Where am I going? Nowhere!

As promised this is just a quick update to let you know where you’ll be able to find my gaming & comedy videos from now on. Originally it seemed like I’d be doing freelance for a whole bunch of sites, but I realised that the work I’d end up doing would be far more formulaic, less interesting, and in some cases heavily sponsored.

But now - to be blunt - that shit ain’t happening. Within 24 hours of launching a Patreon page to try and fund my work in a way that didn’t involve adverts, sponsors, or any form of compromise - I achieved the basic funding I needed to start doing my own thing. 

If you want to know more about why & how this is all happening (or feel like chucking a couple of quid into the ongoing Matt Lees bucket) check out www.patreon.com/mattlees

But for those of you who couldn’t give a piss about specifics, all you need to know is this: You’ll find all the good stuff without any of the guff at www.youtube.com/user/MattLees

Cheers to those of you who’ve followed my work this far, and OMNI-CHEERS to those of you who’ve helped make this happen. It is going to be awesome. 

BYE!

WHERE ARE YOU GOING, DICKHEAD?

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Hello there!

Following on from last month’s announcement that I was leaving VideoGamer, I’ve had tons of people asking me a handful of very specific questions - some of which I was unable to answer at the time. For the sake of ease I thought I’d put together a cheeky little Q&A - if you’ve got another question you’d like to see answered, let me know and I’ll do my best to add it to this post. Cheers for continuing to follow my work, you’re really rather lovely.

ARE YOU ALRIGHT?

I’m fine, thanks! I should clarify that the reason I’m leaving VideoGamer is because I could see myself burning out if I didn’t do so. Lots of people seemed concerned - which is very kind - but this decision was proactive rather than reactive, dealing with the issue before the problem became real.

WHERE ARE YOU GOING?

This one is still a bit up in the air - I’ve signed a contract with The Escapist to do a weekly video series starting in March that will run for just over three months. It’s a project I’m really excited about - partly because it isn’t gaming related. I won’t say any more at this stage for fear of spoiling the surprise, but if you’re a fan of my comedy stuff I think you’re going to love it.

As mentioned in my previous post, I’ll also be giving a regular portion of my time to work with the excellent Shut Up & Sit Down, producing more video content with them and continuing to juggle the insane logistics of our subscriber ‘Gold Club’ bags.

AREN’T YOU DOING VIDEOGAME STUFF?!

Of course I am, gorgeous! I’m aware that I don’t have infinite amounts of time, and freelance video production is a strange and fickle thing to sort out. I’m keen not to piss anybody off by agreeing to too many regular commitments and then having to cancel some of that stuff, so I’m taking things slowly and looking at options. I’ll definitely be doing a weekly show of some sort at a gaming website - it’s just a case of nailing down what, and where.

BUT WHERE DO I GO NOW, YOU BASTARD?

I’m glad you asked! I’m really keen to get back into the habit of making videos for the sake of fun, which is why I’ll be doing my best to stream stuff on Twitch and upload stuff to YouTube whenever I have the inclination and time. I’ve weighed up the idea of going balls-out and seriously trying to launch my own YouTube channel as a buz-nuzz-thung, but I’ve got fairly major concerns about the viability of the platform as a way of making money. BUT: That’s another story for another time. (YT channel currently contains ancient comedy vids, cooking, projects for friends, and nondescript bollocks. New stuff will come soon.)

Twitch: http://www.twitch.tv/thejamsponge

YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/user/mattlees

IS THAT YOU IN THAT TV ADVERT ABOUT CEREAL?

No.

WILL YOU STILL BE ON THE VIDEOGAMER PODCAST?

Sadly, this isn’t how employment works. I won’t be involved with any VideoGamer stuff from now on, and cameo appearances are highly unlikely due to the fact that they’re based in Croydon - a location I am thoroughly looking forward to never visiting ever again.

But hey, did you know that I already do another podcast? Regular Features recently hit 75 episodes, including two live London shows in the last year. It isn’t about videogames and I’m not the funniest person in it by quite a margin, but it’s filthy, ridiculous, and I’m incredibly proud to be a part of it.

BUT I WANT A GAMES PODCAST, MATT.

You’ll have one. One of the first things I aim to get rolling in the next month is a brand new regular gaming podcast, pulling favours from the best UK games industry people I know to act as a regular pool of guests. The specifics of this are still being worked out, but a podcast is top of the list of priorities. 

ARE YOU DYING?

I’m not dying.

WHAT ABOUT PANTS MAN!??

Good news! I’ve talked with the lovely chaps at VideoGamer and they’re happy for me to carry the mantle of pants. Pants Man 2: Pants Harder will be sorely missing Mr. Bratt, but I’ll be continuing the saga on a solo basis when the game launches in March. On my BIRTHDAY. I’m going to eat cake. You can’t stop me.

DOES THIS MEAN THE END OF THE ABRIDGED VIDEOS?

Whilst arguably I should be paying Adam Buxton royalties, I don’t think anyone owns the rights to my voice. I can’t promise you’ll see the exact same format with the exact same name, but the spirit of the Abridged series will continue.

Having said that, so will comedy videos at VideoGamer - Chris and Simon already prove a brilliant combo, and I’m excited about finding out who they plan to hire to replace me. Whoever it is, please be nice. It wasn’t so long ago I was the new guy, and the welcome I received from the VideoGamer community wasn’t exactly warm. Do me a favour, and ensure this isn’t repeated. Finding your feet in a role takes time, and it’s harder if people keep pissing in your shoes.

That’s it for now, and once again - thank you. Without the enthusiasm and support of people who love the work I do, the idea of taking a leap like this would have been nothing short of insanity. I feel confident that everything will be just fine, and I owe that almost exclusively to you. 

I did a bit of the work too, mind. Fuck off - you’re not taking all of the credit. x

BONUS QUESTIONS:

GDC? E3? PAX?

I’d ruddy love to go to GDC, but can’t justify the cost at a point at which I don’t have any steady income on the go. E3 last year was like being in hell, but that may have been partially down to the motel. There’s a chance I might still go for the right reasons/offer, but I have no plans to attend out of my own pocket. PAX is a tough one - I love the atmosphere of the crowd at that show, but have severe ethical reservations about Penny Arcade. I’d love for them to sort that shit out so I could happily attend again, but currently I don’t feel comfortable supporting them.

WHAT ABOUT REVIEWSICALS?

I like singing songs, and will continue to sing songs. That format likely won’t continue, but I’ll definitely be singing songs. SONGS.

BYE!

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2013 was an incredible year, and I owe most of that to VideoGamer.com. Given the freedom to try something new and focus purely on original content - effectively escaping the PR cycle of trailer uploads and developer interviews - was a weird and potentially risky strategy, but one that thankfully really paid off. Over 80,000 people subscribed to the channel, adding a whopping 16.7m views - a frankly bewildering 2095% increase on 2012.

The Abridged videos proved popular enough for me to almost entirely focus on making comedy content - a dream I’ve always had that I never thought I’d realise - and led to being able to work directly with Charlie Brooker, a man whose work I’ve religiously followed since TV Go Home.

Basically, it’s been a bit fucking overwhelming. And although I’ve done my best to thank those who’ve followed and enjoyed my work, I still feel like I haven’t done it often enough. If that’s you - thank you. I quite literally couldn’t have done it without you.

Which is why a part of me feels deeply guilty to say that in a month I’ll be leaving VideoGamer. Mainly, I think, because it’s tough to explain why. When your full-time job is making silly videos about games you’re naturally exempt from any form of complaining, but the truth of the matter is I’m burning out. I’ve always been one for juggling hobbies, but over the past few years it’s got to the point where I don’t have time - or space in my brain - for all of the stuff I’m trying to do. Over the past five years I’ve become very comfortable with trading off a social life for more fun work, but by the end of 2013 I realised I’d smashed through my own physical limit: Despite regular exercise and a healthy diet, I was broken and frazzled. I’ve always churned out work at an alarming rate and believed myself to be fairly invincible, but apparently this isn’t the case and I’ve decided that I need to take step back and reassess things.

Despite best efforts and intentions on both sides throughout my discussions with the chaps at VideoGamer, we were unable to come to an amicable solution with the prospect of me going part-time - and so unfortunately I’ve had to take the somewhat drastic leap of leaving the company entirely. This is partly for the sake of my own sanity, and partly because of commitments I’ve made to Shut Up & Sit Down - a fresh and frankly wonderful website about board games.

The future outside of that remains unclear, especially in terms of daft videogame videos. I was tremendously lucky in VideoGamer to find a company to offer me such ludicrous freedom, and I’m not sure I’ll find a gig like it again. I can assure you that I will be doing STUFF, but initially my main aim will be working out a way to pay the rent through any freelance available.

So yeah, I guess this is mostly just to say thank you to fans of my work for giving me such an incredible year, and also an apology that the flow of silly stuff that so many people seem to love may soon be having an abrupt hiatus. The unfortunate side-effect of working for someone else’s YouTube channel is that at some point you have to say goodbye. You’d think I’d be used to it by now, in all honesty.

I’ll let you know as soon as I know what I’m doing. This hasn’t happened for the last 28 years, but fuck it - 2014 might just be the charm.

Matt

Q&A about video content with The Guardian
A few months ago I was kindly asked by The Guardian’s Keith Stuart to answer a few questions about the current state of video content within games media. It’s something I’d already mulled over a lot, and something I’ve thought about an awful lot since.

Naturally not all of the answers I gave were included in The Guardian’s article (which you can read here) - but there were a couple of points that didn’t make the cut that I’d like to see represented somewhere, rather than silently sitting in my Gmail outbox for the rest of eternity. You’ll find the full Q&A below.

1. Can you tell us about your brief at Videogamer.com? Is there a ‘plan’ to the sorts of things you make videos about?
I came to VideoGamer.com with very specific ideas about what I thought gaming videos should be like, and since then my brief has pretty much been to run with those ideas. Experimentation and quickly reacting to current news plays a big part in what we do, but mostly it’s defined by the things that we’re avoiding. Stringent marketing messaging briefs mean that video interviews are almost always a huge waste of time. Everyone gets the same interview, so without exclusive access you’re just playing catch-up. Whether it’s interviews, B-roll, or access to video capture, it feels like too much video content is controlled and defined by what PR are offering - and that’s something I’m definitely trying to avoid. The biggest successes we’ve had with video this year have all been about stuff already in the public domain. With video in particular we’ve got less than a year before the technology needed to make your own gameplay videos is built into the actual console. Mere access doesn’t cut it anymore, we need to be smart about what we’re producing.
Plans come and go, but I do have one rule that I refuse to break: I’ll only make videos that I want to make. Conventional logic makes this sound unrealistic and childish, but it’s vital for maintaining a sense of integrity. You can pretend to be excited about something in writing, but there’s no hiding the truth when you’re being filmed. Hop onto any major US gaming website, and you’re sure to be greeted by a couple of guys cracking out words like ‘amazing’ and ‘innovative’ whilst looking like they’re on the verge of topping themselves. People aren’t stupid, and you can’t fake passion. 

2. It feels as though most sites aren’t really utilising the possibilities of video as a means of thinking and talking about games. Would you agree? Very few sites did what you did and made a video of the faults in Bioshock Infinite - most just wrote really long articles…
My Bioshock Infinite video was a strange one, because in many ways the structure was identical to a lengthy written article. I planned each point out well in advance, and ordered them in a way that would maintain good pacing and a sensible argument. I’ve always rolled my eyes at lengthy op-ed pieces, but really this was just that in video form. The difference between written pieces and video is YouTube Analytics: 40% of people who watched it stayed with the video right up until the end, with the audience retention only dropping below 50% at the eight-minute mark. Knowing exactly when people are wandering off gives you much better feedback for the quality of pacing in your work, which is something that long-form written work often lacks. What I found fascinating in the aftermath was how few opinion round-ups I read even contained a mention of video as a medium. I wouldn’t call it a stigma, but there’s a definite sense from those within the industry that intelligent analysis is still the reserve of traditional written pieces. Most sites don’t use video in an intelligent way because they’ve become obsessed with churning out regular content. It’s unfortunate that the rise of video has been parallel with such tough times for the media - outlets that previously had more integrity are now obsessed with profit margins. Industry veterans in the world of words are stoically defending the integrity they created, but the fresh - and profitable - video medium hasn’t really stood a chance. Most professionally created gaming videos don’t rock the boat or ask tough questions, they just provide something that you can briefly gawp at. It’s a throwback to the passive TV generation; a relic of broadcasting that deserves to be obsolete.


3. What are your influences  in terms of the way you approach video? Do you consciously take ideas or approaches from other places?
I have all of my best ideas on the bike or in the shower, so my main approach tends to be doing lots of cycling. I don’t directly take ideas from anywhere, but I do think it’s important to look at what works. Something I learnt whilst working alongside the terrifically talented and preposterously named Edwin Evans-Thirlwell is that it’s possible to create populist content without doing stuff that’s stupid or cheap. I don’t think reinventing the wheel is helpful, so my starting point is always to look at what sort of videos people already like, and then trying to adapt the formula to make it unique, or simply improve it. If you’re going to do something that’s already been done, you’d better be damn sure you’ve done it better. The areas where I’ve clearly borrowed format ideas are in stuff like ‘Let’s Play’ videos on YouTube and the Twitch live streaming stuff we do on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The only time I’ll ever try and replicate ideas like these, however, is when I’m trying to understand what makes them so successful - once you understand why, you can use that knowledge elsewhere.

4. How do you think video will shape games coverage over the coming years?
We’re going to have to work harder, for starters. When you’re producing content for YouTube you aren’t just competing with your peers, you’re competing with the world. That’s exciting, but also terrifying. The way that video shapes the future of professional media is largely defined by how publishers approach it. Smaller publishers are generally flexible, but many larger companies see video as nothing more than a marketing muscle - pumping out trailers and gameplay clips without giving journalists a part in the process that extends beyond ‘post this on your website’. With the budgets behind some of these games I can understand the need to be risk-averse, but people don’t want to watch a half-hour video of an executive producer playing through his own game. The biggest problem video journalists currently face is trying to justify why they deserve this kind of a access, when they can directly talk to one chap on YouTube who already has a far more engaged audience. Video is guaranteed to be huge, but there are no assurances we’ll be the biggest part of it.

5. What do you think about the rise of YouTube video game ‘superstars’? Do you think they will usurp the traditional media or will they always co-exist?
In many regards they’ve already usurped us, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t claw things back. A lot of these YouTube superstars have talent, but it feels like a lot of their success is derived from our industry’s failings. We talk about games that are being promoted, they talk about games that people actually play. Most media outlets try to tick all of the boxes, while these guys are unashamedly niche - they do what they want, and that’s it. There’s a huge amount we can learn from what these guys are doing, but the measures that need to be taken are frightening if you’re running a bigger business. The only way we can compete with talent like this is by giving ourselves an equal footing: They exist outside of the industry, but we have to actively distance ourselves from it. VideoGamer.com are smart and brave enough to give me full creative control over video, giving us an edge that bigger outlets can’t match. 
Maintaining some distance from the industry is important, but being embedded gives us advantages that the YouTube guys lack. Industry insight allows us to make much more balanced arguments, and being surrounded by media peers reinforces far stronger ethical integrity. The incredible power and sway these individuals have make it a topic that people are afraid to mention, but a lot of these guys are doing stuff that traditional journalists would describe as being dodgy. We might have banners and pre-roll adverts, but these guys deal in promotion and personal sponsorship. The brand they’re selling is /themselves/, and without the watchful eyes of peers to hold them accountable, they make decisions and deals that traditional journalists would be crucified for even considering. There’s mounting evidence that some individuals are even straight-up accepting cash from publishers to make videos about their products or games, which is naturally quite worrying. There are exceptions on both sides of the fence, but it doesn’t feel like there’s as much holding these guys accountable.
The one thing they absolutely nail, however, is actually conversing with their audience. Games journalists were on a podium once, but the days of broadcasting are well and truly over - you can’t simply say your piece to camera and then wander off as if your opinions are infallible. I think the biggest problem with games journalism currently is that everyone who’s getting paid to do it thinks that automatically earns them respect, when all they’ve really earned is a platform with which to develop it. A great piece will raise eyebrows, but it’s only when you start reading comments, replying to questions, and genuinely talking to your audience - rather than /at/ them - that you start to earn an audience that give a damn about what you think.

6. Do you think game publishers and developers understand the possibilities of video when marketing their games?
Some of them are almost there, but they need to open up to the idea of media collaboration. There are a couple of games out soon that I’m hugely excited about that I’m 90% sure will fail commercially. I’ve played these games, I know why they’re amazing, and I can explain why they’re amazing to a wider audience in a way that traditional marketing is simply failing to do. Until I made videos about Dragon’s Dogma last year everyone - including myself - thought that the game looked like absolute trash. Capcom had already put out a lot of official video content prior to that, but it takes the spark of genuine outsider passion to really create buzz about an upcoming game. The videos went viral, and as a consequence Dragon’s Dogma ended up selling pretty well. Videos mostly get dished out as exclusives to major sites, but the Dragon’s Dogma stuff made me realise that audience size doesn’t matter. If something’s good it’ll grow regardless of where you plant the seed.
Capcom were smart to let me get involved prior to launch, but too many publishers seem to think that they can cut us out of the equation - creating their own video previews, and churning out endless teaser trailers. This works fine for a handful of blockbusters, but ‘HOT NEW WEAPONS TRAILER’ doesn’t cut it for games that people have no reason to be excited about. The one thing games journalists are excellent at is explaining why games are fun to play. Preventing us from doing that is daft to the point of being catastrophic.

Another bit of daft Photoshop stuff I did for OXM.co.uk - I probably don’t own the rights to any of these, so bear in mind that these are just here for POSTERITY or something. 

This is one of the extra-curricular things I did for OXM.co.uk that I was most proud of. Our website’s CMS and JPEG compression made the hi-res images look rubbish, so I’m reposting them here for future generations.

There’s a slight chance that I’ve gone totally mental.

There’s a slight chance that I’ve gone totally mental.