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MinnMax’s Ben Hanson and Haley MacLean Believe Their Patrons Would Vote to See Them Fart on Camera

Ben Hanson is the founder of MinnMax, which creates videos, podcasts, focused on games, friends and getting better. Prior to that he worked at Game Informer as their first video editor before leaving to found MinnMax in 2019. Haley MacLean is a video game IP lawyer at Voyer Law Corp. and the MinnMax Community Manager. They chatted with Minus World about the games they’ve enjoyed the most this year, the lessons learned in the almost five years that MinnMax has been around, why the “getting better” part of the MinnMax bio is so important, and more.

Minus World: What game have each of you enjoyed the most this year?

Haley MacLean: I know Ben’s.

Ben Hanson: It’s Final Fantasy VII Rebirth. Some people, all they do when they talk about the game is complain, which blows my mind because it’s like, yeah, you know what? It’s a huge experience. And there’s a couple uneven parts. But by and large, comparing that game and how happy it made me versus every other game released so far this year. It’s like, what are we doing here? This is the biggest slam dunk in history.

MW: What about you, Haley?

MacLean: Like A Dragon: Infinite Wealth, and I’m dragging it out. I’ve been in chapter 10 for ten something hours because all I’m doing is just running around clearing the map. It’s one of those games. I like it so much. I want all the icons gone on the map before I move on to the end game stuff.

MW: I think I’m only in chapter four in Like A Dragon.

MacLean: The story is ramping up. At first I was like, “Oh, I don’t know if I like the story nearly as much as seven,” And I still feel that way, but the story really picks up after that.

Hanson: I can’t wait to go back to it because I love that game so much, and had paused for Rebirth. Now that I finished Rebirth, I’m like, “Do I want to go back to 100 hour RPG?” I think I need a couple palate cleansers, but I’m looking forward to that.

MW: What are you looking forward to for the remainder of the year?

Hanson: You know, Giant Bomb’s Jeff Grubb is saying he’s hearing that there’s going to be an Astro Bot platformer from PlayStation later this year. And so if that actually happens, that is probably my most anticipated at this point. Just because like it is every year, I feel like in this phase we start saying, “I don’t know, I guess there’s no games coming in the back half of the year,” There’s not much on the calendar, but when June rolls around we’re all going to be doing our boring game of journalists complaining about, “Well, there’s too many games in October and November. What the hell’s good? We’re so dumb. We’re games press.”

MW: Once Geoff Keighley gets out there and tells us what’s happening.

Hanson: One he sees his shadow.

MacLean: Nothing’s jumping out to me. Is that bad?

MW: The front half of the year feels like it was really jam packed. I’m hoping I can spend the remainder of the year finishing the games that I haven’t completed.

MacLean: I feel like I’m drowning right now.

MW: Would you mind giving a little brief history of what you each did prior to MinnMax?

MacLean: I interned at Game Informer, and that’s how I first met Ben, back in 2016. I worked in games journalism while going to journalism school for about five years, and then I pivoted into law. Now I practice video game law, which is really fun. Still a lot of boring work, but it’s the most fun a lawyer could have, I think? So I’ve been practicing that for about two years. I got called to the Bar in 2021. I kind of just really focused on game stuff while I was in law school writing papers about esports, employment violations, copyright infringement issues relating to games, that kind of thing. Then, I came to MinnMax, this time last year. Almost exactly. I think it was April of last year.

Hanson: The cool thing, Haley, for me to kiss your butt for you is, that idea of making that pivot of you wanting to work in games media, but realizing it is rocky waters out there, and I’d like to have some job security in my life. And so as far as I know, you made that pivot of, “How can I get close to that and find some way to write about games, but also not be bankrupt and worried about losing my job every day?” And the answer is video game IP law. And I think that’s so cool. Just to call your shot and be like, all right, here’s a safe thing that is still tangentially related and now you did it. And now you’ll never go hungry again.

MacLean: I was so hungry.

MW: Ben?

Hanson: I worked as a video producer in Minneapolis at nonprofits and also at a local community TV station. I was there for a couple of years, and then I was Game Informer’s first video producer that they brought on back in 2010, and I was there until 2019. When I was at Game Informer I eventually hosted the podcast and did a bunch of other stuff, but the main thing is I would go on the Game Informer cover story trips where every month they’d have a new cover story for the magazine. I would fly around the world and interview developers, spend about two days in each game studio talking to developers, and making videos that would then roll out throughout the month. I did that month after month after month. By the time I left in 2019, I went on 80 cover story trips. It was really fun, and gives you a good perspective on game development. Not saying you understand it, but you can at least look through the keyhole for a couple of days while visiting a studio. Then launched MinnMax in the fall of 2019 after there were some layoffs at Game Informer. They laid off 40% of the editorial staff in 2019, and I was like, “You know what? I was lucky enough to have dodged that ax. But at the same time, I’m so angry at GameStop and I have no faith in GameStop whatsoever,” And so I felt safer career wise to step out and launch a Patreon site with Minnmax, and round up Suriel Vazquez, Kyle Hillyard, and Jeff Marchiafava, who were laid off from Game Informer. And then we started the whole thing.

MW: MinnMax has been at it for about five years now. What are some of the biggest lessons that you’ve learned in that time about starting your own thing?

Hanson: Big one is being flexible. I was going back and looking at some notes before we launched the whole thing, and I wrote down, “We’re going to start doing podcasts. Eventually we’ll get back to doing studio visits, like Game Informer did, and then we’ll get into the Daily News grind,” now I look back at that, and the idea of getting into the daily news grind sounds absolutely miserable. So a lot of it has just been listening to the community interacting with them, and just being really clear in messaging. You could call it marketing if you want to be a hack, I suppose. But just really clear with the community, “This is what we’re doing, don’t expect more than this. We’re going to call our shots and take some swings and have fun,” I think it’s always tempting to say, “We’re having so much fun. Let’s just keep creating content for the community,” and it just spirals. You end up creating so many treadmills for yourself and everybody else involved with MinnMax, without maybe that much payoff in terms of making a big splash with the community. I think we’ve done a pretty good job and we’ve learned the lesson over time again and again of just being really deliberate with our content, making sure all the content that we create points people towards the Patreon in some way without feeling like we’re nickel and diming folks. All the content is a little bit like a light funnel shape so that it’ll guide people towards the patreon if they’re interested instead of just getting into the grind of, “We need to do this, we need to video reviews, we need to do daily news and all this stuff that people can watch on YouTube,” But when is the last time you watched a video review and then said, “I need to support these people on Patreon”? It’s a tough thing to message. We did spoiler casts for Star Wars and Marvel and stuff like that. That’s fun, but at the same time, we could do that until we’re blue in the face and I don’t know how many people are going to be clicking through and saying, “You know what? The way these people talked about Ahsoka reminds me to support independent games media”, so hopefully being deliberate with the content, is a lesson overall and trying to be really clear with what we’re doing and why.

MW: Haley as a relative newcomer to MinnMax, what about you? Is there anything that you’ve learned since coming into this establishment?

MacLean: It’s been fun to be more on the personality side of game content creation, because before when I was writing, my byline was my byline, but nobody’s clicking on that. They’re just going to read my words and move on, and that’s totally fair. You don’t have to learn the backstory of every person from every article you read. It’s been fun just because when I first came on, as a community manager, a big part of that was getting into the discord that we have with those awesome people, making sure things are going well and everyone’s happy and getting along. That was all I was going to do at first. Then naturally, over the course of time, I started being in more content, which was really fun. And just trying to not think about it too much. At first I was really nervous to do stuff in my own head. “I know about games, I don’t have to prove anything, calm down. You know, enough about games, you can talk about them”, but that’s gone away.

MW: It’s a unique thing, right? People are looking to you to tell them about the games. And you’re like, “Oh God, am I interesting enough? Am I saying witty enough things to be on here?”

MacLean: Before I could write something and I just had to worry about if the words were good, but now I have to worry if what I’m saying is cool. And also I’m cool.

Hanson: You need to be primo cool if you’re on the MinnMax Show. That’s our number one criteria.

MacLean: Ben says to me every week, “How cool are you this week?”

Hanson: Flexibility with folks as schedules is a big thing too. It’s a weird thing that I lose sleep thinking about. We have a company whose bedrock is made up of community goodwill. That’s what’s funding this entire thing through Patreon. So how do you maintain that? What are the biggest risks to that? And I think a big one is if we all ended up hating each other. I guess if the community hated us, but I think first would be if the MinnMax cohorts started tearing each other apart, and it feels like a big part of that would be really pressing deadlines, creating tension there and stuff like that. So it’s been a nice lesson over the years of just realizing, “You know what, we’re going to crank out enough content to keep the community happy, but if some content doesn’t come together because somebody’s life gets in the way with a very natural scheduling conflict, there’s no harm done,” We don’t have a boss yelling at us.

MW: You’re the one doing the yelling now, right?

Hanson: That’s exactly right, but there’s no one screaming, “You need to have that review up yesterday!” or anything like that. So if this person can’t be on the podcast we have built up enough of a network now where we can always have somebody else jump in, and it’s not going to be the end of the world if somebody doesn’t want to do anything a certain week or needs to take a couple weeks off or something like that. We are so flexible now that hopefully we can always fill any gaps in a way that feels natural.

MW: Something that has always stuck out to me about MinnMax since you all were founded, was the opening line in your bio, “MinnMax creates videos, podcasts, focused on games, friends and getting better,” That getting better part always stands out to me. Can you talk about what that means to you? I don’t know if you consider that your company slogan or not.

Hanson: I don’t know what it would be, but I’m really thankful that it’s there. When I was thinking about leaving Game Informer and taking a ton of notes and thinking what type of outlet should we do? What should it be like? Back at Game Informer we did so many Extra Life charity drives, and that was an early note. If we could have that vibe of those marathon charity streams and that goodwill that’s generated from that, but just stretched out over the course of a year and make it a more fun outlet that also gives off good vibes overall. That’s a great way to go. And so in that first batch of notes that I took, one of them was, “This should be an outlet about games, friends, and getting better,” just to just boil it all down. And a lot of it is from if you’ve been through a big, tumultuous event in your life, or there have been layoffs at your company. That feeling of, “Wow, the clock’s ticking on our lives here. What are we doing? Why are we filling it with a lot of nonsense? We should have self-improvement as a core component of MinnMax,” So it started out as just a little motto, but it’s nice to have something other than, “We’re going to talk about games on the internet,” It’s a tough market to break through. And just saying that at the start of so many videos it’s compelled a certain group of people to be more attracted to us as an outlet. I genuinely believe, maybe I’m wrong, but I genuinely believe that our Discord in our community is nicer than others because we have that getting better slant towards positivity in our coverage. That small addition of that phrase at the outset. But then I guess saying it in so many videos across the years has generated, I think, a friendlier community. We have a whole channel on the Discord dedicated to self-improvement. I always like when we can take a break on the podcast from games to talk just a little bit about what we’re working on in our lives without getting too personal. I think focusing on something extra in addition to just “Star Wars Outlaws coming out September 30th!” It’s nice to have a little extra oomph like that. I think unless you get too big and then it all becomes miserable. but I do think there’s something about that positivity aspect that comes through in that slogan that has generated a different type of community.

MacLean: Yeah, I think the message underlines that the type of people that care enough to want to be part of the discord is people who would care that that is in the motto of MinnMax, right? Why would somebody look for a place to write about their miserableness? I don’t know what that would be, but there are tons of outlets for that. Like Reddit. The Discord is lovely. Honestly when I came on as community manager I was like, “Oh, the vibes are immaculate. This is great. No worries.”

Hanson: That said, shout out to the mods who’ve been there for a long time, even before your era, who have done a lot of light selective pruning, and have really, I think, cultivated a really positive space in there.

MW: I think that’s so nice because I don’t have to tell you how awful gamers can be, and specifically there’s a lot of community managers that have been targeted by certain unsavory individuals on the internet recently. I don’t know if y’all have been following that or not, but, there are people that are out there that just want to be mad all the time about the stupidest bullshit that doesn’t matter.

Hanson: So it’s funny, everybody who supports us on Patreon, I send them a message saying, “Hey, thanks for your support. How’d you find us? What type of stuff do you want in the future? Why did you choose to jump in at the tier you did?” It’s this constant survey rolling, but the best way I can think of to start my day is every morning I send out messages to people who supported us the previous day, and then read the messages coming back. And it’s just an avalanche of really nice messages. It’s, “I liked the vibe. I like the positive vibes. I like that you’re generally an optimistic group without being naive,” I think it’s easy to be like, “Wow, games are great. Wakka wakka!” You know? But I think certain people in the crew do a much better job than I do of getting real every once in a while to talk about some problems in the industry. We can’t just say every game’s great. The end. So I think it’s that balance of generally being an optimistic outlet, combined with we’re not burying our heads in the sand. It’s funny and we talk about a company based on a general light level of goodwill with the community. It’s just so funny to see so many people call that out. It’s like, “Yeah, I went out of my way and went to this URL and entered my payment numbers and all this stuff because you guys are friendly towards each other on the podcast and seem to like games.”

MW: That sounds refreshing. So how does being directly funded by your fans change the dynamic between you as creators and your fans? Game Informer has a subscription, but is, I would assume, largely funded by advertisements like most other legacy media. So that is always something I’m really interested in hearing about from people who have a Patreon and are funded by their fans.

Hanson: It’s interesting. You know, if you really overthink it, you can get paralyzed by thinking, “Oh, we have 4500 bosses now, and they’re all screaming at us all the time,” No, it’s all good.

MW: You have a million Mr. Lumberghs just waiting to tell you what you’ve done wrong.

Hanson: I love it, obviously. I’m way too obsessed with just that concept of how do you keep a community happy, by and large? And the easy answer, as long as you don’t crawl too far up your own butt, the easy answer is, “Just do what you all are passionate about and the community will show up,” And the the amazing thing is, we can do video content that if you’re at a larger outlet, people say, “In what universe would this ever be worthwhile? No, of course we’re not going to do that. There’s no numbers associated with that,” You know, some of that comes down to our interviews that we do with game developers, where some of your choices if you pitch that somewhere else, people will be like, that’s going to bring in 2000 views. Okay, yes, it’ll bring in 2000 views, but if we can make five people out of those 2000 say, “Oh, this is cool, I haven’t seen this type of content anywhere else. I’m going to subscribe. I’m going to jump in and support them on Patreon,” The podcast version that is our bread and butter, is just charming five people for every video over and over and over again. So that really changes the way you look at stuff. And maybe we should be focusing more on trying to grow our YouTube audience. But you know, that can all be well and good, but that just means more people screaming at us in the comments. Maybe a good example is when the Double Fine Psych Odyssey documentary came out. It rocked my world. I absolutely loved it. I love Two Player Productions so much. When that came out we announced that we were doing a celebration of PsychOdyssey, and it’s going to be a whole series of content devoted to how good that 32 part documentary from Double Fine is. That’s an insane idea to make a bunch of content celebrating somebody else’s documentary, but we did multiple spoiler casts about it, interviews with Tim Schafer, interviews with the production team, discussions about what it taught us about the game industry. Around 130 people jumped in via Patreon and then told us via the messages that the reason they jumped in is because they thought that that coverage was so cool and nobody else was doing it, which seems bizarre to me. I went to GDC after that coverage came out and so many people were like, “Hey, I love your coverage of the Double Fine PsychOdyssey,” I didn’t make that. I just talked about it on the internet, but it struck a chord for a certain group. So if you just do that enough times, you can create a sustainable outlet. Hopefully.

MW: Haley, any thoughts on that?

MacLean: Yeah. I think the fostering of what Ben was talking about before: the cohorts being able to work when they want to slash or if you want to stream something random, go ahead. There’s going to be someone who likes it. All it is is more content. Why not? And that being the thought process behind that, it results in a lot of very fun content getting made. That’s not not being created for clicks, but being created for what Ben is talking about. Those people who are like, “Oh yeah, I’m going to support them on Patreon now because what the heck is this stream? I’ve never seen this anywhere. This game came out X years ago,” And then that ends up being better content because the cohorts are having fun. I want to see people have fun when they play games. If I wanted to listen to a reviewer review a game that they were forced to review, is that not a type of bias in and of itself? Wouldn’t you want someone to review a game that they’re actually interested in and who plays that genre a lot?. Thinking back to the Game Informer days, I cared so much about Kim Wallace’s game reviews because her game tastes were just like mine, and she took reviews of games that she wanted to play. So when she put the effort into those 200 hour RPGs, I was like, “What is Kim saying about The Witcher 3 DLC? I need to know because she loves those. I want to hear that,” That’s a lot of what MinnMax is about, if someone’s talking about a game like Ben and his sixteen hours of Final Fantasy VII Rebirth deepest dives.

Hanson: It is twenty three.

MacLean: It’s a day straight of just talking about a game. Someone’s going to love that and want to listen to it.

Hanson: We’re analytical with the community and what they want without being, you know,”Hey, you guys want to see us fart on camera? Wahoo!” There’s probably a line that’s too far, because they probably vote yes on it.

MacLean: Those sickos would vote yes.

MW: I’d vote yes.

Hanson: I have faith in the community. We’re an anti-fart community. It’s fascinating to see, we’ll talk about mapping out the podcast and people at the $10 tier on Patreon or at the Backstage Pass tier where there’s a lot of perks, but one of them is we have a discord thing where we let them vote on things like thumbnails or headline ideas. It’s so nice just to have that natural A B testing, for everybody in there so we can jump in there and say, “Hey, what are you excited to hear us talk about on the podcast this week? Here’s seven options,” And then people will vote for what they’re most excited about.

MacLean: And you’ll think, “Oh, it’s got to be this,” And then 23 of the people are like, “No, that,” I had no idea that that’s what they would prefer..

Hanson: Like last week it was, people were excited to hear Leo Vader talk about playing Middle-Earth shadow of War from 2017. And we go, “Okay. Can do! He’s playing it,” And you know, you don’t want to hear us talk about the biggest new AAA release for this section of the podcast, that’s no problem for us. So hopefully that kind of flexibility keeps people in the MinnMax crew happy because they can play whatever the hell they want, realistically, and we can always find somebody to talk about something on the podcast. It keeps the community more engaged because the content might be a little bit different than just running down to the weekly news. Sorry, I’m bashing the news so much. A little bit of news is good.

MW: Oh you’re good. it sounds like you’ve struck a nice balance with everything. I mentioned the ad driven method of media coverage, games media, just journalism in general is not in a great place. Being funded by your audience seems like a much more honest approach than being funded by advertisers, but it also requires having an audience to begin with. So where do people trying to break into this industry get started? Do you have any thoughts on how this is going to change? Or is it just going to be these communities that started in legacy media, they found their audience, and then they went to the crowdfunded model. How are you envisioning things changing over the next 5 to 10 years?

Hanson: We are super, super lucky to have that kind of launching pad from Game Informer and the Game Informer Show podcast and building that up, throughout the years so when we jumped out of the plane the community was able to catch us, and it was an awesome feeling. But we are so lucky. Some people ask this, and I don’t have a great answer. I’ve never had to build something up from zero because it’s not fair, and we’ve been really lucky that way. I hate the idea of people going to work at a games media outlet, a larger one with the goal of, “I’m going to build up my personality, and then I’m going to spin off and do my own thing,” That seems so gross and so ego driven to me. At the same time, is that the smartest move? If you want a sustainable route in this industry, if you want to stay in the games press side and it looks like time and time again, it is. But doesn’t that seem gross, Haley, to go, “Here I go, Gamespot, get ready for me because in five years I’m gonna split off.”

MacLean: That’s what I’m doing right now. Just kidding. That’s one of many pipelines right? It’s just the one that’s worked the most so it’s the one we talk about. I’m sure there are so many other routes to people getting that audience to then launch a Patreon, but it is the hard work that is the audience, right? If you talk to any streamer they’ll usually say, “I had two viewers for the first year and a half,” and it’s truly the wheels of the algorithm, sometimes something you do will get caught on TikTok, something you post blows up on Reddit, and it just ultimately leads to your later on success. I remember Girlfriend Reviews, where one of her videos popped off, and now she probably has a bunch of money coming through. Her Patreon gets a stream every day and that’s just her full time job. I think she worked in marketing or something before. And that kind of sucks too, because that’s not advice. Work really hard every day until randomness lets you do what you want to do, but that’s the nature of the internet. Besides the basic advice of just doing things that you actually enjoy so that your passion for it doesn’t fizzle over time if you don’t see success right away. It’s really the only actual practical advice I could think of.

Hanson: Yeah, find a specific lane to go in and try and try and make some content that isn’t anywhere else. Something that stands out for one reason or another. And, you know, I don’t know of other places where you could have a 24 hour Game Club podcast talking about Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, but that’s the beauty of the independent model.

MW: Do whatever you want!

Hanson: Yeah, within reason. Stressing too, that we are super, super, super, super lucky as an outlet that this has been sustainable so far. We have a big group, if you noticed. I’m the only person full time at MinnMax, and then eight and a half regulars. Everybody else has other stuff going on, other full time jobs, other freelance stuff, to cobble together to make what looks like Voltron. But some parts of it are more hollow on the inside than you think I suppose.

MW: Any parting words for the hard drive audience or the MinnMax audience?

Hanson: There’s the obvious: Thank you. Hopefully our thank yous are always sincere. It freaks me out to think of the idea if we could get to a day where you’d take 4500 people’s money for granted as coming in, so it always just feels like this thing hasn’t collapsed yet. This thing hasn’t collapsed yet. There’s this ambiguous goodwill. The spirit bomb is still collecting. This is so wild that I haven’t been hit by Frieza’s energy blast.

MW: How many episodes is this going to take?

Hanson: Exactly. So, yeah, thank you to everybody who does go out of their way to support games media. Not just MinnMax, but any outlet out there, if you’re really enjoying content and they’re saying in their content, “Hey, we could use you’re going to this site, to help us out,” do it just for a month or two. It is surprising how many people cite this back to me, but at some point, I did the math, and found out that if you jump in and support us on Patreon at the $2 tier just for one month, just $2, that is literally 400 times more helpful than just watching a video on YouTube based on that ad money that comes in. It doesn’t seem like much that $2. We’re going for fractions and fractions of a penny for the advertising money at this point on YouTube. And so just jumping in for that small amount just for one month to an outlet you like really makes a huge difference. And yeah, send in some feedback. Let them know what you like, what you don’t like. That’s the slight burden. If there is any burden, you have to listen to a lot of voices and try and digest that in your brain, in a way that hopefully is healthy.

MW: Haley?

MacLean: I would just echo the same thank you thing because I wouldn’t be able to be on MinnMax if it hadn’t seen that growth over time. I’m the most recent person who joined. It’s just so fun to be able to do this kind of stuff in my free time after staring at corporate documents all day. To go, “But later tonight, I’ll stream Pokemon Red and people will care,” That’s fun. That makes my days a bit better. So I’m just appreciative that people do 40,000 times more work than watching a video and support us with $2 on Patreon, because literally doing those little things, if enough people do it, then I get to come on and do this all the time. That’s crazy to my brain.

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