There are dozens of EVE Online podcasts, ranging from small affairs designed to be listened to by a few corporations to much larger ones which attempt to tackle the politics of the entire universe. In such a crowded pond, it is difficult to be a fish that stands out. But Crossing Zebras has managed to do just that and has gained wide renown as one of the better podcasts ever produced in EVE Online's history.
Crossing Zebras first went live on April 4th, 2012, with the first podcast going out on April 8th. The podcast originated in another, more general gaming podcast known as Sonic's Ring. Xander Phoena, one of men behind Crossing Zebras, is one of the hosts on that podcast and found that he was talking more and more about EVE Online, much to the chagrin of the non-EVE players on the team. Rather than continue forcing them to listen to tales of internet spaceships (though, really, who in their right mind doesn't want to hear about EVE?), Xander decided he should start an EVE-centric podcast.
Thus was Crossing Zebras born. Xander spoke with one of his longtime EVE copilots, Jeg Elsker, and suggested they create a podcast dedicated to EVE. The idea seemed to have merit, so they got to work.
The team got a lot of good, initial feedback from the community. Experienced EVE podcasters like Arydanika from Voices from the Void and Jade and Rundle from Lost in Eve offered up a great deal of assistance and advice, allowing Crossing Zebras to refine their content.
However, it seemed they had very few listeners in those early days. Though the team was putting out quality material, their audience remained small. Of course, you can't keep talent down forever, and around January, Crossing Zebras was getting mentioned in a variety of EVE-related blogs and websites. Soon, their traffic exploded and they had to rebuild their website from the ground up to handle the new influx of listeners.
|Xander Phoena and Jeg Elsker, your hosts|
Crossing Zebras is the labor of love of two men: Xander Phoena and Jeg Elsker. The two have been friends in the Milky Way cluster for twenty years, both originating from a small town in northern Scotland. They made their way through the EVE Gate in 2008 and participated in a limited amount of high sec shenanigans. Xander eventually got bored and left, but Jeg continued soldiering on and was eventually invited to an up-and-coming null sec corporation named Zebra Corp.
Thankfully for the people of New Eden, Jeg convinced Xander to come back. He found the null sec life completely different. The two of them have happily been a part of Zebra Corp ever since as it has moved between alliances before hopefully settling into Gentlemen's Agreement. Xander describes the two of them as "PvP grunts" and says they aren't alliance or corporate directors. But that's how they like it.
Back in the Milky Way cluster, Xander works in the oil industry and continues to live in northern Scotland with his wife and baby daughter. Jeg, meanwhile, has migrated somewhat southward, where he lives with his girlfriend and works in the IT industry.
Crossing Zebras releases a podcast roughly once every two weeks to a month, each time covering a variety of topics in New Eden. Xander tends to listen to several other EVE podcasts, reads blogs, keeps abreast of dev blogs, posts on the forums, and topics trending on #tweetfleet. Between this and general talk about the politics of New Eden, there's rarely a time when they don't have much to talk about. In those rare cases, a quick ping to #tweetfleet usually results in ideas from the community.
They usually prepare their topics a few days ahead of time so that when they discuss things, neither of them are caught by surprise. Once they get started, of course, things become much more free-flowing. Xander has a list of bulletpoints he'll want to touch on, but he prefers to let the conversation go wherever it will, particularly if they have guests.
When they do have guests, particularly when they're conducting interviews, Xander typically prepares a list of questions ahead of time and does significant research on his subject. While there is still scope for these interviews to range off-topic, Xander prefers to keep them fairly rigid so he can cover everything he feels is relevant to the guest.
These guests range from Council of Stellar Management (CSM) members to other podcasters to other notable members of the EVE community. Getting these guests hasn't been much of an issue. A quick line on Twitter, or perhaps an Eve mail, and the process begins. Of course, Xander prefers to deal with people he's already friendly with, so he rarely drops requests on people out of the blue. He's far too tricky for that.
More recently, Crossing Zebras has managed to pull several EVE developers into interviews. Thanks to a "super-sekrit" Skype channel (which everyone now knows about) set up by Arydanika for EVE podcasters, CSM, and CCP developers, the Crossing Zebras team has been able to get in touch with several CCP staffers. Additionally, numerous CCP devs are regulars on Twitter and Xander has found them all too happy to talk about EVE when given the opportunity. And when someone has proven a bit trickier to get a hold of, there's always CCP Manifest, CCP's Senior PR specialist, who can connect the strings.
Normally, Xander and Jeg set a date for a recording and settle on topics a few days ahead of time. Each will then go and independently research the topics for several hours leading up to the recording time. Prior to the recording, they'll spend about a half hour discussing what they've discovered and make sure they have a good idea about where they want the topics to head.
Recording typically takes two to three hours. Once they're finished, assuming it is not too late in the day, Xander will begin editing immediately. This can take another three or four hours followed by adding text and images to the podcast and the site, uploading the audio and then posting it to the EVE forums and twitter. It's not a quick process.
Of course, if something huge happens, such as a CCP announcement or massive battle, everything can be thrown out of kilter. The timetable can also shift if guests are involved, as differing timezones must be accommodated.
Xander and Jeg record using Blue Snowball condenser mics with Samson pop shields. Xander is a Mac user and uses Audio Hijack Pro to record the conversation before importing the audio on to Garageband for editing before uploading the final product to the Crossing Zebras server. Whenever possible, they try and get together to record in the same room, but as they now live a five hour drive away from one another, more often than not they use Skype.
CSM Candidate Interviews
One of the more interesting and well-received series of podcasts Crossing Zebras recently produced were interviews with prospective candidates for the 8th CSM. The EVE community has been lucky in that several sites and podcasts have extensive coverage of the CSM and its candidates. However, what had never been attempted before was an attempt to conduct brief, concise, one-on-one interviews with each of the candidates.
Xander feels debates are a great way to get a candidate's views, but questions must be made generic enough to be applicable to all candidates, or you risk turning a debate into a forum for one candidate who is pro-issue and another who is anti-issue to argue without giving a chance to other topics that might be more relevant to the listener. Additionally, a listener might only be interested in one or two candidates, while a debate forces them to listen to several others they already know they don't care for.
What Xander wanted to do was interview every candidate for CSM8. While he wasn't quite able to reach that goal, he did conduct 36 interviews in total, including 27 out of the 31 who made the final ballot. The interviews were concise, 30-minute long podcasts which were stripped of any niceties and platitudes and cut to the chase. In the end, he got a concentrated blast about who each candidate was and what they stood for, giving voters the ability to learn in 30 minutes what might have taken hours scouring Twitter, Jita's Park, 3rd party forums, blogs, and many other locations to uncover.
Xander spent hours researching every candidate ahead of time so he would be prepared for the interviews. He wanted to ask the right questions and squeeze the most out of 30 minutes that he possibly could.
The biggest surprise Xander found from the interviews was how well prepared and reasonable most of the candidates were. While he attempted to find chinks in their armor, in most cases he discovered players who had thought extensively on their platforms and were genuinely interested in improving EVE Online. He had expected a far greater number of troll or joke candidates.
Of course, there were a few road bumps. One candidate had entered solely as a lark, having no knowledge of the CSM prior to running. Xander found it difficult to interview someone who had no platform and no real idea of what he had entered into. Another notorious candidate with controversial views caused Xander to break his neutral, everyman stance. Instead, Xander found himself incredibly angry during the entire 28 minute interview.
In the end, his effort was well worth it. His series on the CSM was very well received by both players and within CCP, as he created one of the most comprehensive and concentrated resources for voters searching for information on candidates in any CSM election ever.
No project the scope and quality of Crossing Zebras goes off flawlessly, of course. Over the year they've been recording, several things have arisen that Crossing Zebras has had to overcome.
The first and most vexing to the hosts was one mentioned earlier: their lack of listeners. Xander and Jeg knew they were doing excellent work and were putting a lot of time and effort into the podcast. While they were never about generating page views, they naturally wanted people to enjoy their work. It became very frustrating as the two felt they were shouting into the wind. In the end, sheer preservation won out. They continued doing what they were doing and people took notice. The team finds it incredibly satisfying to get mails from people telling them how much their work is enjoyed.
The second major problem they ran into was their sudden popularity, especially around the time of the CSM Candidate Interviews. They originally launched on a tumblr blog, with minimal bandwidth that was just capable of supporting their then-small audience. Because they had to do so many of CSM8 interviews in such a concentrated period of time, they were outputting a lot of content and a lot of people seemed to want to hear that the candidates had to say.
The server hamsters Crossing Zebras had at the time quickly found themselves on death's door and they were left with no option but to try and get new server hosting and a new site up in a very short time frame. In two weeks flat while Xander was offshore, Jeg had a brand new site setup, tested and working on a brand new server with the necessary bandwidth. Xander says the work he did in that two week period to keep everything running smoothly in the background was just staggering.
Crossing Zebras has already hit a stride and is worthy of being one of the most popular podcasts for EVE Online. As such, the team doesn't plan to change their approach too much. They're going to continue aiming for a podcast out every two to three weeks, depending on if Xander is out on a mining op oil rig or not. They want to continue interviewing great guests from the community and CCP.
In the near future, Xander is looking to interview a few members of the CSM once a month to keep the community aware of what the CSM is doing and how their work is progressing. When significant events happen in the EVE community, Xander aims to continue approaching guests from the CSM, CCP, and community to get their reactions and thoughts.
Crossing Zebras could not have reached the heights it has without the EVE community. As recently reinforced during his trip to Fanfest, Xander finds the EVE community astounding. In his own words, "It's such an interesting and vibrant community to be a part of and having people listening to what Jeg and I have to say about it is incredibly humbling. The support we've had from the podcasting community over the past 12 months has been staggering with people I have been listening to for years taking time out to help us get off the ground. To anyone who has encouraged us, offered advice, all the guests and anyone who has taken the time to listen to an episode of CZ, we just want to say a massive thank you."
Thanks to Xander, Jeg, and Crossing Zebras for their great work!