker, Matt Melvin and Dave McElfatrick, in 2004. It apparently caught on rather quickly, and was shared often on social networking sites, and by 2006, was generating a million visits per week.
The success of the series can be attributed to its the controversial content and interactive storytelling.
Of course Hollywood came calling - specifically, Comedy Central announced an "Untitled Cyanide and Happiness Project" in 2011. However, 2 years later the project had yet to materialize, and in January of this year (2013), the creators revealed that they'd walked away from a third television deal, citing creative control over the project and having to give up a lot, which they weren't willing to do, and, instead, decided that they' produce an online television show, themselves, exclusively for the web.
And with that, they took to Kickstarter and raised over $770,000, even though they asked for $250,000! Impressive, right? That's an unexpected $520,000 icing on the cake.
The campaign ended in mid-March, and the creators are hard at work on producing an online series based on their popular web comic.
And there are others like the above 2. Essentially, talented artists with ideas who took full advantage of the technology available to them, and to all of us, who used the web to showcase their work, struck gold after building large loyal followings of other everyday folks, and used all of that as leverage to climb to the next rung on their respective ladders, and push even higher.
Although I should note that, while celebs like Spike Lee, Zach Braff, Shemar Moore and others have been on the receiving end of public criticism of their crowdfunding campaigns, there have been other celeb-backed campaigns that, we could say, quietly achieved success, without a similar amount of noise.
For example, last fall, Charlie Kaufman, celebrated writer of Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Adaptation, raised over $400,000 on Kickstarter to help fund his first stop-motion animated film, titled Anomalisa.
And also, there was the David Fincher-supported animated project from Blur Studio, the team of Oscar-nominated artists who've created computer-generated work in feature films, commercials, and games. The animated feature is titled The Goon, and is being made in partnership with David Fincher and Dark Horse Entertainment - the film and TV production arm of comic book publishing company Dark Horse Comics.
They raised just over $441,000 also via Kickstarter last fall.
In closing, I suppose there really isn't some earth-shattering point to this post, other than to share my accidental discoveries...
And also maybe I'm just glad to see projects from folks who aren't all that different from you and me, build web franchises, and raise huge chunks of money to further their individual narratives. And, as I said, there are others like these that I didn't mention here, so there's hope for the rest of us.