Gus Sorola: Combining Gaming and Internet Culture Through RTXA game interview article by: Stephen McCall
Ever since they first created the popular machinima web-series Red vs. Blue using Halo, Rooster Teeth Productions has had a strong hold on internet and gaming culture. On July 7th and 8th 2012, they will be running their second RTX community event, and it's evolving into a gaming convention with guests known for their work on the internet and showcasing titles including Halo 4, Orcs Must Die 2, and Loadout. All 4,000 tickets to RTX 2012 were sold out, and event organizer Gus Sorola was willing to answer some questions for me about how RTX came to be, future plans for the event, and getting their hands on playable games for the public.
Stephen McCall for Infinite Ammo: Okay, first question: What inspired Rooster Teeth to make their own gaming con?
Gus Sorola: We've been wanting to have a convention for a long time now. We've started doing events and conventions... I want to say back in 2004? And we were going to so many and meeting so many people as time went on we thought “Why don't instead of us traveling everywhere, we have our own gaming convention and bring everyone to us?” So, we decided to have a convention that was about the things we like, which is internet culture and video games. And we thought “what is the ideal event that we would want to go to?” and so we decided to make it.
IA: All right. And how much work goes into setting up the con?
Sorola: About ten times more than I expected (laughs). It's been a lot. I mean, it's nonstop, especially now you know, with less than two weeks out, and I'm just constantly in meetings, or doing something, or you know, talking to someone about getting them here,taking care of logistics, and.. it's really daunting. We said we've been attending conventions for 8 years, so thought I knew all about it, it'd be a breeze, but it's a lot more work than I expected.
IA: In the past, you said Rooster Teeth wanted to make their own event so your fans can come to you. Does this mean you are planning on abandoning the convention circuit if RTX grows large enough?
Sorola: No no, not at all!
IA: I'm asking this because one of my favorite memories from high school was when I actually got to meet you, Burnie, and Geoff at a convention when I was 16.
Sorola: Which one was it?
IA: Aggiecon in 2005, I believe.
Sorola: Oh yeah wow, that was a long time ago! That was a small one!
IA: You complimented my Trogdor shirt!
Sorola: I remember that! It was the white one, right?
IA: It was the black one with the white Trogdor.
Sorola: It was the other way around.
IA: And Griffon was pregnant with Millie during that time.
Sorola: The way we approached events changed over the years. Like back in 2005 when you saw us, we would go ANYWHERE. We'd go to every event we could. Now as we get busier and busier, we've really, for the most part, trimmed down a lot of the events that we attend. So now we essentially... for the most part, there's a little bit of variance. For the most part we go to San Diego Comic-Con and PAX Prime and PAX East and we'll continue to go to those events 'cause those are always great. We know that not every viewer can come to Austin. We still want to make sure we hit the road. And go to people and make it convenient for them. We'll still definitely attend SDCC, PAX Prime, Pax East and maybe a couple other here and there. But it definitely won't be like when ...when you saw us at Aggiecon that year we probably went to 15 events that year. We're not going to go to that level again (laugh). We'll probably do the big ones and RTX.
IA: Rooster Teeth's community has over 1 million members and over a billion video views on youtube. The first RTX event brought in about 600 people. This year, there's supposed to be 3,000-4,000. How do you plan on growing for future events?
Sorola: It's REALLY a difficult problem to manage (and you're the first person who's asked this question). Because the first year we sold all the tickets and that was like, in five minutes. So we really didn't know how many people wanted come, but weren't able to. So attendance this year was a big question mark. We were hoping for 4,000 people and that's where we ended up, so I'm pretty happy with that. I don't know how much more growth, how many more people will want to come next year. Hopefully people will have a good time here and they'll talk about it and the word will spread, and we'll continue to see growth, but I can't imagine how much growth that will be. It's really crazy question mark.
IA: The first RTX was entirely focused on the Rooster Teeth community. What do you think RTX has to offer to people outside of it?
Sorola: Well this year we're focusing a lot more on games and internet culture. You know, the Rooster Teeth community is definitely the keystone that the entire event's built on. But, we're trying to add new components so that even if someone shows up who has no idea what Rooster Teeth is, they'll be able to come, they'll be able to check out Halo 4. If they're fans of freddieW on youtube they'll be able to meet him in person. You don't necessarily have to be a Rooster Teeth fan to enjoy the event, but if you are you'll get more enjoyment out of the event. And I think in the long term that's what we want to do, we want to make sure that it's open to people who like the kinds of things that we like.
IA: I can understand wanting to meet people from the internet 'cause I remember one year the creators of Homestar Runner came to Austin and they don't really do a lot of public appearances. And when I was a teenager, that was like the coolest thing in the world, getting my picture with Matt and Mike Chapman, hearing them do all the character voices and all that stuff. And bringing that feeling to the fans, and not just Rooster Teeth fans, but Freddie Wong, Mega64...
Sorola: You know, it's funny. Back in 2004 and 2005 when we first started kicking around the idea of holding our own convention, back then we would joke about it and ...our name for the event back then was “dot com con.”
IA: Haha, nice. Okay, shifting gears a little bit, let's talk about Halo 4! Halo 4 is playable at RTX. Was this possible because of your relationship with 343 Industries and Microsoft?
Sorola: Absolutely! (laughs). First and foremost, that's what started us. We're big Halo fans and we have an excellent working relationship with both 343 Industries and Microsoft. So they know we're fans, they know our fans are big fans, so it was super easy to talk them into coming down.
IA: SXSW (South by Southwest), which was also in Austin, had playable builds games that were recycled from earlier events such as PAX. Firefall and Lollipop Chainsaw, I believe, were the same demos. Are the game demos at RTX built just for the con, are they also going to be re-used from other events like E3 or PAX?
Sorola: Here's the beauty of it (and another great question, no one's asked this): The reason we chose early July for our event is we know game companies crunch and spend a lot of time getting builds ready for E3. E3, of course, is a press-only event. So we figure “if they're already going to be crunching and making an event to show the media, why not then make an event a couple weeks later where they can take those builds and give them hands-on to the public?”
IA: Ah, so... you're admitting to using recycled builds?
Sorola: (Laughs) I'm not using any builds. I'm making it easier for developers to bring something new. If something's shown at E3, chances are no one's seen it. It's not a recycled build, you know, that's five months old, it's not a recycled PAX Prime build that's almost a year old, it's something that's still relatively fresh.
IA: Huh... I think I can let you get away with that, Rooster Teeth!
Sorola: (Laughs) And Halo 4, I mean, just getting a build of that at all is... is crazy.
IA: I knew you guys were close with Microsoft and 343, but I did not see that coming.
IA: In addition to Halo 4, Edge of Reality's Free-to-play title Loadout and Robot Entertainment's Orcs Must Die 2 are supposed to be playable. Are there any other titles you would like to announce?”
Sorola: As much as I'd hate to say it, not yet. We're still working on like, two last-minute ones that would be brand new, but they're not nailed down yet so I can't say anything about them at this time.
IA: Okay, okay... RTX has a lot of guests who are well known for gaming and internet content, like Mega64, Freddie Wong, and former Microsoft Xbox live policy enforcement head Stephen Toulose. How did you choose and schedule them?
Sorola: We... you know, like we said, we're focused on the things that we like. If we were at a convention, who would we want to see? So we went after people that we were big fans of and tried to get them down. And we were pretty pleased. We got just about everyone we wanted to. There were some more people we would've liked to gotten, but then the guest list becomes unwieldy and scheduling becomes a pain. We've definitely got a good crew, I think
IA: What about community feedback for future guests? Is that something you're going to incorporate into future RTX events?
Sorola: Yeah, definitely. For things like this I don't believe in asking the question directly to the community because I feel by asking the question, you influence the answer. I think the better strategy in what we do is we look to see what people are talking about. You know, that way they don't know we're watching. It'd feel like we have less influence over the answer.
IA: And you also worked with the IDGA's contest (Independent Developer ) where you asked indie developers to submit games for RTX. How did that turn out?
Sorola: They are running it on their own. We're really not directly in charge of it so I don't know the specifics. But they did receive a bunch of entries and there will be stuff to show off at RTX as a result of that.
IA: That's good, giving little people publicity. I mean, you can't let Halo 4 dominate everything!
Sorola: Right, right!
IA: Rooster Teeth and the convention are located in Austin, TX. Do you feel you're in a strategic location because there's not really that many other big gaming events in the midwest? There's no PAX locations in the midwest, Texas, or anything like that, and the closest thing to RTX is Quake Con and that's primarily a PC gaming and LAN party event.
Sorola: We definitely did think about that and were definitely aware of it when we decided to go forward with making our event. All the big events are on the East and West coast. You have PAX Prime, PAX East, (obviously) SDCC, New York Comic Con, but nothing really in the middle of the country. With Texas specifically, you have so many large population centers close to each other. San Antonio, Houston, Dallas/Ft. Worth are all three of the top ten cities of the country and all within a 2-3 hour drive from Austin. So ee thought “This is a no-brainer, we may as well make an event here.”
IA: Are there any closing statements you'd like to make?
Sorola: If you haven't bought a ticket to RTX yet you're out of luck because we're sold out, but hopefully we'll see you in 2013!
Thanks to Gus Soroloa for his time and answers, and thanks to Brad Johnson for making this interview possible!