Niero Gonzalez of Destructoid - Interview Transcript
We had the opportunity to speak with Niero Gonzalez, founder and president of Destructoid. He is living the dream running a gaming blog and years ago gave up practically all his earthly possessions to pursue this dream. Quite an inspirational story! Dustin Hill asked Niero some questions about his life and Destructoid. The transcript is below.
Dustin: I guess we can get started. You do live in California, right?
Niero: Yep, San Francisco.
Dustin: How would you describe California to someone who has actually never been there before?
Niero: It's great. It's got hills and shit. (laughs) I'm from Miami which is very flat. So coming out here and having to walk up 45 degrees sometimes to get home is interesting. It's really nice; San Francisco has the most stable weather in the country, I think. It's always 60 or 70. They don't really have seasons. We don't have summer here, which is weird. It gets warm for a few weeks out of October and no one has air conditioning. Everyone is basically forced out of their houses to coffee shops to get their work done. It's a really nerdy city, everywhere you go people are on their iPads. It's almost comedic living up here. Everyone is a little Steve Jobs.
Niero: I'm a foodie. I go to a different restaurant every day. This is like snobby food capital. People are really serious about coffee. Where people want to know where the beans came from and whether or not slave labor was put into the coffee. They could meet the farmer that makes the coffee pay $10 a cup for it. It's pretty stupid.
Niero: Yeah it's cool. I really like it out here. It's a pretty nice city.
Dustin: I'll have to actually visit sometime. It does sound pretty interesting.
Niero: L.A. is massive and filthy and you need a car. It's very different. I like L.A. I like Santa Monica a lot. We go there once a year for E3. I moved to San Francisco 2 years ago. There's so much video game content over here. I was spending a fortune flying back and forth from Miami. So, you know what? I need a life change. Put everything on a truck and a bunch of dudes out here.
Dustin: It's nice to be really close to all that stuff, I'm sure. A lot more convenient than living pretty much anywhere else.
Niero: Yeah. It makes all the difference. We see ten times more things just because we're in the city. People call or stop by on the way and give us a call.
Dustin: I was also on your Facebook and was going to ask you a travel question. I went to your maps and you've really done a lot of traveling it looks like.
Niero: I love travel. I've been to 6 countries in January which sounds like jet setting, super extravagant, but I've never done that in my life. It was a very new opportunity that I have to do that. It was a trip that I've been wanting to do - planning - for about forever. We went to Stockholm for a Paradox Interactive junket and we asked them to fly us out a few days later. We just took trains around Europe, Paris, Copenhagen, Frankfurt, went to Brussels, we went all over the place. It was great!
Dustin: Did you have a favorite place out of everywhere that you went?
Niero: You know, I was expecting to go to Paris and hate it because everyone is always talking about how awesome Paris is, "This coffee sucks. They're snobby about their buildings and snobby about their food and it's not going to be great." And it was like the best city ever! I went nuts. Architecture. Beautiful women. I mean, you name it, Paris has it. I'd be there in a heartbeat. So, I might do that later in life.
Dustin: That's pretty awesome!
Dustin: Do you think it's more busy than where you stay at it now? I'm sure it's fairly larger, perhaps.
Niero: Yeah, it's hard to tell because I went in the winter and it was snowing on us pretty much every day. There are a couple of game studios in Paris, not a whole lot. There's a ton of them in Stockholm. I would do it more for lifestyle. Instead of just always staying in San Francisco.
Dustin: Speaking of business actually... I read a couple different times in different interviews, the fairy tale (as you described) of founding Destructoid. Essentially selling all your earthly possessions for your dream. I was pretty impressed by that.
Dustin: I was just kind of wonder... how would you describe the last, almost 6 years, handing Destructoid from the ground up.
Niero: At the bottom of our website it says, "Living the Dream." I wake up every day and I'm just so thankful that it worked out the way it was supposed to. I took a big risk. I was unhappy with what I was doing for a living. I worked at an ad agency and did banner ads for travel clients.
Niero: It was kind of soul sucking. I learned a lot about how to make websites and how to do all that advertising stuff. My passion has always been video games ever since I was a little kid. These ridiculous video game clubs, well before there was internet I would try to put together my paper and pencil EGM and try to figure out how to break into the industry. When you're in Miami, there's nothing going on in the video game industry. I just resigned that dream in the back of my head that it's never going to happen. I'm never going to work in this industry. So for blogging to open up that opportunity it helped me revive that dream. When i saw that it was possible, I didn't hesitate. I just went for it.
Niero: There's times when I'm living on my friend's sofa. There's time when we have money and I can afford an office. Things are pretty stable now. I'm really really lucky and staying independent is huge. I make sure that the vision that we set up for the company stays true. Personally, for me, I'm having the time of my life. I wake up and I run an internet blog. It's good times.
Dustin: What about Destructoid's birthday this year?
Niero: We talked about doing a trip - get everybody together, but what we wanted to do was take a trip around the United States and have parties in the cities - visit Mississippi, Arkansas, New York. Set that up for the middle of the year.
Dustin: That sounds like that's going to be a good time
Dustin: Where would you like to see Destructoid in the next few years?
Niero: Yeah, there's a lot of things that I want to do. I've been pretty conservative company in terms of staffing, I feel our technology is still in the Silicon Age. I'm not a programmer. I've picked up some programming. I'm definitely going to expand our technology and try to deliver some of the things we've been talking about for a while. Better support for tablets. Better mobile site. Things like that. Continue to evolve the site, more community features, get more people involved.
Niero: I have a ton of crazy ideas, I just don't have the technical ability to do them. Expect bigger things in the coming years.
Dustin: That sounds like you have a great plan there.
Dustin: Obviously video games are kind of important to what you do. Do you have any recent favorites?
Niero: I'm really impressed with Saint's Row.
Niero: We are looking forward to Assassin's Creed 3 - taking place in the American Revolution. Which is pretty crazy.
Niero: I feel that time is starting to spin back up, we're hearing a lot of rumors about what the next Xbox might be features, lot of blue screen going around GDC, what we think, trying to get those scoops. That's really the most exciting part, I love Xbox. I love hearing what part of gaming that stuff watching giant companies compete for the home console dominance. I think it's fascinating. It's exciting for the consumers so much technology being pumped into video games.
Niero: It's finally becoming mass appeal, grown some much as a cultural thing. For those of us who grew up with it to see it really mature. It's really exciting for me.
Dustin: What about some classic titles that you used to play like 10 years ago?
Niero: When I was in Europe I got together with some of the guys in Brussels, we had a party - had all these old consoles. I said, "I'm going to beat Dr. Mario on the hardest mode with the hardest difficulty." I used to do this as a little kid no problem. I sat there for 2 hours straight just dying and dying. I could not do it. Then just rage quit. I'm going back to Dr. Mario and couldn't do it.
Niero: My favorite console is the Super Nintendo (classic console). I don't think I've played another console more than that one. I didn't sleep. I memorized every pixel of Super Mario World. I wish I had the time to do that for modern games. I have a hard time keeping up as it is. When you're a kid you have the time. I still have it. I bought one of the early ones that had the plastic so it turned a nasty shade of yellow. I tore the plastic out of the inside to play Capcom games on it. I have a giant stack of cartridges. Everything from Final Fantasy etc., I really adored on that console.
Dustin: A lot of well spent hours then.
Niero: I'm the third oldest of the company. People are like, "My first console was a PlayStation." I'm like, "I'm gonna kick you."
Niero: I have an old Sears Pong system. 4 batteries 4 modes of Pong from 1988 or something like that. My first console was Atari 2600.
Dustin: Like one button on it.
Dustin: I also stalking your Facebook and noticed you had a whole album of older art that you had done. It's really good. It's essentially on par with comic artists. Do you still do art?
Niero: I used to want to do character art for a living. I went to art school. I wanted to do animation, comic and drawing for program. It seemed like in the comic book industry, animation was coming up. They wanted me to do charcoals for years before putting me in front of Photoshop. Photoshop was how i got into web design. I'll doodle now and then. I feel like I've lost my touch. I always think when I retire I'll get back to drawing, comic books, comics.
Dustin: That's still pretty cool. I hope you get back to drawing. I think you could bring it back.
Niero: I did have a drawing gig at a newspaper. I did editorial comics for the Miami Herald. The other guys that worked at the department supporting their families. Some hard times. I really admire the people that can do that. It really is for the guys at the very top. You have to hustle to work in the industry. I could do much better now if I wanted to do it.
Dustin: Which moves on to next point... I noticed that you did a lot of charity work in the last couple of years which is not in the forefront of my mind when I think video game blog. You guys raised more and more money every year. Do you have any plans for this year?
Niero: Definitely, we are a big supporter of Extra Life Charity. We've done some pretty silly things like 24 hour karaoke to raise money for Child's Play. It's nice to give back in any way we can do that. We'll do it.
Dustin: That's really great! It totally caught me off guard. I hadn't heard of a game blog doing that before.
Niero: When I talk to people about what the company is and what we do it's hard to wrap the whole weirdness of the company in that kind of conversation. There are so many pieces to it. The community in particular is hard to describe. It is a video game blog, but I've had so many people that have mentioned, "I've met my girlfriend on your site." It makes all the difference for me. It's not really the site. At the end of the day it's about people sharing interest. It really matters to those people. That's what keeps me going, the community. It's not just a job for me. It feels really good at the end of the day. Meet a lot of people.
Dustin: Something you don't get out of a lot of other sites, you wouldn't get that same camaraderie.
Dustin: Here is a lightning round of random questions for you that don't have to do with anything.
Dustin: Are you ready?
Niero: Alright, let's do it!
Favorite Color: Purple.
Coffee: Yes, strong hot coffee.
What time is bed time? 3a.m. usually.
Are you a good cook? I'm a terrible cook; I can barely assemble cooked food.
Favorite Animal: Bald Eagle - they look like they have a good time.
What inspires you? I'd have to say altruistic people.
Dustin: That's an excellent answer.
Dustin: That's wraps it up Niero. Great talking to you and thanks for being patient!