If you ever happened to walk by a co-worker and were instantly mesmerized by a video game speedrun they have streaming in the background (as happens to me quite often), than you probably have heard of GDQ, aka ‘Games Done Quick,’ the people who some might call the grandfathers of online-streaming, Even though they were not the first to ever stream video games online, they were undoubtedly among the first to really make it popular and well-known, with their bi-annual tournaments starting back in 2010, ‘Awesome Games Done Quick’ and ‘Summer Games Done Quick,’ with all proceeds going to charity. And for the online community, how could anyone not want to watch and support a group who were making interesting content playing videos games and donating money to charity? I came relatively late to the GDQ game, though my roommate at the time was all about it, and never missed one of their events, and by default I was at least aware of them going on, and caught glimpses of the action. Now in their 9th year and having raised nearly $17 million for charities like the Prevent Cancer Foundation and Doctors Without Borders, GDQ is going stronger than ever, with thousands of registered attendees and millions watching live on Twitch during the week of events and then millions more watching the footage once it makes it way to YouTube. Recently, The Hollywood Reporter got a chance to speak with director of operations Matt Merkle about how things are run at ‘Game Done Quick,’ starting with their decision to be a non-profit organization. Here’s what Matt had to say:
“They wanted to stream for a purpose, not just playing games, and that’s where the charity aspect came in. It was a huge success. If he did $2,000 he’d be happy, but he ended up getting close to $11,000. After that huge response, he decided to make it into a proper event and that’s when we started moving into hotels and really scaling everything up. It’s been growing ever since. He absolutely loves the mission of playing games for a good cause and showing that there is a good side to gaming opposed to some of the news you might see about gaming.”
Not only were they committed to streaming for charity, but they made sure their viewers knew their money actually went where they said it was going, as Matt explained:
“It goes directly to the charity. We have custom donation tracker software that we’ve written which communicates with PayPal. I think that’s actually a huge part of why the event is so successful because they don’t have to trust that we’re not misusing the money, it’s going directly to these charities.”
When asked whether the speed-runners themselves are paid for the time they commit to the event, Matt explained that they are not, but that most of them actually competed to be there, with it being good exposure and almost an honor to participate in GDQ to show off all their hard-earned skills. In his words:
“…They are effectively volunteers. They pay their own way here, get their own hotel rooms. The only thing we do is comp their badges for attending. We don’t feel like they have to pay to attend the event. I think we give away t-shirts and stuff, but no real compensation…There’s a huge competition to get into the events. I’m sure a lot of them try to get in to try and also boost their exposure in the streaming community, but there’s also a lot of runners who just enjoy speedrunning in general and want to perform just because it’s a big stage and it’s really exciting to be up there showing off your run that you’ve worked so hard on. These runners sometimes spend years working on these runs.”
When asked what he sees for the future of GDQ, whether it could ever become something like E3 or GamesCom, or even find itself becoming involved in E-sports in some way, Matt shied away from the idea, liking the idea of keeping it small to keep the audience and the team they currently have, and letting it grow at its own rate.
“…Not for the time being. We obviously have sponsorships from developers from time to time, but that’s usually for stuff that’s already been announced. We don’t ever make announcements. I don’t know how long it will be before we see anything like that. I don’t think we’re quite the right group to kick off a game announcement, but I think we’re definitely growing, absolutely. It’s a certain niche, so it’s not going to grow to E3 standards, but we definitely have huge room to grow. We’re selling out of tickets in 24 hours. We’re trying to steadily grow by controlling it because we want to keep the atmosphere of what makes GDQ a GDQ. We want to keep it feeling like a community get-together while supporting a charity at the same time…There are e-sports teams picking up speedrunners at this time. It’s still a little too early to say whether it will be a true e-sport category just because the nature of speedrunning is so collaborative as opposed to competitive. Everyone is constantly improving times all the time. [A speedrunning] title could be usurped the next night, so it’s a different way to look at how that could play out in the e-sports style.”
Unfortunately for GDQ and Matt, this is still the internet, and there is still plenty of controversy out there, especially as they get more exposure, which struck this year for them as two speed-runners were banned from GDQ this past November for racist comments they made online, which brought up the question about how GDQ vets its current roster of talent.
“We are always evaluating our policies on how we vet different runners and volunteers at our events. As we’ve grown, we’re continuously expanding on how we involve that. Otherwise, we don’t really touch on our policies publicly. We try to finalize everything and make a public statement and put it on our rules so everyone knows what our policies are.”
Lastly, when looking toward the future, Matt had the following to say:
“More growth, more growth. We always want to see more money for the charities. That’s our ultimate goal. We always want to try new things. We introduced panels at Summer Games Done Quick last year and we’re expanding that, as well, this event.”
Despite whatever controversies may come up, it certainly looks like the future is bright for the not-so-young company, especially with people like Matt at the helm. Make sure to tune in next week when GDQ starts ‘Awesome Games Done Quick’ and donate to the cause!