It’s easy to overlook small, midwestern communities while young aspiring game journalists and video game media producers may have their sights set on metropolitan cities like San Francisco. Who can blame them? High schoolers with these aspirations may have their sights set on IGN, but Game Zombie TV is the premiere launching pad for future careers. The University of Wisconsin at Whitewater and Indiana University at Bloomington are two colleges nestled in the frozen north, but a group of over eighty students are producing award winning content that has been viewed by millions.
Gamezombie.tv started as a thesis project by then graduate student at Indiana University, Spencer Striker. It was an opportunity for him to attend GDC 2007 and interview developers. At the time he brought in undergrad volunteers, which he then converted to student interns. At the time Game Zombie TV operated only in Bloomington, Indiana, GZTV was the largest employer of student interns in the city with a population of 80,000 and a campus of over 40,000 students.
GZTV has produced one of the best archives of interviews on the web featuring interviews with leading developers and celebrities in the video game industry. However, the site aims for a balance between interviews, original programs and an editorial team to boot. One such member is Mark Godec, a producer and lead writer for GZTV and student at UW-Whitewater. A member of GZTV for two years, Godec has put emphasis on the written side of GZTV to compliment the video production. “I was involved with the writing team when I started.” He said in a recent Skype interview. “I started putting more focus on the blog as a head writer.”
The blog became an integral part of GZTV as it provided a way to “fill gaps between video presentations.” He added, “It’s been a process of figuring it out while we go along.”
GZTV has yielded great success between the two universities by creating buzz in the the videogame industry, and sending students to great careers afterward. Godec told me, “One of the big draws to the program is the oppotrunity to speak with people in the industry.” Students have been able to secure jobs at G4TV and other similar production companies. “He’s (Spencer Striker) a charismatic guy who gets the right contacts and allows us to talk to the right people.”
One of the big draws to GZTV besides its developer interviews is its original programming. The company produced two seasons of the show Button Mashers, and is gearing up for an upcoming show called Law and Pwnage. The new show, as Godec puts it, is an examination of how cases against video game characters would play out in the real world. “We want to know what the real world ramifications are of Mario’s actions are.” Said Godec. “We are excited to see how it turns out.”
Q&A Interview With Spencer Striker
1. What are your current plans for GZ programming?
Right now we’re developing a new show called Law & Ownage, which is like a send-up of Law & Order, but video game themed. We’ve just completed editing on the first episode. It looks great. We also made an awesome title sequence that’s totally inspired by the original Law & Order one, but instead has mug shots of different famous video game characters and stuff. We created all new 2D graphics and music for the sequence.
2. Will you have a third season of ButtonMashers?
Great question. ButtonMashers is our most popular show to date, with over 5 million unique views for Season 1 and Season 2. Right now we have no plans of making a third season, since we’re working on other projects. But you never know. We may reboot the series at some point with a new theme, new graphics, and new hosts.
3. You’ve established an impressive repertoire of interviews ranging from Cliff Bleszinski to Todd Howard and Geoff Keighley, just to name a few. How easy or hard is it to get access to these people?
Another great question. When we first started GameZombie back in 2007, we were totally freewheeling run and gun, and striving to establish our credibility and reputation. We basically BS’d our way into legitimacy. It took us about a year of working our butts off before we achieved a big enough body of work and important interviews that the industry started taking us seriously. And that’s how it should be. The bar to entry is low in game media startups, so having a probationary weed out period is healthy for the business. But to answer your question, video game professionals are some of the coolest, most generous people with their time that you’ll ever meet. We have over 200 exclusive game developer/celebrity interviews, which is one of the best interview archives on the web, and almost everyone we’ve ever worked with was totally cool, a total sweetheart. A couple were stuck up jerks. (I won’t tell you who they were though!)
4. What are your future programming plans? Do you intend on staying with the industry centric interviews, or will your focus lean more toward original programming?
Another great question! We will continue to aim for a balance. Our exclusive game developer/personality interviews are our bread and butter. It’s the core of what we do. But we’re always interested in making original shows. I think it’s important for us always to be developing both.
5. What is the relationship like between Bloomington and UW-Whitewater with GameZombie?
Awesome. We use Skype, cloud storage, Google docs, lots of email, text, and calling, to stay on the same page. We work really well together. Andrew Benninghoff is the man. He totally runs GameZombie Indiana. That’s his operation. He and I get along great. We have total professional respect for each other. While we have slightly different talent specializations we form like Voltron and have a shared creative vision for the potential of GameZombie.
6. How big is the GameZombie staff, and what roles do students and interns take in producing content?
GameZombie has a current standing army of about 80 people. The GZ Wisconsin teams include: Producing/Prod Mgmt, Editing, Motion Graphics, Sound/Music, 2D Graphics, Writing, and Web Dev. GZ Indiana has their own teams that are mostly comparable. (You’d have to ask Andrew to be sure!)
7. GameZombie started out as your thesis project to attain your masters degree from Indiana University-Bloomington. How has the project evolved from the start to the present?
Its been a long journey. I first pitched the idea in Thom Gillespie’s Immersive Mediated Environments class in the Fall of 2006, and began brainstorming and building it out. I brought on some grad students. Then we went to GDC 07 and began shooting video interviews. The breakthrough came when I converted the undergrad volunteers on the project into interns, and launched a bonafide internship program. Soon, GameZombie became the single biggest employer of student interns in the city of Bloomington. The project’s size and scope grew organically as it snowballed in terms of talent acquisition and the scale of what we were trying to accomplish.
8. Where have past members of GZ gone once they graduated or finished their internship?
The Executive Producer of G4’s X-Play has hired GameZombie graduates on three separate occasions. Many of GZ’s graduates have used their GameZombie portfolio to impress employers and secure competitive media work at such companies as G4 Media, ESPN, GameTrailers and Cartoon Network.
Full list of student collaborators on GameZombie TV includes over 400 Students. (Updated 2009). In addition, we have launched a Facebook Group called GameZombie Past & Present where GZ Alumni share updates on their current media work. And we have a GZ wiki we built for the Indiana and Wisconsin campuses.