Indie game developer? We want your games! – The Blog

IndieGamePitch

As ever, I’ve been thinking recently about the direction of the site since last I wrote this blog, and I’ve had a realisation: we’re ready for you to pitch us your games.

Though we’re certainly not as large as the major video game sites, InRetroSpectPodcast.com does have a significant enough audience for us to begin thinking about how best we can expose and help promote less well known projects from indie developers.

We’re ready to start doing that.

We’ve just added contact information for the site over on our Team Page, and we’d like both listeners and developers to get in touch about games you feel we should be covering.

What this means is that, if you’ve made a game that you think we should play or be getting hyped for, and you want us to cover it in some capacity on InRetroSpect, you can now reach out to us directly.

All coverage is of course free and comes with no strings attached (we don’t offer expedited reviews or any of that rubbish), and we’re open to creating content about all sorts of digital content, not just “games” in the literal sense.

So if you’re keen to have the team take a look at your game, get in touch via the details listed here.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Pete sig_white

 

Image credit: Pitch by Gary McCafferty

The Blog: How Do You Solve a Problem like Nintendo? An Outsider’s View

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In 2007, the house that Mario built could seemingly do no wrong. The Nintendo DS Lite was by far the biggest selling handheld console on the market and despite being technically inferior to both Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, the Nintendo Wii was outselling its heavyweight rivals on a regular basis. Nintendo were holding their own because of new and innovative technology, a low entry price and a strategy of seeking the previously untapped ‘non-gamer’ audience. So when Nintendo announced last week that it had cut its net profit forecast of ¥55bn to a net loss of ¥25bn concerns were raised and questions were asked. What has happened to Nintendo?

I consider myself to be fairly ambivalent to Nintendo’s current plight. Whilst I admire their rich history and talents I don’t feel particularly strongly either way with regards to their products and as such I feel I can easily look on at Nintendo’s troubles with an outsider’s viewpoint. Whilst the 3DS has increased in popularity after a very slow start, the Wii U is still languishing behind and their predicted profits are falling at an alarming rate. As such, here are the 5 things that I see as being the reasons Nintendo are currently where they are…

The Shadow of the Wii – Lessons were not learnt

When the Wii was launched it was clearly a landmark point for gaming, suddenly the medium was open to anyone and was not “just about shooting” as so many non-gamers would have you believe. How many times have you heard the story of someone losing to their Gran at a game of Wii Sports? How many times have you told someone that story? Clearly with the Wii, Nintendo hit gaming gold and yet when was the last time you blew the dust off the little white box? 6 months? A year? More?

In my opinion, here was the problem with the Wii; this console became so popular due largely to word of mouth. You heard about people playing games with their families, saw them bowling or playing tennis and it was an attractive proposition. The problem that many found though was that once that novelty had worn off you were left with a console which, whilst perfectly adequate and did produce some good games, was little more than a slightly enhanced Gamecube with motion controls.  What the Wii U needed to be therefore, was a console that took the innovation from the Wii and partner it with a console that matches its rivals on a technical level. Unfortunately, the success of the Wii seems to have given Nintendo a false sense of security around what was needed to succeed. Even though their new console was again innovative (although arguably the PS4/Vita combination now supplies a better use of ‘second-screen gaming’) by again choosing not to match their rivals on a technical level they have been left behind in the console race.

The fact that a publisher such as EA chooses to release their 2014 flagship FIFA title on every console (including PS2 and Nintendo Wii) except for the Wii U, I think speaks volumes for where this console sits in the modern gaming market.

Nintendo Direct – Keeping new customers at arm’s length 

In the run up to E3 2013, some InRetroSpect colleagues and I discussed what we expected from the show (you can listen to the show here). During this conversation, Sam and I had a heated discussion on the marketing strategy of Nintendo, how as an outside consumer there was seemingly no desire to create any form of interest in their product from me.

The primary vehicle for the Nintendo Direct presentations has been through the Nintendo 3DS and Wii U consoles and through its official Nintendo.com webpage. To a consumer without one of these consoles and without a significant enough interest in the company to be checking the website, how am I supposed to hear this information? Whilst I grant you they will also promote these through Twitter and Facebook, again you have to already follow these news feeds in order to get this information.

Whilst I can already hear the rumbling of an argument that all companies push their products through their own mediums and websites, I would argue that the reason I know more about PlayStation 4 and Xbox One than I do about Nintendo’s consoles is because both of these companies created big advertising campaigns to attract the audience and also worked much more with publications in order to get the information out there (even if – in the case of Microsoft – the initial information wasn’t altogether coherent).

The concept of Nintendo Direct is a great idea. A company trying to engage with an audience honestly and directly is fantastic in principle, however by closing down other avenues of marketing, some could argue that they have in essence cut off their nose to spite their face.

The Conveyor Belt – The same games again and again 

Games sell consoles. Despite what the entire marketing blurb says about the console being the entertainment hub of the home, without the games, it won’t sell a dime (although other entertainment has a part to play). Here in lies an undeniable problem with Nintendo at present and predominately its flagship console. When was the last time you saw a game announced for Wii U that you were excited about that wasn’t simply another iteration on franchises such as Mario, Zelda, Donkey Kong or others?

The fact that one of Nintendo’s big sales pitches of 2013 was that it was ‘The Year of Luigi’ was rather telling. When your biggest sales pitch is for your signature character’s brother who has been around since 1983 then you are really running out of ideas. Nintendo used to be a company who would come up with new and exciting games, even within the confines of their franchises (Super Mario Galaxy being an excellent example), but the same company now are struggling to recapture that excitement.

Nintendo have unfortunately now fallen into a pattern  of producing a conveyor belt of the same games over and over again with only slight changes (a big selling point of Super Mario 3D World was that Mario could be a cat) which is beginning to leave its audience looking for something new and different.

To Hub or not to Hub –  Not pushing other forms of entertainment

Whilst I have already stated that games are the principle sellers of consoles the fact remains that a modern consumer is used to getting more from their console than just a games machine. When the Wii was launched the culture of streaming content was in its infancy and so it is understandable that this would not be a selling point however whilst Wii U does have the capability to offer these services, it’s a function that is being woefully underused (at present only Netflix and YouTube are available in UK).

With the addition of the gamepad and touch screen, this could have been an opportunity for the Nintendo consoles to stake a claim for being the best way to viewing on-demand video content. This technology could offer additional information and remote control functionality but again this has not been promoted (I had to research the Wii U to find it actually offered video streaming services), and as I have stated already promotion is another of Nintendo’s big problems at the moment.

Turning a Blind Eye – Mobile Gaming 

In the time since the original Nintendo Wii was launched, arguably the biggest gaming shift has been with the move to mobile gaming. Mobile gaming is now such a huge part of the industry consciousness that Nintendo’s continual ignorance of it is bewildering. On the iOS app store, currently in the chart of highest grossing games you will find franchises such as The Sims, FIFA, Grand Theft Auto and LEGO Star Wars.

If you look a little further, you will also find titles involving Rayman, Sonic, Pac-Man and Crash Bandicoot. The point I am trying to make is that Nintendo has a wealth of popular characters and an archive of classic games that could be very easily adapted to fit perfectly within the world of mobile gaming. I think it is clear to both gamers and non-gamers that if Super Mario Bros was released for the mobile market it would be very successful indeed.  If you include the likes of Yoshi, Kirby and possible most of all Pokémon, this seems like an obvious path to follow.

If Nintendo is to move forward in this modern market it needs to be less protective of its IPs and accept the gaming environment in which they now live.

To Conclude…

Nintendo is still a truly great and iconic company and by no means are they in a position that they cannot return from. However, until they acknowledge some of the mistakes they have made and make moves to rectify them then this slide will only become steeper. Nintendo is engrained into the very fabric of gaming and just like Sega before it, the landscape of future games and consoles would be a much less colourful and vibrant place without them.

So what do you think? Are you a Nintendo outsider? What can Nintendo do to change their fortunes? What has been the key reason for then Nintendo’s struggles? Leave your comments below.

Dan Signature_white

The Blog: Podcasting is a thankless task you can’t earn money from. But why is this the case, and is there anything that can be done about it?

I’m afraid that – after a few paragraphs – you’ll be tempted to read this post in a whiny British accent.

Fair enough: I have a very British accent, as you know, and the language I’ll be using to back up my ever-so slightly hyperbolic title might easily be read as downtrodden or defeatist.

But the voice you should use in the theatre of your mind is one of frustration, a voice spouting words from a brain that knows that things could be completely different, but unsure as to why they are not.

Because here’s the uncomfortable truth that all podcast producers know;

Making content is a laborious and time-consuming task, and you will never make enough money from it to make a living.

Now clearly, clearly there are exceptions to this rule. Scott Johnson’s Frogpants Studios for one. Ricky Gervais for another.

But these examples are not the norm, with most creatives in the field of podcasting struggling to break even, let alone make a profit with which to live by. Nearly all of them do it in their spare time too.

Yet the rise of YouTube has led to many success stories for individuals with an amateur interest in content creation, with many earning enough to make a living from their output, and even become something akin to celebrities. PewDiePie is a good example, as is the Yogscast.

It leads me to question why there is this gulf between podcasts and YouTube: why is it that you can create an immaculate Internet radio show and make no money whatsoever, but you can upload an unedited recording of yourself speaking directly into a camera for fifteen minutes and start raking in the dough?

Here are, I feel, the major issues;

First, it’s an issue of discoverability.

Apple doesn’t curate the podcast section of iTunes – the leading platform for podcast downloads – in any meaningful way.

I can understand why too, as they don’t make any money out of it. It’s difficult to justify assigning a member of their staff to tracking down the best podcasts on the net, when they won’t see any direct return on their investment.

So this section of iTunes is largely left to an automated process, where the biggest shows appear on the front page, and any new ones are left to fend for themselves when it comes to promotion.

Consequently the large shows grow larger, while the small shows wither and die.

That’s not a meritocracy, it’s a popularity contest.

Without a show reaching a large number of listeners each episode, finding sponsorship or advertising will always prove tricky, and advertising is currently the way most people think you make money with podcasts.

Second, advertisers are less willing to spend money on audio.

At one point in my career, many many years ago now, I was looking after the promotion of a podcast for a couple of friends of mine. They had thousands of subscribers at the time (they have many more now) and they had successfully converted those listeners into intensely invested fans who formed a tight-knit community.

The advertisers were still not interested, even with an audience of thousands that hung on every word of every show released. If my friends recommended a product, as they often did through natural conversation, then their listeners were likely to purchase it, but advertisers would refuse to see it this way. I’m aware that even national radio has trouble seeking sponsorship, but the issue is doubly hard for new media.

Third is the thought that advertising is somehow a dirty word.

Running an ad is so often seen by podcasters as “selling out” in some way, and many push back on the notion of advertising other company’s products in the way that those companies want their products advertised.

I’ve heard, on multiple occasions, podcast hosts dismiss and even berate the products that have paid advertisements on their show. You can see why this might be an issue for someone who is running a paid ad campaign.

So what can we do to change this?

If you don’t want to advertise, but still want to make money, you can do so with a couple of different methods, though they’re not particularly effective either. Selling merchandise is one route you can explore, and selling content is another.

The first of these is easy enough: make a store page and sell some T-shirts. The second is much harder, because you’re asking users to pay for content that they can either get for free elsewhere or, if they’re really devious, pirate or otherwise obtain without your permission.

The most obvious improvement to the way we conduct advertising business, is that we can build advertising space into our shows. If we dedicate thirty seconds of each show we create to a slot that will contain an advert, then we’re ready to advertise and, more importantly, we’re ready to show advertisers that there’s space available for them to use.

You needn’t just fill the space with an empty and vague “hey, want to advertise?” indent either. Once you have that space you can then fill it with ads for your own products – you might have that clothing store I mentioned earlier – or you can help advertise other podcasts as part of a podcast network.

Which bring me neatly to my next point: cross promotion. So many podcasts currently go it alone in terms of reaching new audiences, but many of the most successful shows have got to where they are thanks to clubbing together with other podcasters, and cross-promoting to similar audiences. Maximum Fun is a great example of a network promoting its own shows to boost listenership.

We can all be a bit better when it comes to self-promotion too, and we should understand that when we talk about the things we love to make, it’s okay to do so. I tweet about InRetroSpect a fair bit, and a link to the podcast is on my résumé website. This is because I want to share this thing I care for with the folks that would potentially be keen to hear more of what I do.

Finally, I think we should, as a community of podcast creators, seriously explore other avenues for promotion of our content, other than just Apple’s iTunes.

At the moment InRetroSpect is on Stitcher Smart Radio, and Dan has begun giving a visual twist to our podcasts so that we can upload them to YouTube too. We’re a part of all the big podcast directories, and we’re exploring other promotional channels to maximise our reach. Though iTunes is still a great source for new listeners for us, our sole dependence on it is waning. This, I feel, is the case for a lot of other podcasts too, and will be until the Cupertino-based company can provide a better and fairer system for the Internet radio show section of its Store.

As InRetroSpect looks towards 2014, and we roll out the changes we have planned for the coming year, podcasting will remain our focus, of course. But we’re also keen to explore new areas and new mediums as we move forward with our own particular brand of video games commentary.

I hope you join us in the New Year, consuming our work in whatever form it comes.

 Pete sig_white

The Blog: The Stuff of Real Nightmares

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Boo.

As we’re coming up to the spooky season, I thought it would be a good idea to focus this blog post on the subject of fear in gaming.

Now, I’ve looked at this topic in the past in episode of Digital Wanderlust, but the recent episode of Freeplay really made me rethink a few things. I realised that in gaming, like life, fear has a variety of incarnations.

In my original podcast, I queried whether gaming can help us face our fears and asked my colleagues at InRetroSpect to deliberately play games that took them out of their comfort zone. On the whole, it was not a pleasant experience for them – why was I surprised?

I, like all humanity have fears, but strangely I like being scared. Now let me qualify this. I don’t actually like being scared, but I like it when I know that it is in a safe and controlled environment. True, horror can be affecting, but if it’s housed within a television or cinema screen then I feel as if I can imaginatively pull a cord and parachute out of it.

A good horror game shouldn’t scare an audience off.

For the shock-horror canon of games (your Dead Spaces) a common reaction is aggression. However this is not due to the nature of the horror (a necromorph doing peek-a-boo) or even the type of game (first person). In fact, the player’s reaction to the fear stems from what they have as an avatar. Isaac Clarke or Joel (The Last of Us) will lash out because they have the weapons to do so.

I’m not afraid of necromorphs or clickers if I’m packing heat. My rage meets their rage.

During an episode of Digital Wanderlust, I interviewed an academic who studies the dreams of gamers. One of her most striking observations is that excessive gaming has led to a supressing of nightmares. It is because we can face certain threats in gaming, another simulated world that hypnotises us into day dreams.

But what happens when we have no bullets left, or even have any weapons at all?

Should all horror games give us the ability to fight back? Does fighting actually have to be a priority in a horror game?

Take Slender: The Eight Pages for instance, a first person game in which the only object you can utilise is a torch and where your feet are weapons. However these weapons are not there to deliver a swift roundhouse to the face of your pursuer, but are to keep you one step ahead of him.

I can’t fight back, but interestingly this does not lead to aggression, as many other horror games may prompt, but an icy realisation that to ‘win’ I have to finish the nightmare on my own terms: to face fear but ultimately evade it, waking gradually from a dream. To quit the game now would end the nightmare, but it is the unfinished things that have a tendency to niggle us and are more likely to manifest themselves in our sleep like a stuck record. However, to press on with the game is to drag out this nightmare, with the possibility that the Slender Man will surprise you and shake you awake from your dreams.

The cliché is that we all fear the unknown. Actually, we all fear not being able to face what is in the unknown.

This is the stuff of real nightmares and real horror in gaming.

By the way, there are six people in the photo above.

Kris sig

The Blog: A Difference of Opinion

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This is not a metaphor. Definitely/Maybe not a metaphor.

 

Let me tell you a story…

I was at home the other day trying to think of something to discuss for the blog this month, I was drawing a blank and our recent Naughty Dog specials seemed to have sapped all my creative thought. As what tends to happen when I have a creative block I started looking through the internet, getting distracted by random articles written by professionals and shaking my head at some of the more amateurish comments and arguments left below.

However, before I lost my entire day to this pointless endeavour, I decided to take a break and go grab some lunch. I found I was all out of microwave noodles so I took out the bread, mayonnaise, roast chicken, salad, some salt & pepper and a squeeze of lemon and made myself a sandwich. I sat back down and started to eat. After two bites, I suddenly realised that this sandwich was not only the best sandwich I had ever eaten but also it was possibly the tastiest thing I had ever had.

I was gob smacked, little old me in my flat in London was eating the greatest sandwich in the world! This was incredible, but then I thought, “Wait, maybe I’m wrong, I need a second opinion on this sandwich”. I wrapped up the rest of the lunch and headed down to the local bakery to share my discovery.

I ran down the road as fast as my legs could carry me and burst through the door of the bakery, seeing the owner behind the counter I exclaimed “Philip! I have to show you something!” I ignored the concerned and bemused looks from the customers in the queue and walked to the back with Philip explaining my incredible discovery. Philip had been running the family bakery for the past 8 years and like myself he liked nothing more than a good chicken salad sandwich so he was obviously very excited when I had told him what I had done.

I sat and watched as he cut off part of the sandwich and took a bite. I waited. I watched trying to catch the moment of realisation that this was indeed the tastiest thing he had ever eaten. But the moment didn’t come, instead a sense of disappointment crossed his face.

“it’s okay” he said, “the bread is good and the salad is fresh but the chicken is a little dry and there is too much salt, but it’s a decent sandwich”. I couldn’t believe it, was he eating the same sandwich as I had been? How could he say the chicken was dry?

“What do you mean a decent sandwich? This is the greatest sandwich ever made! The chicken is not dry! What the hell are you talking about, Philip?” Philip could see I was getting agitated and tried to calm me down, “It’s perfectly fine, it’s just I’ve tasted better, that’s all”.

I stood up, told him where he could stick his ‘Better Sandwich’ and walked out of the shop. I couldn’t believe he couldn’t appreciate the sandwich in the same way that I could. I headed down the road to the local supermarket to see if the people in their bakery understood.

Once again the look of disappointment crossed their faces, to them this wasn’t the greatest sandwich ever made. One of them said he preferred brown bread and one even had the audacity to say that he didn’t like the addition of the lemon. I was beginning to lose my patience,

“What do you know! You only work in a stupid supermarket! You wouldn’t know a great sandwich if it bit you on the backside!” I bellowed.

People were starting to look, a number of people told me I should be more respectful but they didn’t understand, they hadn’t tasted the sandwich. Another person agreed with me, he had brought in the greatest pizza in the world last week and people in the bakery had not agreed with him either. To be fair to them, it had apparently been a ham and pineapple pizza though so I would have probably agreed with them on that one. After a while, a security guard came over to me and asked me to leave, “Happily!” I said and stormed out of the shop.

By now I was beginning to feel a little distraught, the excitement that I had first felt had now been replaced with panic that no one else would appreciate the taste of this sandwich, no one would value the intricacies of this formula and why the lemon was the glue that held it all together. I made one final attempt at salvation, jumped on a train to the local town centre, and headed for their specialist deli. Surely here, where they value food above all they would understand what I was saying. I gingerly handed over another piece of sandwich and hoped for the best, he smiled. My heart soared, finally someone was going to agree that it was the best sandwich ever made.

But then he stopped, he still had half left but he had stopped. My eyes followed his hand as he reached down to the counter and pick up some crispy bacon and added it. I was horrified. I watched as he bit down on this new sandwich and exclaimed, “You know you’re right, this is an incredible sandwich but it just needed that little bit more to really make it special”.

I had no words, I muttered a few expletives that I’m not particularly proud of and left the deli. I was convinced they would understand, why could no one else see what I could see? Philip had been running a bakery for years, the people working in the supermarket and deli were knowledgeable trained specialists, and yet they did not agree with me over this seemingly obvious fact, what was wrong with them?

I slumped home carrying with me the last chunk of the greatest sandwich ever made, alone in this knowledge and all the more depressed for it. On my way back I slipped into the corner shop to pick up a pot noodle for dinner. “Why so glum?” asked the friendly assistant behind the counter. With little to no prodding I then recounted the entire story of how I had spent my day,

“Well? Can I try it?”, asked the assistant, “I mean, if it’s that good?”,

I handed over the final part of the sandwich and waited, filled now not with optimism but resignation.”You know what, I’m not usually a big sandwich eater, but this is hands down the best sandwich I’ve ever eaten”, I paid my money and skipped home.

I sat back at my computer and still nothing. I wracked my brain about something I could discuss but no lightbulb appeared over my head. Before long I was back reading articles and shaking my head.

Suddenly, lightbulb!

 

Okay maybe it is a metaphor afterall.

The Blog: 10 top tips for podcasters as InRetroSpect hits its 200th episode

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InRetroSpect has come a long way since its inception in November of 2008. There have been many changes over the years, shows have come and gone, we’ve had all sorts of guests appear, and the website has changed a few times.

There are more improvements to come of course, as we’re always collectively looking forward to see how we can improve the games coverage we bring you every week. Kris covered some of that in this blog, but more details are incoming.

I’d like to take this opportunity, if I may, to share with you some lessons I’ve learned over the years. Lessons about podcasting.

They’re general rules that we’ve discovered over the course of 200 episodes, and I thought that, instead of celebrating, it would be neat to offer up some advice to anyone looking to start out their own show.

1. Create your own audience

The days where you could successfully launch a podcast that was “just some guys chatting about video games”, and have it become popular, were over long before InRetroSpect started. Today you should begin with a very clear idea as to what community you want to target, or in the very least you should know the topics you want to cover in detail. Don’t take the lazy route and make a general gaming chat podcast, instead forge a path with unique content and get it heard by the right people.

2. Promote

One of the failings of InRetroSpect’s early days was that it wasn’t pushed hard enough to find its audience. So tell everyone you know, share the show with friends and family, tell work colleagues, heck, even post flyers and make up business cards to give out at conventions and shows. There’s no shame in wanting your product heard by more people, and marketing is a big part of any successful podcast.

3. Ignore enemies

Let me tell you a story: a couple of years into InRetroSpect (and my career) we were doing quite well, being invited onto bigger podcasts to guest, and were making a name for ourselves. One other show that ran at the time didn’t like that we (and a show we’re firm friends with) were doing well, and some of the hosts began taking personal swipes at us in their podcasts, and on social channels. The thing is, they seemed to do this to a lot of different outlets, and pretty soon this anger became arrogance. Eventually their audiences began dwindling, and no one was sad to see them when they eventually fizzled out. We could have got wrapped up in this pettiness, but we chose not to. And we’re still here. I think that says everything really.

4. Make friends

The reasons should be obvious but I’ll spell it out anyway: if you associate with great people, greatness can await. This may be as simple as co-marketing opportunities – “you promote us, we promote you” sorts of deal – through to having a support network for when things go wrong. Friends are great, you should make some.

5. Buy better equipment

The current setup for Freeplay requires about £200 worth of mics to go some way to sounding as good as it does. Though we started with simpler stuff, if you get truly serious about your craft and want to reach a decent audience, at some point you’ll need a good microphone. Invest once, and get the setup right. It’ll make you sound so much more professional, just for splashing a little cash.

6. Be a personality and let your colleagues have theirs too

I’m completely sick of the phrase “but that’s just my opinion”. Of course it’s your opinion, because it’s you that’s saying it, and you shouldn’t be ashamed of it. Debate fiercely on air, but do not argue. Be funny, but do not do so at the expense of your topic. Be eloquent, but don’t be verbose. Be plain in speech, but don’t condescend. Be you, be natural, and be professional in everything you commit to tape.

7. Get a schedule

Put content out regularly, or else your subscriber numbers will fall off, it’s as simple as that. You don’t have to produce something every day, or every week, but once a fortnight or once a month is a good time frame to hit.

8. Do not overreach

Definitely try new things, and strive to be as sophisticated in your delivery, production and approach, but don’t aim for goals you simply won’t be able to achieve. You may think a news show about gaming that goes out every day is a good idea, and in theory, it is, but in practice you’ll quickly tire of it and be distracted by other commitments. Do the best you can, but be realistic about what you can achieve.

9. Don’t worry about stats

Do what you love, and keep making it. Hone your craft, make it perfect, and people will come if the content is good. Chasing listener numbers through the types of content you make is a fruitless endeavour.

10. Build well

Design your website and podcast delivery system once. Keep it simple, keep it manageable, and check everything works from multiple devices. Looking professional doesn’t have to cost you hundreds of man hours, but you should get everything working right and stable before you go shouting about it.

I hope that helps. This isn’t a sure fire list of course, there’s much more to creating a successful gaming podcast. But no one tells you any of the above, so consider yourself edumacated.

Anyway, thanks so much for listening to our voices, and reading our words over the last 200 episodes. You’re awesome.

Pete sig_white