Standing by your creative ethics and principles
In this episode, Colin Moriarty from Last Stand Media shares his insights from growing his podcast network through a membership community.
Colin Moriarty is the founder of Last Stand Media, a company that produces a slate of videos and podcasts celebrating the world of video games, from classics to forthcoming releases. Their shows include Defining Duke, a podcast focused on Xbox, and a new series, Constellations, which brings together guests from across the network. Colin co-hosts two podcasts: Sacred Symbols, a show all about PlayStation, and KnockBack, which dives into retro games and media.
On this week’s episode of the Backstage with Patreon podcast, Colin shares how he has made Patreon the core of his creative business as he’s launched new shows and expanded his team, studio space, and revenue streams.
Hello, creators. You are Backstage with Patreon where we open the curtain on how to build a thriving business on Patreon. I'm Brian Keller from the Creator Success Team. And today's guest is Colin Moriarty, the founder of Last Stand Media, a collection of podcasts and video series that celebrates video games from upcoming releases back to the classics.
Colin continues to co-host Sacred Symbols about PlayStation, and KnockBack about retro games in media. Last Stand Media also publishes Defining Duke focused on Xbox, and a new show Constellations, that brings together guests from across the network. Colin has made Patreon the core of his creative business as he's launched new shows, expanded his team, studio space, and revenue streams. Let's get started with Colin Moriarty on Backstage with Patreon. And you just recently launched a new show. I'd love to hear about how you made that decision. When are you ready to expand your network, add to your shows? How did you think through that?
Yeah, thank you. First of all, thanks for having me. Really appreciate it. Love Patreon. You guys know that internally, but I always like to rep you guys where I can too because you changed my life. So I very much appreciate that awesome service.
So Constellation is our newest show and we decided to launch it because our audience wants to see our particular crew, which is between disparate shows, they wanted to see us more interact together. And so it was a pretty obvious idea for us. But we want to be deliberate with the delivery in which we send our content to the world. We don't want to do too much content. We don't want to ask much more of the audience. Our rule inside is we want to ask you for your attention once a day except for maybe Sundays and give you a little time off.
And so we actually cut back one of our other shows that you mentioned earlier, KnockBack, to every other week so we can fit this show in and not overwhelm the audience. And so far, it's doing great. The first episode was huge, and we are looking forward to continuing it. So I think it's just a good way to talk about things outside of video games, which people like to hear.
Yeah. And it's a cool idea now that you have certain hosts that people are getting used to and they feel a part of Last Stand Media, your network there. Did it come just really naturally? How did you decide to go, again, away from video games and really recognize it's worth it to have something that is more conversational, getting to know the hosts? Because I imagine some other creators are maybe at that stage thinking about, hey, should we do something like this?
Sure. So as some of the audience probably knows but most of the listeners don't is that I co-founded another large Patreon company called Kinda Funny back in the day and they still exist today, although they're quite a bit different from when I was there. And I was really, not that I was in charge with it, but at the time I came up with a lot of our early programming or was the star of a lot of our early programming. So we used to do a show called A Conversation with Colin.
But I came up with a few ideas including the morning show that we used to do on Twitch and another show that we used to do called the GameOverGreggy Show. I had this idea, why don't each of us, the four of us at the time, come together with a topic? And originally, it was that no one knew what the other people were going to say. So it could have been like, "I want to talk about vegetables," and "I want to talk about the death penalty." And I want to talk about whatever. And it just became this hodgepodge of nonsense. And we loved doing it.
And when I left the company, they stopped doing that show. So I was like, "Well, I love that format, I came up with that format, so I'm going to bring it over and try to do a show in the same vein with our own people." And what's cool about that is that it kind of touches the nostalgic edge that a lot of people have for that old content that they don't get anymore.
So it was pretty much a no-brainer. And in fact, out of all the shows we've launched and all the initiatives we've had, this is the one I was least worried about. I knew that it was going to be big for our audience. So we really launched it with no trepidation at all, which can't be said for the other shows.
Wanted to back to one of your other transitions. You started this company, Colin's Last Stand associated with you and your name, now Last Stand Media.
I'd love if you could take people back to that kind of decision because there's a lot of creators who also have a brand that is associated, kind of names themself versus that consideration of a broader umbrella brand. What was that transition like?
Yeah. So I came up with the CLS name. Our company, the business is still called Colin's Last Stand. And Colin's Last Stand is the sole owner of this brand, also owns half of an indie developer and a few other things. So that name remains untouched, but that's more of a legal thing.
Doing business ads as it were, like DBAing to Last Stand Media was actually a decision made listening to my employees and my collaborators, especially my executive producer and my number two basically, Dustin Furman, who had said to be something that resonated with me, which is, "It's not really about you only anymore." And it was at one time about me. And I was like, "You're right." So I came up with this idea of just getting rid of Colin out of it so it's not so much about me.
And it's funny because I figured it was going to be somewhat of a painful decision to make because you have to change all your branding. Our logos didn't change. We just had to remove the CLS from the logos and everything. But could confuse people and put people off or whatever.
So it's funny when I make a decision like that, we made that decision in 2020 and then changed in 2021, I was like, "Let's put our shoulder into it and just get it over with. We gain nothing by putting this off because you're totally right about your assessment in that it's not just about me." And so let's make it more inclusive. And let's get away from the more political, very hard angle of Colin's Last Stand and the references to that and make something that is a little bit broader, kind of like when Nintendo stopped making playing cards and started making video games. Become bigger and more holistic. So it represented that to us as well.
So yeah, it was not as difficult. You guys were very helpful too by changing our name on Patreon and all that, was great.
Now, with all the shows that you got, before them, you have a regular audio version, you have the YouTube version, you have the Patreon version of that, how do you and your production team think about how are those versions going to be different, whether it's filler words and audio and graphical overlays, given you've got that combination of all those different channels?
So what's funny is that if people look at the way we cut down our, or I guess split up I should say our membership tiers, they'll see that we promise audio early, ad-free, but we only promise video early. But it has ads in it.
The reason that is is because we have to make specific decisions about the platforms that we're kind of playing around on. And what we realized was rendering, for instance, a four-hour podcast, which is what Sacred Symbols is, twice, and then putting it up on YouTube twice, not only confuses the YouTube algorithm, but it's just a lot of work for our production team.
So we try to keep it as minimal as possible. And the way we were able to do that with the audio is because the audio ads on free feeds are added dynamically by our servers and by our ad reps. So we don't have to worry too much about that. So the same audio goes live in both places, and then they just do the work of splicing the audio with ads.
Video, we've just kind of asked our audience to be patient with us and understand that at our size we don't really want to render that many videos and do all that work. And also to try to, and this is really an important thing with our audience because we communicate with them to the nth degree, it's just that having different video versions of the same podcast on YouTube's just going to hurt our YouTube channel, just like doing a lot of other things on your YouTube channel hurts your YouTube channel.
So it's all about that communicative approach. But it's not as complicated as it seems, although I'm the one who says that. I don't edit the shows. Our producers do. So it's easy for me to say that.
Yeah. Well, it makes sense. There's a combination of technical factors, audience, monetization, all those aspects.
Now that we're talking about your Patreon membership and earnings a little bit, one thing you shared recently with Laura, your account manager on my team here, was an interesting development where it sounds like your patron count is a little bit down and yet you're earning more per member. That's such an interesting insight and how your business is evolving. Would love to hear about how you've approached that and thoughts on that as part of your evolution.
Yeah. So it is interesting because I like looking at the data. I try not to be too obsessive about it because I don't think, you can read into the data a little bit, but you have to give it time to net out, see what's working, see what's not working. So I try not to hinge on every rise or fall.
And so this particular time, our Patreon netted as high as almost 13,000 patrons. We're down to 12,100ish or so right now. There's two things about that that don't really worry me. First of all, it's number one, all of our contemporaries are down. So there's something in this space. I can't name a single gaming podcast network of any consequence that isn't down year over year in terms of their membership.
But the second thing that we take heart in, like you said, is that actually we're making more money than we made on 13,000 patrons, which is interesting to us. And I think a lot of that has to do with something, again, I learned at my old company, Kinda Funny, something I don't seem to do anymore, which I find so peculiar, which is we used to be all about packing as much value at the lowest tiers.
And for us, our $5 tier on Last Stand Media is the golden tier. That's our most popular tier. That's where you get early, ad-free access to everything. You can use the discord, you can submit your questions, comments, concerns, thoughts and ideas, and vote on things and whatever the case might be. But we also have a $1 and a $2 tier, and the dollar tier gets you access to all of our extra shows that we do on Patreon. So it's the lowest possible buy-in. And $2 gives you the ability to submit questions to the shows.
And the reason that I think we do that, or I don't think, I know the reason we do that is because I'm all about getting people in the Patreon with as little money upfront as possible, if necessary, and get them comfortable with the service. Here's how it works, here's how the RSS feed works, here's what you can expect, here's what the news feed looks like. And then what we find is that people kind of either bounce out, and that's fine, or they tick up to $2, or they tick up the $5, or the $5 people even tick up to $10. And we even have a $25 tier that several hundred people are at. That's our producer tier.
And so my whole mantra with Patreon is to just get people involved, get in. I believe, I say this a lot, that a high Patreon tide raises all Patreon boats. So I want all Patreons to do well because, even our competitors, because I just feel like getting people into the ecosystem makes them more likely to bounce around.
Very similar to what I would expect if you look back 12, 13, 14 years ago when Netflix started streaming and it's like, "Well, okay, this is how it works." And then Amazon Prime came and started doing it. And then Hulu started kind of doing it. And you understood it so that all of these other companies could take advantage of the systemic knowledge that already exists.
So in our case, we try to just get people in and comfortable and try to keep in mind that the Patreon number, though we want that to go up and up and up and we're very happy with having 12,000-plus monthly paying subscribers, is that that number doesn't matter as much as the monetary number, which we keep hidden, and a lot of Patreons keep hidden. And as long as that number looks good, it's hard to be too upset because the reality is, and sometimes people need to remember this is it hurts when someone leaves at a dollar, but someone joins at $10 and basically just made up for 10 of those people.
And so that's kind of the way we try to approach it, get people in, are you comfortable? Do you like it? Do you dig it? Do you like the content? You don't, you can leave, you only lost a dollar, you lost $2. You like it? Bump up. And that's what we've been finding. So I think that that multiple-tiering system and getting people involved at the lowest and in packing your value down there I think is so vital.
Yeah. And I think it's really smart how you guys have done it, where listening to your show, you talk about this show is brought to you by you, this audience, but very normalizing it. It's not donations, it's not help us out. It's like, "Hey, you can be part of the show." And then doing the producer credits, it probably takes you guys two minutes-plus to read off all those names, but it's this nice recognition. And I think it speaks to this fact of you can join Last Stand Media at all these levels but that you see people grow and get more involved over time. I think it's a great lesson for a lot of creators on how to set that up.
Yeah, thank you. I think it's cool because we want to give an ode to the audience if that's what they want, that we want to give them exactly what they want. What they want most is this quality-oriented podcast though, so that is the focus of what we do. And so we try to just look at our success or failure based on if we can draw people in or not.
And I think it's a great compliment to us because there's so many free podcasts and just an enormous infinite amount of free content. I think it actually says a lot about how bad so much gaming content is that people would rather pay to get something on Patreon, not only with us but with others, than listen to stuff that's out there for free.
It's an interesting lesson that people will, there's a certain group of people that understand you get what you pay for, and we're appreciative of that. And we try to pay it forward as well by promoting others and being holistic in our approach to giving people platforms and stuff like that as well.
When you've got a lot of different revenue streams, the ads, membership, merch, even live events now, what did live events look like for you, the multiple hosts you have? Does membership tie into that at all?
Yeah. So it's funny because live events really came out of the audience just wanting to see us do something. And so the first one we did I think was in 2021. We did it in Western Pennsylvania, in Butler, Pennsylvania, which is a small town where our producers are from. And actually, one of our producers was the mayor of the town. So we got a key to the town and all this stuff. It was very funny.
We invited a few hundred people and we did a show. And we made a little bit of money, several thousand dollars probably in profit, but we don't really do it for that reason. We actually do it because we think it's an interesting and an important thing to kind of just get out and touch people, as it were, every once in a while. In fact, the big thing that we did after that first live show is the next day we went to a park in that town and we signed and took pictures with people for six hours. And they could just show up and hang out. We didn't expect that it was going to take that long, but that's how long we did it and it was fun.
So we look at the live shows as a way for us to just interact with the fans, for them to have some fun with us. And yeah, it's great revenue, but it's pretty expensive because we have to send everyone, we have to put everyone up, we have to pay for different things, and sending merch and doing all this kind of stuff. So it's not the important part of our revenue stream that other things are yet, but we see the potential.
I can give you an example. So The National, I live in Central Virginia. The National is a renowned venue in Richmond, and we did a show there earlier this year. And we sold 420 tickets to this place. And I think it was something like $7,000 for us to get the venue for that night. It was a Saturday night. And we got the venue with 420 people paying between $50 and $70. I think we had VIP tickets. We sold thousands of dollars of merch. We sold liquor and everything through the venue and whatever.
And we did a pretty nice job. And I think we netted something like after all, after everyone's was... We also pay, obviously, day rates for our people and all the rest. After that was all done, we probably had, I don't know, $5,000 or $6,000 left over. And I was like, "Okay, that's nice profit." It sounds crazy to say not worth the effort if you're just doing it for the money. But the fact is is The National can hold 2,000 people.
And in my mind, it started churning like, well, this is how these bands all make an enormous amounts of money is by filling these venues up. Not only selling merch, but if you had all those things paid off and you made money at filling at a quarter basically, and we didn't have standing room only, we had seats, so there wasn't that much room for people to come anyway. But it just got my mind going about, wow, this is a untapped revenue stream for anyone who can harvest it.
And so it's certainly on my mind. But it's more something for the audience than it is for us. In fact, my initiative originally when we first did the first show to my company was I just want to break even. So that's the goal. And this year we're doing a live show in Houston in February and we're excited about that. That's basically sold out. And then I think we're going to go to the UK, but we haven't had anything to say about that yet specifically.
Got it. Well, and as your business has grown, it definitely attracts more attention, visibility, and you're dealing with future video games and upcoming announcements and unreleased information there. So I'd love to hear, if you're willing to share a little bit, how does your team manage that? I know you have had some cases where there are concerns about unreleased info, legal aspects, that's something unique and you've really found a way to navigate through.
“One of the things the show is known for is we do break news. We reveal the existence of games… My entire job in my position is to be as adversarial to those companies as humanly possible."
Yeah, thank you. Yeah. So Sacred Symbols, our flagship, is the world's biggest PlayStation podcast, which I host and kind of lead. We have other people that co-host it with me. But one of the things the show is known for is we do break news. We reveal the existence of games, we leak stuff because people leak things to us all the time, specifically to me. And it's worth noting that they're not just randomly leaking it to me. I was a games journalist for many years before I ever did this stuff. And so I just have good connections and good bonafides in that space. And even when I worked at IGN, which is where I came from, ign.com, I was well known for breaking stories there too. So nothing's really changed in that regard.
But we have to work within the realm of fair use. And we have gotten in trouble, specifically one time that you guys will know about because I had to talk to your lawyers. We got a notice from a publisher because we leaked a game, the new Tomb Raider game. But the way we did it was to read a script that was leaked to me. And we figured that this was in fair use, but they argued that it wasn't within fair use. I could see that argument, so we actually capitulated in that sense.
The next time someone leaked me a script of something, we actually just summarized it. And that made it perfectly fair use. So there was no way anyone can go after us. And that was for a new Star Wars game, so that was definitely something that people would've wanted to be interested in.
Here's the thing is that I look at it as I'm not out to spoil games for people. We go out of our way not to do that. But the existence of something is not a spoiler. I'm not going to curse on this show, but what I will say is I couldn't care less about the video game publishers. I couldn't care less about the companies, what they think, how they do, how much money they make. I don't care. My entire job in my position is to be as adversarial to those companies as humanly possible. That's what journalism is. That's what good coverage is and criticism is.
So when it comes to spoiling the plot of a game for you, I'm not going to do that. But if it comes to spoiling some marketing plan that some bean counters made and someone in their company decided to give it to me, I don't have any qualms about leaking that. And that's very similar to, in a totally meaningless fashion, but it's like the Pentagon Papers or something. It's like, "Well, I didn't ask for this stuff. It's not ill begotten on my behalf." And so we try to play as fairly as we can within that space.
But an important advantage that we have in this space is, and it differentiates us literally from everyone else that does podcasts, video game podcasts at any size and YouTube videos and stuff, is we don't talk to any publishers or developers. We accept no free games, no early copies of games, no preview builds. We don't do kind of faux consultation. We don't fly anywhere and see anything. We don't go to trade shows. We don't want anything from you. And so there's nothing they can hold against us.
So for instance, when I leaked the new BioShock game last year, Take- Two wasn't happy about that. In fact, I learned from sources that Take- Two was trying to figure out how that happened, and they're not going to figure out how it happened. But the reality is that if I were working with them and I wanted access to new Red Dead Redemption stuff and I wanted access to NBA 2K and all of this, they can be like, "Well, we're cutting you off," but because we've already put ourselves in this position, it's like you have nothing over us.
So we can continue to report the news and make content without any retribution from access because we don't get access to begin with. We play games at the same exact time everyone else does. As an example, the website Kotaku, which is dying now, but which is at one time a really big deal, when I was first getting into games journalism, they leaked PlayStation Home, which people might remember was a PlayStation 3 kind of life meta game thing. The reason I say that is because Sony went and blacklisted them for years because of that. And that just can't happen with us. So that's the reason we're able to do it.
Yeah, it's good to know that in all these areas, you got to have your principles around journalistic ethics, the right way to do it, and your connection and what it means there.
I also want to hear about as you've grown your business, your membership here, what have been some of the choices to hire, to add people to the team? A lot of creators are in various stages of that, whether they're making their first hire or thinking of adding more. Would love to hear about some of those choices you made.
Yeah. So it's funny because when I started doing Last Stand in 2017 and then into 2018, I was editing everything myself, which looking back at it is nightmarish. I mean, I was working extremely hard. I mean, that's what you have to do when you're getting a business off the ground, so no excuses.
But it just so happened that someone, Dustin Furman, who ends up being our executive producer, just reached out to me and it was just really just the right place, right time thing where he was like, "You want help editing? Do you need any help?"
I'm like, "Yeah, I'm really tired of doing this." And at first, I would give him the less important shows to do and get those off my plate. And then I realized that he was just very reliable. And so we started giving him everything. And then before you knew it, he became really the first employee of the company.
We have co-hosts and contractors that we work with, but he is the first person that's basically salaried to work alongside me and was super invaluable in getting things going. And what that allowed me to do, it's spending money to make money at the old adage, freeing my bandwidth from having to edit four-hour PlayStation podcasts and all this stuff, which is insane. We edit all the ums out of shows. We're very meticulous about all that stuff. And so me not having to do that anymore meant that I can create new and better shows. It made Sacred Symbols better, it made KnockBack better, and allowed us to think about new ideas like Defining Duke, which is our first show that doesn't involve me but others.
And so that I think is a really key consideration in that whole realm in just making sure that you don't, when you can, that you get away from trying to do everything. And now we have more people working for us, which is awesome. But it was scary at first and it's scary now. Every day I'm freaking scared because people rely on me for their, well, for their financial well-being and their family being able to eat. And it's a lot, man. But it's important as we continue to grow that we continue to offload things.
And if I may, I'm sorry, I want to say one thing too that I think is really important. If I can say anything, it's that, well, two things I've learned. One is that I tell my employees, so Ben Smith, our associate producer, Micah, who does our merch and our community stuff and others, is I want everyone to work as little as possible. If people can work an hour a day and get their work done, that's great. Sometimes I'm going to need you to grind and crunch for 15 hours, but generally speaking, I want everyone to do as little as possible. And by the way, that doesn't mean being lazy. It just means do your work. If you can do your work in three days, then I don't care. Just get it done. And that's been really positive.
And the other thing is just paying people fairly. Especially in the games industry, people get paid like [inaudible 00:22:45]. And I think it's wrong. And I was a freelancer once and I got taken advantage of a lot as well. Now, I allowed myself to get taken advantage of. I booted the door off the hinges when I was a freelancer and got in, but I was making nothing basically. I was an intern at IGN, sleeping on people's floors and doing whatever was necessary.
And so I think just the taking care of people's financial health is important, treating them fairly financially. And no one is entitled to any of these things, but I also give everyone two bonuses a year, including a sizable Christmas bonus. So I want to just throw those things out there for people that are listening because that is an important thing too. In that regard, you also get what you pay for. So none of my people have left, none of my people have even asked for anything. So it's just, that's vital, and I want to really nail that down for people.
Yeah. That's the perfect way to wrap up, the right way to build a team, help people be efficient, be fair in what you're offering there. But we covered a lot of other great details too. How do you build a membership and actually progress people from the entry point up to higher tiers, the challenges but opportunities with live events, barely breaking even but the potential to use that to really enrich your audience, and the value of these principles and ethics kind of around how you operate, how you utilize information there.
So Colin, thanks so much for joining us on Backstage with Patreon.
Thank you. Thank you for having me. Remember, consistency, quality, communication, those are the things, and you'll be all set if you do those three things, work hard.
I appreciate you guys. And thank you so much to Patreon because, I mean, I've been with you guys for a long time now and you totally changed my life, so I'm totally happy. I get, not disappointed because it's actually a huge advantage that a lot of people don't know how our business works, but I'm surprised more people aren't more inquisitive because it's not that hard to do what we're doing. It's hard to get the people to come in and enjoy the content, but just execution, it's not that difficult. I think people overthink it. So I'm glad to share the skills.
Tune in next week to Backstage with Patreon when we'll have Tom McNeill on the show. He's a Senior Partner Manager at Patreon, working with high-earning creators on the platform to grow their membership business. Tom shares the best practices we've developed with the largest creators at Patreon for promoting membership to their audience that can be leveraged for all creators on the platform.
To catch every episode of Backstage with Patreon, follow or subscribe in your podcast app and leave us a review. We also have transcripts available at patreon.com/backstage. You're growing as a creator by listening to the show, so why not share the insights from this episode with another creator on Patreon or who is running a creative business? We'd love to have you as an active collaborator with Backstage with Patreon. Come join the discussion in the Patreon Creator Discord. Follow the link in the episode notes and you can get answers to your follow-up questions directly from the guests and weigh in on what topics we'll be covering next. Editing by Tyler Morrisette. I'm Brian Keller. See you next time backstage.