Blockchain Platform Cellarius Brings A Touch of Hollywood To Interactive Storytellingbr>
It’s been said that everyone has a story. In some cases, fan fiction and the online world of blogging provides an outlet for those stories. But most of that intellectual property is created without the sizzle that Hollywood brings to the table.
Enter Cellarius, a new platform that hopes to combine the enthusiasm of a rabid fan base with the ability to tell stories based around a central science fiction theme. Created by ethereum blockchain studio ConsenSys, the Cellarius Universe (CX) is an original cyberpunk franchise that uses blockchain technology for collective storytelling with an open creative platform.
Unlike traditional media companies, Cellarius embraces a shared ethos that will empower fans to explore new ways of experiencing media by contributing to the story. Anyone with an Internet connection will be able to access and contribute to the Cellarius universe and be recognized for their work.
The framework for what ConsenSys is terming “open-source storytelling” is being created by creatives who have years of experience working with major studios, including Marvel, Dreamworks, and Disney/Pixar, to help build this sci-fi world. The story begins on earth and explores how society unravels when the Cellarius Artificial Intelligence (CAI) gains sentience — an event known as the Genesis Thought — and alters the course of humanity.
For those willing to dive in and help tell the story, there are elaborate tools available. The Cellarius Universe Guide describes the parameters for contribution and details the key events leading up to and following the Genesis Thought. The rest is up to the community.
Cellarius creative director Igor Lilic talked with Block Tribune about the series.
BLOCK TRIBUNE: Let’s start from the beginning. Where did the idea for this come from?
IGOR LILIC: Sure. It’s I guess probably been a long time coming. I’ve been at ConsenSys for three years now and have seen a lot of projects. I’ve been in the blockchain space even longer than I’ve been in ConsenSys. I’ve seen a lot of projects. I’ve seen a lot of different ideas, different platforms. I think one thing that I always felt was interesting about a lot of blockchain projects is that they’re all kind of very technical in nature. So if you’re coming at a project from a non-technical background, there’s only so far you can go. You can kind of buy a token, join the Telegram or the Slack group. You can post on the Reddit, but after that you can’t really contribute so much from the promotional stuff because a lot of projects from that technical side just rely on the engineers to build it out.
I was just excited to explore different aspects of trying to get more engagement from the blockchain community, and so I came to storytelling, which is kind of the oldest decentralized project known to society, and figured out how we can tell a story to use this technology to bring storytellers to the forefront and kind of on board a new cohort of blockchain users as well.
BLOCK TRIBUNE: Interactive storytelling, as you alluded to, has been tried before, and some of it has been wildly successful, some has been not so successful. What’s going to be different this time?
IGOR LILIC: Well, I think this time we, well, obviously the momentum that blockchain has certainly serves as a great kind of beachhead for us, an initial kind of cohort of users to start and advocate. I think one of the things that our team is spending a lot of time on is looking at the underlying philosophy of blockchain, you know, bitcoin and ethereum, and that really has to do with decentralization.
I think when you look at storytelling, and we talk about this briefly in our white paper, when you look at storytelling, classically, before the 17th Century, there was no kind of construct of intellectual property. Storytelling was oral, started with an oral tradition and moved to pen and paper. That’s kind of how all of our ethics and all of our kind of religious texts grew through history. Really, when you come in with intellectual property law, what that tends to do is serve as a centralizing construct.
If you look at current media, particularly in the United States, I think 80% of the media, 80%-plus of all media that we consumed is owned by five or six conglomerates, depending on the mergers and acquisition environment of the day. So a lot of our storytelling is very centralized in that sense. You have five or six media producers that will produce a piece of content and then throw it over the wall to the media consumers, and there is this barrier between the two of them.
So not only do we think blockchain can help kind of get the message out there, but we also want to experiment with different kind of structures of ownership and of disseminating copyright in a more decentralized way, like how does a decentralized copyright regime work where the story itself is embracing the idea of decentralization versus snapping back to the standard model of centralized intellectual property and copyright law.
BLOCK TRIBUNE: Okay. To set up the platform, though, you turned to established writers to create the universe. Tell me about that.
IGOR LILIC: Right. We as a team created kind of a universe guide that’s on our website. You can download it. It’s a 70-page kind of, just setting the universe in the near future, in the year of 2084, and we’re trying to kind of extrapolate what some of the technologies and what the world could look like if we kind of keep going in our current trajectory. Very early on we realized that just creating a universe guide wasn’t enough to create fans. Storytelling requires much more than just setting the exposition. Storytelling requires emotion, characters, conflict, strife, growth, a whole slew of things.
To actually give life to the universe and the universe guide, we have been reaching out and commissioning both writers as well as illustrators and even musicians to help us kind of create the initial sequence of stories. We’re actually working on an anthology that we want to publish that is a collection of short stories that actually puts the reader in the universe and actually creates characters and storylines and story arcs that actually give life to this universe.
BLOCK TRIBUNE: What was the initial budget for this creation?
IGOR LILIC: Well, we are definitely incubated within ConsenSys, so we maybe have a little bit more flexibility with budget than some other projects in the space may have, but with respect to artists and collaborators, we’re also asking them what their living wages are, what their kind of rates per word are for commissioning works for hire. Currently we’ve got probably over two dozen collaborators, maybe closer to three dozen collaborators, that we’re paying their going rates for work for hire works and actually trying to actually pay professionals what their professional rates are, not really on-
BLOCK TRIBUNE: Is this a million-dollar budget? Or is it a $25 million budget or a $50 million budget?
IGOR LILIC: It’s definitely not in the tens of millions of dollars. I mean, we’re definitely trying to be shrewd. I don’t have the exact number right now, but we’re being mindful of our spend and kind of moving forward in a way that, like, we’re testing and learning what going rates for work are as well. Engaging with collaborators is new to the team, and so we’re kind of taking it as we go, but definitely not in the tens of millions of dollars.
BLOCK TRIBUNE: How are you going to monitor what’s being created to prevent trolling and things going off the rails? I mean, would you rely on the community to do that or is there going to be some monitoring?
IGOR LILIC: Well, definitely trolling, believe it or not, is something that a lot of our collaborators ask us about. A lot of our professional collaborators want to know exactly that question. I guess currently if you go on the Twitter sphere there’s a lot of trolling on the internet, et cetera. Our approach is, I mean, curating an audience is definitely important. We are opinionated about our community guidelines. We’ve published a community guidelines document that really kind of states our approach.
We want to bring in a diverse kind of set of collaborators and a diverse set of fans to the table, and hear their opinions and hear what they think. Yeah, obviously trolling and things, especially when things become personal and get pulled off the internet personas and into real-life personas, that’s when things kind of cross the line and can get dangerous and vicious. We definitely don’t want to encourage that and want to take a strident kind of view on that and with respect to our platform, actually actively moderate when things get out of hand and kind of ensure that we’re in line with the community guidelines. We will have community managers, at least on our platform, that is trying to shepherd a conversation with respect to those community guidelines.
BLOCK TRIBUNE: Are there going to be any incentives for contributors?
IGOR LILIC: Yeah, we’re definitely exploring that very, very actively. We don’t have it fully fleshed out yet. I mean, it’s an ongoing research topic internally, how we can create an incentivization network. We believe for this project, this story to be truly successful, we’ll need to build a robust and meaningful economic model so that professional collaborators can contribute to our universe without feeling like they’re working pro bono. If we want to engage professionals, we have to treat them like professionals. That’s definitely something that we’re testing out and exploring how we can kind of grow that, how we can take revenues and appropriate them and all this kind of stuff.
Also trying to design, explore if a token model makes sense for this kind of network, for this kind of collaborative platform. It’s definitely an active area of research for us internally.
BLOCK TRIBUNE: But no decisions have been reached, I take it.
IGOR LILIC: No decisions have been reached as of yet. No token announcement or anything like that.
BLOCK TRIBUNE: Do you anticipate that what will eventually happen is that these storytellers will break off into tribes and sort of tell a story in one sector to the exclusion of anything else?
IGOR LILIC: Yeah. If anyone has been paying attention to the blockchain ecosystem for any period of time, tribalism and forking and going off and doing, breaking off and creating tribes is something that definitely happens. We anticipate within our community that that will happen as well. We’ve even kind of set it up in the universe guide as a nod to that, where there are different factions and different groups within the universe, some of which collaborate, some of which are hostile to one another from the onset. We definitely are excited at the idea of our fandom actually engaging that kind of narrative and creating their own factions and kind of going off in different settings.
The question then becomes, what becomes the core canon of the universe if there are all these factions creating stories in different directions, maybe opposing narratives and opposing histories? That’s where we also want to look to blockchain technology to see if we can introduce voting mechanisms for actually creating a core canon for the universe so that the community can actually come to consensus on what stories and what events are actually canon versus speculative or subjective.
BLOCK TRIBUNE: Sure. Do you anticipate this story having a conclusion?
IGOR LILIC: That’s a good question. We left it open-ended right now. We feel like there’s a lot of story to tell. I haven’t really considered a conclusion as of yet. I don’t know if anyone on my team has either. I think we’re big fans of emergence and emergence by definition doesn’t really have a conclusion. It just continues on. No definitive conclusion or anything like that anticipated as of yet.
BLOCK TRIBUNE: This is a fascinating story and rich with potential story lines. Can you see the platform itself being transformed into other universes and their stories at some point?
IGOR LILIC: It’s something that we definitely talk about, especially if folks start to bring in some interesting scientific theories, like multi-verse theory, and maybe there are people that can split between parallel universes. Two-prong, like one of the things that we want to avoid is blending other intellectual property, just because there can be, at least on our platform. We can’t really endorse bringing in other IPs just because of existing copyright law, so there is probably going to be a walled garden around our universe, but then if other forks of our universe are created or other stories in general that have nothing to do with the Cellarius universe kind of sprout up on the platform, I think that’ll definitely be an interesting and compelling kind of case that … We’ll see how that happens when we get there in the traditional kind of emergent spirit, but definitely something we’ll keep an eye out for.
BLOCK TRIBUNE: All right. Those are my questions. Anything you want to tell me about I didn’t ask you about?
IGOR LILIC: No, I mean, we’re currently kind of in build mode. We have a alpha application form on our website, cellarius.network, where folks can jump on and sign up for the alpha. We anticipate having very early version of our platform available for folks this fall. We’ll kind of slowly onboard folks and then hopefully through the fall and into the winter kind of grow the platform and grow the story. We just look forward to community feedback. It’s something that we, we definitely love getting community feedback and we love hearing the community’s thoughts and ideas.
BLOCK TRIBUNE: Are you doing Comic-Con, or is it too early for that?
IGOR LILIC We are exploring a lot of events. We will be at, actually, we’re going to be at Eurocon in Amiens, France, on July 19 through the 22.
Watch the Cellarius trailer: