This month we had the joy of interviewing the hugely talented Seb Ford, some of you may recognise him from the Gamespot Duo Cam and Seb or from their own just recently launched Youtube channel. We chatted about modding,skyrim and how to make it in the industry.
Just for anyone who is not aware of the work you do please tell us a little about yourself and what you do…
Hey, I’m Seb and along with my business partner and reasonably good friend Cam we make up both a YouTube channel and a production company. We ended up going into business together after both working at GameSpot for a number of years and deciding we were either stupid or brave enough to venture out on our own. We mostly work in the games industry, now making videos for companies to help them market their games, but we also dabble in the automotive industry as well. We are both producers and presenters, so we usually end up doing all sorts of weird things to keep the business going. Our YouTube channel is a hobby we wanted to continue from our GameSpot days, especially after leaving a legion of awesome Skyrim fans disappointed that we had to stop our modding show when we left.
How did you both get into games journalism?
It’s strange because I don’t think either of us ever aimed to be a journalist, and although we kind of were, we always thought of ourselves more as entertainers. My journey into games media came out of the blue thanks to my old childhood neighbour. He’d taken a job at Videogamer.com as the new Sales Manager, and heard that they were still looking for a video producer. I’d just graduated from Uni doing a film production course, and landed a last minute job interview. I think what clinched it was putting my showreel on a Sony PSP for them to watch. I felt like a genius at the time, but looking back it was all adorably naive.
After two years there I ended up moving to GameSpot when someone there put me forward for another producer job. It wasn’t long before an email landed in my personal inbox from some a total stranger called Cam wanting feedback on a video he’d made. He’d got to the finals of an IGN presenting competition, but they decided they didn’t want to take him on and that his video idea wouldn’t really have much merit as a series. I thought it was awesome! Cam asked for an internship, but we were hiring so I suggested a job instead. The first time we actually met was on his first day of work with me. I got a finder’s fee for someone I’d never even met before! Oh, and the video he wanted feedback on evolved into the incredibly successful show “Reality Check” on GameSpot.
How was it working within one of the biggest video game websites, GameSpot?
It’s insane thinking we got to work at such a massive and popular site. We’d both read their articles and watched their videos as teenagers. The first thing you notice is just how much support you get. They are willing to make sure you have the tools and the time to make the videos you want to make, which is surprisingly rare. They let us experiment with show ideas or anything we thought we could make work. If you could justify the time or expense, you could do it. They also had a great office filled with other great teams. It meant we had a lot of opportunities to work with the tech guys on CNET or come up with a gaming collaboration with XCAR. They also have payday beers, which is as fun as it sounds.
The real highlight was the annual games event in L.A. called E3. We’d fly out a week early to San Francisco and hang out with the US GameSpot and Giant Bomb teams. Then when the show rolled around, we got to work in the very hub of the show floor. It was excellent.
You guys are well known for your GameSpot coverage of Skyrim mods, what was it about Skyrim that made you want to focus so heavily on it?
Phew, where to begin. Cam and I were both huge Oblivion fans from years back and we were both at the front of the queue to play Skyrim as soon as it was out. Cam and Jane Douglas had the idea of showcasing some of the early mod content, which ended up doing really well. Shaun McInnis and John Davison in the US had a swing at making it into a series, actually inventing the exploding chicken ending as they went!
From there, it was just so fun seeing that a show about a game we both loved was getting traction on the site. It made producing more episodes so much fun, and it really helped us evolve the show over the years to include feedback from fans, and put our faces on camera.
From a business point of view, the show did great numbers, so we never had to fight to keep it. I think part of the reason was because Cam and I genuinely love that game, and it comes across in the videos we made.
What advice would you give people looking to get into games media?
It’s pretty tough now, but not impossible. Games media has changed quite a bit from when we joined, as more and more people are going to YouTube to get their fix of games content. Dedicated sites are shrinking, and in some cases closing completely. There are very few magazines left, and we’re seeing many companies expanding their coverage to different kinds of media just to stay afloat.
Fortunately the games industry is just so vast, it’s actually an easy industry to get involved with in some way. For every gaming journalist, there are stacks more jobs in marketing, PR, and production. However, if your heart is set on journalism, there’s definitely a number of step that will help your chances. I’ll try and summarise as best as I can!
Just being a games fan is not enough, not by miles. However, it is absolutely a requirement.
Don’t be weird. I know that sounds dumb, but you often get approached by people looking for jobs or internships and they simply don’t fit the bill because they have no idea how to work in a team of other people.
Get internships everywhere. Be everywhere and know people by name – BUT DON’T BE WEIRD ABOUT IT. Be friendly, accommodating and helpful.
When you go for an internship, know what the place does (show names etc.) and be ready to answer “what are you playing at the moment?”. Say something recent. Don’t say Minecraft.
It’s work. It’s hard, repetitive, often boring work. It doesn’t pay well at all. If that doesn’t matter to you, then you have a good chance.
Get good at what you do and practice. If you are a video producer, make content and put it somewhere it can be seen. It doesn’t need to do millions of views, you just need to know your shit. If you’re a writer, write a blog.
Learn good grammar. Writers who actually can’t write for shit are ten a penny.You know what? Video producers, do the same. And writers? Learn video. Sorry, but it’s becoming way more popular than the written word.
Send emails with examples of your work. For me, samples are better than a CV. I don’t care that you got an A in physics – can you focus, white balance, expose and frame up a Canon C100 with two lapel mics? Yeah? I’ll take you.
Chase when people don’t reply. Chase all the time. You know that bit in Shawshank Redemption with the library books? That.
Be brave. Don’t be disheartened by criticism. It’ll make you better.
You have now left GameSpot and started you own channel, how does it feel going out on your own?
A lot of things. Scary, exciting, relieving and exhausting all at the same time. If we had tried this off the back of nothing, we’d probably have failed by now. Fortunately our time at GameSpot helped us learn so much about how to make it work, where to put our work and who to talk to. As much as we both loved GameSpot, we were ready for a new challenge, and this is certainly it. We have much less time that we expected to produce content, and our resources are obviously much more limited than at GameSpot.
What are the biggest changes to your work now that you have your own freedom?
Being totally fine working in your pants. It was frowned upon before.
Honestly, it’s being completely responsible for your own success and failure. When a video you made does well, it’s all on you. No bosses are taking credit, and any money goes straight into your pocket. When you fail, it’s your fault too. That can be quite scary in a way, because you know that too many back to back will end the company. So far, we’ve done really well, and a lot of it comes from making the most out of what we do have. We started out with one old camera, and now we have a complete kit. Making small steps like that becomes so rewarding. In truth, though, I do miss a good office space and a great time of people to chat to during the day.
Most of your work revolves around mods for games, what is it about modding that made you want to cover it so much?
The creativity of the modding community is astounding, and it’s a near bottomless resource of content to make videos about. Skyrim and Fallout are vast games, but without having mods to extend their life, there is no way we would have an audience, and people would probably shelve both games shortly after completing the main quest line.
The variety helps a lot too. Say we made a show exclusively about environment mods. Even that would get boring quickly! We tried to pepper a good mix of mods, and find the fun in all of them. Of course, some were sillier than others, and one or two were even heartbreakingly sad. I remember an episode where the mod community created a relic to a player who lost his life after his brother booted up the game and looked at his final save place. You could visit the shrine, and see the ghost of his character standing vigil over the last spot he played the game. It was really touching.
How do you feel about certain companies or developers looking to charge players for mods?
Personally I’m not keen on it. For a while I had a different opinion, based on the idea that bigger, more exciting mods could be made if teams could get the financial support they need to complete them. But mods are fan made, and driven by love of the game they’re for. Charging would drive a wedge through this community, and it’s not stopped some truly spectacular mods being made.
What do you think it takes to make a good mod people will want to play?
Well that’s almost impossible to say, but as a rule you need to have a clear idea what it is you want to make, and then make it to the best of your ability. While searching for mods, I found a lot that simply recoloured vanilla armours, or added a broken asset to the game.
Think hard about the world it’s going in, and how it fits. Have you always thought it would be SO much easier if you could access your home through this wall? Mod in a door or stairs. People will play that! Make mods on how you feel the game needs to change, and it will help give the mod purpose and direction. That, and asking for help!
Are there any games that you think would work perfectly with mods that don’t have the modding community yet?
Hearthstone would be great, and you can get some neat add-ons that help you play, but they’re not strictly mods. Proper mod support for the Witcher 3 would be a dream, but they’ve said it won’t happen. Mario Kart! Now that would be amazing. Obviously it would be great to get mods to the console gaming community in a serious way, unfortunately the nature of the hardware means we’ll always be restricted on what we can do. Companies want to make sure their games run well, and mods have a habit of slowing the game down. It’s incredibly exciting to see that mods for Fallout 4 are coming to consoles, however. Time will tell just how effective it is, and fingers crossed it encourages other companies to follow suit.
You have also started your own company called DoubleJump, can you tell us a little about it?
Well one thing Cam and I were noticing was the sheer amount of sponsored content that was appearing across editorial sites, GameSpot included. I have no problem with sponsored content at all, I just like good content! So as long as it’s labelled, go for it. We were doing a lot ourselves, and thought we could do a pretty handy job of making it on our own. We approached almost every person we knew in the games industry marketing side, and got a pretty encouraging vibe. So, we pulled the plug!
Since then we’ve been working with companies like Capcom, 2K, Nintendo, YouTube Gaming and Square Enix to come up with some really fun video. We’ve even done a few shoots with Bethesda! We come up with ideas for upcoming games and pitch them to the publishers. Because we’re a small company, we often get the go ahead at the last minute, and so our schedule can be insanely busy! But it’s great seeing your ideas signed off, and getting paid for them. We do keep our business and YouTube channel separate. If a time ever comes that we have sponsored content on our own channel, we’ll make sure everyone knows well in advance.
Along with games coverage, Cam and I have been making more and more automotive videos with a guy called Charles Morgan. We take ourselves out into the English countryside for a few days, with a fast car, and make some awesome films. Our old friends at Carfection gave us some of our first bits of work, and we’ve stuck with them ever since.
Youtube has become one of the most popular ways to broadcast and cover games media, why do you think Youtube has become so huge?
Because anyone can do it, and it made the platform absolutely enormous! People can record from their bedroom and get millions of views. You can search for just about anything and get a result. I mean part of it goes hand in hand with improving internet speeds and younger generations getting online earlier and earlier, but as a resource? It’s unparalleled. Now for games media, this is even more the case. Where in the past you would need all sorts of bespoke equipment to do proper games coverage, you can now set up a rig on a real budget. On top of this, the content in it’s nature is video! Say you wanted to make a channel about motorbikes. Bikes are really expensive to buy, so you have to go to events, film content, and fill every second of your video with stuff you shot. Games are affordable, and you just need to capture yourself playing them. As a result, we’ve made people into bona fide celebrities. It’s insane!
What advice would you give people looking to work within the video coverage of games?
As a YouTuber, the same rules as games media applies! That said, it helps to be personable and likeable. Be excited, but for the love of god don’t just scream all the time. Pewds has that sewn up, so copying his style just looks weird and it’s exhausting on the ears.
The next thing is a rule I break so often it hurts. Regularity. Now, I admit I’m terrible at this because we simply haven’t had the time we need to make the shows we want, but regularity is key to success. Engage with your audience as often as you can, and make them feel a part of your channel.
If you want to be on camera, make sure it’s not just a messy room in the background. If you don’t want to be on camera, then make sure your voice is clear.
Don’t bother spending ages on getting fancy custom intro graphics made. They are completely redundant in this day and age. Be interested in what you’re doing. If you sound bored, then I’m definitely bored watching you.
Remember that there are about a million other people trying to do what you do, so don’t be surprised if you don’t get thousands of views off the bat. Take cues from other successful YouTubers and try and identify why you like them. Write a list. Internalise that list, and make it part of how you make video.
What do you feel are the challenges working in this section for coverage?
There are loads, and they all begin with time. It takes a long time to produce something of real quality, and it shows when something is rushed, but the rules have to bend for different kinds of video. During E3, everyone is vying to get news and videos up first, and your voice can so easily get lost in the noise out there. So I guess production value is actually less important than regularity and consistency.
However, if you’re working for a company, with a long lead time, then the extra effort of production goes a very long way. If someone can watch a video you’ve made and go “whoa, that looks awesome” then you’re in with a great shot of getting more work! It also helps to have quality material ready for a showreel.
What upcoming plans do you have for your channel and DoubleJump?
Well Cam and I just got back from New York where we were pitching to a very exciting media company about an audio-only gaming documentary – a story podcast series. Fingers crossed that will be going ahead in 2017. We’ve got some cool plans with gaming events in the works, and there will definitely be some exciting new car shoots with Charles on the horizon. On top of that, about half our company videos still haven’t gone live yet! One of the things you learn is that often your work can get shelved simply because of timings. We have videos we made almost a year ago that aren’t due to go live for another few months!
For the channel, we’re going to dial in our expectations a little and try and simply get back to producing regular content. We might experiment with some old content ideas, and see how that goes. We’ll be getting another gaming PC soon so hopefully Cam and I can make videos separately as well, making it much easier for us to get content online. This year, we’ll definitely be experimenting with streaming too, and see if it’s something people want to see from us!
General Gaming Questions
What was the first game you ever played?
I can’t actually remember! It was probably snake or gorillas on an ancient amstrad computer, but they earliest games I remember playing were Ski Free, Hocus Pocus, Prince of Persia and Asterix.
What has been your favourite game in recent years?
Skyrim without a shadow of a doubt. I still play it. It’s on par with Final Fantasy 7 as my favourite game of all time, it means so much to me. Besides that, it would have to be Hearthstone. I never really played World of Warcraft, but Hearthstone just sucked me right in.
If you could take the credit for any video game Mod which would it be and why?
Well I actually made a complete mod for a game during a commercial project, but it’s still not out so I can’t say! Honestly I couldn’t take credit for any, but hopefully Cam and I inspired a few interesting ones on the Skyrim workshop. Many weapons and pieces of armour were made for our character Kevin VanNord, and you can still download a save of him online. On our final episode, there was an amazing mod creating a place for him to retire to. It was filled with nods to our show, and it was so touching to see people care about something we had made up over the years.
If you had to choose a video game character who you are most like who would it be and why?
Adam Jensen from Deus Ex – because I never asked for this. Also because of my robot arms. Actually in truth, I find aspects of myself in a lot of games characters – Guybrush Threepwood, Red XIII, Max Coulfield, Nathan Drake, and my self titled character in Stardew Valley! He just doesn’t have the time he needs to get everything he wants done.
Who do you think is the most annoying video game character of all time?
Belethor from Skyrim. Cocky bastard. He always said the same thing every single time you spoke to him, gave you a terrible price on goods, and ran out of cash way too quickly. You can imagine how many times over the years I’ve had to interact with him! Hopefully he never did need to sell any relatives. And his treasures were usually junk.
If you would like to know more about Seb and Cam head on over to the following:
We would like to say a huge thank you to Seb for taking part today!