Machinima is ready to hit the reset button on its empire of video game-centric entertainment. Once the crown jewel of the fledgling online video industry, the company has watched as peers like Maker Studios and Fullscreen surpassed it in audience, revenue and valuations.
Crushed by a bloated staff and a series of bad deals, Machinima spent the past year shedding some staff and reorganizing under new leadership. Now, with the debut of “Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist” looming, Machinima executives are optimistic about their future, confident that they have put the worst behind them.
With $18 million in new capital and a new leader, CEO Chad Gutsein, the company can focus on what it needs most: hit shows. Given the fickle nature of most audiences, especially the young viewers on YouTube, a network like Machinima needs a steady stream of hits to captive its base and bring in some new money.
Its next best hope comes in a form that has worked for Machinima before: an epic video game adaptation.
Joey Ansah wrote, directed and produced “Street Fighter,” a take on the classic Capcom arcade game that spawned several sequels and a lamentable movie. The series debuts in its entirety Friday on Machinima’s YouTube channel and will livestream on Twitch, a popular video site that YouTube is in talks to acquire, according to reports.
Ansah told the crowd at the show’s Monday premiere that he was looking to pull off a rare feat: a video game adaptation that didn’t disappoint everyone.
“The video game to live action adaptation hasn’t been nailed,” Ansah said at YouTube’s Los Angeles production space. “The genre has a lot of problems down to the way projects are put together.”
The list of mediocre movies based on video games is a long one, as anyone who saw “Need For Speed” or “Prince of Persia” can attest.
Ansah avoided working with a traditional movie studio for that reason, and to skirt studios’ Odyssean development process. Instead, he brought it to Machinima, which produced successful series based on the “Mortal Kombat” and “Halo” video game franchises.
“In the Hollywood system, there is no one at any stage who is passionate and knows the source mythology,” Ansah told TheWrap. “If you’re going to adapt a video game, you need to know the thing like the back of your hand; you need to be the biggest fan yourself. The best way to design any product is to be the consumer.”
The show might not play to a broad audience, but Machinima didn’t make it for one. It is filled with fight sequences between its two lead characters, Ryu and Ken, a couple of young men learning martial arts in the forests of Japan. These are the protagonists from the original 1987 game.
The series is also an origin story filled with mythology, all of which should please people who grew up playing the game. The idea also pleased Capcom, which gave Ansah its blessing to make his 2010 short film, as well as this longer series, which took four years to put together. Shapiro said the effort and time put into this series was “almost unprecedented” in terms of the online video industry.
Owning a niche is key in today’s fragmented culture, and Machinima now shares its dominance in gaming with others YouTube stalwarts like PewDiePie, Toby Turner. Yet none of those people produce professional series based on video game classics.
That is an area Machinima can still own — if it movies quickly. Microsoft and Sony, which make popular gaming consoles (Xbox and Playstation) have moved into the content creation business. Others will follow.
“We’re focused on building on what we’ve been successful at,” Shapiro said. “The big things we’ve been successful at with are larger, episodic series based on gaming.”
There’s no telling whether Machinima will emerge bigger than ever, but with all of the money pouring into online video, a hit series would be the first step.