We’ve recently had the opportunity to learn more about an exciting new project that that blends sci-fi, science fact, fantasy sports, art and technology. Meta Olympia, is a new online media property co-created by Chris Cheung and Bing Lin that was recently launched at Fan Expo.
Chris moderated the ArtStation Panel at Fan Expo and has a long history in Design, M&E and the Art community. Some of the artists who collaborated on the project include: Rámon Pérez, Marcus To, Nimit Malavia, Jacques Pena, Tom Lopez, Andreia Silva, Frank Hong and Shaun Mullen. In this interview, he gave us some insight into the backstory behind the Meta Olympia project and how ArtStation has played a big role in its development.
San Olympus Titans vs. Huacheng Dong Ji
What was the inspiration behind creating a sci-fi, sport, art and news mash-up?
When I’m asked to help out businesses as part of my consultancy, I’m typically hired to solve a innovation related problems. It’s a huge buzz word these days, but ultimately, it means they are looking either re-invigorate their business or take it to the next level. Everybody is looking to not only stand-out, but to achieve specific goals (which can be a variety of measurements of success). Because of my exposure to this, I’ve been pushing to ‘innovate’ myself; to develop projects that force me to explore different technologies and business models.
Comets – Lena Le
Ironically, I’ve been trying to be dispassionate about it, to maintain objectivity, but then, after my friend Bing started working at a sport media company, our conversations started to have an unexpected sport-slant to them. That turned out to be a magical ingredient as we just came up with clever ideas that really seemed to have legs.
From the beginning, we always framed it in terms of ‘how could this be a business?’, so we never lost site of that. We need to prove to ourselves that there could be a market for this type of product and that there were viable pathways to potential profitability.
After getting some unbelievable encouragement from my contacts in sport, design, games, news, and film, it was obvious that we just had to try this.
How would you describe Meta Olympia?
It changes from time to time, and I am sure it will change in the future, but I see it as a content-based fictional news site, less like The Onion and more akin to ESPN, SB Nation and Players Tribute, but blended with aspects of e-sport and fantasy football. The premise is really rooted in the non-deterministic qualities of sport. I didn’t think this product would work with traditional storytelling techniques. Writers tend to want to have a plot and story arcs, whereas I was looking for something that ran in real-time and parallel to our daily lives in the present.
To achieve this, Bing and I decided to take a world-building approach; detail up a projected history leading up to 2077 (our target timeframe), make the focus on Mars to constrain our scope while also introducing weird aspects due to the unique conditions of that planet. We brought on developers to start building a simulator that digest new rules for a variant of soccer, build a back-end where we could store all the lore we were creating, and unleashed a bunch of concept artists to visualize it all.
How did you leverage ArtStation?
The project is pretty much built around my love for sci-fi, so it was going to need concept art. In the beginning I had a lot of support from my friends from the industry to get ideas going, but this wasn’t going to be an exercise in abusing friendships. As a bootstrapped project with limited budget, it was going to rely on freelance contribution. To do this, I needed a pool of resources since not everyone was always available when I needed help. This is where using ArtStation was a no-brainer.
Just before last GDC, I just bought an ad on the Job board of ArtStation. I am this small independent business posting a wanted ad for freelance artists against all the big studio up there, so I felt a weird about it, but something amazing happened. I got 300 responses by the morning. In total, I received about 1700 portfolios. I was so overwhelmed, I had to respond using Mailchimp!
It was such an unexpected result. I ended up using 4 different people from the community and have been completely happy with the connections I’ve made.
Were there any surprises with running the project?
I don’t think I knew what it would be like running a virtual newsroom. I think everyone involved is a little surprised with how easy it has been to suspend disbelief and accept the machine generated results. One of the writers, who happens to be a staff reporter with a national paper, said he found writing for Meta Olympia as real as anything else he writes. Many of the writers don’t come from a sci-fi or creative writing background and I love their process. They call or email me the same way to research facts or to get quotes. It’s a really dynamic process and artists have these really narrow windows to interpret the story to make accompanying art.
I wanted the project, as a job, to be fun… so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised aboutthat. It is pretty awesome that it is.
How has it been going so far? What’s next?
We deliberately wanted this to be a bit organic. The plan doesn’t have hard measurements aside from specific activities and general budget targets. I see this as a proof of concept stage and a chance find market fit. This is why we started reporting half way through our fake league schedule, so we could run up to the playoffs and concentrate our funds on the most interesting part of the season. Mapping our editorial against the Darian calendar and our schedule, our playoffs start this December!
What’s happened so far is, we’ve been picking up a lot of allies along the way. I have the project on Patreon as a way to engage our early supporters… and we have a few incredible opportunities in the works. I’ve been talking with HP and Launch Forth on some exciting ideas, so there should be some exciting announcements soon.
I think you need to be very practical with ventures like this. Starting a new business or releasing new products come with inherent risks and they don’t always end up how you project. With that said, however, I’m pretty optimistic because 1) I get to work with some really awesome talent, 2) it has multi-layers of value and purpose, so it is de-risked in the sense that success is not exclusively tied with monetary objectives 3) we are having a blast, so we would be idiots not to enjoy it for the ride.