At 11 AM, we started a game. 33 hours later, we finished it. People watched, and we made a good deal of money – not for ourselves, but for hospitals.
There’s a succinct summary for one of the most unique weekends of my life. If you’re willing to click at this point, though, you’re probably expecting more.
It started out as a joke. One day, as a friend and I sat around, one of us turned to the other and thought aloud, “Hey. What if someone took a full-size RPG, and played it all in one sitting? All those hours, without stopping. Just a straight playthrough."
An outlandish idea, sure, but certainly not the most ridiculous, or even very original. When we use the term “gaming community”, we’re often not referring to people who have a normal affinity for the hobby. And the community had done it, multiple times. Countless marathoners have ripped through whole game series like butter. Loading Ready Run tortures themselves each year playing Desert Bus for days. And somehow, as we became aware of these feats, that little offhand thought morphed into, “We have to do this.”
Now, I don’t know if this kind of reading’s your cup of tea, but I think we have an interesting perspective. Most of you know pretty well how the Mario Marathon guys run things – super professional, with a dozen-man team, heavy promotion and exposure, and an annual donation total that helps make Child’s Play’s yearly earnings exceed Robert Kotick’s. Those individuals, and what they do, is tremendous. But how could three teenagers ever hope to follow their lead?
As it turned out, we had a lot of things going for us. My friend happened to have a full rig of A/V equipment for Let’s Plays that transitioned fine to livestreaming. I happened to dabble in both web and graphic design; add in a fifteen dollar domain from GoDaddy, and we had the semblance of a professional web presence.
From the outset, we decided our stream would join the ranks of those raising money for Child’s Play, Penny Arcade’s fantastic charity that sends toys and games to kids in hospitals. In part, I must admit, this was done in the spirit of increasing exposure. Mostly, however, we really did want to give back. We raised two hundred dollars for Child’s Play before we’d even started streaming, built largely on the backs of supportive friends and relatives – a small figure for Mario Marathon, but an inspiring one for us.
I’d like to make special mention that the woman in charge of the Child’s Play organization is nothing short of a fantastic human. The first year we tried planning an event, we were completely unprepared for the undertaking, and the whole thing fell apart the week before. I felt awful – not for myself, but on the thought I’d embarrassed a major charity that was counting on us to make good on our promise. She cordially waved my concerns aside, and I was quite relieved – it was rather arrogant, in retrospect, to think our little production had any major effect on their operations.
A year passed, and, thoroughly confident we’d gotten our shit together, we tried again. The event was set for the last weekend in July. Selecting an RPG was tough, but Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door ultimately best met our requirements: fun, colorful, joke-filled, and beatable in two days without difficulty. Thirty hours of gaming loomed on the horizon – and so the date of our first “AllDayPlay” approached.
A strange thing happened, the closer we got to our stream: all the enthusiasm and excitement that had cultivated our event slowly dried up, and was replaced with dread. We realized what we were getting ourselves into – and why? Why were torturing ourselves with this awful thing, and when did we think we’d enjoy it? We were going to sit in a basement for two days and play a video game; on top of that, we expected people to watch. The day of the stream, I woke up and met my friend at his house. In my mind’s eye, I can still see the look we gave each other, as he went to set the cameras rolling. The look said, “This is gonna suuuuuuuuuuuck.”
Now, obviously, if it had sucked, or if it was a miserable failure, I wouldn’t have taken the time to write all this up. Ironically, where many of our other summer plans ended in disappointment, the first AllDayPlay for Child’s Play was a blast. We raised over six hundred dollars for the organization, and had a better time in thirty-three hours than we did in the next three months. I guess the best way to describe what happened during the event itself, and to offer tips on running such a thing, would be to tell you what we did wrong.
In the first place, promotion of the event suffered from our own lack of experience. Marathon aggregate sites like Genstream and Game-Streams.com gladly listed us, but otherwise, we were on our own website, and no one else’s. Foolishly, I focused on trying to get us on giant gaming sites: Kotaku, Destructoid, Joystiq, etc. When your name is Mario Marathon and your viewership is in the thousands, this approach works fine; but what reputable game news outlet was going to take up its page space with a tiny fleck like us?
Smaller livestreams are infinitely more successful when they take smaller steps. We had around a dozen viewers for our entire broadcast. Not bad for a first try – but most of them were complete strangers! What percent would our viewership have increased, if we’d convinced just one of our friends to watch? Two? Three? This was a fundamental oversight of ours, and it’s worth reiterating – instead of trying to cast a large net from a small boat, we ought to have worked with the decent-sized base we already had. Needless to say, our attempts at social networking followed a similar route, and failed.
The stream itself went perfectly fine, but we committed a cardinal sin of marathons: full-on sleep deprivation. We had a three-man team, and controller swaps built into our schedule to allow each of us to sleep to a full eight hours – stupidly, however, we decided caffeine would be our sleep. In one forty-eight hour period, I slept a single hour by accident. By seven A.M., we were utterly delirious; for the first time in my life, I was tired when the sun was up. While this part of the stream was probably the most entertaining for our viewers, the decision was reckless, and certainly dangerous to our health. One must, must get decent sleep when running a marathon like this. The feeling you get when you don’t sleep for two days? I’ve felt it. It really isn’t fun.
From our first blurry, silly vision, we managed to craft a livestream event that fulfilled all our expectations and more. Problems aside, we succeeded, and in the following days, we couldn’t help but feel a little proud. We really did it! We really played The Thousand Year Door at all once, live; in doing so, we also raised money for Child’s Play, joked around with a wonderful audience in the chat, and met some persons that I can only call Gods of Philanthropy (you have my eternal graditude, Pongo Sapiens). Overall, it was a fantastic experience that we still look back on warmly.