It’s not easy maintaining a popular YouTube show when it isn’t your full-time gig.
Joe Redifer and Dave White were living my dream.
The two Colorado residents host Game Sack, a YouTube show about retro video games that brought immense joy to my life with each and every episode. Unlike other YouTube channels that became popular on the back of loud overacting and childish cursing—ahem—Game Sack distinguished itself with lighthearted yet in-depth discussion of topics like the Sega Saturn, Japanese video games that never left their home country, and the best controllers from the 32-bit era and newer. Yes this is my idea of fun and yes I'm excellent at parties.
That's why the show's January 26 Facebook post caused my jaw to drop and my heart to sink.
"Game Sack is going on hiatus," the post read. "We do have another episode coming up in two weeks but then after that we don't know when the next one will be."
As the hosts explained in the post, the pressure of continually creating new episodes essentially nonstop since April 2011 had finally taken its toll. "Even when there were obligations in real life we kept going through with Game Sack," the hosts said. "You take breaks on YouTube and people lose interest, subscribers diminish and people become angry."
I wasn't angry at Joe and Dave's decision—that would be selfish of me—but I did want to better understand where they were coming from, and to see if their experience might provide any insight into what it's like to be a part of the YouTube middle class: people whose shows are popular enough to generate a healthy following—it had just about 145,000 subscribers when the hiatus was announced—but who aren't so big that they can quit their day job to concentrate on creating videos all day.
"We created Game Sack just to make videos and see what kind of response we could get with it," Redifer told me in an email. "We weren't trying to become YouTube famous per se, but we saw how little effort went into the production of other YouTube videos that got thousands and thousands of views. We figured it couldn't be very tough since most of those folks put, like, next to no effort into their videos and did just fine."
Redifer and White live in the Denver metro area. They've been making "cheesy videos" (as White put it) together since high school, where they met as freshmen in 1987. (Clips of these amateur videos are sprinkled throughout several episodes of Game Sack, some of which are also included in the show's recently released Blu-ray compilation.) These high school videos "usually sucked," said White, "but we always had a great time making them and I have lots of great memories over the years from this." Working on these high school videos helped Redifer hone his editing skills, skills he would eventually put to use for Game Sack as well as his professional career.
In 2011, "We had no real idea for things we wanted to make on our own [but] YouTube was gaining momentum," White continued. "We figured we would have some fun making a show about video games, and to keep it interesting we would put a Nintendo vs. Sega spin on it and see if it worked."
It's these first few episodes, published long before I became a fan (I started watching in early 2015 before diving into the show's library), that ultimately convinced me that Game Sack was the YouTube show for me: Sure, I'd watched the occasional YouTube video here and there like everyone else, but if you had asked me in, say, mid-2014 who my favorite YouTuber was I'd have given you a blank stare. "Aren't those guys all loud and shouty?" would have been my question.
Not Joe and Dave.
One early episode, published in June 2011, shows Redifer and White, I don't know, sitting in someone's patio discussing "gaming schwag."
"What is gaming schwag?" Redifer asks, deadpan.
"This is gaming schwag," White replies, before spinning the table around to present a copy of Super Mario chess.
"Would you like to play chess with me?" White eventually asks, prompting perhaps the greatest exchange ever between two English-speaking humans:
"Mama mia! It's a battle for the mushroom kingdom!" exclaimed Redifer.
Replied White: "Let's save it!"
The sheer genuineness on display here, and throughout all of Game Sack, is what won me over.
"The original vision [of the show] was just to mainly talk about things in gaming we thought would be interesting to talk about," said Redifer, noting that he first got into gaming during the 8-bit era of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and Sega Master System. "Stuff that we'd like to see other people talk about but never really did." It's at this point that Redifer first hints at some of the problems that caused he and White to put the show on hiatus, noting that he and White sometimes—gasp!—liked to talk about subjects "that other people wanna see talked about." Popular games, in other words.
"[The] biggest complainers are usually those who are disappointed that we did not include the more popular games in any given episode," said Redifer. "And there are also those who say we shouldn't cover those popular games because everyone else has. I can see the argument from both sides, but sometimes we just wanna talk about games regardless of [their popularity]. It really doesn't matter to us any more."
White, who has worked as a courier for FedEx for 12 "long years," also noted that simple fatigue began to wear down on the hosts. "After working 40 hours a week it can be difficult finding time to play games and also finding time to spend with my family," he said. "It's a crazy balancing act and at times it's difficult to get it to work out."
And while Redifer noted that most people seem to have a positive attitude toward Game Sack, "there are a lot of jerks out there."
"It comes with the territory but that doesn't mean we have to like it," he added.
At this point, it's still unclear what, exactly, the long-term future holds for Game Sack. While both Redifer and White acknowledge that the show generates revenue (without revealing any specific figures, though White noted they were able to use some money to upgrade their video equipment), it's unlikely that the duo is swimming in ad dollars like PewDiePie or The Fine Bros—meaning that the show, if it's to continue beyond the self-imposed hiatus, would have to remain a fun hobby that's squeezed into their tight schedules.
"We have absolutely no intention of calling it quits," said Redifer, when I asked if he and White were done with the show for good. He conceded, however, that he has "no idea" how long the hiatus will last beyond speculating that he and White will likely need a few months to recharge their batteries after their four-year, non-stop run.
People "need to realize that a lot of effort needs to go into making a quality channel," said White. "Once you start going you can't stop."