After thirteen years, longstanding game review site GameTrailers.com was forced to shut down and nine remaining employees told to leave. Within a matter of a few days, the group went from closing up shop to bringing in over $30,000 in monthly pledges from their fans using Patreon, under the new name, Easy Allies.
How did this group of guys from SoCal go from shutting down a business to creating a burgeoning new one seemingly overnight? It was a perfect storm of dedicated fans, good timing, thoughtful preparation and a committed team.
If you aren’t familiar with GameTrailers, you most certainly are aware of their influence. In 2002, when most of us were setting up profiles on Friendster and pirating music on Kazaa, GameTrailers was establishing itself as the forerunner in high-quality game-related content online. Users could freely access game reviews, start their own private forums or sit back and watch videos of the hottest new games being played (video giant Youtube wouldn’t show up for another few years).
2005 saw the release of Game Trailers’ very own television show, which aired over 150 episodes of game reviews, event coverage and industry news on Spike TV over the course of seven seasons. As Game Trailers continued to expand their offerings and gain more traction in the video space, global mass media company Viacom took notice and acquired GameTrailers for an undisclosed amount. 2005 was also the year that a group of Paypal employees launched a site in which users could upload, share and watch a wide range of video content; they called it Youtube.com.
After quickly becoming the largest online video engine, Youtube was picked up by Google for a cool $1.6 billion in 2006. GameTrailers, with the backing of a traditional media company, a branding facelift, and a growing fan base, saw their own success as they led the ranks in online gaming content.
In March of 2007, Viacom made headlines after filing a $1 billion lawsuit against Youtube for copyright infringement. The suit, which wouldn’t be settled for another five years, legally prevented GameTrailers from utilizing Youtube for any of their video content. Internet gaming was becoming huge on Youtube and GT’s only involvement with the media giant was spent issuing DMCA takedown notices to users posting GT content as their own.
The launch of Invisible Walls, a weekly podcast covering game releases and industry news, would become a prominent force in GameTrailer’s wheelhouse, allowing the staff at GT to ingrain each of their individual personalities into the collective charisma of the group. And thanks to some smart collaborations and cross-promotion, GT also helped expand the reach of up-and-coming creators in the gaming space such as ScrewAttack and Angry Videogame Nerd.
As mobile gaming came to the forefront and the industry saw a shift in how users were interacting with games, well-known gaming sites like IGN and G4 saw a recognizable drop in user engagement and experienced major lay-offs. Around the same time, Viacom handed GameTrailers over to Defy Media, who quickly cut half their staff as well.
With few people left to keep GameTrailers afloat and limited resources from Defy, GT began producing as much content as possible in hopes that fans would stay engaged and GT would live on. Since they were no longer owned by Viacom, GT was also finally able to build a presence on Youtube and cultivate a stronger community built around each of the core member’s unique personalities. Defy continued issuing lay-offs and Brandon Jones–who co-founded GT and kept a close hold on creative aspects of the company–was bumped up to Editor-in-Chief. This was arguably the beginning of Easy Allies.
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After thirteen years, GameTrailers was finally forced to shut down operations under Defy’s command. Uncertain of the road ahead, Brandon Jones called the remaining members together to talk about the future of GT. It was clear that everyone wanted to stay together and continue producing content; the question simply became How?
GameTrailers fans, eager for a comeback, suggested the group join Patreon.
“Tim Gettys [from Kinda Funny] was so fired up for us to get on Patreon—he was practically screaming at me,” Jones shared with me when I interviewed him for this piece. “With Patreon, we were just kinda waiting for the shoe to drop. I thought, something’s gotta be screwy with this place, there’s gotta be some sort of catch, you know?”
Already in town for the Game Developer’s Conference, Jones decided to stop by Patreon’s San Francisco headquarters to chat with someone from the team about using Patreon to earn funding from their GT fan base under a new brand he and his team were working on.
“Previously, we were not doing certain shows because the higher-ups didn’t want us to but with Patreon it was more like Well, we’re just going to do what we want to do,” Jones continues.
Using the name Easy Allies, the group agreed to start with a livestream and podcast and figured Patreon might help bring in some extra backing for what seemed to be more or less a side project.
“That’s the nice thing about streaming,” says Jones. “We can stream right out of the gate; we know that Day 1 of our Patreon, we’re already making stuff.”
With high hopes of bringing back the video game reviews and retrospectives that the group become well known for, Jones and the team set out to structure their milestone goals on Patreon around the types of content they’d be able to produce once they hit certain goals and equipment that might help them along the way: With $800 in monthly pledges, they’d buy a new couch for their recording space (and let their patrons help pick it); for $8,000, a popular former member of the GT team would return for a show; once they reached $30,000, Easy Allies would bring back the entire series that they had since retired when Defy shut GT’s doors.
After setting up some thoughtful rewards for potential patrons and making sure their Patreon page had everything it needed to start off strong on Patreon, Easy Allies began planning their launch.
First, they cleverly posted a teaser image above all of their social media pages that simply had the date of their launch on it. This made people pay attention; they didn’t want to miss whatever was going to be happening on that day. They also released a teaser video hinting at their reunion the day before their launch, which helped drum up even more excitement.
The morning of the launch, the team tweeted a link to their Patreon page and a 12-hour livestream they’d be doing the entire day of the launch. Each member of Easy Allies retweeted it to their own followers and Easy Allies quickly started getting patrons.
Jones and the team figured they might hit a few of their milestones over the week after their launch, but there was no way they were going to get all the way to $30,000/month on Patreon–that would be crazy!
Within about 48 hours, Easy Allies had reached every one of their eleven goals, earning over $34,000/month in pledges from about 4,000 patrons on Patreon.
“I think one thing that contributed to our success was that our fans knew what they were getting,” Jones admits. “We weren’t like ‘You’ve seen us do this comic book–well now we’re doing an animated series!’ Every single one of our milestones was more like ‘You know the show, we’re just going to change the title.’”
When asked what he thought about all the attention Easy Allies was getting from their newly found Patreon following, Brandon had this to say:
“It’s such a fascinating world that we’re in right now that something like what we’re doing can sustain itself off of the response that we’re getting from our patrons. And you can fight against that and try to make yourself perfect or you can welcome their support and their creativity and their ideas and just make them as involved in the process as possible. Anything you can do to bring them into the experience is going to make you better and it’s going to make them happy for being involved: a win/win all around.”
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