PodWatch #1 🎙️- Podcasts That Give You a Peek Behind the Curtain
Podcasts are among the most consumed media in the world, with gaming-related 'casts proving to be some of the most popular
Welcome to PodWatch! A series from writers who want to share their insight into the video game podcast industry. Have a podcast recommendation for us? Share them in the comments section below!
One of the reasons I enjoy podcasts is to hear the experience the hosts bring to the table. I can have a surface-level opinion on something but I will often wait until I hear what my favourite podcast hosts have to say about that issue before committing to it. Sometimes I’m way off and a host is able to add some much-needed history or context to issues and I’ll happily change my mind.
Of course, when they align with my opinion I do feel validated.
Different hosts bring different insights to the conversation. Industry veterans like Jeff Gerstmann can draw on their tenure to enrich an issue. Investigative reporters like Patrick Klepek and Jason Schreier who have spoken to hundreds of industry professionals both on and off the record can always throw in an extra piece of never before heard information from one of their sources. Leakers like Jeff Grubb can talk about the somewhat secret information they have gathered.
However, there is a key limitation with the Giant Bomb's, the Kinda Funny’s, the Easy Allies, and the Gamescoop's of the world. These mainstream, broad topic, large audience podcasts sit in the exact same position we do.
We are on the outside of the industry and looking in on it. Often or not these podcasts have the exact same information you or I do on a particular issue, it's just they have more experience to draw from. This combined with the secretive closed-door nature of the industry results in many stories and issues never ever being resolved, leaving the most common opinion, the closest thing we get to fact.
Luckily there are specific hosts or entire podcasts that are close to the industry and can provide an informative and very fascinating sneak peek behind the curtain.
Podcasts that feature industry insiders
Not every podcast host is a journalist, as some work inside the industry and are able to add that extra layer of input.
My favourite example of this is Play, Watch, Listen because each host covers a different part of the industry and is able to give a near-360 view on any issue. Founding host Alanah Pearce has many talents, and she is currently employed as a writer for Sony Santa Monica, working on God of War Ragnarok. She is also a voice actor for games, a vocal spokesperson for making video games more accessible for those with disabilities, and in previous lives worked at Rooster Teeth and IGN. Joining her is my favourite independent developer Mike Bithell, best known for creating Thomas was Alone and Volume and my favourites Subsurface Circular and Subsurface Quarantine. BAFTA award-winning composer Austin Wintory also hosts the podcast and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed his unique input about music across film and video games, I cannot think of another major video game podcast with a composer on it (chuck a comment below if you know of one that isn’t Sam Antonioli; he's a great guy, but not a video game podcast.) Finally, the podcast features a small, obscure voice actor by the name of Troy Baker. For the unaware, if you've played any AAA video game in the last decade that featured a male protagonist, there is a 50% chance it was Troy (the other 50% chance is Nolan North). Obviously having such a diverse cast of hosts on the podcast allows you to be exposed to how a game is written, voice acted, scored, or even made. On a recent episode, Mike explains the reality behind how much money certain games make and what it takes to be profitable.
My next recommendation is The Habibis, which is described as “three game developers drinking some good Arab Tea” and features Rami Ismail, Fawn Mesmer, and Osama Dorias. Rami helped found Vlambeer, a very successful Dutch Indie studio, that made one of my favourite games of all time, Luftrausers that I played a lot of on the Vita. Rami is also an influential person in the industry specifically on topics about diversity and connecting developers from across the world. All three work in the industry and can provide a novel insight, Osama works for Unity, and Fawn, Ubisoft. Though I will say that the podcast mainly covers their lives and interests, which for Rami is flying planes and playing Destiny 2 whilst the other two make fun of him. It's a really awesome podcast and breath of fresh air, given that 98% of my other podcasts are all hosted by Americans.
Honourable mention goes to the Crate and Crowbar podcast. Whilst billed as a PC-focused podcast it does have a diversity of hosts across development and journalism and no topic is truly off the table. I originally came to the podcast thanks to Tom Francis of Gunpoint fame, but have grown to love newer hosts like Marsh Davies (formerly of Mojang) and Chris Thursten (Hypixel).
Podcasts dedicated to pulling back the curtain
If you are looking for something other than ‘some blokes comment on the news’ there are actual dedicated podcasts that aim too be informative.
Of course the obvious one here in NoClip, the video game documentary channel who have brought us behind the scenes looks at what went wrong with FF14 and an unreleased Half-life game. Their YouTube/Patreon is where the most informative stuff is but they do have a podcast that, whilst it is more of a ‘some dudes chat around a microphone’ type deal, they also talk about the behind the scenes of behind the scenes and include cut content from their docs. The podcast originally had a rocky few false starts due to their scheduling but has now settled into a good regular rhythm (hopefully I haven’t just jinxed this).
My next recommendation is the Game Maker's Notebook which is brought to us by the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences. The podcast features a revolving cast of hosts, who themselves are game makers, interviewing other prominent people in the industry. In recent memory they have interviewed Dinga Bakaba, the Director of Arkane Lyon and he talked about making Deathloop. As a die hard Destiny fan, I greatly enjoyed the recent interview with Luke Smith, one of the executive creative directors at Bungie as he talked a lot about what goes into making such a successful live service game and how Luke's role has morphed into trying to plan what is next for the Destiny Franchise. But its not the just big name studio directors they talk to, In April they interviewed Maggie Robertson the voice actor behind Lady Dimitrescu in Resident Evil Village, and in June they spoke to Andrew Shouldice the creator and nearly-sole developer on Tunic.
From the Video Game History Foundation we have The Video Game History Hour where industry historians either talk to an expert guest or someone who has heavily researched a topic or lived through it, like Nog Ogasawara, the man who localized the first Pokémon game and the following 15 titles after it. They also deep dive into specific topics such as Nintendo Power, the video game magazine that ran from 1991 until 2012. It cannot be understated how important it is to be talking about important people and moments in video game history given how poorly documented it all was, and so this podcast is just a treasure trove of hard work. As someone who wrote an entire article about Nintendo's obscure Satellaview and experienced first-hand how hard it is to talk about things from the past when the internet was far less mature, I can only sit in awe at the work this podcast does. Many of the hosts show up on other podcasts, such as Kelsey Lewin, who guests on the Minn Max show, which is where I discovered her and this podcast.
Bonus - A podcast about pulling back the other curtain on game journalism
Whilst the above podcasts and personalities are giving us an inside look on how games are made, one podcast looks in a different direction and seeks to shed more light on games journalism.
This relatively new podcast with about 10 episodes under its belt, hosted by Chris Bratt of the People Make Games YouTube channel, has interviewed some of the biggest names in gaming media. These have run the gamut of major gaming outlets, from Austin Walker (ex Giant Bomb, ex Waypoint), to Tina Amini (ex IGN Editor in Chief) and Lucy James (Gamespot). The podcast jumps into talking about how the guests work, how they go to their current position, some of the highlights of their career and once or twice has discussed some more touchy topics. As someone who follows all these people on Twitter and listens to them perform for my ears every week, it is a refreshing experience to hear them talk about themselves and their fields.
Thank you for reading PodWatch, keep an eye out for other episodes in the series. Have a podcast recommendation to share? Drop a comment below.
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