Having Brunch With Greg Miller: Talking Kinda Funny And The Unfair Conundrum Of Games Commenting

Kinda FunnyBack in January, I caught up with Greg Miller, the charming, former host of IGN. At the time, he and three co-workers at the website, Colin Moriarty, Nick Scarpino and Tim Gettys, left to go on their own venture and form their own company, Kinda Funny. They are now supported by their fans across two Patreons and have become an influential force for a lot of reasons.

Maybe I am too wired into the field of games journalism and commenting, but there is something that I find compelling about this whole venture. It’s not just Kinda Funny either. January brought about a huge period of upheaval for a lot of people in the field. Everyone seemed to be playing musical chairs a little. Hell, even I came on full time at Bleeding Cool around then. It seemed everyone was moving for one reason or another.

In the pursuing six months, avenues have opened up and lines have begun to blur as to what a professional games commenter is. While certainly not the first, or the last, Kinda Funny’s journey onto Patreon is one of the most enthralling case studies in the field. They went from leaving IGN, to a self sustaining company, to hosting their own stage at E3 last week with GameSpot, all in half a year. They certainly represent a shift in this industry, even if we haven’t quite figured out the true context of that shift yet.

Coming into E3 though, I thought I’d catch up with Greg to see how the year had gone so far. We decided to kill two birds with one stone and grab a bite to eat the Sunday before the show opened. After meeting Greg accompanied by his girlfriend, Kristine Steimer, at the famous ‘Original Pantry’ which, unfortunately, had a wait time to match, we decided to book and head down to another local place, Tom’s Urban.

It’s around 10 30AM. We order a Granola and Yoghurt cups, alongside Steak tacos. It truly like finishing breakfast and rolling straight into Lunch from bite to bite. In many ways, this surprisingly pleasant clash of tastes, matches Greg’s loud yet utterly charming charisma.

PD: We talked in January, So…how is it going?

GM:Incredibly well, right? I think we continue to blow past the milestones we set for ourselves. We didn’t expect any of the success we had. I talked to you in January about it. We set our levels very, very low. While Polygon was interviewing me, and it was like: “How many subs are you going to get in the first week?” We gave like very, very low numbers. We didn’t want to get ahead of ourselves. We continue to have that mentality, right? We don’t want to start thinking we are invulnerable or we are going to kill everything, so the fact that we have done so well on the Patreon, the fact that by the time this posts, we will have past 100,000 on the second YouTube channel, the fact that Entertainment Weekly just name checked us in the YouTube gaming story. I was like, What the fuck is happening?

We are at E3 right, and I haven’t been on the show floor yet, but I’ve seen the photos and I’ve seen the mock ups and the fact that a 5 month old company with a logo that was designed by Nick Scarpino at my kitchen table is about to be 16 feet tall next to Microsoft and Sony and Nintendo and IGN…what 5 month old company is on the floor of E3? It’s like “woah, we didn’t expect any of that.”

You’re in an interesting position too, right? It seems a lot of companies are coming to you because you aren’t strictly speaking press any more, but you aren’t quite the Youtube Lets Players either. You are the middle ground.

That’s the fun thing. When we were leaving and we were telling all the PR people and our press contacts, we were saying: We are leaving, we are doing this and we love games again. You know? We are going to be able to talk about what ever we want. We get to talk about what we want to talk about.

Obviously with the Order: 1886, something completely in our wheel house, Colin and I played it. We talked about it a little bit. But it is not like we are trying to review everything, so we aren’t going out of our way to talk about something we don’t know anything about right? Witcher comes out and we love it so we talk about Witcher a lot. We are able to sit there and be enthusiasts because we love it.

How are are you finding that actual freedom?

It’s overwhelming in every way. We appreciate and love it and stuff. Its awesome. It’s to the point…y’know, in the old days pre-January 5th it was like, “Man, we could do so much if it wasn’t for the day job” and now it is like “Man, we could just do so much if we just… could do more.” There is so much to do and we can’t do it all.

That is what the wake up has been. We have to prioritise and be like, alright, what is real content. Colin and I just talked about launching this new show and we were going to be real aggressive and do it the week after E3. Tim and Nick are like, “No fucking way are you doing that.” And then they have to run us through all the check points and we are not even remotely close to that. “Right, good point. Well, we will get to that when we get to that.”

How does that content happen? Is it possible to wake up one day and be like, “today we are going to do this”?

Yeah, if it is a one off. The products we have right now are modular. Basically, like, you saw Colin do his Konami and Kojima reactions. He wants to do a show that is just him, talking to a camera and a white background. And Tim and Nick want to workshop it and make it awesome. This is a test of that. We fit it into Reacts. So Reacts can be me and Colin talking about something. It can be waking up and talking about something. It can be Colin talking about it. That is where you plug it in and do something different.

It’s when you get into like…it’s 5 o clock and this just broke, such as when the Batman vs. Superman trailer went up in HD Right? That was a thing of Nick and I watched it and that was awesome and that is something we should really do a video on right now, but it is 5 o clock. We are exhausted, we are editing the video for this that and the other. And you talk about and it took about 30 minutes of emails and then we were like, lets go! We found the energy to do it. I’m very much if I can see what’s happening, if I can partition my day… I don’t mind a jam packed day if I know about it. It’s when there is something that comes out that is not in the schedule I’m like, “Well, I don’t know what to do with that.” Once I can readjust the schedule in my head I can tackle it though, you know what I mean?

Sure. Give me a second…I’m trying to figure out how to phrase this…How often does it feel like hard work?

That is a weird question, right? Because the answer is always, but it is not work, right? The thing that we are always hung up on is delivering the content to Best Friends [what Kinda Funny call their followers], giving them what I want and delivering the best we can on it.

I’m the one that usually breaks first. I’m always that one who gets upset that we are behind schedule. The schedule is Colin and Greg Live until 12 30, than 1-3 is the GameOver Greggy Show, then more often than not lately it is 3-5 is the Gamescast then 5 to 5 30 is the Patreon Q and A or whatever. So, when it is 1 30 and we haven’t started one of those shows, I see all the dominos falling and that is when I start to see the gears start to rub against each other. That is when I feel like I’m not giving my best performance in the GameOver Greggy Show, because then it sounds like I’m fucking furious and mad about something and then I have to do the [cheery] “What’s up everybody and welcome to the…” At which point I’ve already forgotten what everybody’s topics are, mine is stupid, I thought about it two seconds ago. You know what I mean? I don’t like delivering the content that way. So for me, that is the moment it most feels like work.

We are briefly interrupted to be delivered our order. The Yoghurt is nice and creamy, while the Steak Taco makes for a spicy counter. It really is an odd meal, but it’s all very lovely.

How has it been getting to actually know your audience?

My god, awesome. I understood the relationship I had with them, as far as the ‘best friends’ thing, right? That is a thing I had been saying at IGN for years. So when I left, I anticipated the “Oh we are so sad to see you go, but we are happy for you. yadiyadayada”.

What I didn’t at all expect was the letters we got and still get to this day of, “You’re an inspiration, I did this because of you guys.” The kids who wrote in, “I’m sad to see you guys go, but so happy…here is my resume.” That is awesome. Thank you. Someone gives me a resume, they want to work for us. We get kids offering to work for us in all sorts of roles on the daily and it’s like, that was totally unexpected. There is a Patreon episode up of the GamesCast where me and Colin are talking about how we got started and it was just him and I. I mentioned this kid Rodge Former on Twitter, I noticed him when he did a video about us leaving. I was like, “this kid is amazing.” He is like 15 or 16, he is in high school right. He delivers video better than I ever did. He is only going to get better. I had this moment of realisation in the video of, “Do I think that kid is going to work at IGN some day? Of course I do!”

Greg notticed I was distracted at this point. I had recognized IGN’s Max Scoville and Brian Altano standing outside. Incidently, they are the new hosts of the show Greg left behind, Podcast Beyond. Greg gets up and runs to the door to shout “Beyond!”

After a brief moment of catching up, he comes back and just as if he hadn’t stopped, he finishes up his answer.

What I was building too was that that Rodge Former doesn’t have to work at IGN anymore, he can come work of us or anywhere.

What you did has changed a lot about what we know about games journalism, and you have really cracked that open…

Right. Looking back on it, that is not what we were expecting. It was never the idea or a part of it. I knew when we left we were among the first and probably the biggest. We weren’t really the first and we wouldn’t be the last by a long shot.

It’s the thing where people are waking up to the fact that personalities do matter. I think if you look at Youtube, you can understand why these personalities are succeeding and then you can look at it and extrapolate it out that, “Okay, well we could do that too”. Ryan Mccaffrey could leave IGN tomorrow and do an Xbox thing and be a dominant Xbox voice because he has done it for years. Everyone knows him for that. Anybody who has that following, that fan base, that knowledge, when you think of Sid Shuman at the PlayStation blog, if he left and did something PlayStation related everyone would be like, “Oh, I get it. I know him for that.”

I once heard a quote, and I don’t remember who said it, but they said that Patreon for people writing about games is the solo album every boy band member wants to write.

Right! That is good. That is a good analogy.

It reminds me how in the movie industry… it’s weird because games journalists are often bigger personalities than the games creators which is obviously reversed in other mediums.

I think that it is just because we have such a dedicated fanbase. I always do that thing, and in a way Colin hates, that everybody is a gamer even if they don’t think they are. It is still there, even though my mom plays this, does this, and then you have us the gamers like, “they aren’t real gamers”. But everybody watches movies, and if someone asks you what do you do, you don’t say, “I’m movie watcher.” They don’t say, “I’m a movie watcher of course”, or “I’m a movier.” or what ever the hell you call it.

Greg’s girlfriend Kristine then counters with “Movie Buff”.

Yeah, true, but not to the same thing of the fandom of gaming. You could be really into horror or a horror buff or… you have people people who are like movies who follow their movies and directors or reviewers or Gene Siske,l right? But they are not putting themselves out there in the same way we are, right?

I always try to explain it to people like, the reason I was successful in the very beginning was that I showed up at IGN and they were like, “Here is Podcast Beyond.” I’ve wanted to do this forever. I was the first hire at IGN to grow up on IGN and it is all I have ever wanted to do. Deamon [Hatfield] had a similar story of really liking IGN but he didn’t talk about it like I talked about it, right? So I got there and fans were like, “Oh, he is the guy. He is me. He is the every man.”

That is what I was talking about yesterday. I was on Anthony Carboni’s podcast, We Have Concerns. I was talking to them in the middle of it about the level of celebrity I found and they found too. It was like, for me it was so weird because in this podcast, you and Jeff go on this podcast and go on riffs and improv and do voices. You guys are entertainers. You have this talent that is inherent to you. I don’t. I am just a guy who like to talk about video games and being friendly.

For me, I had my first glimpse of life on the outside when I went on the Lip Sync battle show. Elliot Morgan, formerly of SourceFed, now just being awesome on Youtube, he is the co-host on it. I didn’t know his work before hand and we were bullshitting around. He said, “I do comedy and stuff” and I was like, “Oh cool! See you!” and we part ways come back to do the YouTube version where I’m on with other YouTubers. We come in to do the lip syncs with them and they are like this is Mamrie Heart and I’m like, “Oh I’ve seen your stuff, dadadada” Lots of people who I sort of know who have like a million subs and that is cool. And then there is me. When we sat down and they got put on stage and stuff, it was like night and day. It was like, “Oh fuck. They are entertainers.” They do something I don’t do. After years of being at E3 and being at IGN, it’s like, “We will put Greg on camera, it will be funny. It will be great.” I succeed in those roles right? but I’m there with professional entertainers. Just the way they contort their body and the way they control a stage. When I went up there is was very much like, you’re lipsyncing in your basement. (Laughs) There was this giant drop in quality, which is great. When I was done and after Elliot had done it, it finally made sense to me. I am a host. You are an Entertainer. The difference is, he could go out and be in a movie tomorrow. There is no fucking way. If Kevin Smith came up and said, “Hey, do you want a speaking role?” I’d be like “Great!” and then be all stumbly and shit.

I think that is why we keep finding success, or all four of us do. It still is not lost on us. “Hey everybody, this is the spare bedroom. My health insurance isn’t working today because of this. You know what I mean, you are still, this is day to day. This is Portillo (greg’s dog), he’s back up, we are going to yell about him.

There is a weird, sort of, reverse of celebrity in games though, where game directors aren’t talked about like movie directors and people talking about games are the ones with all the followers.

It’s a huge problem. I haven’t figured out how to express that to developers yet. When we went to go do the livestream for God of War for them announcing God of War 3: Remaster, it was for charity and had speed runners and whatever. At the end of it, the whole company was there, Sony Santa Monica and they said, “We want to thank Kinda Funny for doing this.” I had this moment of, if they kick to me to talk, which they didn’t, I was going to try and express that.

And I don’t have a way to say, “I’m sorry this is so unfair.” I know you guys don’t see it like I do, but your games change lives, they entertain all these people. Everything you do matters. I know if you are texture artist on level 4 you might not feel that way, but you build this thing that is amazing and brings all this stuff and motivates people and inspires people. Of course, in this day and age, what are you motivated to talk about when you are upset? What do they see on boards is, “Oh this is broken! and “this sucks!” They don’t get that experience at PAX where…fuck, even right now when I ran out to Brian and Max and then some kid walked past us and recognised us and said something. You know what I mean, if you are not David Jaffe, but you are some other guy who is on Twisted Metal, you don’t get to have that experience of people coming out saying, I love what you do. That sucks.

Totally, and you can probably count the number of developers that even gamers know about on one hand. Kojima, Miyamoto, Ken Levine and Neil Druckmann for example.

Yeah! There was a moment at PlayStation Experience and I was talking to Kurt Margenau at Naughty Dog, and some kid came up and was like, “Oh, Greg Miller!” I was like, “Greg Miller! Fuck that! Did you know this guy made that level in Uncharted 3? He did that!” There is no way to do that though. I’m very cognisant that my career and my fans and my name are built from the backs of all these developers that made things that inspired me to go talk about these things. That is so weird.

Yeah! I usually don’t do interviews with developers before a game comes out, instead I tend to reach out afterwards so we can do a bit of a deconstruction of something that I loved.

Yeah! Our industry is totally built on…we have talked about fucking Batman (Arkham Knight) for three years now, and it if going to come out next week and then nerds like me will talk about it for a while and while stuff is happening. But you know, no one is going to want to talk about Sefton Hill (creative director on the game) again. I mean…well not ever…

Well, if it is not very good!

(Laughs) There are a few game developers who I have run into where that’s not true.

But that is the thing. These guys pour their two, three, four years into a game and a kid beats it on the weekend and then us as an industry, we are on to the next thing. We will get Batman. We will play Batman. We will love Batman and it will be in our podcasts for a month and then it is going to be, “Holy fuck! Fallout 4 is coming.” “Holy shit, we are so close to Metal Gear!” You know what I mean? The Witcher 3 continues to be in the ecosystem because it’s so fucking big. There is so much to do. Now that is the narrative. There is so much to do in this game, will we ever beat it?

It is a shame that that is how it has to be, but obviously we have to move onto the next thing. But reflection is important. That is why I like Award Shows so much. That is why I make a big deal out of the BAFTAs and I go back to talk about everyone nominated for Game of the Year. Instead of like before the game comes out and it is a lot of marketing speak, you can actually go back and be like, “So, how did you come to the conclusion of how you ended that game?”

Right! Why did you make this decision at the end of this game? That is why it is cool what you are doing or what we are allowed to do now. We just had Erin Fitzgerald come through and it is like, “oh come on and talk about Persona.”Persona has the legs so we can do that, but then Roger Craig Smith comes though and it is like, “Hey, lets talk about being the Batman.” It doesn’t matter that you aren’t the one coming up now. My audience, the audience I build wants to eat that up anytime. I think a lot of the up and coming kids trying to do that missed that. If you were to reach out 2 months after Batman, I’d love to talk to somebody about Batman about this one thing.

That was one of the things I found coming over from movies. Interviewing celebrities, they are very guarded by PR. But most game developers, you can just send them an email and they respond.

Yeah. We are lucky that the industry is so small that you interview someone once and they remember you. If you are good. And they like you. (Laughs) They reach out continue to talk and have that relationship.

With your audience, as you expand, are you more worried about solidifying that base that you already have or is expansion a big consideration?

For me, I want to keep things super solid. Colin and I sit there and talk about wanting intimacy. We don’t want to lose that. And we know to some level we will. After MomoCon, me and Colin were talking and kind of post-morteming it and there was this conversation of that was awesome and great and he was like, “We can’t do that forever.” You know what I mean? We took over a bar, hung out with everyone for like four hours. That entire bar was our people. But what happens when our people are, we have 200,000 YouTube followers instead of 100,000 on the games channel. You know what I mean?

Scaling is something we are not afraid of, but…its not like it is on the tip of my tongue or a big worry for me, but I do worry when we inevitably end up with 500,000 people who are following us on YouTube, like we can’t do a meet and greet like that. We have to do it differently where there are tickets.

Don’t get me wrong! It is a great problem to have, but, I will be very upset if we get so big that I can’t tell you to look for Amy Gilroy if you are on Patreon and that she will help you out. Or if you want meet someone at an event hit up Shaun Twisters on Twitter. Oh, something is going on the Twitch chat, contact Xyger or Devin. I want to make sure I have these people that I know. If Paulogy is still making comments about us on PlayStation blog, I want to make sure I know it is him. These weird things like that. We are a community of best friends and we are super tight knit. If you want to put in the time, you can rise to a spotlight position without any trouble.

Yeah, it is kind of weird. I dabble in your content, but you guys now have like super fans.

Oh yeah. And we love that. We are super lucky. It is another unexpected thing. Even at IGN, on Beyond, we had M-Dog, Mitchell Morgan. We would make a joke about bets and he would actually do it. Pandamusk, who is obviously a real life friend, but started as a fan. We’d say animate that and he would animate it. We had so many products right? Up at Noon, had its own audience and Greg Atlus was super vocal on that.

I didn’t expect… like recently Amy Gilroy who is this wonderful woman in Ireland, who watches our Patreon like a hawk is in there on the comments for anyone that has a question. With all the other things going on, I can’t be in there as much as I want to be or as much as I original was. So she is in there and she will answer comments and stuff and finally, she was emailing me and DMing me, “oh hey. This person is spamming or this is a spam account, you should get in there. It started building up because I was traveling and whatever. Finally I was like, fuck it. I roped her in with the CEO and Vice-President of Patreon and I said, “Hey guys, I know you guys haven’t got a mod feature yet. When you do, I’m going to give it to Amy, so I am turning you over to her right now. So that when she something broken, she can tell you rather than tell me and I am asleep for 8 hours or on a plane and I get to it eventually, if you can help. And they said, “Totally. here is this girl, She will talk directly to her and get anything done any time you need it.”

How has that actual relationship with Patreon been?

Oh, Patreon have been great. There is a number of people who have helped us on this journey obviously. The ones who stand out the most to me are the ones who helped us when we were literally nothing. Or when I was off the record and saying, hey I’m going to leave maybe, and I think this is what is going to happen.

I remember we were at VidCon last Summer…god, it hasn’t even been a year yet. We ran into them at that VidCon. They turned out to be huge fans of us. I had just heard about the platform. They were right around us in San Francisco so they said, “Come see us”. We went there and met with them, Tim, Nick and I the first time. We sat there and had this conversation with them right. We laid it out for them. We are going to rebrand as Kinda Funny. We are doing this. They were like, “That is awesome.” The Vice President is like, “Here is my phone number, call me anytime you need anything.”

They are like those guys who you meet and you are like, grinny and nice and you act like you are going to help us, but we will see how this actually goes, especially if we don’t pan out or whatever. But the Sunday before we launched that Patreon on Monday. I’m sitting there texting him like, “is this live?” and he is responding and he is great.

Here we are 9 months later. They are still genuinely as awesome as they were when we first met them. They promote us. They use us in press releases. They have been behind us in full force since Day One. That is awesome. They were the ones who said once we left IGN that we should do a second Patreon. We were like, “Won’t people hate us for that?” They were like” “No”… there were so many things to learn having the first hand experience from them of like, “No, no, no. That is not how this works. People are always happy to support creators. They are not going to be pissed off that you are doing two. They’re advice and wisdom has been invaluable.

And then after hanging around for a little while, we parted ways.

I don’t quite know if I have figured out what Kinda Funny means for this industry yet in a broader context. It is clear they have had an impact on the games industry and online entertainment, it is just hard to figure out to what end and what it will inspire. They could remain an anomaly, or they could change the way we look at traditional commentating.

After chatting with Greg twice now, I don’t feel closer to an answer. What’s clear is that he is a passionate guy and he shares a vision with his company-mates of what they wants to achieve. Beyond that, time is the only real indicator of what this group can be.

One thing that is very clear  though, is that there is a passionate community for this content and Miller is the spear head for making them feel cared for. That is rare for internet personalities. I have dabbled in the FaceBook group and YouTube comments of Kinda Funny and everyone seems to care for each other. They really have garnered a supportive community. That is refreshing for the internet and it’s something every content creator should take example from.

I don’t know where Kinda Funny are going to be in another 6 months, a year or even 5 years, but I for one am excited to see what they mean.