How Web3 Animation Project ‘The Gimmicks’ Survives a Crypto Winter
When the going gets tough, they get tough “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’re a way for people to say hello to each other, like the Facebook “poke ».
And the DIC strikes haven’t slowed down during the 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, 26-28 April. 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 raunchy animated comedy that’s a cross between “South Park,” wrestling and crypto. It’s a great 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 to see how it survives the bear market. “The DIC hits are still flying. Viewership for the series is up to 7 million views,” said John Attanasio, Toonstar’s CEO and co-founder.
A reason for the success? The token holders of “The Gimmicks” aren’t using it to get rich – they’re just having fun. They like to be part of history. It may be a useful lesson for others in Web3: If there is compelling content or a compelling use case, you can find traction even in a world of falling prices.
I caught up with Attanasio and Huang to see how “The Gimmicks” have evolved, what they have in store for the future and why the series is getting a creative boost from a new feature called “F#ck yeah, buddy!”
The interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.
In Season 1 of “The Gimmicks,” you were still experimenting with how much creative agency to give to the community and how much to give to the showrunners. What have you learned since then? Have you recalibrated?
Attanasio: To me it’s a 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 percent is from the showrunners, some percent from the community.
And each episode can have a different type of skin color, in terms of how much there 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] make as much of an impact as you can, but at the end of the day there may only be three choices. There is no way around it. But there are other ways, like with Wiki [like Wikipedia but for “The Gimmicks”]where the community feeds so many ideas to the show.
Huang: We have also developed our thinking about the voting structure. We started asking questions that would build on top of previous decisions. So for example, in episode one of “House of Chico,” the butler is 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: Yes. 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 real 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 him to die, and then, in the Wikis, they came up with 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 why. You ask questions about motivations. This gives you long-term implications for a story arc.
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 suddenly it feels like you’re going deeper.
Have it. You mention that many of the audience’s ideas come from the Wiki. So how much of it does Web3 require? You can have Wikis and fanfiction in all kinds of Web2 formats, and we’ve had it for years or decades. What makes “The Gimmicks” different?
Huang: Good question. There are two aspects to the Wiki and we have upgraded the system. First, all versions of the Wiki are registered on the chain. So you can see the progress. And then there’s also the concept of, well, the “F**k yeah, buddy” button.
I love it already. What is “F**k yeah, mate”?
Huang: So when you’re done reading the Wiki, and you’re like, “Oh my god, this is awesome,” you can hit the “F**k yeah, buddy” button. It’s at the bottom of the story. Pressing that button will move that wiki up in the ranking system. It’s kind of like Rotten Tomatoes.
Then you can see which stories resonate with people. So there are two ways people can participate in the Wikis now; they can actively write and contribute, or they can give a lot of “F**k yeah, buddy”s”.
And are these Wikis token-gated?
Huang: You must own an NFT to write the Wiki and vote. And when you vote, it generates DIC punch tokens that go into your wallet and allow you to “F**k yeah, buddy” to other people.
Fantastic. I know fans of “The Gimmicks” aren’t doing this to get rich, but crypto winter is affecting almost everyone. How have you been affected?
Huang: It’s a tough time to really bring people into the ecosystem. Because of everything that’s happened, it’s a fear, right? People are, like, what’s this Web3 thing? The only thing on their mind is, “Oh, there’s that crazy guy who just made billions of dollars, just disappears.” It’s the headline that sticks.
Attanasio: Right, right. The guy with the crazy hair, “Madoff with the crazy hair.”
Huang: And one of our goals was that entertainment would bring more people into [Web3] ecosystem. The point of our project was not to involve degenerates. 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 humans into the ecosystem. There is more skepticism.
Attanasio: We are also in talks with potential strategic partners, such as 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” to Web2, or other traditional Hollywood channels. And now [crypto skepticism] always comes up.
It’s like you have the conversation and they ask about FTX, and you have to familiarize yourself with all that. I think it is very clear that Web3 needs an image makeover. There is no doubt.
And we also try to separate. This is no bank on DeFi (decentralized economy), because we also believe that DeFi has use cases, but the point is that we are not DeFi. It’s not us. We are not about flipping assets or investments. We’re about building the next generation of entertainment IP (intellectual property) and doing it through interactive storytelling and fun community experiences.
We are all in on Web3. And I think that for us, we have to help be the ones who kind 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 it?”
We wanted to show that no matter what happened in the industry, this is actually something we are committed to. We fundamentally believe in the underlying technology and how it is going to reshape entertainment. So we’re not going to fold “House Chico” for better weather. It’s like full speed ahead.
How has community involvement been in the past year? Do you see a decline?
Attanasio: I have been very surprised. At first I thought, “Oh now, is society going to fall off a cliff?” And it really hasn’t. We continue to see very strong engagement metrics.
The DIC punches are still flying. The viewership of the series is up to 7 million views. Seven million views of the content and it is really powered by 5000 token holders. So the range 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. All this is grassroots.
When we last spoke, you were still in the early stages of figuring out how to monetize this whole thing. I know you’re still in the early days, and still focused on storytelling, community building, and experimentation. But do you have any more clarity about monetization?
Huang: It’s something we continue to refine. I think the future of monetization is really going to be a mix: Some of it may come through actual NFTs or tokens. And then another part can be from first-class experiences.
Attanasio: And I think inheritance [media] can be a complement to what we do. 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 show or movie,” that’s another potential revenue stream.
What can you tell us about future content, future shows?
Attanasio: We’re looking at doing more spinoffs in the world of “The Gimmicks,” but all of those have to tie into the core theme, which is generally “South Park” meets sports. We started with wrestling, but we’ll probably do some spinoffs that might be more fan-focused, or related to other types of sports.
Something in the non-Gimmick world?
Well… this is the project we are going to launch with you [CoinDesk] by consensus. Then I can tell you more.
Good teasing! Last question. Any predictions for what community-driven storytelling will look like in the future?
Attanasio: We have this statistic that the average “Gimmicks” token holder spends 15 to 20 hours per week in the community. There’s DIC punching, there’s writing Wikis, there’s interaction with other community members.
It is not traditional behavior for content display. We did the math, and that would be like watching your favorite 30-minute sitcom 40 times in the same week. It’s wild.
People just want to be more involved. They want to be interactive. And there’s just more creators in general, or people who want to be a creator, and they’re willing to spend the kind of time with characters that they really love. So we can’t predict exactly what it will look like, but we believe that this is the future of storytelling.
Can not wait. See you at Consensus.