‘Super Zero’ Diaries: Turning Setbacks Into Opportunities

Ayzenberg creative lead and filmmaker Mitch Cohen is running a Kickstarter to get his first feature film off the ground. The goal is to raise enough money to produce a proof of concept for Super Zero, a purely original take on the well-established zombie apocalypse genre. Cohen has agreed to document his experience with running the Kickstarter campaign on [a]list daily. 

In this second article in the series, Cohen looks at challenges with getting visibility and dealing with momentum swings with a Kickstarter campaign. To read part one, go here.

‘Super Zero’ creator Mitch Cohen

I remember writing the first entry for this series with the [a] list daily like it was yesterday. Just an optimistic guy with a dream, a dream to make a simple film about an outcast gamer who builds insane weapons to annihilate hordes of ravenous zombies in order to save humanity. I would reach out to friends, family, and maybe a few kind strangers and raise the money to bring my little love letter to the “geek culture” community to life. Then off I went to promote my Kickstarter campaign while taking notes of my adventures along the way.

It is now a month later and with my fundraising campaign close to ending, I have stopped to share some findings before my I make the final push to hit my goal. If nothing else, this trial by fire has been a fantastic experience and a mix of every emotion imaginable.

So, what’s the biggest takeaway from my campaign. It was obvious.

Outside of the support and promotion you get from the ones closest to you, most of the world isn’t going to give a rat’s ass about you and your little Kickstarter campaign. This was a painful lesson to learn, but one that I have worked to change and maybe just in time, too.

To be clear, I’m not implying people are coldhearted jerks because they don’t care about my project or other even cooler projects on Kickstarter. Read the rest of this piece and you will see it’s been the exact opposite. The willingness of people to champion something they believe in and connect with is utterly overwhelming and has led to some amazing developments in my campaign. What I mean is that it’s incredibly difficult to expect complete strangers to stop and hear about a small creative endeavor that has no reference point to them.  People, products, entertainment brands and everything on this planet are in a constant battle for time and attention. Your project may be the greatest thing a media outlet or an individual person has ever heard of, but they will never know because it just takes too much time and effort to read an unsolicited email or click on some random link to find out.

On a mass scale, websites and media outlets have to run stories that will get their content read and grow their audiences. Featuring a story about a Kickstarter campaign for a unique feature film might have been newsworthy in the past, but not anymore. Kickstarter and crowd sourced films have blown up the last 12 months and news outlets get inundated on a daily basis from everyone and their brother trying to get exposure. The exception to this rule is the new wave of star-driven Kickstarters. Those projects that come ready-baked with a well-known celebrity at the helm will absolutely get attention. (My thoughts on this phenomenon are another story)

Websites need to maximize their real-estate for the big entertainment stories and content they know will get eyes. They need to maximize their site traffic so they can see revenues from advertisers. The idea that a big website would run a piece on a Kickstarter campaign for a short film that’s only a proof of concept for a feature is pretty laughable.

The other route to raise awareness and hopefully raise funds for a crowd funded project is to target people directly, but that’s a long, difficult road. The most obvious place is to find them on social networks, but again the chips are stacked against the asker. Even with followers, friends, and connections who step in to help a Kickstarter project by posting about it amplifying it, the half-life of that message is extremely short and is drowning in a million other posts on someone’s feed. To further complicate things, not only does a user have to see your random post and click on it, they then have to leave that social network to go to the Kickstarter page to read an in-depth presentation of what you are doing. That’s a lot to ask, and it doesn’t even stop there. Even if they are actually into your film, they would have to still be willing to donate at that moment, because they may never come back or find their way back. There are numerous points for them to drop off or hit barriers on the obstacle laden path to backing your project.

It took less than a week for me to see this trend developing and understand why it was happening. I did ample research into Kickstarter and how to operate a campaign and where the pitfalls were. I knew I had to have thick skin and be tenacious. Call it being naive or too gung-ho, but I really thought it would be much easier to tap into a community that would rally behind the film. Kickstarter does a great job of showing off their success stories, but if you dig deeper you will find a vast graveyard of failed campaigns. Looking through other projects in my category – $20K+ budget short films – many of them never raised more than a couple thousand dollars or even less.

So at an early point in my campaign I took stock of my situation. There was still a ton of time on the clock, and I had actually banked a bit of money, but it also suddenly stopped coming in. I had two options, quit and call it a day or roll the dice and forge on to hopefully make it happen. I decided it was time to look ahead.

First, I have what I think is a truly innovative and accessible concept. Second, I intimately know my audience, what motivates them, and where to find them. Finally, I designed this film around celebrating geek culture itself, authentically embracing who we are and what we are passionate about. I have no doubt that I have something that has merit, and I was willing to bet others that feel the same would eventually discover this.

One week in and I was already changing strategies. If the big sites won’t feature me and the individuals can’t find me, whose left The answer came from one of the only emails to media outlets that I sent out where I received a response. Bloggers. Just like up and coming filmmakers, up and coming writers want to practice their craft and share their thoughts. And in the world of geek culture, blogging is huge and these people need interesting and relevant things to write about. Sometimes their content is in direct competition to the big media outlets, giving their own spin on what’s happening. Like any artisan, they are looking to establish themselves as different and in their world even it means deviating from the story everyone else is talking about.

This is my second takeaway. Don’t try and force attention, just talk to the people who want to listen. I acted on my hunch and reached out to many relevant bloggers who might be able to relate to what I’m doing through the lens of their own creativity. And luckily, a good many responded and were happy to oblige. Across the net there have been really enthusiastic and well-written posts on my project, and I have earned new backers directly because of it. I began seeing traction for this new strategy from an array of small outlets, and it still continues to grow. As press often does, some bigger outlets picked up on my project from coverage by smaller sites.

My campaign is again showing signs of life. There is light at the end of the tunnel.

So that’s my story to date. It’s been a little crazy, but I have yet to lose my mind. There are only six days left to make Super Zero happen and it can go either way. Research shows that many successful Kickstarter campaigns in my category receive 80 percent of their funding in the last 7 days, and up to 50 percent in the final 48 hours. I am actually trending a little above that, so fingers crossed. Stay tuned to see what happens.

About the Author

Mitch Cohen is creative lead in the original content group at Ayzenberg Group, working on live action videos and digital influencer campaigns. Cohen started in filmmaking as part of Chicago’s independent film scene, working with directors from the legendary Second City comedy troupe. Since moving to LA, he has sold one feature horror script and had two others optioned, and has had his short film “Peter’s Price” sold to renowned distributor Shorts International. That’s when he hasn’t been writing, directing and producing commercials and trailers for games such as Batman: Arkham City, Borderlands, Lollipop Chainsaw, Ghost Recon: Future Soldier and The Darkness 2.

Earthbound Returns On Wii U

It’s been almost 20 years since Earthbound made its way to the US on the Super Nintendo. New, pristine copies of the original game go for as high as $800, giving you a sense of how rare it is on the open marketplace.

Now, Nintendo is bringing Earthbound back to the fans through the Virtual Console on Wii U.  The fan favorite is now available through the Nintendo eShop on Wii U for $9.99, both in a bid to provide Nintendo fans one of the more beloved, underground hits at a competitive price.  It’ll also give consumers a chance to dust off their Wii U systems, which have been suffering a minor software drought since its launch late last year.  Thankfully, the rest of the 2013 calendar looks better thanks to this release and next month’s big Pikmin 3 launch.

Mad Catz Reveals Android Console

Peripheral developer Mad Catz has decided to jump into the Android console business against Ouya, GameStick and Gamepop by releasing the Mad Catz Mojo this holiday season. The console will run standard Android (avoiding the customized interface of the Ouya) and provides access to games from the Google Play Store, Amazon, and Nvidia’s TegraZone. Certain touch screen games will not work with the console, but Mad Catz claims they are working on the issue.

One of the selling points of the console is that the Mojo is a standard Android device, so players can download their already purchased Android games on the Google Play Store. “We are totally open. No walled garden, no small selection of games, no subscription fees. We bring the hardware, gamers bring the games. Buy games from where you want, when you want and how you want,” said Alex Verrey, global PR director for Mad Catz.

The console supports HDMI and USB connections, and it will ship with a Bluetooth 4.0 controller resembling the Xbox 360 controller. The console can stream video in 1080p, and will also have access to Android apps such as Netflix. Mad Catz claims Mojo “will be the most powerful Android micro console available at launch” and will feature “no less than 16GB internal storage”, with microSD expansion supported. No retail price has been announced yet.

Source: CVG

Yahoo Adds Fantasy Sports App

One of Yahoo’s biggest draws for customers is its fantasy sports division, and Yahoo’s new Fantasy Sports app brings all fantasy sports together into a single app for Android and iOS. The app lets users sign into their Yahoo accounts, draft teams, and keep track of their teams from any mobile device. Fantasy Sports also gives players notifications about what’s happening on the field so they remain up to date on what’s happening in their league.

One of the big new features of the app is the ability to partake in mock drafts, which allows players to prepare themselves for the big draft day. When draft day does come, the app will also allow players to do the entire draft from their mobile device, and then allow them to manage their team on the go. For now, these features will only be available for fantasy football, but soon Fantasy Sports will extend to hockey, basketball and baseball.

The app integrates technology from Yahoo’s recent acquisitions Bignoggins Productions. Bignoggins Productions has had previous experience with fantasy sports, including their Fantasy Monster and Draft Monster apps which have been used in this new app. The app is available now in the App Store and the Google Play store.

Source: The Next Web

Analyzing Zynga: ‘Volatility’ And Change Ahead

Zynga’s earnings call revealed that the company is still struggling to regain its mojo. Revenue dropped 31 percent for the quarter compared to last year, from $332.5 million to $231 million, with a net loss of $15.8 million. New CEO Don Mattrick was straightforward. “We have a lot of hard work in front of us and as we reset, we expect to see more volatility in our business than we would like over the next two to four quarters.” In other words, make sure your seat belts are fastened. It’s going to be a bumpy ride. The challenges ahead for Zynga include execution, products and even marketing.

First, a look at the numbers defining Zynga’s position. The non-GAAP numbers (which Zynga uses to give a clearer picture of the business) show bookings at only $187.6 million, compared to $301.6 million last year. The non-GAAP numbers show a loss of $6.1 million for the quarter, versus a profit last year of $4.6 million, an almost $11 million swing in the wrong direction. Perhaps more disturbing is the drop in Daily Active Users (DAU): from 72 million last year to 39 million this year, down 45 percent. Monthly Unique Payers (MUP) decreased from 4.1 million to 1.9 million, a 53 percent drop. Those are the people who keep the cash flowing in, remember.

There are some positives among all the negatives. Combined bookings for FarmVille and FarmVille 2 grew 29 percent over last year, showing that new life is possible in old franchises. Zynga’s new games Solstice Arena and Running With Friends received Apple’s ‘Editor’s Choice’ awards, the first time that’s happened. Importantly, Facebook was down to contributing only 68 percent of total revenue, reducing Zynga’s reliance on that channel. It would be better if that was due more to rising mobile revenue than to falling Facebook revenue, though. The company has $1.5 billion in cash, so there’s plenty to keep it going through a few lean quarters.

Mattrick plans to spend the next 90 days “under the hood” going through the product pipeline and trying to improve the slate of upcoming products. An analyst raised the question of whether Zynga had too big a staff, noting that King has higher revenues with 400 people than Zynga does with 2300. “Imagine if we can start getting the leverage out of our 2,300 people that Kings is getting out of their 400 people,” Mattrick replied. Given that mobile is where Zynga is focused, and the market for mobile games is growing rapidly, this is a wise choice. Adding good staff is one of the toughest tasks for game companies, and it would be foolish to cut massive numbers of staff now only to try and hire them back next year. There’s plenty of time to cut staff further if new products don’t perform well enough. Zynga’s got an enormous cash cushion, and this is a good use of it.

One key decision has already been made by Mattrick and Pincus. Zynga is not moving forward with real-money gaming in the US, deciding its focus is better spent on mobile and social games. That’s probably a good choice given that real-money gaming in the US would be a state-by-state slog through legal barriers.

Mattrick is looking to improve Zynga’s performance from its existing games and ensure that new games get into the top ten. Zynga Poker was called out as an example of one of Zynga’s hits that needs help, and Mattrick is already putting some of Zynga’s best talent on the job. We’ll probably see more shifting of resources in the next few months.

The biggest challenge of all for Mattrick may be marketing. Shrinking audience numbers can be revived to some extent, and perhaps completely, by coming out with the right games (or making the right improvements to existing games). Viral hits are the magic potion that has powered Zynga’s growth, and once Zynga had a large audience it could produce new games to serve up to that audience without having to worry about marketing.

That all made sense when Zynga’s games were all casual, and generally appealed to the same audience. Things are starting to change with Zynga putting more effort into mid-core games like Solstice Arena, a fast multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) that’s aimed squarely at fans of League of Legends. That’s not going to be interesting to a large segment of the Words With Friends audience. The smaller, more dedicated gamers that Zynga is targeting with some of its games will need some marketing attention in order to reach them effectively. Those gamers tend to monetize much better, but Zynga’s going to have to make a marketing effort to build that audience rapidly.

For future success, Zynga has to change the basics of what made it big. The company grew rapidly because Facebook allowed unlimited game messaging, giving Zynga games a boost in a brand-new marketing channel for free. Rapid introduction of new games, often by doing versions of whatever was popular in the market, was the appropriate strategy. Zynga grew rapidly tracking with Facebook’s rapid growth, until Facebook slowed down, started taking 30 percent of game revenue, and cracked down on viral game messaging. Now Zynga’s got to be leading the pack, not ‘fast following,’ and that’s a big change that Mattrick has to implement.

Investors certainly haven’t been happy with Zynga’s news, driving the stock down by over 15 percent in early trading. It does seem reasonable, though, to give Mattrick some time to make changes and see how it affects the company’s position. Mattrick is a seasoned game executive who really, really likes to win. Rumors are that he turned down a shot at being EA’s new CEO for the Zynga job. Being CEO of EA would have been tough, but much less volatile. Mattrick sees potential in Zynga that perhaps outstrips what he thinks could be in EA’s future. We should know better by the end of this year if Mattrick will be able to actualize Zynga’s potential.

Twitter Puts Tweets In Users’ Mouths

Twitter found itself in an embarrassing situation this week, for which it has now apologized. The social network posted an image of fake tweets on its blog to demonstrate users’ positive reactions to its new advertising opportunity, Amplify, according SFGate.

That might not have been such a big deal, except for one thing: the company used real Twitter users’ handles, profile pictures and all, to manufacture the fake tweets with zero approval from the unsuspecting Tweeters. Twitter showcased the tweets lauding the TV ads as an example of how brands can monitor consumer conversation about their broadcast spots.

“What is the song in the new @barristabar commercial I love it!!” said one of the examples, from user @Neil_Gottlieb.

“I wish I could make fancy lattes like in the @barristabar commercial,” read another, from@WilliamMazeo.

A third user, @subhash_tewari, was also used for a bogus quote.

Unsurprisingly, when SFGate contacted the users about their photos and handles being snagged to sell ads, Gottlieb and Mazeo weren’t pleased. In fact, Gottlieb is reportedly consulting an attorney.

Twitter’s official advertising account publicly apologized on Wednesday, but that doesn’t seem to be enough:


The blushed company has since removed the fake testimonials and put another apology at the top of its original blog post, reading:

“An earlier version of this blog post included an image with mock Tweets from real users of our platform. This was not OK. Once we became aware of this mistake we took it down immediately. We deeply apologize to the three users included in the earlier images.It’s unclear why those three users were selected to advertise the bogus tweets. None of them have particularly large followings or appear to be influential users. We’ve contacted Twitter for further explanation, and will update if we hear back.”

Source: SFGate


Australian Tycoon Makes Jurassic Park Real

Clive Palmer, an eccentric Australian multimillionaire, has decided to build his own Jurassic Park complete with more than 165 robotic dinosaurs and real vegetation. Palmer is a mining tycoon who is already building a full-size replica of the Titanic, and has decided to build the park on the grounds of the Palmer Coolum Resort in Australia.

Development of the park is under way with 40 of the dinos already delivered from China and another 70 scheduled in the coming months. All of the dinosaurs will be able to move their limbs, blink, and emit ‘lifelike’ roars. All of the dinosaurs will be the same size as the original beasts, such as the Deinosuchus model that’s 20 meters long.

“Work is well underway at the site to ensure the dinosaurs blend seamlessly into the natural vegetation and create a realistic prehistoric environment that will be entertaining, informative and educational,” according to the park’s web site.

Humanity has taken one more step toward creating Jurassic Park.  Just watch your step so you don’t become a raptor’s lunch.

Xbox One Opens Up To Indies

In yet another stunning policy change, Microsoft has made it easier for indie publishers to develop for the Xbox One. Game Informer‘s sources say that developers will be able to make the call on their games’ release dates and pricing. Additionally, Microsoft is looking to make its certification process more like iTunes, with a targeted 14-day window from submission to approval. The standard Xbox One will be able to be converted into a debug console that allows for game development.

Microsoft is also making the certification process much easier. Examination of game code will be much less strict, mainly covering TOS breaches and game-breaking bugs. Microsoft’s Xbox corporate VP Marc Whitten told Engadget: “Our vision is that every person can be a creator. That every Xbox One can be used for development . . . This means self-publishing. This means Kinect, the cloud, achievements. This means great discoverability on Xbox Live.” He also said that more information would be forthcoming at Gamescom this August.

At E3 last month, Sony was very vocal about its support for indie developers, showing off a series of indie titles that would be available for the system. With this move, Microsoft is also trying to win indie developers’ affections and become more competitive with Sony’s system. Hopefully this news will translate into a more acceptable environment for indies on Microsoft’s new console.

Source: GamesIndustry International

Super Mario Goes Surrealist

How cool is this? A Tumblr blog called Super Margritte is bringing Super Mario and surrealist paintings together as one, in a series of works that re-imagines the art of Belgian artist Rene Magritte. Many of Magritte’s works challenged the observer’s perceptions of reality. Now Super Magritte is doing the same thing, only challenging observer’s perceptions of the Mushroom Kingdom instead.

Works that have received the 8-bit treatment include Golconda, Castle of the Pyrenees, and Time Transfixed. Love it.

original (1)

original original (3) original (2)

Source: PSFK

Setting Up Another ‘PayDay’

Two years ago PayDay: The Heist surprised gamers as a fun, aggressively-priced shooter.  It was a digital game published by Sony Online and available through Steam and PlayStation Network.  PayDay scored well with critics and did well enough with fans to warrant a sequel, which its developer Overkill Software announced even as they were still releasing content for the first game.

PayDay made an impression on more than just gamers.  Shortly after its release, Sweden-based Overkill was the target of a takeover by compatriot game maker Starbreeze, best known for its own shooters Syndicate and The Darkness.  Starbreeze made it clear they were interested in PayDay.  Just before the acquisition, Starbreeze CEO Mikael Nermark said that his company’s intention was to let Overkill continue building the IP.  He also stressed that the acquisition was intended to bolster Starbreeze’s own portfolio, where now PayDay: The Heist and the upcoming sequel, PayDay 2, both sit prominently on the company’s web site.

For PayDay 2, Starbreeze and Overkill enlisted 505 Games as publisher.  The most telling change with 505 replacing Sony Online is that the game is headed to Xbox.  505 is also treating the launch of the sequel more like a traditional console game. The game will have boxed versions for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, selling for $10 more than the Steam version but still priced aggressively at $39.99, and including a $60 collector’s edition. Much like the way a publisher would position a console game IP, 505 billed the sequel as a story-driven experience, and used the game story as fodder for its marketing campaign.

That paved the way for a novel effort, where the publisher worked with Overkill to enlist Hollywood helmer Damien Lichtenstein to create a live action web series expanding on the game story.  Lichtenstein, best known for directing the 2001 comedy 3000 Miles to Graceland, is also developing a feature film based on the IP.

“We felt that the storyline and characters were so strong, there was an ability to take it beyond the life of the video game,” 505 Games president Ian Howe told us in an interview.  “[The story] also carries something of a topical message as well. The whole back story is about guys who come back from serving for their country and have had their homes repossessed, and have had their livelihoods taken away from them.  And they’re kind of striking back at corporate America, which is something that’s quite topical.  I think it will provoke a conversation.”

In our exclusive interview, Howe shares insight on the web series, and also how 505 relied on the first PayDay title’s fan community and social media outreach to build buzz for the sequel.