I know this may come as a surprise to all of you but at the time of this writing, I still have to work for a living. I know, it’s a big shock. The upside though is that I have plenty of time to listen to gaming podcasts on my hour drive each way and there are plenty of great gaming podcasts out there to choose from.
The problem is that they can be extremely difficult to find. As someone new to podcasts, I just went the obvious route and Googled “best gaming podcasts”. This was amazingly unhelpful, as it turns out. There’s just so much out there and so many takes on what makes a good gaming podcast. Plus, there are as many styles of performance as there are people in the world and not everything will appeal to everyone. So, after a couple years of listening to podcasts, I’ve found what I most enjoy listening to and thought I would share them with you all.
1. Giant Bombcast
What it is:
The Giant Bombcast is a current events, news/personality-style podcast by the San Francisco folks at Giant Bomb. They have three major sections to their podcast:
A) Current games they’re playing where they talk about what they’ve played over the last week and what they think about it. This often swerves into non-gaming related topics as well.
B) News from the last week that struck them as interesting.
C) Listener emails where they respond to emails sent in to them by listeners or fans of the website.
This podcast is usually between 2.5 – 3.5 hours long and is recorded every Tuesday except for the end of the year where they record a session every day for Game of the Year. The exact line-up varies but primarily involves Brad Shoemaker, Jeff Gerstmann, and Jason Oestreicher along with recurring guests such as Will Smith (from The FOO Show, not the celebrity), and Dave Lang (Iron Galaxy Studios). They do air the show live on their site which includes video but the show is conducted as an audio-only podcast.
The podcast does involve ads unless you are a paid subscriber to Giant Bomb however the ads are often quite funny and I’ve talked to numerous subscribers who choose to listen to the ads anyway.
Of the podcasts I’ve listened to focused on current video game news, this one is the best by a mile. The personalities are funny and interesting to listen to, plus they are incredibly knowledgeable about the games industry, lending a lot of credibility to what they say. Each of the main guests have been in games journalism for well over a decade, some over two, plus their guests are often big names within the industry such as Dave Lang, Adam Boyes, Greg Kasavin or even Phil Spencer.
Their game of the year podcasts are also ones I very much look forward to at the end of the year. They spend a good 20+ hours deliberating on numerous awards and talk about the best games of the year in so much detail. I often make mental notes to the play the games they mention during this time of the year to pick up titles I’ve missed.
These guys are also all pros so not only do they know the games industry inside and out but they also know how to run a professional podcast. They have high-tech equipment so audio quality is always great and they record in person so you don’t have to deal with one or two people sounding like they’re literally phoning it in. Finally, they have no problem arguing their opinions with each other but it never crosses the line into awkward territory where it sounds like they are actually pissed at each other.
The show has lost two of its mainstays in the last few months, Dan Ryckert and Drew Scanlon, which hit the show pretty hard. It’s still great to listen to but Dan’s presence, in particular, is missed. Also, since they are trying to cover the industry as a whole, they often won’t go as in depth with games as some people may like. This is a much more generalized podcast so if you want them to spend hours talking about your favorite game, this may not be the show for you.
2. Axe of the Blood God
What it is:
Axe of the Blood God is a podcast focused on RPGs and RPG news. While they tend to stay up to date with current RPG-related content, they do frequently talk about classic titles too. Their actual content and content make up changes frequently from week-to-week.
The show is hosted by Kat Bailey and she is usually joined by Nadia Oxford. Kat will also occasionally interview developers as well, such as Brian Fargo, or other writers from US Gamer such as John Learned. Each episode is usually between 1 – 1.5 hours long and is recorded Friday each week.
In such a male-dominated industry, it is refreshing to hear a podcast run by two women, talking about their experience in gaming. Just having alternative perspectives is a plus in my book. These two also know their RPGs very well. While their classic RPG experience tends to be exclusive JRPGs, they stay aware of current RPGs from both the east and west. As a senior editor at US Gamer, Kat also manages to get some very impressive guests such as the before mentioned Brian Fargo of Fallout/Wasteland fame, Richard Garriott aka Lord British, and others.
While their content is superb, their presentation isn’t always up to par. Kat seems to use decent equipment but Nadia participates in the podcast via Skype which is very apparent in the audio quality. They also don’t have radio voices, unfortunately, which can make the show come across as dull for some listeners. Finally, and this may just be a personal issue, they don’t disagree with one another often enough. While Kat doesn’t seem to have a problem disagreeing, Nadia rarely, if ever, will disagree. It’s unfortunate as it is always nice to have a dissenting opinion on occasion to show another point of view.
3. Brainy Gamer
What it is:
Brainy Gamer is a defunct podcast now but had 42 episodes hosted by Michael Abbott, an actual professor of video games at Wabash College. While his podcasts often include then-current events that are going on, they are only there to add context to the more abstract discussions he wants to have. Discussions on level design in games, industry-trends and interviews with developers.
His shows are rarely more than 1 hour long and they are no longer being recorded.
This may be a con for some people but this guy has a voice like an NPR host and it is amazing. Also, despite this being a podcast he recorded out of his house, the audio quality is quite good although the volume may need to be turned up a bit.
While some may find this show a bit pretentious in how it approaches games, it was exactly the level of depth I wanted from a show called Brainy Gamer. He analyzes games to an extreme degree and his knowledge about the industry from an academic perspective is fascinating. For those looking for a deep dive into game design and don’t mind that this is from several years ago, Brainy Gamer is a good starting point.
Everything it addresses is pre-2014 which only becomes more of a con as we move forward. While they are in-depth, there are only 42 episodes as well so this is going to be a temporary fix, at best. Also, despite my earlier comment, while I never found him crossing into pretentiousness, some of his interviewees definitely did as they bashed on the contemporary games industry while waxing poetic about how Flower and Braid are the greatest games ever made.
4. Square Roots
What it is:
Square Roots is the newest podcast on this list, just having started up March of last year but is one of my new favorites. Unlike the other podcasts on this list, Square Roots doesn’t talk at all about the industry or current events, instead choosing to deep dive into a classic RPG over several episodes, much like a book club for video games. The format lends itself well to newcomers who can jump in whenever they like at any games they like.
The Square Roots crew currently consists of four people: Jim Banks, John Brandon, Matthew Van Zandt & Vanessa (no last name given). They record an episode every week and will play each game to completion before selecting another RPG to start up. They have currently played through: Final Fantasy IX, Secret of Mana, Final Fantasy X, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Super Mario RPG. They are currently playing through Kingdom Hearts.
As it is a pretty small podcast at this time and none of the crew are major names, it is very easy to talk with them directly and be involved with their burgeoning community. They are also very fun to listen to and their brand of amateur, unfiltered humor is, at times, the funniest I’ve heard in a podcast. One particular episode where they argued whether Sin from Final Fantasy X was a whale or not had me laughing so hard I could barely breathe. Despite being relatively new to podcasts, they are all quite adept at the craft and each one of them is fun to listen to.
They each record their voice from home and while none of the quality is bad, it varies from person to person pretty noticeably. This style of podcast also will likely only appeal to people who have played the particular game they are talking about. While their library is steadily growing, they have only touched on six games so far so if you haven’t played any of those six, you may want to either pass on this one or give them a try before starting it up.
Those are my podcasts that I listen to regularly. I know there are tons of fantastic podcasts out there that I just haven’t heard yet. If you have some favorites, please let us know in the comments! I’m always happy to hear more.