Dan Hsu Interview
Dan Hsu is the co-founder of Bitmob Media and former Editor In Chief of EGM (Electronic Gaming Monthly) / Editorial Director of the 1UP Network. He is a graduate of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Dan Hsu joined EGM in 1996.
Senior staffer, Dustin Hill, had the opportunity to interview Dan Hsu on September 14, 2011. Below you will find the transcript of the interview.
Dustin: How's it going today?
Dan Hsu: Good, crazy busy. Lots of stuff to do working on a start-up and all that.
Dustin: I was reading a lot about you recently and I noticed that you went to University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
Dan Hsu: I grew up in Michigan. Fourth grade through college was all in Michigan. It gets complicated... starting from when I was a baby I lived in Manhattan, then Queens, then Jersey then to San Francisco, then to Lansing (Michigan), Charlotte (Michigan), Ann Arbor (Michigan), Illinois (where EGM was originally based), San Francisco Bay Area for Gamers.com, back to Illinois for EGM, and back to California. It's ridiculous.
Dan Hsu: When EGM closed their offices in Illinois, moved us to California, I lived in Berkley. I'm in my third apartment in San Francisco (California).
Dustin: That's a lot going on... I saw you have quite few videos on YouTube during your time at G4. And some stuff that you did for Bitmob.
Dustin: Some of your articles are just hilarious, by the way. In one, you have an advice article about how to break into the industry and you talk about your gameplay tasks at EGM. The one guy that showed up and had an excellent cover letter and everything and when he went to play Ridge Racer he wasn't even sure how to hold the controller.
Dan Hsu: That is one of my favorite stories... My friends and I that were around at that time will still talk about that, because it blew our mind that he wanted to work at the magazine and he couldn't even do that right. We had fun with it.
Dustin: You give out advice a lot about how to get into the industry and how to be a journalist. Has any of that advice that you generally give out changed in the last five years.
Dan Hsu: It's funny because that was always the number one question I got at EGM. People were just dying to know how to do what we do for a living. It's a dream of their's. That's really the basis for why we created Bitmob because we realized that there are a lot of people who love to write. They have stuff that they want to express, but don't necessarily have the outlet. Anyone can create a blog now-a-days but the problem is finding people to read it. One of our first users told us that he used to blog, but one post on Bitmob he would have more views on that post than on lifetime use of his blog. Just because there is an audience there and that's what we wanted to do - help people reach out to an audience - but have that kind of quality control as well. Not everyone knows how to write. They think they do. They want to. But that doesn't necessarily mean they know they can, or should. We want to put in that layer of quality control as well.
Dan Hsu: It's different now because that article you are referring to is back when print was more prevalent and it's a little bit different now. It's more accessible now. Of course with websites like Bitmob and message boards and other blogging platforms it's more accessible for a lot of people now. Therefore, in a way it's easier because its more accessible. In a way it's tougher because you are competing with that many more people. A lot of people are writing now. There are infinitely more websites than there were magazines back in the day. So... it's both good and bad for people wanting to break into the industry.
Dustin: That's pretty interesting. How does networking factor in to breaking into the industry?
Dan Hsu: I think it's important. That's one thing we noticed on Bitmob. We actually helped get a few guys into the industry. What we did was took some of the key community members that we had that were consistent and really good writers and some of them joined our staff over the months and last couple of years. The thing is we're still in start-up mode so people don't really make money on Bitmob except for a little bit of advertising that you can put on your profile. Unless you're drawing in millions of viewers consistently each time, you're not going to make a living off of that. It's just supplemental income. Working at Bitmob has helped them get connected to other people in the industry or we've referred them or introduced them or help them network, but it's definitely key. The competition is so high now and so accessible to so many people that it helps to know people. I tell people that if you want to be in this business, if you want to freelance, if you want to write, you have to reach out. You have to be very proactive in reaching out to the other outlets. You have to be pitching stories. You have to get out there. You have to get published. You have to be known. Some big website like IGN has a ton of writers, a ton of freelancers; they have a million people wanting to write for them. If you stay in the background and never let yourself be heard or read or seen they're never going to know about you. It's definitely important to network.
Dustin: Definitely, especially since the Internet is a large place. It's hard even if you've had a site around for even 15 years. You're not necessarily going to find it. Unless you do certain things.
Dustin: But as far as games go, are there any new or recent co-op games you're looking forward to or really enjoy?
Dan Hsu: I've spent several hours playing co-op campaign Gears of War 3 last night. And I love co-op games. My girlfriend, she was more of a casual gamer, but I've started introducing her to more hardcore games. I actually still like split-screen games for that reason or same screen co-op games. Of course... it's something we can play together at my place. I've been enjoying some older titles like... we were recently playing Portal 2 split-screen co-op and that was my way of introducing her to first-person controls. It's a great game for that, I'd highly recommend that for anyone trying to introduce someone who is not a first-person shooter player to that world, to that genre, because it is relatively light on threats. There is not twitch shooting involved in like Call of Duty where you are constantly under attack. You have to take your time and evaluate the situation, look around the environment. That's how she got comfortable with the controls. Then we moved on to Borderlands which is also co-operative. You're playing AI, it's not as twitchy as Call of Duty. Then I introduced her to Gears of War 3. But I decided I didn't like that game's split screen because your characters eat up so much real estate on the screen that it's kind of hard to see at that point.
Dan Hsu: So I played it online with a friend of mine (industry friend of mine) who also had the game early. Yeah... dump my girlfriend for my friend.
Dustin: I also saw on your profile that you like tabletop games. Are there any of those that you are interested in recently.
Dan Hsu: Yeah. It's kind of funny because back in maybe the 90s maybe even the late 80s I used to play this game called Illuminati. Have you ever heard of it?
Dustin: I don't think so, actually.
Dan Hsu: Are you familiar with a lot of tabletop games?
Dan Hsu: So... Illuminati is like a classic. It's from Steve Jackson Games. I used to play different games back in the day like Dungeons and Dragons, a lot of role-playing games. Then our group branched out into stuff like Car Wars and Illuminati from Steve Jackson Games and then sometime recently, in the last decade, I was talking to a fellow EGM guy about Illuminati. We're like, "Oh man, that was a great game!" We played it back in the day. So then I went to the store and bought an updated version of it and started playing that with my friends. When I went into that store I was like, "My god, there are like all these really cool games that I have no idea what they do or what they are like!" It was just like a whole new world to me.
Dan Hsu: What I kind of figured out - why I got into this world. Because video games, when I was younger, video games were a huge treat for me to walk into an arcade to see what's new or go to a Toys R Us or GameStop and just look at all these new games and flip through magazines because this was pre-Internet days and you didn't know what all this stuff was until you saw it in stores and you were looking at the back of the box trying to glean any kind of information from it, trying to guess from the screenshots on the box art what this game is about. It was really fascinating and magical to me, not only because of the Internet, but more because I work in the business, that that magic is definitely gone. That discovery. I play Gears of War 3. Gears of War 3 isn't even out yet and I've played it a year and a half ago at E3. I'm not complaining. I love my job, but when I walk into a board game store, I'm like "Wow! what is all this?" I'm not familiar with it. I don't read up on it so regularly. I talk to the store guys about it or other customers. I really love that because every game is so different in terms of the aesthetics, the mechanics, the gameplay, the components. I just fell in love with it and started spending a lot of money. I actually have a lot of games on my shelf now that I haven't even played yet because I tend to buy them a little faster than I can actually play them. In our group the recent more popular ones, deck building game called Thunderstone, is probably our most favorite right now. I used to like Dominion a lot, but Thunderstone is a cooler game. Arkham Horror is another one we've been playing a lot of recently. It's a really epic cooperative game. You can play up to 8 players. Last time we played there was 5 of us and it took us about 6 hours to beat. I once played an 8 hour game of Arkham Horror and we lost. But it's pretty cool. It's almost like an RPG in a way for you to choose what you want to do. You go fight monsters, there is a big boss fight at the end. Really epic board game. You really have to dedicate an entire day to play that thing.
Dustin: I found that you have to do that with a lot of tabletop games. If you want to get a good experience out of it. You can't just play it for a half-hour or something.
Dustin: You co-founded Bitmob. You can essentially filter great content from the community it's kind of like a talent search.
Dan Hsu: Some people see it that way because we definitely have community members who, because of their Bitmob work, they've even written about it that Bitmob helped them get discovered - get the confidence to pitch a story. We had one writer, Dennis, he actually ran into me at E3 and saw my name tag and said, "I want to thank you because without Bitmob I'd never be doing what I do now." (Reference: The Value of Bitmob) He since has written for professional publications and gets paid to do it. It was because he always liked writing but hadn't gotten any sense if he was really good at it and didn't have the confidence. When he wrote for Bitmob, Everything that anyone writes for Bitmob goes into the Mob Feed which is just a general dumping ground for all the articles written before we have a chance to vet them. Then we cherry-pick the best ones. We'll clean up the grammar. We'll tighten up the writing. We might make the headline better if we need to. Make it professional quality. Then we will promote it to the front page. When that happens the user gets a notification that that happened. In this specific case Dennis when that happened to him 5 times he realized people actually like [his] stuff. Then he got the confidence to pitch for actual paid freelance work. That was really cool for us to see, that you can be discovered on Bitmob if you do it right.
Dustin: That's really exciting for a lot of people who want to write that kind of stuff. "Wow I have an opportunity now."
Dan Hsu: I can't remember. I think Dennis writes for G4 and at least 2 other publications now pretty regularly but I don't recall off the top of my head which ones they were but he's paid to do it now. He used Bitmob as sort of a stepping stone. You could call if a farm for writers... but its cool. I like it because - of course you're going to get some rough work - you're not necessarily getting polished professional writers, but that's not a bad thing. You get new ideas, new styles, you get all kinds of great stuff.
Dan Hsu: We had one community member when we first started, he wrote a minute-by-minute analysis of NeoGAF's reaction to the big three press conferences. He gives a bunch of positive comments, plus scores, negative scores got minuses and he graphed it out just based on what were the good points and bad points and did a really detailed statistical analysis of each press conference consumer reactions from it . It was neat to see people with different ideas like that... trying out different things on Bitmob. It's not very traditional content.
Dustin: It also seems like you get closer to the community as well. From some of your articles I found community as a whole really enjoys your articles like your reviews because you don't buckle under the pressure of publishers who want high scores for every game they put out.
Dan Hsu: We don't do scored reviews. We let our community do scored reviews if they want, but we don't do them ourselves, which is kind of nice. First, we don't have the manpower to review games regularly - it takes a lot of work and a lot of time to review games. One of the things we've tried to do at Bitmob. If a lot of other people are doing it - there is no point in us doing it. We want to differentiate ourselves. We want to carve out our own niche. We don't need to add to the noise. There are already a million sites reviewing every game out there so try to do it a little differently .
Dustin: Was there anything you wanted to mention about Bitmob?
Dan Hsu: I can't think of anything right now. We just welcome people to check out the front page. That's all the vetted content. You see a mix of staff produced articles and community produced articles. We'd love for people to check on our PodCast bitmob.com/podcast it's the MobCast on Itunes (http://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/mobcast/id313908297). We do that differently too. We invite 4 people on (host plus 3 others) and each person brings his own topic for the others to discuss. Usually we have a theme. And this last one we released was all retro gaming from the pre-NES era we had Chris Kohler from Wired.com, Alex Neuse from Gaijin Games, Carlos Rodela from Press Pause and these are all not 'old' gamers but older gamers that remember games before the NES and that's all we talked about was pre-NES gaming.
Dustin: That's really cool! What about internships? Do you have anything that you want to mention as far as that goes?
Dan Hsu: We're always occasionally looking (we'll make the announcements on the site or on our Twitter or Facebook pages) We'll put a call out for additional staff members. Sometimes we need more editors or writers or interns to help us with stuff. I don't think we are looking for anyone right this minute, but we... Oh, actually we are. We need San Francisco based writers because we don't pay anyone, we can only offer the experience and the stuff to put on your resume, the connections, the things like that - and occasional free games as well. We get games from the industry from the publishers and we spread that out to our writers (our staffers). We are looking for San Francisco guys who are willing to occasionally help us out with stories each week as well as coverage of local events. If there is someone out there who is like, "Yeah I'd love to go when Nintendo is having a press event and would love to go cover and network and see games before they are out and get to play them and write about them." Then we would be interested. We do need writers there. But I don't think we had an official way for them to contact. If they are interested they can contact me through twitter @bitmobshoe
Dan Hsu: Like for this specific thing we want guys that are a little more professional - you are going to these industry events representing Bitmob so you can't be a Jackass, you have to know how to write. We definitely train you. We teach you a lot. We're very hands-on with our editing because we want to make sure writers improve and get better... so you don't have to be the perfect established writer but you need to know the basics so that - we don't want to have to teach you what's the difference between "your" and "you're" - if you're not there then this wouldn't be the right gig for you.
Dustin: I can see where that might be a problem.. have to go back through and really heavy edit.
Dustin: If there anything else you would like to throw out there?
Dan Hsu: Nope. Whatever you want to talk about, I'm game for.
Dustin: How about a couple games? There is a lot of controversy over the new Devil May Cry that's coming out by Ninja Theory, everyone is mad that Dante looks Emo now (Emo hair cut) How do you feel about that?
Dan Hsu: I've heard it both ways. There are some people that are like, "It's fine" - you're always going to have the fans that don't want to see things change but it's - I think it's OK, whether you're thinking an Infamous 2 thing or Dante... You've got to freshen it up. If you keep it looking the same and you keep the gameplay generally the same... People are going to complain no matter what. If he looks the same and he's doing the same the new DMC comes out and people are like 'same old thing.' I've played this game ten years ago and then you change it up. It doesn't matter what they do but people will complain. But, I would rather they switch things up. For example Soul Calibur 5, Modern Warfare 3 - those are series that I previously loved to death and used to play a lot of. I still play Black Ops today. Soul Calibur is one of my favorite fighting game series ever but, I'm not excited for Soul Calibur 5, not that excited for Modern Warfare 3, even though I know I'll play them... they've become kinda same-ish over the years. I'm all for them changing things up.
Dustin: I agree - Since Modern Warfare has almost become this year's sports game.
Dustin: Well that about wraps things up.
Dustin: I just want to say thank you again for doing this interview, I really appreciate it.
Dan Hsu: My pleasure; I appreciate it . Thanks for having me on!
Dustin: It's been a lot of fun talking to you.
Dan Hsu: It was nice meeting you.
For more information about Dan Hsu, check out the following:
Dan's Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/bitmobshoe
Bitmob Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/bitmob
Mobcast on Itunes: http://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/mobcast/id313908297
Article: The Value of Bitmob http://bitmob.com/articles/the-value-of-bitmob
Wikipedia Page: Dan Hsu http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dan_Hsu