Machinima Looks for Repeat Success With Mortal Kombat

Aims to turn page following layoffs

In Web video, can you catch lightning in a bottle more than once? Is  there a such thing as a highly anticipated sequel online?

Machinima and Warner Bros. are about to find out.

Starting today, the second season of Mortal Kombat: Legacy debuts on Machinima’s YouTube Channel. It’s got a tough act to follow.

The original snuck up on the media world (if not the millions of fans of the 20-year-old video game, which made its spine-crunching bones in the Sega Genesis era). The live-action series generated a whopping 70 million views.

And now Mortal Kombat is back for a second season, after a two-year, movie-like wait. The show’s return offers a welcome turning of the page for Machinima, which just announced its second round of layoffs in less than a year.

Machinima officials have declined to comment on the layoffs, but per sources, the company is focusing on direct sales, more original series and trying to expand beyond YouTube (as is nearly everyone in the layoff space).

But the question is, can anybody hope to repeat a Web series that goes so viral?

According to Machinima CEO Allen DeBevoise, the company had some sense that Mortal Kombat might take off. In the beginning, "we thought, this is a pretty interesting idea. But it had been dormant. Then we started looking at data, and it makes so much sense. There were lots of fan videos for Mortal Kombat that had millions of views, including some clips produced by the Smosh guys, and some other really weird stuff. Then we started to think, 'Oh wow, this is going to be great,'" said DeBevoise.

Still, Machinima isn’t relying on fan power alone. The company has reached out to other YouTube content networks, including DanceOn, StyleHaul and other YouTube influencers, to produce videos tied to Mortal Kombat Legacy. “We’ve looked at what happened with Harlem Shake and are trying to see, can we activate that?” said DeBevoise.

Machimima is also posting all of Season 2 on YouTube at once, looking for the House of Cards-esque binging behavior. And given the series’ global appeal, Machinima is translating Kombat into French, Russian and Portuguese, among other languages.

Currently, Season 2 doesn’t have an exclusive sponsor, as YouTube is handling ad sales.

One obvious question is, has it been too long since Season 1? Can you hold gamers and gaming fans attention for that long, when events like Grand Theft Auto 5 pulling in $800 million in one day have stolen the spotlight?

“We think its more of a ticking clock that works in our favor,” said Warner Bros. head of digital programming and development Lance Sloane. To Sloane’s point, the Season 2 trailer already has 7 million views (though that’s a long way from 70 million).

"We’ve been hearing from the fans, ‘Are you doing another version?’" said Sloane. "We’ve been reading the comments, “When is the next season?’ There’s definitely a hunger.”

Director Kevin Tancharoen says that commenters have actually influenced the storytelling in Season 2. Instead of an anthology, Tancharoen is going for one continuous story, with more character development.

He admits some nerves before the premiere, but is confident in the enduring appeal of the game. “So many of these video game movies get accused of being paper thin. We really tried to dig into characters. I think Mortal Kombat is so big; it’s in the culture. So many people still say ‘finish him!’ to their friends or put the theme song on at parties. So I’m not worried about getting eclipsed,” said Tancharoen.