History: (2023 updates at bottom)
You want an interesting company history? CGR has an interesting company history for you.
CGR Publishing dates back to 1999 when it started life as a small video production studio called Inecom that pioneered Internet instructional videos and web video content (hence the name, Inecom - Internet Entertainment Company). The current company owner, Mark Bussler, was there in the early days when Inecom founded a now-defunct website called FromUSAlive, where a small team filmed and edited dance instructional videos, talk shows, and the Internet's first video game review show called The Game Room.
Bussler says "Ha, ha! We were the worst of late-night cable access television on the Internet! In a small studio that was once a conference room with shitty brown carpet, we produced this crazy mishmash of video content and posted it on the Internet using a bank of computers that converted analog video signals into little postage stamp-sized windows for modem viewing. It was like YouTube before YouTube, kind of. Where we missed the mark was in getting other people to upload content, but in those days that wasn't really possible. This was a decade before the iPhone and phone cameras and stuff. You needed thousands of dollars of gear to record tapes into digital video systems. The upload process was even more convoluted. We were tied into a tech company at the time and piggy-backed some computer resources. People thought we were nuts."
"After a few weeks setting up the studio and a rudimentary website, FromUSAlive debuted in September 1999 and ran through late 2000. We recorded hundreds of shows in front of a carpet wall and (eventually) a green plywood screen. The Game Room was the final show that ended in October of that year. Even though we pioneered a lot of firsts like The Board Room, the Internet's first board game show, we failed to secure financing and had to close the Internet entertainment side of the business. We got caught up in that early "dot-com bust" if anyone remembers that. My dad is a brilliant programmer and actually created a lot of the software and processes that we used to manage the uploading 23+ years ago. We still laugh about it over lunch."
"He invented a studio-in-a-box concept and, maybe even got a patent. I don't remember. We were going to build small studios all over the place for people to rent and upload videos to our website, but obviously, that's a terrible idea in hindsight. Your phone does it all now. We just didn't see that piece of the puzzle."
"Those years were so much fun. God bless the 90s. We, the production team, were just a bunch of 20-something delinquent film school students who showed up in the studio hung over with club wristbands still on from the night before. We ran a TV station for 10 hours a day, stayed up till midnight recording video game footage, and then went to the bar afterward. It was great."
"After the owners at the time closed the web studio, I stuck around and we pivoted into the emerging DVD market with some of our existing products. Inecom produced dozens of VHS tapes and DVDs throughout the early 2000s and we moved into television with projects like Johnstown Flood, Horses of Gettysburg, and Expo: Magic of the White City. They're still on PBS."
"We grew quickly as a company back then and I lived and breathed filmmaking. Those were exciting years and I learned a lot by working with great crews, cinematographers, and actors like Richard Dreyfuss, Keith Carradine, and Gene Wilder on films. It was awesome. I still remember almost getting run over by charging horses while filming in Gettysburg. It was scary at the time, but a good laugh now. I got to have lunch with Gene Wilder in the studio. He was really fun to talk to. We launched Expo to a raucous crowd in Chicago at the Museum of Science and Industry in 100-degree heat. It was a freakin' blast."
"I'd say that my film career peaked in 2005. We ran into an over-saturated DVD market and some of our biggest brick-and-mortar store outlets closed. My last documentary film was Westinghouse, a documentary about George Westinghouse that I wrote, produced, and directed in 2007. It's a great film and we had a huge premiere in the Heinz History Center with former Westinghouse employees, but we couldn't get any national press for it, and that was that. Without a good career path out of documentaries, I decided to prepare for grad school in late 2007 but I posted a few Game Room episodes on this upstart website called YouTube."
"Back in those days, not anyone could just make money on YouTube. You had to be a real media business, and conveniently we were. My company was one of the first media partners and I started to produce new shows called Classic Game Room HD in about February of 2008, which took off like a rocket. It was crazy and started to actually earn some money with enough growth to justify sticking with it and continuing to make a video game review show, which was, of course, an insane idea. It swallowed up the entire company and Inecom became Classic Game Room."
"I still remember they [YouTube] had channel rewards each week or something, and for this brief moment in time, CGR had as many views as Top Gear and Sesame Street. There was one day when I saw one of my videos with Edit-Station 1 on the front page of YouTube. (Edit-Station 1 was my dad's computer from 1979 or so by the way. I remember when it worked.)"
"To make a long story somewhat short, my plan was to grow the show and the brand by building relationships with game companies like Activision, Sega, and Atlus (they were all so awesome to work with). We went head to head with giants like IGN and Gamespot, reviewed new and classic games, and in my opinion, produced a far more honest show instead of just regurgitating marketing material with a talking head. We created spinoffs and I hoped to get out of hosting and stick with producing, but the CGR show was getting like 1.5 million views a day or something at its peak. And those were in the early years before everyone watched stuff on their phones. The show was doing so well that I couldn't quit. Nobody else was making a daily, irreverent review show about old Sega Genesis, Vectrex, and Atari games. The Wii, PS3 and Xbox 360 stuff did even better."
"I produced Classic Game Room on a plastic picnic table in my basement in the years 2009-2011. We moved production into storage lockers (yes, the kind where you store couches and bodies) and built recording studios in metal cubes. The gunfire and explosions from the video games would set off the alarms and totally freak out people using the lockers for less creative purposes. Eventually, after setting off enough alarms, we moved into warehouse space. The future was bright until it wasn't."
"I always knew that being on one platform was a TERRIBLE idea, but there was no way off. We were vulnerable. In 2013, from out of nowhere, YouTube demonetized a good chunk of our catalog, including the biggest earning videos, and that was it. Their A.I. couldn't differentiate between journalism and plagiarism, and the music from the game reviews killed it all. Over the next five years, the channel lost 90% of its ad revenue. We complained. They didn't care. They treated us like garbage."
"We had a small team that spent hours doing damage control every day instead of making content. Every door closed in my face. Nintendo sent us games to review and then flagged them for copyright violations. Viewers left for live streaming and reaction videos. YouTube viewers complained that we sold DVDs. Crowdfunding tanked. The bank laughed at me "You want money to play video games? Hahahaha!" We tried Revver, Blip, Vidme, Vimeo, Dailymotion, Amazon, and every other video site in the world but, all anyone would watch is YouTube. Most of the other video sites went out of business."
For an Internet show, Classic Game Room was expensive to produce because of the editing and gameplay recording time, which worked against it because viewers said the editing made it "fake" unlike live-streaming with a headset. Influencer culture took over and I ended up shutting the show down in 2018. I tried one last hurrah with Classic Game Room 2085 on Amazon, which is my favorite iteration of the CGR show, but I suspected that the studio space and equipment would have to go to cover the crushing loss in revenue during that period. Nobody watched it anyway."
"The final CGR show was CGR 20TH, a direct-to-video review collection of games and consoles that I bought for the second season of 2085 but didn't produce. I finally bought an Astrocade, filmed it, and sold it. Sucked. Same with the Odyssey 2 Voice. I stowed the show's donation collection in storage, sold my game systems like the Saturn and Atari 5200, busted up my Genesis collection, wrapped up the Ultra Massive video game guidebook series, ripped out the lights and cables and sold them, tore down the remainder of the studio in 2019, and liquidated most of the film and computer equipment to pay for scanners and print production teams. Gaming content wasn't fun anymore. It was awful. But, I think it had to be awful to really end it. As long as there was a glimmer of hope I was going to keep trying. And when hope died it freed me."
"At the end of the day, it was just the wrong show for YouTube. It predates the term "creator". It predates social media. It predates "influencers". Too bad it couldn't exist anywhere else, but it was a lot of fun in the early days. It's an interesting story from the top-down perspective, but I don't miss making it. I don't even like talking about it because it sounds dumb. It makes more sense if you were there in 1999. It makes sense if you saw the growth in 2010. But now it sounds idiotic. I'm glad it's over. Actually, I kinda miss setting off the storage locker alarms, that was hysterical. Also, we got free coffee."
"Through the later 2010s CGR's print and design business exploded behind the scenes, I changed the company name, and here we are. I had to re-adjust my focus, built a new business model from the ground up, and created a massive catalog. Nowadays, CGR is a major publisher of rare and obscure reproductions of classic books, art books, guidebooks, and other print materials like coloring books and comics. I've probably done restoration work on upwards of 100 titles and designed about 300 covers. Our books, DVDs, and clothing products are sold all over the world. I love history, art, architecture, and design work. The chance to build a new company based on that was an unexpected opportunity that I don't take for granted. People love our World's Fair, Doré, and cathedral books, and I love you for loving them. High fives all around."
"I'm wrapping up my 1889 World's Fair book series and some new antique cookbooks at this moment. Dozens of retro-styled clothing designs are in the works. We just launched new websites for the bigger bands like Omega Ronin. ED-209 and Robocop are proudly perched on top of the new audio computer. It's freaking awesome now. There's nothing better than pouring a beer into a Classic Game Room mug and blasting White Zombie on vinyl through the mixing monitors while playing Pac-Man in the new [Turbo Volcano] studio that isn't going out of business. This is as good as it gets. Admittedly, I'm weird, but whatever. This is where it's at. Behind the facade of this innocent-looking bookstore......"
"People said I was crazy when I got a business degree with the intent to become a delinquent artist. Ha! In high school, we filled out a form to say what we wanted to do in life. My friends wanted to be doctors and lawyers, and most of them are. I wanted to direct beer commercials. I came close."
"And then Turbo Volcano. YouTube pissed me off so much that I said that I would never pay one cent to a shitty, hate-filled social media company. Ever. I hate social media so much that I made Turbo Volcano to go around them for marketing. Annoyingly we still have to use them for a few things, but I'm not paying them. Social media has done nothing good for this country."
"In late 2021 I decided to expand my marketing program by creating music for promotional commercials instead of paying hate-for-profit social media companies for advertising. That turned into Turbo Volcano and numerous spinoff projects such as Omega Ronin. The music business grew and outpaced the commercials, and now I spend most of my time writing songs about space movies, making beats, and coming up with weird cover designs for albums. I wrote more about the Turbo Volcano process on that site here. As it turns out, video editing is a great gateway to music producing."
"We just completed the construction of a new CGR Publishing audio recording and mixing studio for upcoming albums. There are at least 100 albums in development spanning a diverse collection of musical genres. I love hearing from listeners who discovered my music in Africa and South America through streaming services that I never even heard of.""
"You can hear CGR Publishing produced music on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, YouTube, Deezer, Tidal, Boomplay, Beatport, Pandora, TikTok, Snapchat, and everywhere else. There are a number of print, design, and possible video projects taking place behind the scenes. We'll update the website with information as it materializes from the vacuum of space."
"How's that for a company history? Edit-Station 1 continues to provide emotional support in the new Turbo Volcano studio space."
Update: May 2023
I am planning to un-retire from filmmaking and produce Classic Game Room 2085 Season 2 to celebrate the show's 25th anniversary in future year 2024. There are no details yet. I expect production to take roughly a year and a half. The film will (likely) be released on Blu-Ray and digital download in late 2024. Stay tuned...
Update July 2023
After months of digesting the modern social media hellscape of short-form videos and A.I. generated content, it became clear that using those services for marketing was a waste of time. However, it also became clear that a lot of older viewers simply missed a show like Classic Game Room, if for no other reason than it was created by a real human being who isn't shouting into a distorted headset.
Behind the scenes, the publishing business chugs along. My work in music and graphic design is a perfect complement back into to video editing, and after seeing some growth in short-form videos I decided to test the waters with Instagram and then YouTube to see if a "show" concept would work, at all. I kinda figured it wouldn't, but shooting stuff with a cell phone is cheap and easy so whatever. I gave it a shot.
I started to unpack the collection and play around with it again. I made a few longer-form videos. Some of my friends talked me into posting one on YouTube. The response has been unexpected. I assumed it would bomb and people would complain about ads, live streaming, and crowdfunding again, but instead, viewers seemed to enjoy the shows. I didn't plan on ever making edited microphone-driven edited content again, ever.
Anyway, the CGR 2085 Blu-Ray is getting produced after a few stops and starts (I'm in the middle of fine-tuning menus and packaging now.) New glassware is available, with more on the way. New shirts are made. And new shows are in production in a limited capacity. I canceled a few projects that were more "experimental" in nature and shifted that focus into Classic Game Room production.
While views are low and CGR remains blocked from more than 95% of its YouTube subscribers, the response from fans who have been alerted to the shows is excellent. We almost sold out of glassware over the summer and CGR 2085 Season 2 is in production for Blu-Ray and direct digital. I have several remaining print projects from 2023 that take production priority, but when they're done, if the shows continue to do well, then there may be a chance to expand production as we head into CGR's 25th anniversary in 2024.
The Omega Ronin print and animated project has been suspended, but I rolled the music and the gear right into CGR production where it fits perfectly and compliments the videos with an original score. I am looking at a 3-CD special edition box set release for possible late '23 release. The next Omega Ronin album (which is 2-3 discs alone) is in production and scheduled for 2023 release.
That's where we're at as we head into August 2023. It's likely that 2024 will be a one-two punch of CGR and Omega Ronin synthwave.
A lot of people have asked "why can you do this now?" Because CGR Publishing is a publishing company, it really doesn't matter what we're publishing as long as it does well. If CGR can do well again, then more CGR. I think it can do well again because it's so freakin' old that it has a unique style that is fun to make and fun to watch. In 2008-2018 everything hung on it, and it was stressful when the ads vaporized and people complained and left to watch live streaming. That's all gone now, it's just a different world. Classic Game Room works much better as a project contained within a larger publishing company that can absorb the "trends and bullshit" in the Internet video landscape. I don't follow trends unless those trends are wood grain.
**I had to slow down TikTok and Instagram clip production. My schedule filled up and will probably remain full through the fall, but I hope to bring back some CGR stuff in that TikTok format to revisit some classics like Atari Pac-Man and other goodies. Stay tuned...
Turbo Volcano and 80s Comics are heading into their final weeks and will most likely end their runs in 2023 as I focus on CGR and Omega Ronin.**
Update 9/2023: I'm wrapping up QA on CGR 2085 Season 1 Blu-Rays (the four-disc set). We're filling Kickstarter orders first. The sets will be for sale to everyone in November.
CGR 2085 Season 2 is in production. I've been quietly filming it under the radar and planning a great series of videos and reviews. You can expect a four-Blu-Ray set in late 2024 and digital on-demand.
2024 will either be CGR's final year (25th anniversary!) or the beginning of the next 25 years heading towards the show's 50th anniversary. We'll see how it goes.