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Behind The Scenes: The Birth Of The One Million Heroes Campaign And its counterpart a CYOA ARG

Introduction

I was young when I decided I wanted to be a writer, 15 when I first came online and discovered MUDS and Interactive Fiction, and 16 when I decided I wanted to build games and brought my first books on programming, when I decided that I wanted to use games to make my stories come alive and in essence to save the world. I was around that same age when I began volunteering with people and animals to gain experience that I could bring back to my work. I was 19 when I first discovered digital currencies like Bitcoin, it was fairly new and not as easy to get as it is today. You had to get it online and it took days to arrive. Today with companies like Circle and Coinbase those days are over. But at the time all the steps it took to get it turned me away. I kept my eyes on it as an outsider looking in. I was 21 when I went to school to learn game development, I was only there for 2 years and it was all to grow my skill so that I could work on the project I had set for myself at 16. That project was codenamed “The Medusa Project” after the Greek “Villain” Medusa who had been the centerpiece for my research, growth as a person and the second universe to a 13 part series that was growing and expanding as I was. Medusa was a project that focused on identity, belief and demonization, more importantly it was a commentary on sexual violence, war and social conformity and what it takes to break out of that including the consequences for doing so.  I would later redubbed it to “The Compassion Project”, and not long after that I founded my game and book publishing company Zenratstudios as a nonprofit.

This past year has been a journey. It’s taken me one year since starting Zenratstudios to formulate my thoughts, define a clear message, to figure out who I am and what I want to say to the world, and what I would like us to do together. Technology is evolving fast and there is more I can do today than I could have done yesterday or even just 3 years ago. When I first entered the internet  scene, AOL was a thing, Yahoo chats were still popular and we were still using tables, and CSS3 was hard to use with a lot of hacks that I was first introduced to via Myspace. Things I wanted to do in Javascript could only be done with Jquery and were more complicated to do than they are now with a lot less libraries available for use. Flash was the way to animate and game engines like phaser non-existant. I have a love-hate relationship with programming, but I have an even worse relationship with Javascript and so for years I refused to touch the stuff. I wanted to work with C# or something similar and if it were up to me I would rather not work with any programming languages at all. This year was the year I had to face those fears and embrace my projects head on.

 

“What are you willing to do to achieve your dreams?”

During my time in school I discovered Tabletop RPGS for the first time and I was absolutely fascinated. How amazing was it that you could create an entire game with game mechanics that people people could enjoy without programming. Board games, card games, tabletop RPGs all of them were things I could do and none of them involved programming, and of the two only one of them could be created solely digitally, no need to print anything. There was only one tiny problem. I had never played tabletop RPGs with other people. So I would spend the next 3 years neck deep in a world of online RPGs, melodrama and mental illness only to come full circle in 2015.

It’s a long story of how I got from A to B but it’s that entire story put together that gave rise to Zenratstudios. The accumulation of all my years searching for answers and knowledge and integrating it together, an accumulation of my journey. Every detour always seemed to lead me back to the same road, and so here I am today.

 

In 2015 A Hero Is Born

In November 2015 I decided I was done waiting for the right moment to live my dreams. I decided to take on the task of going Indie. A common theme with me is constantly figuring out how to make money to bootstrap my dreams. For as long as I remembered I was always thinking of other ways to make money so that I could make money doing what I love, so that I could continue to give back to others that trend followed me with this company.

 

At first I decided I would take the concept of House Flipping and flip and reskin apps instead. It was something easy that I thought could give me quick money which I could then use to fund my philanthropic endeavors. So I spent November – December researching Android, and places to go to find these apps, and then I found one place that mentioned Unity which was cross-platform and easy. Platformer pro and other solutions made it easy to put together games with minimum programming skills. So for the Month up until December and a bit into January I worked on a game called Winter Solstice about mental illness and part of a series on a blogspot page. The game ended up being a source of stress for me both because I was just one person trying to do all of it and because of losses taking place in my life. In January I put the game away, officially brought my Zenratstudios domain as a .com and began focusing on “Afterlife” a board game based on my original tabletop rpg game from 3 years ago, that turned into an RPG card game. The purpose of Afterlife was to help me heal from my pain and to discover who I was underneath it all, and so the game Afterlife takes place in a world where you’ve died and you have to pass through a series of Gates and Guardians located in the cardinal directions to reach the center. It was inspired by ancient Egyptian Senet and Inanna’s descent into the underworld from sumerian mythology. It merged the Medicine Wheel and other mythologies weaving them together. The goal was to discover all that I was by undoing all that I wasn’t and reconnect with my center, and rebuild and create my life to be what I wanted it to be.

I stopped short of publishing it because I wanted to add art to it, to test it, and because most importantly I really wanted another Game Designer and Artist to give feedback as well as play testers. I can be a bit wordy and antisocial, and to be honest wasn’t quite ready to reach out to the world as I still didn’t know me. Taking a pause from Afterlife I went through another bout of pain and in March I decided to try to make money by trading cryptocurrency. It was the first time I had decided to participate not as an observer but as someone taking part in it all. I didn’t know who I was and wanted the freedom to make blunders in the community without associating that with Zenratstudios. What I found was that most people in the cryptocommunity were actually quite friendly, enthusiastic and pioneers full of ideas and inventions. They offered many insights and I learned much.  I discovered Ethereum and fell in love with the concept despite its flaws, I took part in the DAO and I learned many lessons that I would later take back to my Zenratstudios including but not limited to viewing Blockchain as a simple technology, a tool, no different than using C# or Javascript or some other thing, and not necessarily the best tool for every situation. It is this years experience in the blockchain community that gave me insights on what I wanted to do with Zenratstudios and how to bring my dreams of “Saving the world” together.

In August I decided that my time spent focusing on trading digital currency was while fun, a full-time job for me. The markets spend more time in the accumulation phase and swing-trading was taking up all my mental energy. I wanted to make games, I also went through another emotional crisis, and it would be the last major crisis for me. In September I would begin working on my Workshop and took a detour into Astrology, web development and workshops. My focus was on learning SASS, react.js and building my websites from scratch using frameworks, getting up a site and doing a workshop separate from my company in order to make money to hire people to help me make games. It was in working on that that I came full circle again, and I recalled my Project Graveyard game that I wanted to make a long time ago in March but didn’t have the skills. I also came to realize something important. Here I was trying to make money to make money to make money so that I could give back to people…why didn’t I just cut out all the middlemen out, break the loop and cut straight to the chase?

 

And so: One Million Heroes Is Born

One Million Heroes was the simplest thing I could do with the current skills that I have and was based on the One Million Dollar Homepage designed by the man who sold 1×1 pixels for ad space for $1 each. It also integrated well as one of the main ways to monetize your blog by creating ad space and affiliating linking on your blog.

I had wanted to do something similar for a long time under the name Project Graveyard and Project Heart but I wasn’t confident enough in my web programming skills and didn’t know how to implement it until my detour into building my Astrology websites and workshops.

There was just one problem. I hate ads. I block every ad I come across. I find them obtrusive, they tend not to be quality and they are always in my face when I’m looking for something else. It’s not that I didn’t want to see ads, there were plenty of times I could think of when they were done right. Amazon for instance when it recommends books to me based on what others had read, or Youtubes recommended video features that introduce me to other contents. There are times when I’m actively looking for services but when I’m reading an article for knowledge and the blog is littered with ads or pop ups or are bluntly salesman-like, and most of the ads are for-profit to companies not making a real difference. I get turned off. Moreover it turned me off just thinking about building something similar.

One Million Heroes was born as a way to earn revenue by showcasing “Ads” but not just any Ads, Ads from non-profits, non-violent activists and start-ups catered to people when they wanted to see it, not when we ‘wanted’ them to see it. It took what I hated and was designed to make it fun. In this way quality advertisements from “Heroes” all over the world could apply during the Entry Phase. Originally there were 1 million slots and so it was called “One Million Heroes” the problem however was twofold. I was just one person and didn’t have the skills to keep up with that and I didn’t have the funds to automate the process. This was a project that would be done manually. What was the minimum number of slots I could allow, and how would I have to adjust the price to reflect this? I decided that because we were targeting companies and that these were advertisements which often cost a lot that I would charge a pay what you can model starting at  ~48.86/slot, costing more for people to purchase the header and front page and ranked less. I also decided that the currency we would use would be a universal currency such as BTC and something we were designing called “Hero Points” (originally called Karma Points).  The number of slots available would be 20,000 because 50 * 20k would come up to one million at minimum, with the option for people to give more. We would keep the campaign up until One Million USD equivalent had been reached at which point we would either give 1% (10k+) of the money raised to the top paying Hero ads right away, or we would use a portion of the funds to hire a coder to help us build Phase 2, the voting phase.

This is  where I had built in the idea that the very act of viewing games could be fun, engaging and motivate people to share Heroes and nominate them. It was a great way to drive traffic to the showcase, but also to motivate people to vote up their Heroes. People would purchase game badges or points starting at 0.99 USD equivalent and up and would then proceed to give those points to their Hero company, non-profit or start-up of choice.

To give people an incentive for sharing the people who shared or referred the most people would in turn be able to receive a small reward. And later I would integrate an extra feature, unlocking codes, secrets and new levels as possible rewards in our ARG as well.

I was integrating a lot of different concepts I had seen into one place here and I was having fun doing it too.

 

The Challenge That Gave Birth to A CYOA ARG

Now I had a concept, and I had a showcase but I didn’t have an audience.

Releasing Press releases were not only expensive but No one knew me! I wasn’t and still am not a big company or well known figure. I’m just a person coming out from the ethers of my headquarters with a mission.

This was me launching for the first time after 1 year of being official, developing and learning new skills and experimenting. How was I going to do this? I began reading every social media book I could get my hands on, and began focusing on building my social media presence and finding a team of helpers and that was a journey in and of itself. I’m a very shy and introverted person and social media up until recently wasn’t something I felt confident about, but once I broke through that barrier that was hindering me from moving forward I was able to post and feel confident about doing so. I got buffer, I began focusing on analytical tweets, I focused on twitter first. And it was while posting on twitter and building my presence that I realized, maybe I don’t need all the fancy programming and tools that I think I need to build a game. Maybe, just maybe taking the tools and skills I have right now and utilizing platforms like steem.it, reddit, twitter, youtube, facebook and more…just maybe I could…use social media itself, where retweeting and likes and shares was how we kept track of points, and utilizing tools available like qr-codes online, maybe the showcase didn’t have to have all those bells and whistles just yet. Maybe I had all I needed right now. Armed with just social media and a showcase for ads I could do this.

So that’s when I decided that One Million Heroes would be a social media campaign. There was only one slight problem. Tweets other people wrote were getting a lot of hits, people were interested. But things I was writing including notification on the campaign wasn’t getting a lot of likes or shares. It was a solid idea but how was I supposed to get it out there and by November 2nd no less!

I had made a list of influential people who I could possibly contact, but what was I supposed to do, walk up to them and say, “You don’t know me but I’m working on this project–” that’s like never calling your Mom and Dad except on Christmas to say, “Hey…so where’s my gift?” or cold calling a random person, “You don’t know me but can you do me a favor?”. The same idea followed with using forums and blogs. I thought about logging onto these social platforms and saying “Here is what I created, here’s my pitch, make a difference and buy now.”

But I didn’t want to be one of those people. I decided that the best way to tell what we’re about is to SHOW people what we’re about. I wanted to make the very act of learning about our company, our game, our products and services a game in and of itself. And not just any game, a choose your own adventure, alternate reality game, with RPG elements,  interactive fiction and storytelling design in ARG form. Leaving behind short little puzzles, riddles, varying degrees of difficulty, could encourage the community to work together, and could help people solve the problem. Oh I was starting to get so excited!

One of my biggest challenges was trying to word these big concepts in my head to share it with everyone, and writing everything all at once as a solo person, but this way I could reveal everything in pieces all around the world. I could leave clues and hints, pieces of the puzzle that people could work together and solve. I could have a game within a game, and One Million Heroes Campaign could be a part of that.

You see One Million Heroes isn’t JUST a showcase for ads, it’s the a test for our pay it forward economy that we’re developing that takes life and kindness and makes a game out of it. Similar to programming languages like Flux (parent of Redux w/React.js) it’s an architecture a pattern. What we do here can be taken and learned from for our own economy. We’re still developing the details and refining it. But every game we do is part of the grander picture, a way to save the world or at least make a little bit better in pockets hoping that the butterfly effect will carry those effects forward.

Making the very act of releasing One Million Heroes a game in and of itself served the purpose of allowing us to build community, test engagement and interest, and test our pay it forward economy as an architecture and pattern. To experiment while also introducing what we do ‘in action’.

We weren’t just going in and saying “Here is our idea let me tell you about it” but showing it itoo.

It is our goal to bridge different communities and bring them together: The Gamers and the Non-gamers, the pioneers and the newcomers. Games and stories, world-building and economies it’s all related, it’s all interconnected. Together we can build a better world and somehow our small tiny site is part of that.

It took me 2 weeks to build One Million Heroes as a showcase without the bells and whistles, but it took 1 year to develop the idea and bring it to fruition.  And it’s finally here!

 

How It Works

So without further ado, this is how the Game works!

Utilizing different platforms we’re going to be posting different hints. Some platforms will have binary codes that contain a link with an article. Inside those articles are encrypted messages each one tells a story or a description of a location that contains another clue or hint. Sometimes it’s subtle, sometimes not so much.  Every encrypted message has a simple key that can be founded by reading the main article or passage from which it came. The binary codes, riddles and the sort are a bit more complicated and increase in difficult. They lead to treasures and adventure around the world. Some even in physical locations.

Different platforms will have different types of messages, so you might have to do a little digging to put all the codes together.

Just like in a game people can earn points, level up, and discover unique items and things and even redeem those discovers for badges. We want to encourage people to retweet and share, and to work together and we want there to be real awards. For instance in our One Million Heroes campaign people who participate will be given an option they can take a cash reward or opt to pay the cash reward forward and instead choose one of several encrypted messages and binary codes that start a new adventure and lead to new treasures, adventure, danger and opportunities.

Hashtags will be used as “commands” similar to interactive fiction, for example, “unlockLevel” or “unlockHint” @Zenratstudios to receive hints are just a few of the hashtags used for the game. #NominateHero and #NominatedHero are other tags.

People who don’t care about the encrypted messages and just want  to use One Million Heroes as a showcase to #NominateHero are free to do that too. They can l just glaze over it and go straight to One Million Heroes but people who do care will delve deeper and further searching for codes. We intend to use the money we raise to maintaining this adventure longterm.

We’ll keep a forum or place that keeps track of the different levels, stories, and areas that have been unlocked for people to piece together the story, discover mysteries, redeem points, earn money and more.

P.S. Hidden with this article is a keyword, you’ll need it to unlock a key later!

To learn more:

Read The Press Release for One Million Heres Here: http://bit.ly/2e66M4A

Read Zenratstudios Press Release: http://bit.ly/2dsAjTsh

Like & Follow us on Facebook To receive daily hints: http://facebook.com/zenratstudios

Follow us On Twitter: twitter.com/zenratstudios

Visit: http://onemillionheroes.zenratstudios.org

And if you have any questions email us at: savingtheworld@zenratstudios.org or send us a tweet or FB message.

 

Hashtags:

#unlockHint

#unlockLevel

#HeroPuzzle

and more!

 

We’ll release documentations on the best practices on how to use those hashtags in time!