On a snowy afternoon in Northeast Minneapolis, Ben Hanson walked down a narrow set of stairs and into a small basement area of his duplex. Normally a shared space for the entire house (he has some very friendly and understanding housemates), the room had recently taken on a new purpose. There, the mantle of a faux fireplace is lined with gaming trinkets from all eras (Disney Infinity figures, a Cloud Strife amiibo, a Grim Fandango playing card, just to name a few), a camera is aimed squarely at a conference table armed with four microphones, and the nerve center of it all — a desktop computer connected to the entire operation — is tucked in the corner.
This is not your ordinary basement. It’s the headquarters of MinnMax, Hanson’s video game community/podcast/videocast/patreon/video studio/many other hats. Monday through Friday, the studio pumps out content including its flagship show, aptly named “The MinnMax Show,” “The Deepest Dive” (a gaming book club of sorts), and even a show aimed at broadening its viewer’s musical horizons. It’s a lot, but the roots of MinnMax stretch back to a gaming media giant — Minneapolis’ own Game Informer magazine. Hanson and his MinnMax cohosts Kyle Hilliard, Suriel Vazquez, and Jeff Marchiafava, were all long-time employees of the magazine until a very publicized axe fell on a wide swath of the company last year. That round of layoffs, part of a larger initiative by the magazine’s parent company, GameStop, was the (unfortunate) spark that got Hanson’s mind firing.
“When the layoffs happened, and I started thinking about what a new thing look like, I took just a million notes… of all the things that I want to do,” he said. “Specifically with content, but then also messaging. And one of them is to subtly lead into the Minnesota edge.”
(The lightbulb that just popped over your head probably has something to do with the fact you just realized that MinnMax isn’t just a shortening of minimum and maximum…)
“I didn’t want it to be The Ben Hanson show,” he said, grimacing. “Like, that sucks.”
To give MinnMax the funds necessary to produce content, Hanson turned to the crowd-funding site Patreon. Immediately bolstered by fans of the Game Informer Show (his previous hosting gig at the magazine) and continuously supported since, the Patreon campaign has been a success. At the time of this writing, more than 1,900 patrons contribute around $11,000 each month.
Even with that steady stream of funds, however, Hanson says a thriving Patreon campaign doesn’t necessarily translate into instant success in other avenues. At slightly under 14,000 subscribers on YouTube (at the time of this article), the MinnMax channel is still relatively small for a gaming outlet. There’s room to grow, but it comes with a question that content creators of any ilk are no-doubt familiar with — just how far do you try to expand your audience?
“What point do we start branching out and trying to forge our way through the snow in the wilderness to try and connect to new audiences?” Hanson said. “And then the debate is, well, do we need to? If we’re fully sustainable from this awesome, sweet community, and we can make them happy just making fun content, should we burn calories trying to court the Call Of Duty crowd?”
After watching just a sliver of MinnMax content, however, it’s clear that the crew takes a more wholesome approach to the endeavor, something that’s evident not only from the videos themselves, but the tagline as well.
“MinnMax… creates videos/podcasts focused on games, friends, and getting better.”
The “getting better” part is important.
“Just that simple framing of what this is out of the gate… I think it’s colored the community in a really positive way,” Hanson said. “[Our patrons] have channels on the discord about parenting and just a lot of life advice and stuff. And it’s like they seemed hungry for [content] definitely focused on gaming, but then with the edge of, ‘Let’s all try and get better and not descend into just pure hate on the internet.’”
Last December, the altruistic vibe of the community was on display at a meetup at Bauhaus Brew Labs. MinnMaxers came out with toys and games for a charity setup by the brewery aptly named “Sweet Toys For Sick Kids” which were then delivered to HCMC and North Memorial Health Hospital. Then, because the crew also talked about the charity on streams and podcasts, another $3,400 was raised online. Hanson went on a shopping spree, snatching up Nintendo Switch Lite consoles and other fun stuff, and delivered them to the hospitals. Having that foundation of “getting better” under the project has helped provide the fuel to create more and more content.
“It’s like, let’s attach ourselves to games but also just getting better within the state of Minnesota, you know?” he said. “It does help enthusiasm, I think, a little bit to not make it fully self-centered.”
As many in the startup realm know, however, all that fuel can unfortunately lead to burnout. Working on your own gig makes it tough to shut off, especially when staying connected to a membership community is so crucial to growing your business.
“Well, it helps that the studio is in the basement and that it’s cold as hell down here,” Hanson said, laughing. “If I spend too much time down here, I’ll lose feeling in my hands.”
Aside from protecting his appendages from basement-induced frostbite, Hanson spoke about the challenges of working from home and maintaining drive. Whenever he worked from home during his time at Game Informer, he wouldn’t feel that motivated, he said.
With MinnMax, however, things have been a little different. Every new type of video brings a chance of an audience breakthrough, and even though Hanson admits he checks the community Discord channel about “300 times a day,” juggling the new responsibilities hasn’t become too much.
“It can be stressful, but at the same time, it’s such an insane privilege to be this well-supported by that community,” he said. “I can stand having a little knot of anxiety in my stomach all the time about how much I’m working because very few people get this opportunity.”
Want to get involved with the MinnMax community? There’s a little something for everyone:
- Like impossibly large swords? Check out The Deepest Dive on Final Fantasy VII Remake (coming soon) and a comprehensive look at tons of FFVII media throughout the years.
- More of a music fiend? Check out MinnTrax, a music-review show hosted by former Game Informer host Matt Helgeson.
- Showcase your own works of screenshot art in MinnMax’s latest show, Photomode Snap.
- And a lot more.