How I Got Here II - Howcast Gaming


Sure, we were already so far ahead of schedule, but we weren’t all the way there. As cool as it would be to start Monday with half of the game finished, wouldn’t it be cooler to start with the entire game finished? So instead of sleep, I opted to spend the next six hours in the freezing cold office working on the rest of the videos. By 9:30 in the morning I finished editing and exporting the rest of the game and with an entire full day between us and the game’s launch, we had a complete walk-through.  

Rather than going home and taking the day off, I continued to work that Monday. We spread out the uploads, but before the day was done we had all forty-one walk-through videos uploaded and live. When I finally let my coworkers know that I had actually been in the office a full 24 hours without sleep, they insisted I was crazy and that I go home to get some sleep. The thing was, I wasn’t tired. In fact the thrill of the project, everything from the race of getting the game and recording to the payoff of watching the views build up on all of the videos kept me fully awake and alert.

I don’t remember how open I was to myself about it at the time, but that day was really important to me. It was the first time I had fun working at work. I mean, I’ve had fun at work before that, but it was usually in between any actual work getting done. It reminded me what it felt like to have a passion again. For nearly three years before that day I was just kind of coasting without a plan. However for that one day I had a mission, I had fun working on that mission, and I felt a sense of accomplishment after completing it, even if it was just a silly video game walkthrough.

The video series did well enough that we got the greenlight to do another. The follow-up game would be Portal 2, and this time we would do it during office hours and with hired producers (one of whom was my best friend Steve). The fact that it was a puzzle based game made it especially well suited for walkthroughs, and so that series managed to do even better. The two series’ were enough for the higher ups to justify a dedicated channel, and so just a month or so later Howcast Gaming was born. By the time the channel was up and running, my buddy Joe had left Howcast to move to LA and pursue a career in writing. So without him there, I was given the reigns to oversee the channel and all of the videos on it.

Howcast Gaming left to right: Ben, Steve, Me, and Vince

Howcast Gaming left to right: Ben, Steve, Me, and Vince

At this point Ben, who had helped us with the pilot series, was working at the company full-time. We also hired a friend of Joe’s, Vince, and my best friend Steve. Vince and Steve did the lion’s share of recording and editing for the channel, Ben did occasional videos and tutorials, and I oversaw the direction of the channel while also juggling my old post-production role, because welcome to "scrappy" internet startups.

At two years it wasn’t a lengthy endeavor, and between my lack of experience and Howcast being Howcast, it wasn’t the best operation. Regardless, Howcast Gaming was the most fun I’d have at the company. It was the only time up until that point in which I was actually choosing to stay at the office late. It was the only time I would wake up on a Monday morning and actually want to go to work. It was a taste of what everyone talks about when they talk about doing what you love for a living.

One of the projects on the channel was a Minecraft Let’s Play series. I volunteered to do it because I loved the game of Minecraft and because I couldn’t let the other three be the ones to get to play all the games. It ran for one full year as a weekly series and when it started I sounded like I was on horse tranquilizers.

As far as Let’s Plays go, it was about as cliche and basic as you could get. I was playing basic generic Minecraft, with no real twist or hook or goal. Just playing every week to play. It was a lot of fun to make and learning about the format was interesting, but as far as content goes, it’s not something I plan to re-watch anytime soon.

By the end of the year it was starting to become apparent that the channel was on a downward path. It wasn’t at the fault of anyone on the team, except perhaps myself. Howcast was a very "quantity focused" kind of company by that point, and with that being my first job where I was managing a team, I basically never questioned those above me. You want 100+ videos from Skyrim even though every decent channel was doing half of that with longer videos? Sure, no problem. Want those five 30-second Minecraft tutorials split into five videos with an intro and an outro and everything repeated twice to hit that one-minute mark for advertising purposes? You got it boss!

I never really pushed back, and as a result the channel very quickly became out of touch with the direction gaming channels were going. I mean, I don’t fully blame myself either. I still put plenty of that on Howcast for pushing some failed ideas to begin with. They were so focused on scale that there wasn’t a whole lot of thought put into if it was a good idea or not. Guys, do we really need three different “How to Dougie” videos? Really?

Anyway, with the end of the channel in sight, I decided to end the Let’s Play series. When I announced as much, I was really surprised at how many regular viewers were bummed and asked for more. It felt good to know that there were people out there who enjoyed the videos. It also was one hell of an ego stroke, I won't lie. People out there wanted to keep listening to me talk about games and watch me play them? Sure!

I figured if I was going to put the effort and time into a second series, I’d rather do it on my own channel where I would have final say in how many videos the series would be, or how long they’d run. I was also going to avoid Minecraft and move into other games. New games every few weeks in fact. One day I’d be playing that game Grand Theft Auto. The next day I’d be playing that game Call of Duty, and so on. I decided then to name my channel accordingly: Rob Plays That Game.