How Web3 Animation Project 'The Gimmicks' Survives a Crypto Winter
The creators of the successful Web3 cartoon – speakers at Consensus – talk about what’s next for interactive storytelling.
When the going gets tough, the tough get “DIC punches.” In the world of "The Gimmicks," a Web3 animation project, “DIC punch” stands for “decentralized inclusive community,” but it’s pronounced “dick punch,” and they are a way for people to say hello to each other, like the Facebook “poke.”
And the DIC punches haven't slowed down during crypto winter. “It was important for us to launch ‘House of Chico’ when we did, at the end of October,” says Luisa Huang, co-founder of Toonstar ("The Gimmicks’" parent company), as it showed that even in a brutal landscape for crypto, “we fundamentally believe in the underlying technology and how it's going to reshape entertainment.”
Luisa Huang and John Attanasio are speakers at CoinDesk's Consensus conference in Austin, April 26-28. This interview is part of CoinDesk's Culture Week.
For those just tuning in, “House of Chico” is the second season of "The Gimmicks" – basically a vulgar animated comedy that’s a mix of "South Park," wrestling, and crypto. It’s a grand experiment in community-driven storytelling, as the NFT (non-fungible-token) holders can vote on what happens to the characters.
Last year, I went for a deep dive into the world of "The Gimmicks," and I’ve been curious as to how it's surviving the bear market. “The DIC punches are still flying. The viewership on the series is up to 7 million views,” says John Attanasio, Toonstar’s CEO and co-founder.
One reason for its success? The token holders of "The Gimmicks" aren’t using it to get rich – they’re just having fun. They enjoy being part of the story. That might be a useful lesson for others in Web3: If there’s compelling content or a convincing use case, you can find traction even in a world of slumping prices.
I caught up with Attanasio and Huang to see how "The Gimmicks" has evolved, what they have in store for the future and why the series gets a creative jolt from a new feature called “F#ck yeah, buddy!”
Interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.
In Season One of "The Gimmicks," you were still experimenting with how much creative agency to give the community and how much to give the showrunners. What have you learned since then? Have you recalibrated?
Attanasio: For me, it's a little bit like a chemistry set or even a recipe, like a baking recipe, where there are degrees of participation and there are different types of participation. Some percentage is from the showrunners, some percentage from the community.
And each episode could have a different sort of complexion, as to how much that is. Some parts of it are choose-your-own-adventure, where you only have three choices. We try to give the impressions that you [the community member] have as much impact as you can, but at the end of the day, it might only be three choices. There’s no way around that. But there are other ways, like with the Wiki [like Wikipedia but for "The Gimmicks"], where the community feeds so many ideas to the show.
Huang: We also evolved our thinking on the voting structure. We started asking questions that would build on top of prior decisions. So for example, in episode one of “House of Chico,” the butler gets attacked by the armadillo, and the audience had a choice of, well, okay, what happens to the butler? Does he die?
I’m guessing they killed the butler?
Huang: Yeah. They effectively killed him. But what ended up happening was that the butler turned into a ghost, and now he haunts Chico. So they [the community] effectively created a new character. They had a true impact on the season.
Wait, how did the mechanics work? I can see how the audience voted for the butler to die, but how did they create the new ghost?
Huang: They chose for him to die, and then subsequently, in the Wikis, they had the idea of the ghost haunting Chico.
Attanasio: And the other way we’re experimenting is instead of asking, “Go right or go left?” you start to get into the why. You ask questions about motivations. This gives you longer-term implications to a story arc.
Can you give an example?
Attanasio: You can ask why a character did something. So the villain in “House of Chico” is Señor Tomas. You ask a question of, hey, why is he doing these bad things? And all of a sudden, it feels like you’re going deeper.
Got it. You mention that a lot of the audience ideas are coming from the Wiki. So how much of that requires Web3? You can have Wikis and fan fiction in all kinds of Web2 formats, and we’ve had that for years or even decades. What makes "The Gimmicks" different?
Huang: Good question. There are two aspects of the Wiki, and we’ve upgraded the system. First off, the versions of the Wiki are all recorded on-chain. So you can see the evolution. And then there’s also the concept of, well, the “F**k yeah, buddy” button.
I love it already. What’s the “F**k yeah, buddy”?
Huang: So when you finish reading the Wiki, and you're like, "Oh my God, this is like amazing," you can then hit the “F**k yeah, buddy” button. It’s at the bottom of the story. Pressing that button basically moves that Wiki up in the ranking system. It's a little like Rotten Tomatoes-ish.
Then you’re able to see which stories are resonating with people. So there are two ways people can participate in the Wikis now; they can actively write and contribute, or they can give lots of “F**k yeah, buddy”s."
And are these Wikis token-gated?
Huang: You need to own an NFT in order to write your Wiki and to vote. And when you vote, it generates DIC punch tokens that go into your wallet, and that allows you the ability to give “F**k yeah, buddy” to other people.
Amazing. I know that the fans of "The Gimmicks" aren’t doing this to get rich, but crypto winter is impacting almost everyone. How have you guys been affected?
Huang: It's a tough time to really bring people into the ecosystem. Because of everything that’s happened, there’s a fear, right? People are, like, what is this Web3 stuff? The only thing they have in their heads is, “Oh, there’s that crazy dude who just made billions of dollars just vanish.” That’s the headline that sticks.
Attanasio: Right, right. The guy with the crazy hair, “Madoff with crazy hair.”
Huang: And one of our goals was that entertainment would bring more people into the [Web3] ecosystem. The point of our project wasn’t to get degens involved. It was about creating an accessible project for people who loved animation, or loved entertainment.
And [crypto winter] has made it much more challenging to bring people into the ecosystem. There’s more skepticism.
Attanasio: We’re also having conversations with potential strategic partners, like Hot Topic. (Last year, Toonstar announced a partnership with Hot Topic, the pop culture retailer with 11 million members.) And we’re looking at potentially amplifying "The Gimmicks" into Web2, or other traditional channels in Hollywood. And now the [crypto skepticism] always comes up.
It’s like you have the conversation and they ask about FTX, and you have to get into all that. I think it’s very clear that Web3 needs an image makeover. There’s no doubt.
And we also try to make a distinction. This is no knock on DeFi (decentralized finance), because we also think that DeFi has use cases, but the point is that we’re not DeFi. That’s not us. We’re not about flipping assets or investments. We’re about building the next-generation entertainment IP (intellectual property) and doing it through interactive storytelling and killer community experiences.
We’re all-in on Web3. And I think that for us, we need to help be the ones to sort of educate and drive that message.
Huang: It was important for us to launch “House of Chico” when we did, at the end of October . People asked us, “Look at the market, are you sure you want to do that?”
We wanted to show that regardless of what was happening in the industry, this is actually something that we are committed to. We fundamentally believe in the underlying technology and how it's going to reshape entertainment. So we're not going to fold "House Chico" for better weather. It's, like, full steam ahead.
What has community engagement been like in the past year? Are you seeing a slow-down?
Attanasio: I’ve been really surprised. At first, I was like, "Oh now, is the community going to fall off a cliff?" And it really hasn't. We're still seeing really strong engagement metrics.
The DIC punches are still flying. The viewership on the series is up to 7 million views. Seven million views on the content, and that's really driven by 5,000 token holders. So the reach multiplier is super high. And I think that only comes when you have people who are super active and engaged, because we’ve spent zero on marketing. This is all grassroots.
When we last spoke, you guys were still in the early stages of figuring out how this whole thing is monetized. I know you’re still in early days, and still focused on storytelling, community building and experimentation. But do you have any more clarity on monetization?
Huang: That’s something that we're continuing to hone in on. I think the future of monetization is really going to be a mix: Part of it might come through actual NFTs or tokens. And then another portion might be from premium experiences.
Attanasio: And I think legacy [media] could be complementary to what we're doing. I don't think it has to be an either or. So if someone were to say, “Hey, we love what you’re doing with 'The Gimmicks,' and we want to do a TV series or film,” that’s another potential revenue stream.
What can you tell us about future content, future shows?
Attanasio: We are looking at doing more spinoffs in "The Gimmicks" world, but all those would have to tie to the core theme, which is generally "South Park" meets sports. We started with wrestling, but we’ll probably do some spinoffs that are maybe more fan focused, or related to other types of sports.
Anything in the non-Gimmicks world?
Well … there’s this project we’re going to launch with you guys [CoinDesk] at Consensus. I can tell you more then.
Good tease! Final question. Any predictions for how community-driven storytelling will look in the future?
Attanasio: We have this stat, that the average "Gimmicks" token holder spends 15 to 20 hours per week in the community. That’s DIC punching, it's writing Wikis, it's interacting with other community members.
That's not traditional content viewing behavior. We did the math, and that would be like you watching your favorite 30-minute sitcom 40 times in the same week. It's crazy.
People just want to be more involved. They want to be interactive. And there are just more creators in general, or people who aspire to be a creator, and they’re willing to spend that kind of time with characters that they really love. So we can’t predict exactly what it will look like, but we do think that this is the future of storytelling.
Can’t wait. See you at Consensus.
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