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vrijdag, mei 25, 2012

How Rooster Teeth Won the Internet With Red vs. Blue

An exclusive still from the 10th season of Red vs. Blue, the Halo parody series that will premiere on May 27.
Image courtesy Rooster Teeth

At about 5 p.m. one weekday in 2002 in Austin, Texas, Michael Burns clicked a button and uploaded a video to

It was a website that he and a couple of co-workers had started in their free time. The video was a parody of Apple?s Mac ads, showing a young man (played by Burns? friend Gustavo Sorola) extolling the ?virtues? of gaming on the undersupported Mac.

?Another great thing about the Mac is upgrades,? Sorola says to the camera. ?On a PC, you have to open up your case, swap out your video card, change jumpers. On the Mac, when it?s time to upgrade, you just pick it up, throw it away, and go buy another one. Now that?s convenience.?

Burns and Sorola created the video purely for the enjoyment of their gamer nerd friends. But the very next day, one of those friends went to work at his Los Angeles office and dropped in on a friend who was always watching online videos. In 2002, this was not so common. YouTube was still 3 years away. But the friend saw his buddy Sorola on the screen, he asked his co-worker if he also knew Gus. No, he said, he?d just heard this video was funny. The parody had gone viral in less than 24 hours.

Before the parody ad, had just been for fun. But now Burns, always called ?Burnie,? began to understand the power that the Internet had to instantly find an audience if the content was good enough.

?It was this weird moment where we realized, man, the world?s just flat,? he told Wired.

Burns, now 39, is the CEO of Rooster Teeth, a company that he and Sorola established one year later to create humorous web video content. Their flagship creation is called Red vs. Blue, a parody of the popular shooter Halo created by adding voiceovers to actual footage pulled from the Xbox game. The 10th ?season? of Red vs. Blue will premiere on Sunday, May 27.

Burnie Burns is the kind of guy that will call you both ?dude? and ?man? in the same sentence. He is a film school dropout who created a multimedia empire, adapting along with the Internet as it changed its shape. At 10 years old, Red vs. Blue has outlasted most science fiction shows on television. Rooster Teeth has conquered YouTube (it had the 8th most popular non-music channel of 2011) and iTunes (its podcast is the most downloaded one in the crowded Video Games category).

Rooster Teeth is a force to be reckoned with, but it all started in a spare bedroom in an Austin apartment.

When the parody ?Switch? ad started taking off, Burns and Sorola were working at an Austin dial-up ISP called teleNetwork. They were friends with another employee there named Geoff Lazer Ramsey. He?d had his middle name legally changed to Lazer, ?as a joke.? The three became fast friends, starting a website called Ugly Internet in which Sorola and Ramsey penned scathing reviews of aesthetically unappealing websites, then emailed the link to the webmasters. They even wrote petitions to the American Registry of Internet Numbers to have the most egregiously hideous websites? IP privileges revoked.

?We started getting death threats,? says Sorola. ?People started emailing us photos of where we live. People were telling us that they were going to stab us in our sleep.?

Ugly Internet soon gave way to Drunk Gamers, which Burns joined. The three would review videogames while inebriated. The site was mostly an attempt to scam free games from publishers? PR departments. In this sense, it was a failure. The only game they ever got in the mail was the mediocre Xbox game Blinx: The Timesweeper.

?That?s a game about a cat with a vacuum cleaner on its back that can alter time,? Sorola says with a laugh. ?We gave it a perfect score. 10 out of 10.?

Burns was taken with another Xbox game ? Halo. He?d post video captures of games, sometimes with humorous voiceovers. In August, he posted a trailer for an animated series called Red vs. Blue, promising that episodes would be ?coming soon.?

Then they forgot to do it.

Everybody got bored with Drunk Gamers in a few months. The trio shut down the site, replacing all of the content with a photo of Ramsey and Sorola flipping the bird.

That could have been the end of the story, had the editors of Computer Gaming World magazine not been in love with the ?Switch? parody and wanted to include it on the promotional CD-ROM that they included with their popular PC gaming mag. They emailed Sorola asking for permission.

?Whenever you get any press at that size, you think it?s going to be the biggest thing ever,? Burns says. He and his friends were flipping out with excitement when they realized something: The video had a link to the now-dead Drunk Gamers site.

?Well, what if we did that Red vs. Blue thing?? one eventually said.

They registered, added the link to the new version of the parody video, and set to work on actually creating an episode of the promised web series. On April 1, 2003, Rooster Teeth officially formed and uploaded the first episode.

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