By Stephanie "Bobbi" Bergman
ith all the negative backlash our community has been getting lately, this is probably the perfect time to sit down for an interview with someone who has a very different, very positive view of what's been happening over the last couple years. So, we talked with Dave "Fargo" Kosak, Creative Director of PlanetQuake/GameSpy, and the whole network in between. Fargo has been around for quite a while, and being behind one of the, if not the largest gaming sites there is today, he has a unique view of our corner of the gaming world. You see his name on PlanetQuake and GameSpy all the time...here's your chance to get to know the wacky man that is Fargo!
Name/rank/serial number? Dave "Fargo" Kosak, Creative Director for the PlanetQuake/GameSpy network. People always ask what that means ... well, in a small company, you wear a lot of hats. It means I do some writing, I create content, I do much of our PR, I work with our hosting director to assemble teams and I help those teams create sites ... yeah, I keep myself busy.
How did you get your start in the Quake community? Same way everyone else did; I played a lot of games. :)
I was actively following the web community since the shareware release of Quake. I loved following the gaming scene on the Internet -- back when Next-Generation Online started doing daily news updates on their website, I was just amazed at how much was going on. No print magazines could ever hope to cover it (especially with a two month publishing delay.) And the fan involvement around a game like Quake was something new - something pretty amazing.
I was living in New York City working at a big advertising agency when I heard that id Software would be holding a party to announce QuakeWorld right there in Manhattan. I made a few phone calls, flashed around my business card and got in -- I thought I was really clever at the time although I suppose in hindsight I could have wandered in off the street and nobody would have cared. The buzz there was amazing. Carmack (John Carmack, programmer behind Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, and Quake) was there in jean shorts and a Ferrari Tee-shirt chatting it up with gamers (a far cry from his appearance at the Quake II release party, but I digress), and I met Steven Heaslip -- AKA Blue of Blue's News. Had the time of my life. Played Quake on a LAN for the first time (whee!). Watched people play as a clan for the first time and was blown away by the level of excitement. I felt the buzz and really felt that this was indicative of where gaming was going to go.
I wrote an article about the event that Blue posted on his site. The next day I got an email from Mark "Bastard" Surfas who was starting a little web venture called "PlanetQuake." I was happy to help out. I was involved in it from day one, sometimes really active, sometimes sorta in the sidelines. But more on PlanetQuake later, I guess.
One thing that really impresses me about the online community is how easy it is to get involved. My story could happen today just as easily. Websites are always looking for content -- if you have talent, artistically, with the written word or with code -- you can start contributing to the community. Hell, I've seen dozens of people "move up through the ranks" just on the PlanetQuake network alone. Pretty soon you're doing what you love and when the opportunity opens up, you can get paid for it, too. I love that. Warm fuzzies all over.
Is being a reporter something you'd previously wanted to do? I was never into journalism, per se. In college I wrote a weekly humor column for the paper that had a lot of fans. One time I covered the PGL season one championships for PlanetQuake, and I ended up having a blast in the role of a "sports reporter." I guess the thing is, I love to write about subjects I enjoy, and if the opportunity comes up, it doesn't really matter to me what the medium is.
I know a lot of people enjoyed that coverage...will you be doing more of it? When the opportunity comes up. I'll also encourage others to do it. I had a lot of fun with Sumfuka's and Fragbate's coverage of the Swedish event.
What was Fargo's Files? What happened to it? PlanetQuake first wanted me to do daily news, so my newspage was called "Fargo's Frontpage." I played with the format for a while. Originally I had a hard time believing that another Quake-oriented newspage could open up that would be able to attract people -- even at that early date the other newspages were pretty established. In hindsight I should have just pressed ahead and tried to compete anyway. *shrug* The point is I started finding a niche that nobody else was covering really well, that of clan news. "Quake Clans" (or teams of players, in case you never followed the scene) were a pretty new phenomena in gaming. Before Quake you couldn't get 16 people together on the same game over the Internet, so dedicated teamplay didn't really take off. But once Quake was out, you'd get people forming groups, and they'd put up their own webpage, and challenge other groups ...that was just too cool.
"Fargo's Frontpage" covered clan news, and pretty soon I started hosting debates about the future direction of the "sport" and whatnot. My highest "ratings" were when I covered the tournaments. People just ate that up. They still do, I think. PlanetQuake's recent coverage of USA's clan "Death Row" vs. Swedish team "Clan Nine" was immensely popular.
One time I took a detour from my usual content and wrote a feature about all the upcoming first-person shooters coming out in the next year (back then we though Unreal would come out in 1997 ;).
My article got thousands of hits and a lot of really positive feedback. All it took was a little research, a little time, and a little passion. I compared my work to payoff ratio for daily news vs. writing big articles and decided I liked writing big articles better. ;)
I changed direction yet again, called the site the Fargo Files, and wrote a few more articles. Then PlanetQuake changed direction -- by then the site as a whole had started to get a sense of purpose... More on that later, I guess. You look like you wanted to talk about the Clan thing.
The Quake clan scene, as it is today, has been called dead by some, revitalized by others, with events like the CPL and PGL taking center stage. What do you think? Are you active in the clan scene? The Clan scene today suffers from the same problems it had back in the days of Fargo's Frontpage. There's no central authority, no sense of value or consistency. Anyone can start a clan, they can play their matches however they want, they can argue over the results, they can post them on their pages, and the only people that care are the people in the clan.
ClanRing was acting as a central authority for a while, and they've done more than anyone else to make the scene happen -- Every year they have a massive tourney which is pretty exciting -- but they haven't had the resources really to make it mainstream. It's so hard to be in a clan nowadays. You have to know IRC, your clan has to have a practice server, you have to have a team leader who doesn't take any bullshit ... It's not as fun as it needs to be.
What it's going to take is a developer embracing the idea of organized teamplay and building it into the game, and a network architecture to back that up. It would be a pretty huge deal. I don't think the TEN approach -- paying $10 a month in order to play in their contests -- is going to work in the long run. I think we'll see big steps in this regard in the future. I say that only because people love teamplay! It's a total rush. It's a rush above and beyond standard gameplay. Only a matter of time before someone uses that as their game's primary asset.
What is PlanetQuake? A website or a hosting service? Is this a loaded question? It's both, of course. Mark Surfas started PlanetQuake because he loved the game. There was a lot of activity on the web revolving around Quake, and it was scattered all over like sticks in the wind. Mark ran a corporate hosting and consulting business so he knew how to host websites ... among the many things PlanetQuake tried to do at first, the most innovative and industry-shaping thing he decided to do was simply to offer free hosting to anyone who was doing interesting Quake content.
As the site developed, it gradually became more obvious that hosting was the biggest deal. It was certainly the most popular. It provided the biggest service to the community and, in fact, encouraged it to grow like you wouldn't believe. A lot of sites have since cloned the free hosting for gamers idea, but Mark's mix of corporate experience and the fact that he loves games (we deathmatch just about every night) have really helped the site to grow.
As our hosted sites grew in number so did our additional content. PlanetQuake started publishing more articles and features and the news got more and more thorough. Nowadays we have a ton of resources for anyone who loves Quake, as well as a daily rollout of things like polls or mailbag or editorials and constant news updates.... Every day we have an image (the "Pic of the Day") demonstrating something funny or something happening in the community ... It's quite extensive.
And now that we know what works we're doing our best to extend that to other sites as well. PlanetUnreal is a good example ... it's everything that worked for PlanetQuake, only it's dedicated to the game Unreal. The Unreal community is great, everyone shows a lot of drive and creativity. These sites are a ton of fun to work for.
Nobody can deny the effect PlanetQuake has had on the gaming community. What would you say that effect has been? Has it been good or bad? Very good. C'mon Bobbi, that's a crazy question. First of all, what in the world would motivate me to say that I've dumped a couple years of my life into something that's bad? LOL! I wouldn't be here if I didn't see what we're doing as overwhelmingly positive. And if we weren't doing it, someone else would. It's the way things panned out. Period. A further step in the development of an art form.
Two years ago gaming publishers didn't give a crap about fan sites. Now they're a major industry force. The lifeblood of PlanetQuake isn't some editor somewhere calling the shots from some office. It's from the gamers who are contributing to the community and making things happen. It's in the .plan files that developers post and our newspages cover.
The whole landscape has changed. Developers now have a voice. Gamers have a huge forum with which to compare notes and share their creations. And the publishers haven't lost out either -- they have a brand new vehicle with which to generate precious word of mouth for their games. Strong games can now get recognition without dropping zillions into marketing, and crappy games can no longer fool users into buying them just because they spent more money on box art and magazine spreads. Everyone is winning!!
Have you seen any other changes in the community over the past few years? Definitely. It's much easier to get into game development nowadays. A few years ago, you had to have either connections or the ability to hack high-speed graphics in assembly language in order to get in. Nowadays, thanks to games like Quake, the game engines are wide open. Anyone with an idea, some dedication, and a little talent can make an outstanding Quake or Unreal mod. They can post it to the net and get some satisfaction from all the people playing it. More importantly, they can show off their talents. I've seen so many people move up through the ranks and get jobs in game development -- it's really a golden age. We haven't seen anything like it since the days where you could code a whole Apple II game single-handedly in your garage.
What is a beatdown? Define the word "beatdown"? "Beatdown" is how you feel after you've spent all weekend drinking and screaming and playing computer games with your closest friends.
No small coincidence that it's also the name of our monthly LAN parties.
You always bring a very different flavor to beatdowns, dressing up as some character or another. Do you have a background in theatre that lent itself to this? Yeah -- I used to do some crazy stuff in college. I majored in English and Theatre. (Oddly enough, I'm one of the few people that work here who's graduated from college... that situation is not that uncommon in the computer industry, I'm finding) I was president of the experimental theatre group there for three years.
At the BeatDown I started coming in costume, mostly as a way to get people fired up and in the mood. It added a little flavor -- just one of the things that gives our parties that "special something." Eventually it became a tradition. We use costumes to get people rallied for team games and such -- last time around, we got Mark to dress as Napoleon while me and Cliff Bleszinski (from Epic Megagames) stalked around as Soviet Tank commanders.
I'm a fan of taking games to the extreme. ;)
You moved to California a year ago to work for PlanetQuake. What brought this about? Do you think you made the right decision? Last November I made the big move. I was making a lot of contacts in New York but the gaming industry really isn't happening there. It's happening here on the West coast and in Texas. PlanetQuake HQ is a stone's throw from several developers and publishers -- that's nice.
I'd been working with PlanetQuake for over a year at that point, just on a volunteer basis, and they finally had enough revenue to invest in hiring me full time. In hindsight I definitely did the right thing, although at the time it was a pretty stressful decision. I was leaving a high profile New York ad job (I was the main writer for the Dell Computer site) at one of the largest agencies on the planet in order to take a risk with a small company that was doing something totally new and had only three other employees. Plus, New York is so much cooler than LA. ;)
Had I stayed in New York I'd still be churning out boring corporate copy. Here I'm wrapped up in a venture that's changing the face of the industry. There's such a "buzz" here. I can feel it every day when I come to work. We're growing fast on all fronts and having a blast the whole time. I would have been crazy to pass up an opportunity like this.
"Fargo" on PlanetQuake comes across as a very funny, upbeat, quirky, silly kinda fun guy. Would that description fit Dave Kosak? No, the real Dave Kosak is actually a Goth who lives in the refrigerator of a local Subwaytm sandwich shop.
Do you think most people in the community are the same off the computer as they are on? Is this the same across the Internet as a whole? In all seriousness I think it's hard to maintain a false public persona for any period of time on the net, despite stories you hear on the contrary. I'm fairly quiet until you get a couple beers in me. Then my online personality and my real life personality don't seem very different at all. ;)
Let's put it this way: If someone's a real jerk, it'll show through eventually.
I've heard rumors about a place in Manhattan with a couch and supermodels? Where is this place? How did you end up there? (did you score?) :) I have absolutely no comment to make here, Mr. Starr.
(Editor's note: due to Mr. Kosak's artful dodging of this question, this tale will remain untold for the time being. Fear not...eventually the details behind this truly incredible evening will be revealed...assuming one of the parties involved can still remember anything.)
Where will Fargo be in ten years? I'll almost definitely be doing something in the interactive industry. I never thought much about the name "Fargo" and how long it will stay around. The interesting thing is your name becomes a kind of brand that you can bank on around here. It might not ever be practical to shed it. :)
What computer games do you play for fun? No surprise that I love Quake and its variants. Unreal is awesome as well, although I haven't been successful at getting a really enjoyable net game going, so I'm eagerly anticipating their fixes in this regard.
I'm so un-particular about the kinds of games I like -- I'll play just about anything -- everyone else here has some sorts of favorites or whatnot, but I can get obsessed with just about anything. Some of my all-time favorite games that you wouldn't expect: Nethack. Ascii-based dungeon crawl. Never solved it. Of course, I never cheated or read the spoilers, either, which is why I'm still discovering new stuff years later...
Close Combat 1 and 2. The most clever wargames ever made. Continue to enthrall me to this day. It's like mixing Chess, Command and Conquer, Advanced Squad Leader, and the movie Saving Private Ryan all into one happy stew. One of the few games where playing a computer opponent is tremendously fun, although playing a human is an incredible battle of will and intellect. Atomic should be given more recognition for raising the bar for war games to a new height.
Empire --the old classic one for Unix systems. You had to connect to the servers using Telnet and give your orders via codes and numbers, although in later days they came out with a client that made things more graphical. This game was hardcore. Mind you I never came close to winning, or even figuring it out. You had to manage everything. You had to build oil wells and tell them to ship their stuff to refineries which would ship stuff to factories which would create units, and you had to give orders for every step in the process. You had to build roads along the way and warehouses to store surplus goods. You had to manage a civilian populace and keep them fed and recruit your military from them. You could develop technology and eventually launch satellites or nuclear weapons. Up to 100 people could play at once, so diplomacy was a huge issue. You could log in and give your orders for the day at any time you wanted. The game could run for weeks, months, even a year or more -- or you could play a "blitz" and go nonstop for a whole night or weekend, which was exhausting. Incredible. You'll never see a game like that hit mainstream. :)
PBeM games (Play be E-Mail) - No particular one, I played a couple and there was something really fascinating about the social interaction you got in that kind of environment.
MUSHes. There are good MUSHes and bad ones. "MUDs" lost their appeal to me pretty fast -- I hated the repetition of building up a character and the loopholes that you had to find and exploit to become powerful. Bleah. MUSHes were way cooler -- the emphasis was on Roleplaying and creation, so I would spend hours and hours coding things to play with, and then hours more showing stuff off to people and hanging out or adventuring. If only Ultima Online had lived up to that standard...
Civilization I and II. Because.
What are your favorite websites? The Onion is brilliant. Microsoft's Expedia is useful. PVP. Dell.com is both useful and has sentimental value ;) ...and of course most of our websites are among the best on the net, IMHO. Out of them I think I enjoyed writing LANParty.com the most -- the subject matter was just plain fun.
- Stephanie "Bobbi" Bergman is an associate editor for loonygames.
Credits: Community Profile logo illustrated by and is © 1998 Dan Zalkus. Community Profile is © 1998 Stephanie Bergman. All other content is © 1998 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is just a bad idea. We have lawyers.