Hi, I started a web games site called Kongregate, and then I used the money I made from that to start a SuperPAC called CounterPAC. We're fighting the influence of money in politics. And yes, it's a little ironic to use a SuperPAC to fight SuperPACs...

In California, CounterPAC has launched a campaign to support the passage of AB 700, aka the DISCLOSE Act. It requires the true, three largest funders of ads about ballot measures or candidates to be shown clearly and unambiguously on the ad.

The bill is on its way to the California Senate floor for consideration. However, there are rumors that the leader of the Senate, Kevin de León, and the chair of the Appropriations committee, may be caving to pressure from special interests to water the bill down.

If you believe voters deserve to know who's spending millions to influence their vote at the ballot box, take a minute and sign this petition urging Kevin de León and Ricardo Lara to keep the bill strong, and not cave to the pressure of special interests. Or, even better, call his office at (916) 651-4024.


Ok, happy to answer questions about games, political corruption, or whatever.


Comments: 67 • Responses: 17  • Date: 

TheOddScreen21 karma

Hi Jim, I played countless games on the school computer years ago thanks to your website.

  1. What was your reaction when GameStop bought Kongregate?

  2. I asked this in every AMA I do, Do you like tacos?

jimgreer16 karma

What was your reaction when GameStop bought Kongregate?

Well, if Emily and I had been opposed to GameStop buying us, it wouldn't have happened. The most important thing to us was that we'd continue to be independent from whatever company bought us. When you get bought by a big retailer that's 2000 miles away, that's much more possible. Moreover, we had assurances from GameStop execs that they wanted to learn from us, and they knew that we understood online and mobile gaming better than they did. And, in fact, they were true to their word.

Do you like tacos?

I fucking love tacos. San Francisco is known for it's burritos, but tacos are way more flavorful, and you can eat more of them without falling asleep.

ZeTurtle13 karma

What is your favorite game on Kongregate?

jimgreer19 karma

To me the thing that web games can do that's hard in other genres is to start with a completely novel idea and explore it. Tough in bigger-budget games. Some of my favorites are:

http://www.kongregate.com/games/glimajr/continuity http://www.kongregate.com/games/briderider/fps-man

Others are just super fun because they get at the essence of other genres in miniature:

Stealth: http://www.kongregate.com/games/luksy/the-classroom-3 Shooter: http://www.kongregate.com/games/SeanCooper/boxhead-more-rooms Strategy: http://www.kongregate.com/games/ChannelFour/1066 Building: http://www.kongregate.com/games/inXile_Ent/fantastic-contraption

And then there's the high-concept games like: http://www.kongregate.com/games/Rete/dont-shit-your-pants http://www.kongregate.com/games/Mazapan/you-have-to-burn-the-rope

Ethical_Inventory8 karma

What made you want to create kongregate?

jimgreer8 karma

Since I used to have a game studio back in the CD-ROM era, I know how hard it can be for small studios to make a living...

Also, I just like working with small teams of smart and passionate people to try to change things...

BlakMakk8 karma

What is your most desirable outcome of this SuperPac?

jimgreer11 karma

Well, first off, I'm realistic about how long it's going to take to change money in politics.

The good news is that there's almost no reform issue that has such overwhelming support. 84% of americans think that our system for financing elections either needs a complete overhaul or major changes. It's almost as high among Republicans as Democrats.

The biggest problem is that no one thinks that change is possible. If you want something, but don't think it can happen, you don't put real pressure on elected officials to change.

Getting this bill passed in California would help break that cycle of hopelessness, and could kindle a movement that would spread to other states. California has led on a number of other reform issues in the past.

The reason we made this a SuperPAC is pretty simple. There are already a lot of great groups that are promoting reform. But politicians are motivated mostly by fear of losing an election. As a SuperPAC, we can run ads calling them out for being cynical on this issue. No one wants that, especially in a liberal state.

BlakMakk2 karma

Trying to get a bill passed may also take some time and be met with resistance. How do you keep your message relevant, particularly once the elections are over?

jimgreer5 karma

No doubt.

I think one thing that this election cycle has already shown is that there's a lot of anger about the way our political system works. Obviously Bernie supporters were very motivated by that, and he really hit Hilary hard on the financial support she gets from Wall Street. Even Trump made a big deal of this early on ("I'm a billionaire so I won't get corrupted by moneyed interests") - though now that he's trying to get support from Sheldon Adelson, etc, this isn't happening as much.

I think one of the most important things to do with our message is to connect the money to issues that voters are passionate about. It's not hard to do, since you see money working against reform on tons of issues: climate change, healthcare reform, corporate welfare, etc.

IKingJeremy6 karma

Have you thought about getting back into the gaming industry in some capacity, if so in what way?

jimgreer8 karma

Not sure. When we started Kongregate in 2006, it was addressing a specific problem - at that time, indie developers could put a game online, but they didn't have a good way to make money on it. Newgrounds and Armor Games didn't share revenue with developers, there were no app stores, and Steam was only for Valve's games.

Kongregate was a small part of fixing that, which really motivated me and helped us recruit and retain a great team.

If I could think of another way that a gaming company could have an impact like that, I'd be interested. I'm less motivated to just make a fun game, since there's already such a huge variety of them...

IKingJeremy6 karma

What were the biggest obstacles in getting this project off the ground?

jimgreer7 karma

Really just the amount of resources on the other side, and the resistance to change. On this bill, for instance, the biggest remaining opposition is from labor unions, who like being able to hide their political expenditures. They know that if union members saw an ad for a candidate that said prominently "paid for by the California Federation of Teachers", that many of their members would get really mad.

If unions are against reform, you can imagine how opposed groups with even more money are.

bluecollarclassicist5 karma

Can you give us some instances in which you think that disclosure of financial support for campaign advertisements would have made a difference in viewer perception? I'm with you 100%, btw, but have there been any outrageous examples of ads where the money behind them would have been ruinous if brought to light?

Also, thanks for Burrito Bison Revenge.

jimgreer6 karma

First off, I can't take credit for Burrito Bison Revenge, but I'm glad you found it on Kongregate!

One of the sneakiest ways that dark money tricks voters is astroturfing. These are fake grassroots campaigns by groups with names like "Small Businesses for Common Sense" - they often run attack ads against candidates for positions that a particular interest group doesn't like. If those ads have to disclose the groups donating to them, this doesn't work nearly as well.

IKingJeremy2 karma

If AB 700 passes, what plans do you have for the future of this project?

jimgreer6 karma

To spread it to other states! And to raise more money, since we'll have evidence that our strategy can work. So far most of the money has been mine, with a major donation by an early Google employee named Matt Cutts (he wrote the first version of SafeSearch, incidentally).

ningrim2 karma

Why does the right to privacy not apply to political speech?

Is there not a risk of reprisal if my political activity is publicly disclosed?

Why not let the voters decide how much credence to give anonymously produced/funded speech?

The Federalist Papers were published anonymously. Wouldn't the laws you propose make that impossible?

jimgreer4 karma

Why does the right to privacy not apply to political speech?

There's definitely a balance that has to be struck here. But I think it's important to distinguish between the right to anonymously write an article or book, and to anonymously promulgate that message.

The Supreme Court actually based part of their reasoning in Citizens United on the idea that there would be disclosure. Justice Scalia wrote in a related opinion:

"Plaintiffs raise concerns that the disclosure of petition signatures may lead to threats and intimidation. Of course nothing prevents the people of Washington from keeping petition signatures secret to avoid that—just as nothing prevented the States from moving to the secret ballot. But there is no constitutional basis for this Court to impose that course upon the States—or to insist (as today’s opinion does) that it can only be avoided by the demonstration of a “sufficiently important governmental interest,” ante , at 7 (internal quotation marks omitted). And it may even be a bad idea to keep petition signatures secret. There are laws against threats and intimidation; and harsh criticism, short of unlawful action, is a price our people have traditionally been willing to pay for self-governance. Requiring people to stand up in public for their political acts fosters civic courage, without which democracy is doomed. For my part, I do not look forward to a society which, thanks to the Supreme Court, campaigns anonymously (McIntyre) and even exercises the direct democracy of initiative and referendum hidden from public scrutiny and protected from the accountability of criticism. This does not resemble the Home of the Brave."

There's not a lot of evidence that political speakers are harassed. There's a ton of evidence that undisclosed spending is effective and corrosive.

ningrim2 karma

There's not a lot of evidence that political speakers are harassed.

strongly disagree that political speakers aren't harassed, that runs counter to history and human nature, especially for those with a minority/unpopular viewpoint

Brendan Eich might agree

jimgreer1 karma

Ok, you've got one example. How about some others.

3739538462 karma

A few questions:

While you note that popular support for campaign finance reform is bipartisan, representative support is not. These disconnects exist all over the ideological spectrum, but how do you account for this in terms of running/targeting ads? Do you have different approaches in terms of trying to persuade Democrats and Republicans to back your issue, given the disparities in where they tend to raise money from?

Given the almost entirely one-sided discussion of campaign finance reform (from Democrats, re: Citizens United), how do you plan on making this a bipartisan issue? What's the upside for Republicans?

jimgreer2 karma

Right now Republican political leadership assumes that the money favors them. That is much less true than it used to be. Many of the fastest growing industries skew liberal: tech, clean energy, wall street, etc.

As I mentioned, in California, the biggest opposition to the Disclose Act is from labor unions.

happylookout1 karma

Why did your focus shift from games to politics? Was there a specific moment, person, or conversation that sticks out in your mind?

jimgreer9 karma

If you design multiplayer games, or even community-based websites, you spend a lot of time thinking about incentives. In particular, you need a way to protect against abusive players/users. Think about the voting and moderating systems of Reddit, or the amount of time games spend on play balance.

That's totally missing from politics. One of the moments that crystalized this for me was learning that the union for prison guards dispenses large amounts of money to candidates and ballot initiatives promoting longer prison sentences. WTF. https://capitalresearch.org/2011/10/the-price-of-prison-guard-unions-2/

happylookout3 karma

Y'know, I'd heard of the prison guard thing before, but on this glance the motivation behind it strikes me as a bit odd. It seems prison guards as a profession run up against a whole lot of awful stress-related issues/mortality. If it were me, I'd hope that my union would be fighting for my physical and emotional well-being as well, instead of chasing job security at the expense of absolutely everything else. Maybe sometimes that would even mean lobbying to reduce prison populations.

I know this specific topic isn't exactly what you're working on, but do you have any thoughts on whether this could also be a failure of union incentives to effectively represent all aspects of their membership? Are people just really bad at figuring out their own long-term interest?

jimgreer3 karma

Definitely agree. Overcrowded prisons are dangerous, according to the GAO: http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-12-743

I think unions not advancing the causes of their members is representative of a larger problem. The NRA, AARP, and AAA all collect membership fees from people and then advocate for positions much more extreme than their members support.

NRA: http://www.politifact.com/wisconsin/statements/2015/mar/18/lena-taylor/most-nra-members-back-background-checks-all-gun-pu/ AAA: https://www.nrdc.org/media/2000/001116

Holy23341 karma

Hi Jim, how do you feel about Kongregate approaching its 10 year mark very soon? Are you going to do anything special?

jimgreer4 karma

I'm super proud that I helped build something that has lasted 10 years, and that I helped talented indie developers find an audience.

I'm not directly involved in Kongregate anymore, but I believe there are some plans for the 10th anniversary...

Vallandigham1 karma

How do you feel about Wolf-PAC and their campaign to get an amendment to allow regulation of political money? Silly name but I volunteered with them for a bit and they have a few states on board. What other large legislations are you working behind? Also please brighten your webpage, it makes me tired... being that dark. Any other groups or legislations you're keeping your eye on?

jimgreer3 karma

Unfortunately I don't think getting a constitutional amendment is a realistic goal in the near term.

As we're a small organization, we're focused on this bill right now... we're going to be picking our next targets soon, definitely open to suggestions.

Now that you mention it. I agree that the website is a bit dark. Probably not going to do a redesign immediately but I'll suggest it to our designer next time we do.

trent62951 karma

Glad you could make it here to answer some questions! What advice could you give to an aspiring entrepreneur?

jimgreer3 karma

My first piece of advice would be to read pretty much everything Paul Graham has written about it: http://paulgraham.com/articles.html

He's the founder of Y-Combinator, and has seen a lot. I'd start with How to Start a Startup: http://paulgraham.com/start.html and How to Get Startup Ideas: http://paulgraham.com/startupideas.html