TwitchCon 2018: Games Done Quick's Matt Merkle on GDQx and the long relationship with Twitch

Games Done Quick raised over $100,000 for charity on TwitchCon weekend. During the weekend's runs, Shacknews spoke to Director of Operations Matt Merkle about running a three-day marathon and GDQ's continuing relationship with Twitch.


Games Done Quick returned for a special weekend at TwitchCon, adding to its normal biannual weeklong charity streams. Nearly two months ahead of January's Awesome Games Done Quick, the speedrunning charity streamers got experimental and held a three-day weekend marathon for Twitch's annual convention.

The weekend proved to be a success. Games Done Quick raised $137,680 for the various charities that were present at the TwitchCon Charity Plaza. Some of the weekend's biggest highlights included a full 120-star Super Mario 64 run, a new-school item randomizer run that saw two runners switch back and forth between Super Metroid and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, a tag team Super Mario Bros. 3 effort between GrandPOObear and MitchFlowerPower, and a blindfolded Castlevania: Symphony of the Night run.

Games Done Quick wasn't always featured on Twitch, but has quickly become one of the bedrocks of the streaming service, right alongside esports. It has grown into a must-see event. As Friday's GDQx streams were going down, Shacknews managed to pull ourselves from the evening's Super Mario Odyssey run long enough to chat with GDQ Director of Operations Matt Merkle about the idea for Games Done Quick Express, the upcoming Awesome Games Done Quick, and the organization's relationship with Twitch.

Shacknews: When did the idea for Games Done Quick Express first come about? Is this something that GDQ always envisioned for TwitchCon?

Matt Merkle, Games Done Quick Director of Operations: No, actually. It started off that we were looking around, maybe looking to start a new event outside of our main two. And we actually got hit up by DreamHack first. But their plan didn't really work out too well and Twitch heard and I guess were like, "Well, DreamHack is doing something, we gotta do something. Why don't you come out to TwitchCon?" The timing was perfect, as well. It worked out between our schedules. Also, we have TwitchCon Charity Plaza, so it made sense there to team up with that. It was just a really great fit overall.

Plus, it gets us out west. A lot of the DreamHack stuff is more in the middle of the country, which we've been serving pretty well. This is a great way to get over here. It gets us here real cheap, which is great for everyone involved. And it's a great cause.

Shacknews: What are some of the key differences in putting together a three-day marathon, as opposed to a week-long event?

Merkle: Especially [in the case of] this one, a lot of the stuff is taken care of for us. That helps a lot. Also, it's cut down, but not necessarily different so much. It just means there's less runs and we're cutting down on the interviews. Other than that, we've still got the same hardware, we've still got the same TVs and everything else, and we've still got the same practice rooms.

I'd say the biggest change between events is all the ancillary rooms that you don't see on the stream. We would have casual game tournaments, arcade, pinball, all kinds of stuff happening at our main events. That's something you're coming to TwitchCon to see, so that's something we wouldn't be providing [ourselves].

Shacknews: When you put together GDQx, what's the one game that made you think, "We have to feature that game here?"

Merkle: I don't know if this was thought of way back when we first kicked it off, but after Summer Games, we definitely wanted to bring back POOBear and Mitch for, not necessarily a rematch, but at least get them back on stage and give them a proper Mario Bros. 3 run. After Summer Games, that was definitely something we had in mind. We didn't start picking games until after Summer Games Done Quick.

Shacknews: What has the Twitch audience meant to Games Done Quick as a whole?

Merkle: Obviously, we wouldn't have any donations without the viewers! That's a huge deal for us. But we're always trying to find different ways of improving the interactions with chat and donation incentives has always been a big deal with us. Twitch chat has been a great thing for getting interactions and stuff. Obviously, you have the moderation side of it, which hasn't always been a positive thing. But overall, we still constantly have that interaction. That's why I think Twitch is always successful and that's no different with us.

Shacknews: I'm glad you mentioned moderation, because that's something I'd like to touch on next. The subject comes up often during GDQ events. What are some of the biggest challenges in preventing chat from going full toxic?

Merkle: The sheer number of people, really. That's all it is. Once you get to a certain amount of people chatting at the same time, the basic moderation tools won't handle it. You can't solve it with scripts and bots, which is a lot of people think is the only way. Adding more scripts only gets you so far. People are creative. They're going to find different ways to get around these sorts of things. The best hand is a human hand massaging that sort of thing. When it gets that high, it gets very difficult.

Shacknews: This morning they announced new moderation tools for Twitch. You think that'll help moderation for GDQ going forward?

Merkle: I haven't actually seen them yet! But I'm excited to find out what they are. I've been talking with Twitch for years about different things we can do with moderation. I'll definitely be checking this out.

Shacknews: You mentioned POOBear at SGDQ earlier. With TwitchCon acting as a celebration of the streamer, can you recall your favorite runs and your favorite runners to feature at these events?

Merkle: I've always had a universal connection with Mike89 and the Sonic runs. His finale to speedrunning at Summer Games Done Quick was pretty touching. That's something that I'll always remember. And that's kind of why I got into the community, was the Sonic side of things. That's something that'll always stick with me.

Also, I'll always remember the first time we hit $1 million. It was Chrono Trigger. That's going to be a run I always remember.

Shacknews: GDQ has been around for a long time, raising money for all sorts of charities over the years. When did Twitch itself first take notice of your efforts? And how has GDQ's relationship with Twitch developed over the years?

Merkle: They took notice of us very quickly. When we first started, we were on Ustream and Ustream had a 1,000 viewer limit. We hit that around the second day or something, it was very quick. And Ustream didn't have the capacity to handle anymore and back then, which became Twitch, they took us on. Honestly, there was no real partner program back then. It was all ad-hoc. But as soon as that started kicking off, we were always a big target in their eyes.

It's always been a pleasure to work with them. They've always been very flexible. They've always been supportive of our events and our charity events, as well.

Shacknews: It feels like there's always something new going down at a Games Done Quick event, whether it's raising extra money through sales from The Yetee or raising money through Twitch Bits or raising money through subscriptions. Are there any ideas being floated around for Awesome Games Done Quick?

Merkle: I don't think we have anything crazy going next time. But in the future, definitely there's always stuff we're looking to do. The biggest way we can get more donations is to get more people involved. So we had the AGDQ tutorial Strider run that was a huge hit. We got a lot of people who were never really interested in speedrunning into speedrunning. A lot of people think, "Oh, this is really hard. You're an Olympian, I could never reach that status."

But you don't have to be an Olympian to get into speedrunning and you don't have to be an Olympian to enjoy it, either. And this is some way we can break it down and show what's going on. You can do it as a hobby at home, have fun with it. And I think that's something we can do to get the general audience involved. And more people we can reach in speedrunning as a whole, not just Games Done Quick. The more people we can get involved, the more donations we can raise for charity.

The next stop for Games Done Quick is Awesome Games Done Quick 2019, which is set to begin on January 6.

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Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

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