Notes on Running a Gaming Marathon

Find a Team

Unless you're insane you'll need to sleep and you'll be risking your health if you don't. If you're going to sleep you'll need someone else to play. Besides that if you gain popularity you're going to need people to read e-mails, post fan art, monitor chat, get food, etc. I think three people is the minimum you can get by with. These can't be any three people, they need to be people who are willing to exhaust themselves playing video games for an extended period of time. Also, I think it's important that the whole team is involved throughout the event. Several people commented that we may have lost continuity if we had different groups play different games.

Have a Theme

What is it that will set your event apart. For us, it was that we weren't speed runners, we were older than most gamers, and we were totally awesome! j/k

Selecting Games

I thought it was important to choose games which had a clear beginning and ending. Games where a character works through a quest. I think it also benefited us that the Mario games are slower paced and have some puzzle elements it allowed for the viewers to get involved in helping out. Of course this depends on what your goal is, if you're trying to show off your expertise at a game you shouldn't really need help from the chat.

Practice the games you intend to play. You may not believe it but I personally spent maybe 50 hours practicing prior to the event. Pay specific attention to the games that you're least familiar with.

Building a Web Site

We decided to create a custom web site mariomarathon.com for our marathon. This helped us in several ways. First, we had a place to post all of the awesome fan art, donor lists, hiakus, stats, FAQ, etc. Secondly, we choose a simple domain name which we felt people could remember if they wanted to return later. It's much easier to remember mariomarathon.com than ustream.tv/channels/mario-marathon.

Try to create a professional looking web site if you have the resources. This gave our marathon a little more credibility since it showed that some time was invested in the project.

Be sure to include your video feed AND a chat client on your web site. The Chat provided a way for people to come together in support of the event. This was easy to do with Ustream, they provide code to embed both the video and the chat.

One thing we did not have on our web site, was a Forum. I'd suggest creating a forum for users to post on prior to your event. We eventually setup a forum using proboards.com

Collecting Donations

If the charity you're collecting for accepts PayPal donations I suggest using Chipin.com. You can setup a Donations goal and send the donations directly to the charities paypal account. This allows you to track the donations without collecting the money yourself which could have Tax implications and may deter potential donors from sending in money. Would you rather send money directly to a charity or to some random group of guys who spend all weekend playing video games?

Solicit dontations prior to the event. We were able to raise around $500 from people we know before we went on the air. This was time consuming, but it showed that we were serious about raising donations for Child's Play.

Setting up your Video Feed

First you'll need a webcam, the higher quality the better. Our webcam worked, but could have been better. I suggest placing the webcam in a position where it can record the largest amount of the room you're playing in. The games give your event a focus, but it's the people involved, their struggles, their conquests that make the event special.

Second, you'll need a way to capture your game video. The simplest way to do this is to point a second web cam at your television. If you want a sharper video I suggest using a video capture device for your computer. We used a Haupaugge PVR 250 capture card. The capture card came with an S-Video input, we ended up finding a universal game cable at Walmart which provided both S-Video out and Composite video out for the Wii. Through a series of splitters, adapters, and extenders we were able to get both the sound and video into the TV and the computer.

Unless you want to offer two feeds, something I strongly recommend against (See Below), you'll want to merge the video from both sources into one feed. We used a program called WebCamMax which allowed us to do the Picture-In-Picture and text overlay. We did run into one hiccup where WebCamMax would not detect video from our capture card, we ended up using that programs option to share a window from the desktop to capture the capture cards video.

We also used this software to add the text overlay which included our URL, e-mail address, the amount of money raised, and the Charity Name. This was VERY important. The majority of the views to our feed originated across blogs around the internet, not on our mariomarathon.com. The text overlay immediately gave all users enough information to know that we were raising money for charity and where they could go for more information.

If you can get it setup I suggest sharing some of the Chat in your video feed as well. The chat (which Ustream.TV provides) adds quite a bit to the viewer experience.

Next is Audio, this is actually trickier than the video. We used an 1/8th inch mini-jack splitter to hook up two microphones. The built in Windows Audio mixer can do some audio mixing. This depends greatly on your setup what you can do. The easiest setup would probably be to just have microphones and up the TV volume so that the mics pickup the audio.

Lastly, create a Ustream.TV account. Ustream.TV is a service which a lets you stream live video to thousands of people (if you can find thousands of people to watch). Once you create your account you'll need to setup a show, customize your look, etc.

Once this is all setup you should be able to select WebCamMax as the source for your Ustream.TV show. Read Ustream's documentation on optimizing your video quality.

Once you've got this setup run a couple of test runs to make sure the setup will work once you go live.

Promoting your Event

We got very lucky promoting our event. Through a contact at Ustream we were able to get in contact with Penny-Arcade and Kotaku. This immediately shot us into thousands of viewers. This was a fluke, most of you will not be able to get onto these sites your first time around. Below are some things I suggest to promote your marathon.

Create a schedule for your event on Ustream.TV well before it occurs. This should get it at least listed on the Ustream homepage for some period of time. Submit your event to Ustream to see if they're interested in featuring it, though don't submit it until you've got a professional looking ustream site and you're sure you can pull the event off.

Get involved in social bookmarking sites such as Digg.com, Reddit.com, Fark.com, etc. prior to your event. If you can get a solid network of friends on these it can help promote your event. Embed widgets for these sites into any page where you embed your feed.

Send the event to your friends on Facebook, MySpace, etc. I wouldn't do this too far ahead of the start of the event. The last thing you want is for people to come to your site and have nothing to see.

Submit a press release. There are free sites (www.prlog.org) which allow you to send out press releases. You can then send these press releases to blogs and sites you read and they may get picked up by news sites. You can also send this to your local newspaper, we had inquiries from our local television station and newspaper.

Post about your event on forums and message boards you read. But DON'T SPAM!

Running Your Event

Start your event during a workday, we had tons of messages from people who found us while browsing the web at work on Friday. You can interest people before they logoff for the weekend.

Play games, interact with the Chat, solicit donations (but don't be pushy), occassionally tell people what it is that you're doing. Are you playing for a set amount of time? Or to beat a certain number of games?

We contacted Kristin from Child's Play months before our event, and she was nice enough to tune in and e-mail us throughout the event. Having live interaction with the charity you're raising money for adds legitimacy to your event. It also motived the Mario Marathon team.

SLEEP, SLEEP, SLEEP! Be sure that someone sleeps. Your event will fail if everyone in your event crashes at the same time. Besides, it's very dangerous to stay awake for long periods of time.

Invite all of your friends to your house, the more people that come over the more interactivity you'll have.

If you achieve your donation goal early try to send out a new round of e-mail to news sites to see if you can get a follow-up story.

Give the viewers more than you promised. After completing all of the Mario games in less than 48 hours we went on to collect 120 stars and unlock Luigi!

Costs

Plus the cost of any games, controllers, batteries, etc.