MMO Community Spotlight: Gamebreaker's Gary Gannon

What would an MMO be without its community? Development is only a fraction of what makes an MMO successful; the passion of its players is what really makes or breaks any massively online game. So we're excited to spotlight those members of the MMO community who we think are particularly passionate about our favorite hobby.

If you don't know the name Gary Gannon, you will soon enough. Gary has created or helped create everything from a successful MMO podcast to a social media site for gamers, but he's now looking to boost his Gamebreaker media network into the "CNN or ESPN of gaming" in the near future.

Sound like a pipe dream from yet another in the sea of overly enthusiastic game-journalist wannabes? Not if that person has spent his entire adult career actually working for some of the largest news organizations in the U.S.

We caught up with Gary to talk about his gaming roots, his passion for the community, and the future of his Gamebreaker network.

Gary GannonMassively: Tell us about Gary Gannon the gamer. How did you get into gaming?

Gary Gannon: Like all the way back to Pong? Yeah, my parents bought me an Atari 2600, and I was playing Pong and Combat, which was the greatest PvP game ever. That's the beginning of it. I would save my money and buy every game console that was released; I had the Intellivision, the Odyssey, Commodore 64, CollecoVision, every Atari, Nintendo -- I even had a 3DO.

How did this eventually transition to the online space?

I forget what store it was, but I remember just walking down the aisle and seeing this game called EverQuest. I had no idea what it was, but it said "play with thousands of people," and I just didn't understand it. I bought it and brought it home, but I didn't know anyone who played any of these things. I didn't know what an MMORPG was -- I had never really heard the term. I just rolled a character up, started running through the world, and saw other people, and my jaw just hit the floor.

I've always been intrigued by virtual worlds. My parents would take me to these virtual reality places where you put these helmets on and you'd live in a space with a helmet. I always thought it was the weirdest but coolest thing to have these alternate realities. And here I am having this alternate reality on my desktop.

But I played EverQuest so poorly. I didn't understand the concept of guilds. It just didn't make sense to me, so I played most of it like a single-player game, but I absolutely loved it. Then it just snowballed from there. Star Wars Galaxies was the big one for me where it really just went full-on with a 300-, 400-person guild, grouping, player cities, and all that stuff.

So you're thoroughly immersed in the MMO space by this time, and you eventually created a podcast called Massively Online Gamer (MOG). This is where you first really entered the spotlight of the MMO community. What can you tell us about how that all started?

I had been working in television at that point for probably three or four years. I had worked for MSNBC, Fox News, and a lot of other news organizations in New York City, and then I moved out to Los Angeles with my wife to start doing more reality TV. Todd Zelin came to me and said we needed to start a podcast, and I didn't even know what that was. He said, "Well, it's like a radio show, but you just do it yourself and you can put it on iTunes." We wanted to do it with another buddy of ours, Ryan Verniere, because those guys still lived in New Jersey. And I think it was more a way of keeping our friendship going more than anything. We could talk once a week about games.

"We recorded ourselves ranting for an hour about MMOs and threw it up on iTunes, not really caring if people heard it or not."

I remember for three or four weeks we kept saying, "Yeah, we're going to make this podcast, and it's going to be great!" but no one would do anything. I did some research online about how to do a podcast and then just called those guys up and said, "We're going to record a show right now." At that point, Todd backed out completely, so it was just me and Ryan. I said we needed a name and Ryan just shot out "Massively Online Gamer." We recorded ourselves ranting for an hour about MMOs and threw it up on iTunes, not really caring if people heard it or not. From there we just started doing episodes weekly, watching the number of people who were listening to us going up and up.

After about four or five months, we started getting all this interest from game companies. I remember CCP was probably the first company, and it wanted to fly us out to Iceland for Fanfest. We were like, "What? Really? Sure! That sounds good!" I mean, we weren't a video game website -- we weren't anything. We were just two guys with headsets talking about games.

That's when we started taking it more seriously. We'd travel around to conventions -- GDC Austin was our first, and I remember Todd, Ryan, and I were just walking around the aisle and this guy came running up to us like, "Who are you guys? You have a camera." It was Doug Mealy who was repping for Vivox at the time, and he was just grabbing everyone with a camera to interview Vivox. So he brings us back to the Vivox guys and introduces us, and this guy pops his head up and says, "Massively Online Gamer? I love you guys!" It was Monty Sharma from Vivox, and he was the only one there who knew who we were.

That relationship grew and snowballed until one day Vivox's reps asked us to go to GDC with them and broadcast from their booth.

And Vivox even sponsored you when you switched over to Gamebreaker, too, right?

Yeah. What happened with that whole thing was Ryan ended up getting hired by CCP, so he couldn't do the show anymore. We technically did over 100 episodes, but we knew we were going to have to stop soon right before episode 100, so we kept doing episode 99.1, 99.2, 99.3. Everyone wanted us to do something crazy for 100, but we couldn't think of anything crazy to do, so we kept doing these point-numbers as a goof. I think we actually stopped on 99.7 or 99.8, and we knew it drove people nuts. We didn't say anything, we just stopped. Ryan went to CCP to carve out a great career for himself, and I just didn't broadcast anything for a year after that.

The whole concept of Gamebreaker started way before I even started doing any podcast. I was working in television at Fox News, watching these broadcasts cost hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars -- if not millions of dollars -- a day to make these shows happen, and we'd have satellite trucks and a reporter and a director and a camera man to make something like that happen. I was an editor, and I'll never forget the first time when some footage came in that was breaking news that had to be ready on the screen quickly, and it was video that someone had taken with a phone. And it was like, we spend all of this money doing all of this, and this is what we're putting on TV! That was the moment in my head that I knew this is the way news is going to work.

"I always loved talking about games, even more than I enjoyed playing the games sometimes."

So jumping forward, I took that year off of MOG, but I always loved talking about games, even more than I enjoyed playing the games sometimes. So I decided that I wanted to emulate what I learned from news with a network and a producer and all of that. I started releasing these teaser videos about Gamebreaker, letting people know that something was coming because I still had followers, which was interesting.

So Vivox calls me up one day after seeing these videos and invited me to come to GDC and broadcast live from the booth. That's how the very first episode of Gamebreaker started, live from Vivox's booth at GDC.

Before we get too far into Gamebreaker, let's talk about a website you created before called GAX Online. What can you tell us about that?

I guess in between there, I was always trying to understand communities and tribes of people and where they like to hang out. Looking back at it now, I was really just exploring, and Facebook had really just started to blow up. I thought about how cool it would be to have a social network for gamers. And that's basically what it was. You could post to your own wall and have social profiles and it was a good little community, but it was nothing that really flourished and took off. Cultivating a community turned out to be way more work than I imagined. It didn't even really have any content at that point, like a podcast or anything like that. It was just a community of MMO players trying to band together.

I think I did that for a little over a year, and I think we had around 6,000 members, but I always just wanted to do something much bigger. With Raptr and Facebook I knew that I couldn't compete unless I had millions of dollars.

Jumping back to Gamebreaker: You were able to build a healthy relationship with some top-name devs and other MMO community members -- Brent from Virginworlds was always a supporter, as were legends like Raph Koster.

Yeah, even in that time when I was off for a while, I just loved that world. When I was doing television in Hollywood, it's just such a different world than the video game world. It's actually insanely refreshing to see how differently it all runs, especially from a media perspective.

So I kept going to conventions just to show up, even when I had no show going, just to see friends. Most of those friendships, like with Raph, just came about from the good conversations we had. I think a lot of those guys get sick of talking to mainstream media, the media that just doesn't get it or ask good questions. So they knew that we would ask the in-depth stuff that would get them excited.

So from there, you were able to get these big names on your show even from the beginning to let people know that you're something real. How did Gamebreaker evolve from there?

Well, first, we started off spelling it Gamebreakr, without the e, kind of like Flickr, but that was a disaster because nobody could spell it. That started out as our all-encompassing round-table show just about games. Then the next show we started was This Week in MMO, all about MMOs. Then we started The Republic show all about Star Wars: The Old Republic, and people thought I was crazy. They're like, "The game's not coming out for two years." But I figured we'd be doing it so long that when the game actually launches, we'd have so much cred for being around for so long. Then we started Legendary in there somewhere, and it's actually just over a year old now because we just started it a little before BlizzCon.

"We started off spelling it Gamebreakr, without the e, kind of like Flickr, but that was a disaster because nobody could spell it."

What I always thought about, coming from television, was that all of these shows we'd create would cast a very wide net. If you're trying to create a show to capture a certain demographic, you had to go very wide to capture as many of them in that show as possible. At the time, the only television that gamers had was G4, right? You might watch one of G4's shows and have to wait 30-40 minutes before the participants talked about the game you care about.

Back in the day, you had radio, and you only had a couple of stations to listen to. You knew about these top, big, huge artists, and then when the internet came along with iTunes and Amazon, they have this system that helps you realize what similar music you might like. It's like, "Oh, l like Jimi Hendrix," so then you see that listeners also bought Lenny Kravitz, and it would take you on this weird path where you'd see more than just the mainstream music and become much more granular in your tastes.

So with gaming, it's like we need to cast the smallest net possible. Let's make shows that are specifically for these people. Let's make just a World of Warcraft show. Let's make just a Guild Wars 2 show. From a television perspective, that's crazy because they spend insane amounts of money to make those shows, but that's what we can do that's different. We can tailor shows that are specifically for our viewers.

I think the MMO space especially lends itself well to these game-specific shows because it's such a huge hobby for most gamers. Sure, there is a large part of the community that is interested in every new MMO coming out, and those people read Massively, but we're aiming for those looking for a specific show jam-packed with information about the game they love. We don't have to aim for hundreds of thousands of viewers; we can do fine with tens of thousands of viewers for each show. Hey, we're up to over a million viewers a month on the network at this point, so it's working well.

Where do you see yourself going from here? What's the future of Gamebreaker?

We're going into phase two probably some time in February with a website relaunch. It'll all be set up differently; we'll be delivering much more news with editorial accompanied by video. It will be very similar to how a news organization would do it with news video hits. The goal is that we'll be ramping up to something like 50 posts a day, including op-ed pieces, news, video, and more long-form shows, but there's also a lot of short-form video coming. I just think that with the news, most people would rather watch it on video than read about it. We're going to have a lot of quick-hit one-, two-, three-minute videos to just really quickly tell you what's happening.

We're moving in to the phase that I always saw Gamebreaker as, which is the CNN or ESPN of video games. We have a Star Wars machinima show coming, more round-table shows, more game-specific shows. I really want to move more into esports in 2012, so more StarCraft coverage, more League of Legends coverage, and lots more.

I think what we bring to the table that no one else does is personality. While many other game sites are faceless, we base everything on our hosts and our anchors and our interaction with the community where we have these personalities that the viewers like and want to talk to and interact with.

But we'll be sure to talk to you more about where we're going in the next month when we're closer to launch.

Sounds great. Thanks Gary!
This article was originally published on Massively.