Investigative journalism startup Point has launched a Kickstarter campaign to take its reporting into the mobile gaming world.
Point is primarily a YouTube channel with more than 500,000 subscribers and it delivers investigative journalism on tech and internet culture. It also digs into the hardest-hitting corners like bitcoin scams and child abuse on chat apps.
However, monetising content on YouTube has become an increasingly tricky proposition.
The company has felt the impact of the 'ad apocalypse', where YouTube has been removing the option to monetise certain content after big brands have pulled their advertising spend to stop being associated with controversial videos on the platform.
"The topics that we cover are not topics that advertisers want to advertise on, so a lot of our videos have been demonetised on YouTube,” said Jay McGregor, editor-in-chief, Point.
“If you’ve got a video exposing child abuse on a chat app, Coca Cola, for example, doesn’t want anything to do with that."
Point has managed to keep its offices open and independent because it does video production work with Forbes in the UK.
But now as the startup seeks long-term sustainable alternatives, it looks to take its reporting in another direction, with the prospect of its mobile game Misinformer, if it succeeds to meet its 30-day, £18,500 Kickstarter pledge.
Misinformer is about how you, the player and a citizen journalist, can investigate a fictionalised version of journalistic investigations with the core theme of misinformation.
The game will be available as an app, with downloadable storylines. Post-campaign, the app and further downloadable storylines will be paid options with prices still to be confirmed.
Early pledgers between £10 to £5,000 can get anything between the game and one story, to being the protagonist of one story. The crowdfunding campaign comes as a response to both trouble monetising content and to fast-track the project.
"We were planning not to crowdfund and to build slowly. But managing our time doing production and journalism and the game became too much," McGregor said.
As a former gaming journalist, McGregor has a small team of software and games developers around him. However, the startup needs a final injection of cash to hire another skilled developer to work on the last missing piece of Misinformer: the UX (user experience) and UI (user interface) design elements.
"This is our way of finding an ethical way to make money. Because we do investigative journalism, it’s difficult to do brand partnerships," he explained.
"We cannot accept advertising money from any large business because we couldn’t investigate that company as they’d be keeping the lights on in our office. If a story landed on my lap about our sponsor, I would have to investigate that, and I don’t want to be put in that position."
One of the challenges of Misinformer is to determine to what extent the story can be fictionalised and that the core principles are still clearly understood and not misleading.
"These are sensitive topics. We are taking the theme of the stories and creating a world around those themes," he explained, offering an example of a story about how the tobacco industry advertises through online influencers.
"If we turn that into a game, it’s not about the tobacco industry. It’s about a big, generic corporation, how they manipulate people online, or how they get around regulations in order to achieve their financial goals."
In the game, the player uses tools and skills that McGregor and his editorial team need in their day-to-day investigations and reports. With image verification being an example of one of the most difficult challenges, the game will ask players to assess whether a viral image is accurate or not by using software to spot areas of the image that have been edited.
"It’s the basics and 101 of journalism - teaching people to be sceptical and what tools to use to crack the conspiracy, like searching court records or sting operations on a more extreme level," he explained.
"There’s a good opportunity to teach people how we do journalism. There is a real misunderstanding of how journalism works.
"If there ever was a time to be better informed about misinformation, it’s now - it couldn’t be more important," McGregor concluded.
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