What’s McCall’s “Hollywood Blockbuster Deal?”

Checking out a teaser pitch for McCall's Private Deal Group about a "potential 16X gain"

By Travis Johnson, Stock Gumshoe, November 17, 2020

This is the pitch that caught a lot of Gumshoe reader eyes over the past couple days:

“This is essentially the opportunity we have before us today…

“To not only be an investor in a Hollywood brand, but to earn multiple checks per year…

“While seeing a realistic chance for 16X gains or more.”

It’s from Matt McCall, who’s peddling this intriguing-sounding “buy into entertainment residuals” investment… which, if you’ve been around Stock Gumshoe for a while, means he’s really talking about something like royalties, and we looooove royalties. Investing once and reaping recurring and perpetual returns is one of the best ways for the lazy man to invest, and I’m nothing if not a lazy man.

So McCall got his hooks into me a bit with this one, and I decided to figure out what he’s talking about.  This is from the order form for his Private Deal Group ($3,499/yr, no refunds), summing it up:

Getting Rich From Hollywood’s Next Blockbuster Franchise. This report lays out, in detail, exactly how to buy into the private business targeting major Hollywood brands. I believe this one opportunity alone could see 16X gains. You’ll receive two checks annually — once in May and again in November — if you decide to invest.”

So that’s the promise of this particular private deal offering that McCall says he can tell you about, though, of course, he also says that he’ll be recommending lots of other deals if you subscribe — these kinds of “private placements” and “private deals” are all the rage for newsletter publishers who are trying to differentiate themselves with their high-cost “private investing” services, will this one be better than past ideas we’ve considered?

Well, let’s at least figure it out and take a look. Bear with me.

More from the ad:

“$2 billion is paid out in residuals EVERY year.

“It’s an enormous amount of passive income the average investor is clueless about.

“And today you have an opportunity to tap into a similar type of income stream and use it to better your own life.

“This is not something that is reserved for A-list actors or insider film producers anymore.

“Thanks to the mega-deal I just recently discovered, which is targeting Hollywood’s next billion-dollar franchise…

“Viewers at home tonight can learn about an investment opportunity that could end up changing their situation forever.”

How can you resist, right? And better yet, it’s somehow exclusive…

“This is NOT a stock market investment of any kind.

“It has nothing to do with options, bonds, cryptocurrencies, or any other traditional investment.

“In fact, what he’s about to reveal is not an investment the average Joe normally takes part in.”

We aren’t average! No-siree, we are entirely above average and absolutely super cool and smart… so this is definitely right up our alley, right? So what is it?

“This might be the best and only chance you ever get to be part of Hollywood history…

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“A real-life blockbuster deal.

“And potentially make A LOT of money in the process…”

So what is this investment? We’re told that it is “currently targeting a major Hollywood brand,” and that it comes with “revenue rights.” And the ad dangles plenty of examples of huge hits that brought massive returns for their investors and creators, like the Marvel superhero movies, Star Wars, Harry Potter, James Bond… you get the idea. RICHES.

And he makes the notion of residuals sound almost magical, noting that Leonardo DiCaprio is still earning income from Titanic 20+ years later, and that Tom Hanks has now earned more than $60 million from Forrest Gump over the past 30 years, among other examples.

So what is this “billion dollar franchise” McCall has found? What’s the “mega deal” he’s talking about?

He hints some at it…

“The Hollywood franchise that’s being targeted all started in 2011 as a massively successful, bestselling novel.

“This novel spent 62 weeks on The New York Time’s Best Sellers list….

“In 2018, this novel became a Hollywood film.

“Directed by none other than the greatest director to ever live: Steven Spielberg.”

And apparently this movie made buckets of money…

“… the film generated nearly $580 million from global box office sales.

“This doesn’t include an additional $29 million from DVD and Blu-ray sales….

“And today, viewers have a new way to profit from a deal that’s targeting this Hollywood brand.

“This is your chance to own revenue-sharing rights tied directly to the success of this franchise.

“You could be collecting checks because of this blockbuster years from now….

“If you’ve ever dreamed of earning passive income from a real-life blockbuster brand, this could be the only chance you’ll get.”

So how is it that you can get “residuals” on a movie whose financial life is mostly over now? I’m sure it’s still making money from TV and other sources, but the lion’s share is done… McCall says that’s because this one title is about to become a franchise…. more from the ad:

“Because a sequel to the first novel is already planned.

“This is why I’m calling it a full-fledged Hollywood franchise.

“In fact, the author has already finished the manuscript for the second novel….

“Casting for the sequel has already begun….

“…it’s been reported Spielberg is assisting the author with the sequel’s storyline…”

That’s all teasing Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, the best-selling book about an immersive video game, which led to a successful film from Steven Spielberg a couple years ago (I guess it would have been a blockbuster for a smaller filmmaker, but it certainly doesn’t make Spielberg’s “top ten”). And we’re far past a manuscript now, the second book, Ready Player Two will come out in a week, and presumably it will do well. There is no second film in the making, nor a promise that Steven Spielberg would be involved, but, of course, Hollywood loves a sequel and it’s entirely possible that one could be written and produced at some point — probably it’s not something we’d see until 2023 at the earliest.

So what connection does that have to any investment? It’s a little tenuous, so bear with me for a moment while we go through the more useful clues…

“You have an opportunity to join a deal targeting a proven Hollywood film franchise which already has millions of fans.

“And has already banked hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office.

“The profit potential is enormous here…

“Your risk is lowered because this brand has already launched and is a massive success.

“The key takeaway here is: merchandising rights lead to serious wealth.”

And apparently there is a private deal, with a minimum investment of $1,000…

“It’s open to anyone.

“In fact, the minimum investment amount is only $1,000.

“As long as you have $1,000, you can become an early investor in this private company.

“And that’s good news…

“Because this is THE merchandising dealmaker in the industry.”

So what specific clues do we get about this private company we’re able to invest in?

Here’s a bit more from the ad:

“This private company has already built a sophisticated system.

“It has a proven track record of taking well-known brands and turning them into million-dollar ventures.

“Only we’re not talking action figures and comic books here…. This is much bigger.

“You see, this company’s specialty is in the booming $135 BILLION video game industry.”

OK, so it’s a company that makes video games… are they making something specifically to do with Ready Player Two? Or is that just an oblique reference, because Ready Player One integrated vintage video games into a new story and perhaps reinvigorated interest in them?

Let’s check some more clues…

“This private company created the first arcade video games for Apple’s Macintosh in 1992….

“It has since moved its offices right next door to Pixar, Disney’s animated film studio….

“This private company has developed proprietary software with capabilities that exceeds its competitors.

“It allows them to create a single video game — then translate its code and distribute the game on dozens of platforms….

“… this private business’ specialty is to create massively successful video games based on iconic pop culture franchises…

“They have a proven track record of taking some of the biggest and most successful movie franchises and turning into profitable video game ventures…”

OK, so we’re getting warm here — that sounds like it’s very likely a reference to Digital Eclipse, which was indeed located just down the road from Pixar in Emeryville, CA (it may still be headquartered in that town, I’m not sure), and had as its first commercial products the ported-over versions of arcade games that could be played on the Apple Macintosh in the early 1990s. And they did come out with some movie-inspired games in later years, mostly for the various Game Boy platforms from Nintendo.

This all sounds a bit odd and old, though, so what is it we’re really talking about? More from McCall’s ad:

“Both Aladdin and Lion King were huge box office hits, earning more than $1 billion collectively. But their video game sales were only around 10,000 copies.

“Then this private business, which viewers have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to invest in, got involved.

“Along with its skilled team of engineers and proprietary technology, this company completely revamped the Aladdin and Lion King video games.

“Now it’s estimated they’ll see 500,000 units sold.

“That’s a fiftyfold increase in sales.

“And because these games are higher quality, the retail price for each game was raised threefold.

“This is just a single case study of how this private business uses famous name brands to make huge returns.”

OK, that’s not true (there were several games based on the 1992 Disney film Aladdin, and at least two of them were huge hits for the Sega Genesis and Nintendo Super NES, which is why there is nostalgic demand… and why Disney thought it worthwhile to have the game restored and republished), but that’s almost certainly still Digital Eclipse — the company’s best-known employee is probably Frank Cifaldi, who is a pioneer of video game preservation and is trying to make sure older games remain available and viable, using the company’s Eclipse Engine.

Here’s how it was described in an interview with one of the producers of a different Disney nostalgia package they put together in 2017:

“The Eclipse Engine effectively decompiles the game data and rebuilds it into a different programming language for new platforms. This process preserves everything from the original games as they played on their original consoles, including frame rate quirks and flickering that those of us who grew up playing these games experienced.”

The classic 1990s video games based on the Aladdin and Lion King movies were indeed re-released recently, with the new versions developed by Digital Eclipse and Nighthawk Interactive. They’re generally not new games, they’re old games that are in demand because of nostalgia — people want to play those games they remember from their childhood, but they want those games to be ported to new systems, so they can play them on their phone or Xbox or Nintendo Switch instead of on an old Sega Genesis or Nintendo 64 console that can no longer even be plugged into a modern TV, and on higher resolution monitors, with improved gameplay, with perhaps a few new camera angles or levels thrown in as a bonus. That’s generally what Digital Eclipse has been doing over the past five years, since the company was restructured with that clear focus on video game preservation.

There’s an interesting blog post here about the demand for vintage video games, and about the financial challenge of bringing them back into “print,” in case you’re curious… just like with TV shows and movies, the availability of older stuff is almost overwhelming and we’ve recently gotten used to being able to find whatever we want, whenever we want — but there are always a few things that you remember from your childhood that just aren’t available anywhere anymore.

There are a few other hints that make it sound like they’re doing something revolutionary…

“This private business not only redesigned one of the most classic video games…

“But they took the Street Fighter game and gave it 21st-century technology.

“They did this by adding online play, which was previously unavailable. It allows users to “fight” each other from across the world.

Street Fighter has sold one million copies since this private business launched its redesign.

Mega Man was a similar situation.

“This science fiction, action-packed video game became popular in 1987.

“But just recently, this private business took over development.

“When the new Mega Man game was released, IGN.com said it was a ‘lesson for how games… should be engineered.’

“And just like Street Fighter, Mega Man was a financial success too.

“It sold over one million copies in recent years.”

OK, so that’s sort of true — Digital Eclipse did reissue a version of Street Fighter, but from what I can tell they did not invent the online play feature, they’re trying to recreate the experience of old games, not come up with something new.  And, yes, arguably their most successful game reissue was a series of the early Nintendo Mega Man games. I don’t know where McCall’s getting his “financial success” or “over one million copies” data, but I guess we’ll just take him at his word there.

So that still tells us we’re looking at some kind of Digital Eclipse investment… but it’s a small private company with only a handful of employees, so what’s the story here? It’s not directly investable, and there’s no obvious call for investments from the company.

More clues, then…

“Like I said, this company takes iconic and valuable pop culture franchises and turns them into mega-selling video game ventures….

“This business prefers to turn to the private market to fund its projects…

“Especially for the really big projects, like the ones we’ve been talking about today.

“In return, folks who join in share the revenue these video games generate.

“And we’re not talking chump change. This is big money.”

I’d step back from that for a moment, this company isn’t taking “pop culture franchises” and turning them into video games… it’s taking old video games that have pop culture significance and nostalgia appeal and preserving and reissuing them, generally in as faithful a manner as possible (including recreating that “smudgy glow” of the pixelated cathode ray TV in HD). There may be money in this, but this is not the creation of new hit products — it’s essentially making money from reruns, it’s just that making a “rerun” of a game is more complex than reprinting a book or even remastering a movie or song.

And apparently they’ve got other plans, too…

“The private video game company I’ve been discussing is also targeting the James Bond GoldenEye brand.

“Investors have the chance to benefit from this brand…

“Just like the people who grew richer from the first game back in the ’90s.”

That James Bond Goldeneye 007 game was indeed a huge hit, one of the first real “first person shooter” games that became popular on the N64 console… so much so that a little studio put a lot of sweat into trying to recreate the game over the past few years in a new “Goldeneye 25” edition, though the rights holders shot them down this year. Maybe Digital Eclipse will get involved in trying to resurrect that game, too, but if so that news is not public anywhere I’ve seen.

And there’s some more promise of potential big-name deals in sports, though not much in the way of specifics…

“The videogame company with licenses for both the NBA and NFL is being targeted by this private business for a potential licensing deal.”

OK, so I’m satisfied that he’s talking about Digital Eclipse to some degree… but what on earth is the investment? We do get a few more clues…

“We’re talking about a private revenue-sharing opportunity.

“You can own a piece of the future sales of this private video game company…

“That’s currently targeting Hollywood’s next major franchise.

“Investors collect their share of the revenue over and over and over again.

“You’ll have the opportunity to receive two checks per year. One on May 15. And another on November 15.

“You’ll receive them year after year. There is no time limit. As long as sales are made, you get paid.

“That’s why I’ve been saying 16X gains here isn’t out of the question.”

And some more specifics that will be helpful in confirmation…

“You are entitled to earn a portion of 50% of this company’s revenue until they 3X.

“After this event happens, you will then receive your share of 25% of revenues.

“Now it’s important to point out, your earnings are NOT capped.”

And just to be fair, about 2/3 of the way through they finally get to the obligatory disclaimer…

“Now of course, just like with any other investment, this investment involves risk as well. Past performance does not indicate future success. And I would never recommend investing any amount you aren’t willing to lose.”

But how does one get “residuals” from Digital Eclipse?

Well, it’s a little complicated… but I think it’s very likely that what Matt McCall is talking about here is a private investment in a rights fund being raised by Fig Gaming for a Digital Eclipse publishing partnership. Fig is a publisher that has been offering private video game investments for several years now, essentially a crowdfunding platform that offered actual equity or revenue share rights instead of just gamer perks, and was recently bought by the private investing platform Republic.

This isn’t like Fig’s primary business of raising money from individuals for specific games, they offer that on their website and you can get involved with deals for different developers to help fund their game development and share the revenue,  but this offering is a more typical raise of a private fund that will be used for developing unnamed future Digital Eclipse games, with a revenue share for those who invest.

What they’re offering is called Fig Gaming Shares — Digital Eclipse, and according to their SEC filing the goal of this Reg. A fundraising is to raise $10 million at $1,000 a share. They filed the original registration for Reg. A a few months ago, but it looks like the offering went “live” on October 29.

And yes, the goal is for this to be a revenue share agreement that pays two dividends a year, based on their share of the sales receipts of those future Digital Eclipse Games… assuming, of course, that such games are published and become successful enough to generate meaningful revenue. They say they’ll return funds to investors if they aren’t used within three years to develop or acquire licensed games.

This Reg. A offering is not limited to accredited investors, but, of course, if you’re considering an investment in even one share that means you’re risking $1,000 on something that’s essentially “sight unseen” — you don’t know which future Digital Eclipse projects it will fund, there are not many specifics in the offering, and there’s a very real chance that you’ll never come close to getting your investment back as those games are developed and sold over the next few years. I don’t know what the probabilities are, of course, we’re all guessing at this point and it’s entirely possible that this investment fund will fund duds and lose all your money, or develop a big nostalgia hit and generate solid royalties that are passed along to you — we don’t know, I just would go into any such investment with the assumption that great returns are a remote possibility, not a likely probability.

What are the games they’ll be developing? We don’t know. Is there a connection to Ready Player Two? We don’t know that, either. There is a connection to Ready Player One, sort of, in that the story of that book (and movie) was connected to vintage video games, and might have spurred some additional interest in such games, so perhaps Ready Player Two will lead to more of the same… but there isn’t an actual Ready Player One video game that I’m aware of (there is a beta version on Steam of Ready Player One: Oasis, though it doesn’t seem to have gotten far in the past couple years), and I don’t know if the role that vintage video games like Joust played in Ready Player One led to any particular resurgence in the Joust game (or any financial returns for such — that was one of my late-80s faves, personally, and there are ported “arcade” versions of classics like Joust, Gauntlet, Paperboy and Spy Hunter sometimes sold for new platforms like Xbox, and some of those were originally ported by a previous iteration of this same company, Digital Eclipse, though I don’t have any idea how much money they make… and, of course, the experience is completely different than the real vintage arcades of my youth, for that you have to visit a vintage place like our local Quarters or the Pinball Hall of Fame in Las Vegas).

The critical note is that this is the early-stage funding of creative work, and that’s inherently risky even if the nostalgia factor might mean that there’s likely to be at least a baseload audience who will be excited to see their favorite game (whatever it might be) brought back to life.  If it was an easy return, they probably wouldn’t be crowdfunding — if restoring a vintage video game was widely seen as an automatic annuity return, they’d be able to get a check from a large investor for $10 million in a heartbeat. Yes, it’s possible for companies to want to be democratic and want to include the little guy, and it’s possible that it will work out, but when you’re being sold something it’s important to realize how much of that is a promise and how much is a tease.

What’s in McCall’s presentation is a tease, as I see it, with lots of promotional exaggeration, but, assuming I’m right about the fact that he’s pitching this Fig — Digital Eclipse investment, what’s in the actual SEC filings is much more specific financially and much less specific creatively (despite McCall’s hints about Ready Player Two and Goldeneye 007, we don’t know what games Digital Eclipse might develop).  That makes it sound much less dramatically appealing.   Maybe McCall has been told by the company some things about what games Digital Eclipse intends to try to develop with this funding, or maybe he’s guessing or there are some investor presentations on this that I haven’t seen yet, I don’t know… the one thing he notes in the ad that seems entirely wrong is the “perpetual” bit about revenue continuing to roll in indefinitely, my reading of the offering indicates that there’s definitely a termination date (it’s after a pretty huge return, to be fair, five years after the point t