COLUMBIA — Three young men sat around a coffee table on a recent Sunday, kicking around news from the video gaming world over the past couple of weeks. A fourth friend joined in the conversation through Skype and a laptop on the table.
A couple of hours later, the latest episode of "World 8" was ready for editing. The video game podcast is made every two weeks in Columbia and adds a Midwestern voice to the gaming community.
"World 8" is a free audio podcast that can be found through the iTunes store.
You can also stream the podcast, though this method lacks the ability to pause – stopping the podcast and hitting play again will restart it.
"We advertise our location because we think it makes us unique," said Chase Koeneke, who studies strategic communications at MU. "Almost everything gaming, including podcasts, is based out of the coasts. We want to remind gamers and the industry that there are knowledgeable enthusiasts all over, and, in this specific case, the Midwest."
On the other hand, Koeneke estimated — based largely on his interaction with "World 8's" 37 followers on Twitter and 28 people who "like" the podcast on Facebook — that about half of their listeners are from Columbia.
But they have listeners from far and wide, including Canada and Great Britain.
"(Being in Columbia) colors our perspective," said Jordan Allen-Baxter, who is studying computer science at MU. "You don't see a lot of arcades here. There's not as much of a gaming culture as in big cities on the coasts. Being here gives us a different insight."
AJ Hurst hosts "World 8" from a distance. A founder of the program with Koeneke and Bryan Edelman, Hurst left Columbia to take a job as a web designer in Kansas City. He remains the technical force behind "World 8," in charge of overhauling the website and editing the podcasts.
The friends in Columbia banter with Hurst through a MacBook Pro. As a running joke, Allen-Baxter calls Hurst the "Computer Man," and they nudge him with questions as offbeat as whether he's a robot or whether he's wearing pants.
"It's going to keep you awake at night, wondering if I'm wearing pants for this, isn't it?" Hurst asked before the recording session.
"It is," Koeneke replied.
Podcast began in Maneater
The origins of "World 8" began when Koeneke was managing editor of MOVE, a magazine-styled section published by the MU student newspaper, The Maneater. Koeneke was involved in MOVE's arts podcast with Hurst and eventually Edelman, who was also reporting for the newspaper, joined in as well.
Their collective affinity for games led to a large section of the podcast being dedicated to the games because the talk about games was going so much longer than everything else, Koeneke said.
The gaming section of the podcast was cut when new editors took over MOVE, but the three had already talked about branching out to do their own podcast.
It took a little work, and a few growing pains with technology, but on April 4, 2010, the first episode of "World 8" made its way onto iTunes. Allen-Baxter joined as a regular co-host in Episode 4, and since then, the four friends have been putting out updates every two weeks. The show's name is a reference to the original Nintendo "Mario" game.
Hosts use light approach
The hosts of "World 8" don't pretend to be among the most professional of podcasters.
Even apart from their humble equipment, they keep things casual. At the recording for Episode 34, Edelman wore a T-shirt that read "Aperture Laboratories," a reference to the popular video games "Portal" and "Portal 2." The three co-hosts took the recording session lightly, reading from an outline that was little more than some notes and topics in a Word document.
They aren't careful in watching their language. They enjoy the "explicit" tag on their podcast, a voluntary rating system on iTunes that marks songs or podcasts that use explicit language.
And though they never go out of their way to be inappropriate, they also don't make a point to censor themselves. In Episode 34 they speak openly about their conceptions of West Virginia, noting that in doing so they likely alienated any West Virginian listeners they had.
Their consensus was that they didn't have any such listeners and probably never would.
Better podcast, website planned
The team plans to make many improvements, particularly to the website, which they acknowledge has fallen out of date in content and design.
Hurst has undertaken the responsibility of the overhaul, though each host has an interest in the process. Edelman, who is working on his second bachelor's degree, in computer science, plans to make a browser game for the website to help increase traffic, and all of them have talked about the possibility of recording video as well as audio and posting the podcasts on a video-hosting website.
Koeneke also talked about adding more unique content, referencing the articles posted on their website, in addition to the podcasts. They had been doing some articles early on but none since March.
While revamping the website and experimenting with video is first on their list of things to do, second is looking into getting sponsors and merchandising or making T-shirts and other items they can sell. They hope to use the money on equipment — to improve audio quality and buy a video recorder.
Excuse to get together
Koeneke said their number one goal in producing "World 8" is to have fun.
"That's what most of this podcast is — laughing and talking," Koeneke said as he and his friends prepared to record their 34th episode.
They attempted to go through their introduction three times before they got through it coherently.
"We’re trying to be both an entertainment source as well as news source to people," Koeneke said. "If we can create a dialogue or help someone make a purchasing decision, we’ll chalk that up as a win."
But all of them agreed that goal was secondary.
"If you're not laughing while you listen to us, we're doing something wrong," Allen-Baxter said.
Koeneke agreed: "The podcast gives us a great excuse to get together, have a good time and talk about our favorite pastime."