Mario Marathon Twitch.TV Child's Play Charity

Notes on Running a Gaming Marathon

Putting a Team Together

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.

Create an Experience

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, haikus, 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

Minimum Requirements

The basic technical requirements for running a video game marathon are:

  • Webcam - we recommend Logitech webcams, in our experience their quality far surpasses everyone else on the market in the price range. The Logitech HD C920 is a very nice camera with a wide angle, which works well if you would like the include a large room like we do during Mario Marathon. The microphone on this webcam should be adequate for basic streaming as well.
  • Capture Device - the capture device lets you capture the video from your gaming console so that it can be streamed online. A Dazzle DVD recorder captures composite input (yellow cable), the video quality is standard definition, but adequate for most streams. We've also used a Diamond VC500 capture device.
  • Video Composite / Streaming Software - Once you are able to capture video from your webcam and game system you need a way to combine the two into a single video feed and add text overlays with information about your event, donation totals, charity name, url to your website, time played, etc. It's important to include this information so that viewers have enough information to understand your broadcast regardless of where they are watching, be it your website, on their phone, or a news blog that decided to embed your video feed. On Windows, XSplit is the best solution in terms of price and quality. We started with a program called WebCamMax and have tried other applications such as Wirecast (very expensive) and XSplit is our favorite. It's highly intuitive mostly does what we want it to do.

Once you have these three components functioning, create a Twitch.TV account, and follow their instructions for streaming.

Our Current Setup

Since 2008 our setup has evolved significantly beyond the minimum requirements.

  • Cameras - We stopped using webcams after Mario Marathon 3, instead we currently use HD Canon Camcorders connected to a massive computer via HDMI capture cards. Two cameras are used to provide additional angles for video.
  • Lighting - Running a 24 hour event, the lighting varies from day to night unless you're in a completely sealed room. To accommodate we've added some additional lighting. Any kind of fluorescent lighting seems to work, we've used basic shop lights to high end photo gear.
  • Capture Device - The capture device we use is still the Dazzle DVD Capture. Since we're streaming on the Wii we would gain very little by increasing this component. If you are streaming HD content you may consider using an HDMI capture device for your game feed.
  • Audio - Rather than rely on the microphones in our cameras to capture the game and room audio we've opted to use a basic audio mixer to combine audio from microphones and our game feed. Since we want to capture the entire rooms audio we use a special kind of microphone called a boundary mic.
  • Video Composite / Streaming Software - As mentioned above, we use XSplit for combining all of these sources into a single video feed.
  • Misc cables and adapters - We use RCA Y-Splitters to break the game audio and video into two. One half goes into the television, the other into the capture device for video and mixer for audio.
  • Chat Computer Monitors - We've strategically positioned two large monitors below our main camera to show the IRC chat and Twitter activity. This lets everyone in the room see online discussions while maintaining eye contact with the camera.
  • Custom Video Overlay - We use a fairly complex custom donation system which uses real time web technologies to supply a webpage we access with up-to-date information on donations, goals, time played, etc. This is combined to create an image we capture and overlay on our video.
  • React-Time - In 2011 we added a feature called React-Time, it allows viewers to click on an emoticon for the reaction they're having to what we're doing. The overall reaction of the audience is measured and at certain levels causes audio to play in the video feed. Basically, we added buttons that let people cheer, boo, and laugh at us.

Video Overview

Below is a video summary of our setup from Mario Marathon 3, it's slightly more advanced than what's described above.


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!

Minimum Costs

  • $75 Video Capture Card
  • $90 Web Cam
  • $50 XSplit Software
  • $16 Cables, Adaptors, Splitters
  • $15 Web Domain Name

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