I told this story on WOFF100 but I'll tell it again. Early on in the run of Watch Out For Fireballs!, maybe around episode 6 or 7, I thought it'd be a great idea to try to get official sponsorship. I was impressed with our meager numbers and our feedback out the gate that, while in retrospect was paltry, at the time seemed gargantuan. I was coming off a series of little listened podnonsense that topped out at about a hundo or two listeners, maybe an eighth of which I knew personally. I was feeling pride.
I've talked before about getting into podcasts largely via Retronauts. At the time, I had naive hoop dreams about being that. I knew even then that podcasts didn't make money and that the 1up Staff I so adored didn't make their money from their shows. So what did I want? I don't know. Passes to press events? Renown? Access? Free games? Probably all those in mild measure but largely, I think the thing I wanted, was a veneer of legitimacy. I was putting a lot of time in and I wanted to feel like the world valued it, even if it was a tiny, slimey corner of the world called gaming.
That's an illusion I've hence divested. Gaming Journalism isn't what it used to be and would likely be a fools errand even for someone with extremely modest desires like myself. I've read enough about layoffs and mistreatment to decide it is a job I would have to approach with significant salt.
But in those salad days, I actually pursued GOG sponsorship fairly aggressively. I really like Good Old Games. They did an awesome presentation at the first PAX I attended. They were making it easy and cheap to play all my favorite games. And they weren't gross. The Always DRM Free tag meant/means a lot to me. Just let the people play the fucking games.
Given that they loved old games and we loved old games, this seemed like an appropriate match. My thinking was that if we grew our audience, they would benefit from sales of the games we were covering and could provide free copies to us and to our listeners. We'd gain all the perks mentioned above (access to shows, a veneer of legitimacy), and perhaps some pay. At the time it made sense.
In retrospect, this was a terrible idea. Here's why:
- Limitations of subject material. GOG doesn't carry console games for obvious reasons. As much as I love PC gaming, I spent just as much time, if not more, playing Nintendo and I imagine this goes double for Kole and triple for most of our audience. When I look at the list of games we've covered for the show I like to think we've done a pretty excellent job of curating a collection of masterpieces, interesting failures, personal favorites and quirky overlooked gems. If I imagine what that list of 87 games might look like if we were constrained to the GOG catalog, the show would be very, very different. I imagine we'd more or less become the Adventure Game/WRPG podcast. Which is cool, but 87 games? You run out of Baldur's Gates, Arcanums, Darkfalls, Betrayals at Krondor and the like eventually. We'd end up doing some serious scraping at some point. The makeup of the show would be entirely different.
And to be fair, I'd totally listen to that show. I love those two genres. But it'd be like eating steak for every single meal.
Why what we do is better
Right now, we can do anything we want. We've even stretched the definition of retro to suit our needs when the mood struck. We try to do as wide a variety as possible but our preferences still win out. We do a lot of CRPGs and Adventure games. But we also get to do things like Super Metroid or Silent Hill. This is awesome. We've grown to trust our instincts and hopefully you guys have as well.
- Conflict of Interest So, when we ran up against your Phantasmagorias and the like, how much pressure would we have to sell the game? We played Sacrifice and really hated it. Would GOG not publish an anti commercial for something it was trying to sell? Would our audience, largely dyed in the wool GOGfolk still listen after we found one of their sacred cows wanting?
Why what we do is better
Right now, we're beholden to no one. I honestly think Metroid Prime is a pretty bad experience. I think Pokemon Snap is a stone cold must play. I think Gamergate is trash and games are becoming more progressive and should continue along that trajectory. I can say all of those things without hearing about it from anyone but you guys.
You guys matter, your opinions matter, but they're just that: opinions. And we can have fun conversations with different opinions. There's no conversation in podcast bosses holding our feet to the fire to find nice things to say about Sacrifice.
I certainly don't want to toot our own horn but we do some weird shit on the show. My favorite bits and sketches are meta and dark. My favorite digressions are surprising and sad. My favorite shows on the network to actually record (Abject Suffering and Teenage Dirtbags) are outright fucking stupid. I don't consider my sense of humor to be particularly classy or subtle, as the Year of the Tadpole will attest.
It's hard to imagine an official parent company allowing us to do what we did at the beginning of the Call of Duty episode where technically the entire episode is still in the sketch. Or with the Fallout episode where we began our show exactly like another popular podcast. We'd probably get notes about licensed music in the Rockband Episode and maybe even in our regular episodes.
Why how we do it is better
All of these points come down to freedom. WOFF is at a place where, yes, we do have to worry about these concerns. I might put the entirety of a song in The Pitch but not in an episode of WOFF. But if I want to throw Stand into an episode, or use like 20 songs in the Rockband episode, or use the sad Hulk music in every other episode, I do it because though we have a sizable audience there's this wonderful feeling that no one is really trying to catch us at anything.
This allows us a great degree of power. We can follow our guts and let that find us people rather than shape our guts into what we (or someone else) think the people want.
This is fucking great. The network is fucking great. I'm really proud of what we do and though I think we could do better (we can always do better), what we've done is true. It's an expression of ourselves without being muddied up with interference from an organization with more power. And that's awesome.