"They've tapped into the perfect market - they're using games to make films about games. Their audience are gamers, 100 percent of whom already in tune with and accepting of their production techniques. Their first episode, which really is the make-or-break for a machinima series, is absolutely stonking, perhaps the best thing they've done - pretty much the canonical example, still, of smart, tight comedy writing within machinima. They've got a smart distribution method, combined with carefully thought-out scope for their films, meaning they can release weekly and build their audience in the same way as a web comic. And, of course, they're very good writers and actors. That's rare, and it's the major factor behind their success."
Given this professionalism, ordinarily you'd expect the Rooster Teeth creators to capitalize on their web success by moving into traditional media - you know, a cable series, books, a licensed magazine, audiobooks, et al. But so far, they seem happy to stay on the web.
Maybe they figure this is where the action is. Maybe they're right.
Machinima production is charging forward on many fronts. Machinima.com, which streams hundreds of thousands of films each year, offers a long list of machinima production companies. Some of them - not as many as you might think - use the Halo engine, taking inspiration from Red vs. Blue. Fire Team Charlie reached a respectable 19 episodes, some quite long, before conking out in January 2006. Sponsors vs. Freeloaders is meta-machinima about the support, or lack of it, provided by Rooster Teeth sponsors.
It's not all comedy, either. The Codex is a drama in 20 parts, with a prequel (The Heretic) about to start production. Dennis Powers has used the Halo engine to create a multi-part drama, the Halo CE Chronicles. Then there are oddities like This Spartan Life, a talk show staged live on a public Halo multiplayer server; host Damian Lacedaemion and his guests pontificate while avoiding weapon fire. You can find plenty more at Halo Movies and Halo Grid.
Yet Halo, like RvB itself, represents only one theatre in machinima's invasion. "The impact of RvB on comedy machinima has been considerable, and on Halo machinima, huge," says Hancock, though "no one has really equaled Rooster Teeth's success. They're a medium-sized community on the web themselves, above, beyond and separate from the rest of the machinima scene."
Rooster Teeth hasn't reshaped the community. "There isn't really a single machinima community," Hancock explains. "Instead, there are a lot of disparate but similar communities and a small number of umbrella organizations, notably the Academy of Machinima Arts and Sciences, which try to serve all of them. Whilst we see a lot of movies being made which were obviously influenced by Red vs. Blue, the output from the communities around games like The Sims 2 and The Movies dwarfs that in quantity. The impact [Red vs. Blue] has had on the Sims 2 music video scene, for example, has been minimal to none. Likewise on the old-school machinima people who grew up with Quake 1."
Aside from Rooster Teeth, the most interesting machinima company today may be Hancock's own Strange Company in Edinburgh, Scotland. Strange recently released Episode 9 of BloodSpell, a full-length fantasy feature film in the Neverwinter Nights engine. Writer-director Hancock describes BloodSpell as "the largest machinima production ever." BloodSpell is currently competing with Rooster Teeth in the new GameShadow awards. Other successful filmmakers include Rufus Cubed Productions, whose Return and "Billy Maclure" films (done in World of Warcraft) have gotten close to a million downloads; "Deviation" from Hard Light Films, which clocked over half a million; and "Anna" from Fountainhead Entertainment.