How can you breathe?!
Change and the internet are two things that don’t get along very well.
There could be any number of reasons why, but the biggest is typically fear. As creatures of habit, humans have a hard time reacting to brand new stimuli once we get settled into a routine. We become accustomed to something that we enjoy and get scared that, eventually, it may leave us behind.
Destructoid has recently been subjected to quite a big change. Our acquisition by Enthusiast Gaming has some of our long time community members afraid that we’ll never be the same.
Coincidentally, there is another fairly large gaming website that has recently gone through a similar shift in ownership. Screwattack.com, founded in the same year as Destructoid, was acquired by Rooster Teeth in 2015. Just a few months ago, the company was turned over by its founder, Stuttering Craig, to a longtime employee (Chad James) so that Craig could create an independent streaming channel, called Game Attack, with his best friend Shaun Bolen.
It’s safe to say that longtime fans of Screwattack were a bit upset. The website had shifted away from the content that made it popular a decade ago and now even the father was leaving the company, which seems to be signaling the end. While I don’t believe that thought process, it’s not hard to see why some people are scared that their home for the last 10 years might be changing dramatically.
At RTX I had the chance to interview Stuttering Craig and Shaun Bolen, the tag team streaming duo of the world that makes up Game Attack. I asked them what they believe causes fan outrage to change, what they think is the recipe for staying relevant online and what the future may hold for them.
[Disclosure: I have previously supported Screwattack by buying merchandise from them and funding a Kickstarter for their convention in 2012. I have volunteered at nearly all of their conventions along with sponsoring Game Attack on YouTube.]
Craig started off by saying, “I’m going to a use a word that sounds harsh, but it’s not; Ignorance. It just means you don’t have knowledge on an issue. When you’re ignorant towards something, that’s okay! It’s not bad! A lot of times, people get upset about things they don’t know or that can’t be said correctly. That’s okay! It’s okay to be upset about things.”
Bolen then followed that up with, “immaturity in the audience.” I can definitely see that, as I’ve noticed similar reactions to seemingly pointless things. When developers break news that a game is being “censored,” people tend to react like the apocalypse is coming.
“I think Mass Effect 3 is my biggest thing when it comes to fan outrage,” Bolen continues. “Not only did fans force the creators to change the ending because they didn’t like it, but they forced two RPG icons out of the entire gaming space. I honestly think [the controversy around] Mass Effect 3 is a disgrace to all gamers everywhere.”
Relating this back to one of Screwattack’s productions, Death Battle (a show which sees two famous pop culture characters fight to the death), Bolen then proclaimed, “People forget that these are not real characters worth sending death threats over.”
Craig concurred with Bolen and added, “People are passionate about products, passionate about things. Anytime there is something they don’t like, just look at Death Battle. You take these icons that have massive fan bases and guess what? One of them dies. All of a sudden, you are the bad guy because you created this.”
“People hate change. They do! Nobody likes change,” Craig says. “You go to Pizza Hut for years and you like their thick crust pizza and when they don’t have that on the menu anymore, you’re going to be pissed! It’s just one of those things where, there is change on so many different levels and you just got to deal with it.”
“Change happens every day in life. Good; Bad; Indifferent. For us, we’ve dealt with a lot of change between our brands. We’re in the middle of one of the biggest changes right now. We created Game Attack in October and just two months ago we split away from our parent company. That is a lot of change in just eight months.”
It mostly comes down to the way the internet has evolved over the years. Craig even began explaining how social media has given rise to the ability for literally anyone to sound off on a subject. “The idea of having a voice is really great,” Craig says, “and I think it’s really fun. Unfortunately, you get really shitty voices sometimes. You take the equation of everyone having a voice, plus passion, plus ignorance and you get fan outrage.”
What is the best way to deal with said outrage, though? Do you try to hide the truth and keep everyone ignorant, or do you pull back the curtain and reveal the inner workings of your operation? Craig is more into the latter. “For me, personally,” Craig begins, “I try to be as honest as I possibly can about the situation.”
Bolen nods in agreement before adding, “You try to listen and be transparent about the change. There are some people that you are never going to appease. There is nothing you can do about that except for hope that they trust you.”
“Someone people won’t understand,” Craig follows up, “and some will. It’s similar with Destructoid; you guys have had an audience for a long time you’ve developed a relationship with them. There are going to be freak out moments from your most passionate fans and even fans you’ve never heard of. I think that as long as you’re transparent and you try to be as upfront and realistic as you can, that eventually your fans will see.“
What for the fans that just refuse to accept change? Does their feedback become meaningless? Do they offer nothing to the creative process, apart from a slight distraction? “I read the mad feedback,” Bolen says. “I take it to heart. But I also try to take whatever positive feedback I can out of it. I honestly ignore angry feedback that isn’t genuine.”
With all of that stated, what, then, becomes the recipe for success? How does a website remain relevant on the internet, a beast where even a day without an update can cause you to fade into obscurity? With specific regards to the past of Screwattack, Craig believes that never settling is what truly helps retain an audience.
“Whenever an idea came about for a show at Screwattack,” Craig says, “our thought process was ‘let’s do it! Let’s try!’ It was chaos! It was always chaos! But we ended up getting a show done and putting it out there. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t, but we always tried.”
Game Attack had originally started in a similar manner to Screwattack. Almost everything they put out on YouTube was pre-recorded and edited for maximum quality. It took a lot of man hours and hard work to create a fifteen minute video, but the fruits of that labor were never really present. One of the most popular videos on the channel, a ridiculous and hysterical spoof of Who Wants to be a Millionaire, only earned Game Attack $53.
Clearly staying the course was not going to work. As Bolen put, they could work 120 hour weeks to make maybe $250-$500, or they needed to switch formats into the quickly evolving livestreaming community. Screwattack has a history with such endeavors, having launched one of the earliest livestream shows with “Out of the Box” in 2008, so they weren’t opposed to the idea.
“One of our community members,” Bolen recounts, “had stated that YouTube’s VOD (video on demand) content is stagnating just as fast as livestreaming is innovating. I thought that was really, really, really true. You look at not even just gaming channels, but vlog channels and stuff similar to that; I think once bloggers and lifestyle channels figure out that they can have one-to-one interaction with their audience, you’re going to see VOD content evaporate.”
Craig then interjects, “That’s just part of innovation. Now you can buy these programs where you’re streaming 10 minutes after installing it to your PC. It is so easy to stream right now.”
“I’ve always been interested in building a really intimate community,” Bolen states. “Screwattack wasn’t the right platform for that. Craig and I had livestreamed five days a week for 16 months trying to build that audience and it wasn’t really there. That’s okay, too.”
“At that time,” Craig mentions, “we were around three million subscribers [for Screwattack] on YouTube. Just from a sheer subscriber number, when you reach a size that big, it’s hard to have that intimacy. For us, we saw the audience shifting. I felt there was a hardcore audience in there that was longing for something different. Something more intimate with the kind of interaction that Screwattack was originally known for.”
Along with the direct fan interaction, it was simply a matter of YouTube giving more power to creators. Ad revenue might be getting slashed, but there are now ways that fans can directly support the creators they love. Craig even mentioned how they lean heavily on YouTube sponsors (where fans pay a small fee to get content), direct donations through PayPal and YouTube’s “Super Chat” system (which allows viewers to pay to have a message broadcast to the entire channel).
“It was just kind of a natural step,” Craig states. “I feel like, with Screwattack, it was a compilation of everything I had done with my life up to that point. With Game Attack, I feel like this is what I’m here to do.”
Before leaving my chat with Craig, he wanted to share a message to everyone on Destructoid and the internet: