Getting serious about Retronauts
Hi everyone, Jeremy here. You've probably seen my announcement at USgamer, but in case you find it all tl;dr for your liking, here's the brief: I'm stepping down as editor-in-chief of USgamer and will be focusing on... well, a variety of different things, actually. But for starters, I'd like to try and turn Retronauts into a true and proper venture.
Retronauts was never meant to be just a podcast. As I mentioned in our recent 10th anniversary episode, the podcast was really just a lark; I was already writing a series called Retronauts for my personal blog and simply borrowed the name for a 1UP.com audio show I expected to flop immediately and die in ignominy. Obviously that didn't happen, thanks to the support of both listeners (thank you!) and contributors alike, and we're still going strong a decade later. Still, I always wanted Retronauts to be a full website with a wide variety of written and video material to supplement the audio content. I've broached the idea with management at every company I've worked under over the past 10 years, but it never quite made sense to them; everyone has always said game history is too niche a topic to be a self-sustaining venture within a corporate/network setting.
I'm grateful that Gamer Network continued letting me and Bob run Retronauts on the side and even let us post the show to USgamer each week, but it's still been stuck as a weekends-only side project. And I get it. Maybe Retronauts wouldn't work as part of a publishing network portfolio. But just possibly, I feel, it can work for some people working on their own. Let's find out.
Beginning in the new year, I hope to see what happens when I make Retronauts my primary day-to-day concern. Our listeners (that's you) have been incredibly generous for the past few years, supporting us through Patreon to make it possible for us to produce a professional-quality podcast in our free time. Now, I'd like to push for enough funding to make Retronauts a sustainable full-time venture — to go full-pro. I'm proud of what we do by simply moonlighting, but imagine how much more we could do if this were to become a daily concern. I don't know if that's actually possible, if enough people want us to explore video game history to enable us to make a proper go of it, but I'm wagering my livelihood that it can.
Here's what that means:
- Plans for Retronauts: We've changed our Patreon campaign goals and reward tiers to position Retronauts to become a proper venture. Over the weekend, we hit our funding goal for bringing daily posts to this blog, which will kick off in the new year. Next up for goals, we have more live events, then weekly (rather than biweekly) episodes, followed by more ambitious goals like adding weekly Retronauts Micro episodes to the mix and publishing a regular print periodical (those of you who remember my old GameSpite Quarterly project, think something along those lines).
- Videos, too: I will be rolling my personal video Patreon campaign into this as well. Game Boy World and Good Nintentions (et al.) are basically Retronauts in spirit, if not in name. I've kept them separate to avoid confusion, mainly because "Retronauts" implies a collaboration between myself and Bob. But Bob is on board with all of this and given his blessing to my ideas, including rolling these video projects into the site, and so now these two Patreons will exist in parallel to determine how we focus our efforts. The Retronauts Podcasts campaign will enable collaborative podcasts, event travel, and the development of this website. The Retronauts Video Chronicles campaign will enable in-depth video features like Game Boy World, along with the documentation and preservation the featured games.
- What about Bob?: Yes, I made the movie reference so you don't have to. Bob's role in Retronauts will remain unchanged: He'll produce a couple of episodes per month and co-host the episodes I produce. The changes to reward tiers and the additional funding we hope to bring in means he'll finally be able to pocket some money for his efforts, which will be great. Again, we're of one mind on these ambitions... but Bob just started a great new job at Fandom and moonlights on several other podcasts, so he doesn't really have a lot of additional bandwidth for Retronauts. I'm going to be the one to spearhead the new components of our venture, while Bob will contribute as usual and will continue to have an equal say in the creative direction of the show. We're partners in this here crime.
- Let's talk about money: Yes, let's! Before we revised reward tiers over the weekend, these two campaigns were bringing in almost exactly $5000/mo. After taxes, expenses, etc., the Retronauts campaign was basically break-even, while the video campaign was netting about $600/mo. The great thing is, our expenses are largely set, so all that will scale up as we raise more money will be taxes and reward fulfillment expenses (which themselves will be much less costly — which is to say, much less wasteful — under our new tier structure). I've spent a lot of time sorting out the math, and the magic number for this venture is $10,000/mo. combined between the two campaign — that's the point at which we bring in enough to cover expenses, rewards, and taxes while still netting enough that I can devote most of my time to Retronauts and still have a roof to live under (and Bob can be paid for his time as well). $12,500/mo. is an even more magical number, since that's the point at which this makes sense as a proper job for me and I won't have to dabble in other work to enjoy perks like "food" and "health insurance." At $15,000/mo., things would get really interesting, since there would then be what amounts to a freelance budget. Dare we dream?
- This seems like a lot of irons in the fire: Yeah, if somehow both of these campaigns somehow improbably hit their maximum goals, that would amount to three weekly podcasts, three weekly videos, several other videos each month, rewards, a website, books, live events, and more. That's way too much for one full-timer and one part-time contributor, for sure. But at that point, we'd also be earning nearly $25,000/mo. and could afford to pay people to help out. I've laid these goals out in a way that balances income with output, and however the funding happens (assuming it happens at all), the point at which Bob and I become overwhelmed is also the point at which we can afford to seek help. Like I said, I've spent a lot of time working on the math. The first step in this direction comes with the weekly full-length podcast goal of $5200: At that point, we'll be able to afford to launch a monthly "Retronauts East" installment featuring some of my friends here in the RDU area, bringing their expertise on topics Bob and I don't know well (Commodore, Atari, etc.) to the show.
- What if the funding doesn't come through?: Well, then we'll know I was wrong and everyone else was right, that Retronauts is too niche to succeed (or maybe people just aren't that interested in our opinions on classic games specifically). But I'm hoping for the best. Making Retronauts into a successful, standalone venture has been my dream for a decade now, and I really want to make it happen. If it doesn't, well, I'll find a "real" job and we'll continue moonlighting with Retronauts.
- When would all of this new stuff start?: I'm signed on with USgamer through the end of January. So, while we'd start ramping up in our free time throughout January, you can expect to see "all of this new stuff" begin in earnest at the outset of February (assuming we can hit those goals, obviously). We'll start by giving this blog a much-needed visual overhaul.
- So, ahem, Kickstarter...: Yeah, we still have some outstanding obligations from the 2013 Kickstarter campaign, and those promises are at the top of my 2017 hit list. The books are printed and sitting in my storage closet; artwork is complete and ready to send out; and all our DVD material has been produced (and shared digitally with backers). All we're lacking is a brief live introductory segment for the DVD, which we were planning to film at our recording session last month. Unfortunately, Bob came down with the flu and missed taping that day (we were going to record right after this episode). We'll tape it at our Jan. 21 recording session instead, and I'll wrap up and produce the DVDs immediately after. It's happening, honest!
So, there you have it. We want to get serious about Retronauts, and we'll need your help to make it possible. I'm taking a huge chance here, a leap of faith, but I truly believe in what we're doing here — and in what we can do, with enough support. The name "Retronauts" was meant to suggest the concept of exploring the past, of connecting gaming's present to its history, but practical limitations have always prevented us from truly fulfilling that mission. Here's hoping that we can put aside those limitations in 2017.
(Personally, nothing would make me happier than hitting the Retronauts Journal goal and the two weekly videos goal. But I ultimately just want to make good on this concept, whatever form it takes.)
Thanks to everyone who has helped keep the show going through the years, either with funding or simply by listening and sharing. Here's to another 10 years!