On a not too recent trip to the US I had the good fortune to meet the wonderful hosts of the gaming podcast Weekend Confirmed, Garnett Lee (creator of 1UP Yours and Garnett on Games) and Jeff Cannata, (creator of Totally Rad Show, NLB and DLC).
The show, sadly no more, ran for an almighty 202 episodes—akin to around 10 years in podcast time—and remains one of the most prominent gaming podcasts created in terms of guests, content, production value and listenership. It definitely had a head-start though; Lee was a driving force behind another of the gaming world’s podcast behemoths, 1UP Yours.
“like a bunch of your best friends sitting around chatting ’bout vid-yah games”
On paper, the 1UP Yours and Weekend Confirmed weren’t too dissimilar; a round-table discussion centred around gaming. All of the participants were in the same room being potentially mischievous (often due to a few drinks) and a mammoth run-time upwards of two hours.
Backed by Lee’s new working home at Gamefly Media (where he took a position as editorial director post UGO buyout of 1UP) he and Cannata took the proven formula to the next level. They introduced studio-quality recordings, a more structured segment-based format and fostered a phenomenally high level of constructive community involvement. At the same time managing to inject some of the often Cannata-mentioned whimsy; an important element to the show’s success that welcomed them into your homes like a bunch of your your best friends having a chat about “vid-yah games”.
Raj Deut (RD): How did the two of you meet?
Jeff Cannata (JC): I was working at Revision 3 and Patrick [Norton], who was there as well, knew Garnett and I was like “You gotta introduce me to this guy, I love his show and I want to meet him!” Pat did the introduction via email. Garnett was so nice & cool, he invited me on the show in San Francisco around Christmas time when I visiting family and we became friends from there.
RD: Then after intro and Garnett’s move to LA to start work for GameFly, the intention was always to do a show together?
Garnett Lee (GL): Jeff and I had actually talked, even before I’d come down here (LA). It had always been like we have to figure out a way to do a show together. It was almost a given?
JC: I was real excited that he moved down here and then it was just a matter of talking about it.
GL: Yeah. We just sorta had to figure out the details.
RD: So everything kind of fell into place once you moved down?
JC: I mean [Garnett] made it happen.
GL: Well, to a degree. It wouldn’t happen at all if it weren’t the both of us. I don’t think.
JC: Thank you, I appreciate that. I love doing the show, it’s one of my favourite things of the week. Also credit should be given to [Brian] Lahey too. In the beginning. That’s how it kinda all started, with the three of us.
RD: A lot of the show began with fairly similar structure to the old conversational style of “1UP Yours”. What did you take from that in starting with Weekend Confirmed?
GL: Putting the show together there was definitely some pre-planning based on the various iterations of the shows I’d done at 1UP and in addition to that we’d follow listener feedback as it continued. One of the things I felt we had to do with a new show would be to make it something that people could listen to and feel like they were able to break it down. It’s like playing a role playing game, right? You’re playing a Japanese role playing game and you don’t get to a save spot often enough, it’s frustrating!
I felt like the shows that we’d done at 1UP though they were really interesting, they were like that. There was no natural save spot. So that’s where the whole segmenting thing came from. It was definitely one of the principal objectives, to break it down into pieces.
Also reducing the show from, typically back at 1UP, a three hour run time. I have to tell you that three hours of content is a lot and what I was seeing was that even if I was jammed up and pumped for it that it was really difficult to keep four people or more really engaged and going and exciting. So reducing the show length has made it a much tighter, more fun show.
JC: The other point, that Garnett probably won’t make because he’s too modest is that all audio game podcasts now basically ripped them off. A derivative of what these guys started and I really like the fact that when he came to GameFly and we started Weekend Confirmed, Garnett looked at that with fresh eyes and said we’re not going to just do the same thing that now everyone is doing and I think that that’s healthy and the show evolved a little bit.
It’s still sitting around and talking about games for two hours and I think that at the heart of it we all really try and preserve that feeling of friends sitting around talking about what they all really care about. If you’ve got that you’ve got something that’s listenable. Then putting structure on that and adding a really high quality, fantastic, professional audio studio, I think that really makes a difference.
RD: I have that as my next point actually. That difference of a recording in a studio does it make you stand out that much more?
JC: I think so. We’re not really the right people to judge though. The listeners are the good people to judge that but I really like the fact that it’s high quality and it sounds great. You can tell that there’s that high level of production quality and I’m proud of that and I feel like we put out a really good product because of that.
GL: I have a huge degree of appreciation for it because I did all the engineering and production on the 1UP podcasts. I built a studio in our offices there in San Francisco, crashed coursed myself on how to run microphones, amps and how to set compressors so that you’d get the right peaks & limits and not sound crushed. Even with all of that and some decent equipment there was no way we could touch anything [Atlantis Group] have.
At the same time if someone’s out there who wants to be a podcaster it absolutely matters what quality of recording you can lay down. You may not be in a position to buy studio time but spend the outlay on a good mic. Grab a “Yeti” or similar. The better the quality of recording you can do the more likely you are to have people to listen to you over and over. The same thing as anything else you listen to, the better it sounds the more likely you are to keep listening.
JC: The other thing that I think Garnett was really smart about too, is that he doesn’t allow Skype. It’s about the “in-person” experience which totally comes across. I think that A, you have better quality, but also that the conversation is a conversation. It’s not a I’m-sitting-on-my-end-waiting-to-speak. As much as I have loved doing TWiT and other shows that are Skype shows and those shows are great, successful in their own way, it’s different when you’re in the same room with people and yes you’re talking into mics but you’re there!
I think that adds a more personal quality. We try to make it very much a discussion.
RD: That’s another thing in terms of professionalism. A hard release date and schedule is something Weekend Confirmed has stuck by really well yes?
JC: People like to know when they can expect stuff.
GL: Yeah, one thing I was pretty hard core about was that it wouldn’t be released any later than 11am PST because it helps us serve all the way over to the east coast and the UK still on Friday.
RD: The show has definitely changed in a number of ways over the three years it’s been running. How has the recognition for change come about?
GL: You follow listener response and do so in few ways. You follow what are people saying the forums, and that’s great. You have two sorts of listeners there. You have the really engaged positive listener and they’re the ones that’ll have you coming back week in week out to do keep doing the show. They’re listening and engaged and really a vibrant part of what you’re doing.
Then you have the folks who seem to at some point in time realise that they’re not perhaps on the same page as you but are like a moth to the flame. They’re always wanting to “jibe” with you, like get that written back and forth but we all know hot the internet is and that can easily fall into name calling and personal stuff.
Then the really hard part are the bulk of your listeners that are neither of them, they don’t use forums or comment on posts. They’re folks who are listening every day. That’s where twitter has changed the engagement a lot. Twitter offers a way for people who don’t want to spend the time writing out a long post and can just say “Hey, you did this, that was cool”.
JC: It removes the need to register for a forum. I think that is the biggest impediment for feedback pre-Twitter. It was like “I gotta register for your forum? I gotta have a handle to give you feedback? Too hard.”
GL: Yeah. It’s quick and direct.
RD: The majority aren’t providing feedback though, even for your show which you’d agree has a higher level of engagement?
JC: Most people that like something don’t bother to comment on it. I think it’s always super-important for people in any medium doing anything to realise that if you have an audience that most of the people aren’t giving you any feedback at all because they’re enjoying what you’re doing. They’re happy! It is so much more common for someone to write something about what they didn’t like than when they do. So the fact that you hear from a tiny, tiny fraction that actually listen to your show is very important for people to keep in mind that most people that are listening are having a great time! And that’s the majority of your audience.
GL: I give a tremendous amount of credit to the ShackNews community. I came in from 1UP and had great plans and ideas for shows but at the end of the day a significant number of the folks that post are “Shackers” and it’s because we were able to connect with them and they’ve been a great community. ShackNews has been on the net for 14 years and has earned a reputation as being a really great inclusive gaming destination.
It’s a real community, one where Shackers from all over the world get together to meet up and play their games together. It’s a very genuine group of folks who are quick to knock down anyone who comes in and acts like a jerk in their house. Naturally self-policing, in a way in way that’s not seen so often anymore.
On ShackNews yes, there’s a core group that’s always there but then there’s also consistently new people coming in and out depending on what we’ve talked about catching their attention and that’s cool. It’s because they feel comfortable doing that.
JC: It’s awesome. You get to know these personalities that are in these threads. They’re very articulate, interesting feedback and viewpoints.
RD: I really appreciate your time guys and thank you for your hard work and efforts in putting together a great show. I’ll finish things off with a pretty generic one, what podcasts do you guys listen to?
JC: I love podcasts, I exercise a lot and I can’t listen to music when I exercise so I alway listen to audio books or podcasts. I don’t like listening to music because I start doing things in the rhythm of the music and that screws me up. I tend to stay away from other gaming podcasts just because I don’t want to parrot what other people say so I look to other areas I love like stand up comedy. WTF by Marc Maron or Adam Corrolla, Comedy Bang Bang and what seems like a million others.
GL: I’m a huge house-head. I listen to several house music podcasts. One of them I can’t get by without is Grant Nelson’s “House Call”. The one sort of game related podcast that I occasionally listen to is “My brother, my brother and me” which is just awesome.
A huge thank you to both Garnett & Jeff for taking time out of their busy schedules to let me chat with them and while Weekend Confirmed has sadly come to an end both are still very much involved in the gaming podcast world. Now independent Garnett Lee is the host of the recently started “Garnett on games” as well as having many new exciting projects in the works. Follow Garnett’s twitter @GarnettLee for the latest information on his work.
Jeff is now the host of 5by5’s DLC podcast along with Christian Spicer. His Kickstarter backed Newest Latest Best is also running in the form of “NLB Minis” on his Youtube channel. For more information follow Jeff on Twitter @JeffCannata or his blog at http://jeffcannata.com.