Machinima! Adventures of a Digital Content Company

Millions are watching. When will they cash in?

If not for Machinima, you might be unaware that gamers are terrified of zombies, Super Mario Bros. would have been better off if the villain had more of a back story, an Alienware X51 Mini Gaming PC will catch fire if you put it in the microwave for a couple of minutes, and Return of the Jedi, when you really think about it, has a lot of plot holes.

At this point, most of you are probably wondering: What is Machinima? How do you even pronounce that? And why should I care about all this fringe pop culture stuff?

An online programming company boasting a fanatical following among young males and a staggering 149 million unique users, last month Machinima’s videos were viewed 1.3 billion times (that’s billion, with a “b”). Across YouTube and other online destinations, Machinima claims a total of 101 million subscribers. To put those numbers in perspective, the CBS TV network has about 350,000 subscribers on YouTube and in six years has earned about 1.2 billion views for its online content.

Machinima (pronounced mah-SHIN-eh-mah) is one of a handful of players building massive media companies off Web programming.YouTube goes so far as to use Machinima as a case study in laying out its much-hyped $100 million, 100-channel strategy for 2012. Machinima has even been likened to MTV in its early days.

Yet there are those who believe that Machinima will have a bigger impact on the media business than MTV—and even the very rise of cable television overall—did in the 1980s. In other words, if you don’t know about these guys already, you should.

The company takes its name from the term machinima, which is a portmanteau combining the terms machine and cinema and that describes the company’s particular type of content. 

While has been around since 2000, the form—essentially the use of video game animation to produce short films—dates back decades. Think spoofs of popular video games (Grand Theft Mario) or art film-like montages of favorite killing scenes from Call of Duty, or even fan fiction. An early machinima series, Red vs. Blue, is now in its ninth season.

How big is machinima, and Machinima? “As a genre, I’d say that 90 percent of gamers know what it is,” says Tom Akel, executive producer of MTV Geek.“As a company, maybe every college kid playing Madden and Tiger Woods golf doesn’t know them, but most millennial male gamers do.”

Who would think there would be such a market for videos about video games produced by video gamers that have a rabid following? Hugh Hancock, for one.

“The thing you have to remember is, 10 years have passed since the dawn of Web 2.0, when creativity on the Web exploded,” says Hancock, founder of the Machinima studio Strange Company and one of the co-founders of “You’ve had the growth of all these platforms like WordPress and Blogger and Tumblr. It was all driven by UGC. And then you take gaming, which is arguably the most significant cultural trend of the past 100 years. It’s a vast medium, but unlike, say, film, is not as accessible. Yet there are a significant number of users in that group who want to do more than consume. They want to produce, and they can do that for as little as $50.”

But does that really constitute a business or merely an underground community of gaming filmmaker nerds? Maybe both. Hancock actually sold his stake in the company around 2006, after determining he was not the person to turn Machinima into a full-fledged media company. That was right around the time YouTube started humming, and the quality of videos and games started ratcheting up. “At that time, we started to forget about trying to do this on and put all our efforts into YouTube,” recalls Machinima’s CEO, Allen DeBevoise.

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