How I Overcame My Gaming Addiction and Built a Business to Help Others

Hello! What's your background, and what are you working on?

My name is Cam Adair, and I’m a high school dropout turned social entrepreneur from Calgary, Canada. In 2015 I founded Game Quitters, and today it is the largest online support community for people struggling with video game addiction.

We currently serve about 50,000 people in 92 countries, and earn around $6,000/month.

home

What motivated you to get started with Game Quitters?

Game Quitters began through my own personal experience struggling with a video game addiction. After facing intense bullying in the 8th grade, gaming became a way for me to escape, eventually leading me to drop out of high school. I never graduated, and while all of my friends were off at college, I was living in my parents basement playing video games for up to 16 hours a day.

I was super depressed, anxious, and even deceived my parents by pretending to have jobs. As much as gaming allowed me to escape, it didn’t fix any of my problems, and my depression got worse and worse and worse, culminating in writing a suicide note on a particularly bad night. It was this night when I realized I needed to make a change, and that change began by quitting gaming.

A few years later I relapsed and went from not gaming for two years to gaming 16 hours a day for five months straight. This all happened literally overnight, which made me question — what was it about these video games that I was so drawn to? How did I go from not gaming for two years to gaming 16 hours a day? Why did I want to play so bad? I realized there were specific reasons why I played, beyond just “games are fun.”

I figured I wasn’t the only person struggling with this issue, and I was curious what kind of help was available for someone like me. I googled “how to quit playing video games” and the advice I found was bullshit. I was told to “study more,” when the whole reason I was gaming was to avoid studying, or to “hang out with your friends,” when all of my friends were gamers who I hung out with while playing video games.

It was the type of advice you’d expect on WikiHow, where someone unknowledgeable in a given topic was given an assignment to write an article about said topic because it would be good for their SEO (and thus, ad revenue). People searching for help are doing so because they genuinely need help, and when they read advice that shames them, diminishes their problem, and flat out doesn’t work, it discourages them from continuing to seek more of it.

This lack of meaningful help pissed me off, so I decided to write a rant, tell my personal story, and share what I had learned in my recovery process in a blog post titled How to Quit Playing Video Games FOREVER. It was real advice from a real hardcore gamer trying to quit. It was advice that actually worked.

The blog post took off and I began hearing from thousands of other people who were just like me. These were people as young as 10, 11, and 12 years old reading a six page rant and sharing their life story in a 1,000 word essay saying “me too.” I also heard from people as old as 56 and everything in-between.

I would always respond to every comment and email I received, but I never launched anything else. Two years later I was invited to speak at TEDxBoulder on my story, and my TEDx talk had a big response as well. Today it has over 300,000 views.

Finally after another two years went by, and no organization, government agency, or non-profit had stepped in to address this issue, I decided I needed to do something more. I felt a responsibility to provide better resources and tools for people, so I launched Game Quitters and never looked back.

logo

What went into building the initial product?

At first my plan was just to provide a space for people to meet and interact, and to record videos of the most frequently asked questions to save me time answering all of the emails and comments I received.

I planned to launch a Facebook Group, but after asking the community about it they wanted a forum, so I agreed, albeit reluctantly. My reluctance came from the fact that forums require moderation, and more investment in the beginning — nobody likes a dead forum. For the first two years I responded to every post, and although I am not as active on the forum anymore, I recently passed 7,000 total posts.

I was in a good place to go all-in on the idea because I had just taken the past two years off to consider what was next after closing down my previous business — a personal development company where I learned some online marketing and business skills. I had about $80,000 in savings from that business to fund Game Quitters for a period of time.

More important than any of that is that I invested the past two years traveling, attending workshops, and building an incredible network of friends and mentors. I was ready to be the leader I needed to be for this community, which I believe is far more important than being knowledgeable about business strategies or marketing.

A business is less about what you need to do and more about who you need to become as a leader in order to bring your vision forward.

Tweet
Share

Taking what I’d learned from my previous business, I wanted to keep Game Quitters lean. I started with a YouTube channel to make videos responding to frequently asked questions. I posted them to the StopGaming reddit community, and interacted with people on there as much as possible. At first GameQuitters.com was a simple landing page with an email opt-in, eventually turning into a full website built on Wordpress.

A friend messaged me one day asking if I wanted to purchase an online course with him called Funnel Blueprint by Ryan Deiss, and I said yes. I’ve done programs like this in the past but never really took action on them, so this time I made myself a rule. In order to watch the next video, I had to complete the homework from the previous video. Looking back this was huge, because it forced me to actually build my products one at a time, instead of learning all the information but never applying it.

Again with the goal of keeping everything simple and improving over time, I built a lead magnet called 60+ New Hobby Ideas which answered the top question I received on a daily basis: “After you quit gaming, what do you do with your time?” I googled phrases like “activity ideas" and "hobby ideas," and compiled them into a simple downloadable PDF.

The next step was building a simple ebook with the main steps I recommend for someone to quit, which I called “Respawn” and sold for $7. Today it is still our foundational program, but I have improved it over the years with videos, additional tips, resources, bonus interviews, and a branded design. You can get the ebook for $27 or the video course for $47 — the average price of a video game. At first I was using LeadPages, but now I use a stack of Wordpress, ConvertKit, and Wishlist Member.

How have you attracted users and grown Game Quitters?

We never had an official "launch" of the website, and instead focused on getting valuable resources online as quickly as possible. We knew the sooner we could start building the community, the more momentum we would gain, and the faster we would grow.

Thankfully we already had some groundwork done before the website went live through my viral article, which ranked at the top of Google for "how to quit playing video games", my TEDx talk, and the established StopGaming community on reddit. To capture our initial users we leveraged these assets as much as possible. I added additional links in the copy of my article and included a call-to-action button at the bottom of the post driving back to GameQuitters.com.

YouTube was our main source of content marketing. We committed to launching one new video each week (eventually two videos per week) and shared them on reddit. The videos had links in the description to drive users back to our website, and I made it a point to reply to every comment I received, which had a major impact on people wanting to be a part of the community. I often heard their surprise when I would comment back, sharing that they didn't know other YouTubers who actually responded back like I did. I also replied to every comment on my TEDx talk so people watching it were driven back to our channel.

To build the community we launched a free forum where people could journal and interact with like-minded peers. Although the reddit community was popular, reddit's website itself lacks certain features, such as the ability for a user to have their own thread (i.e. their own journal) that they can update over time. Instead of trying to compete with the reddit community, we positioned the forum as a complement to it. Today we have over 30,000 journal entries of addicts all over the world sharing their experiences!

Consistency isn't sexy, but it works.

Tweet
Share

SEO has always been something we have been able to leverage well, and we owe the launch of this movement to ranking at the top of "how to quit playing video games" all those years ago. Here are two more examples of how I have done this in the past:

  1. When Pokémon GO was released, it became a huge viral sensation, so I released a video called "Should You Play Pokemon GO?" which received almost 3,000 views quickly.

  2. More recently, Fortnite has become one of the hottest games in the world (and is very controversial in the press), so I wrote a parents guide to Fortnite addiction, where I targeted "Fortnite addiction" as a keyword, instead of just "Fortnite", which had a lot of competition. Within days our guide shot to the top of Google rankings and we now receive 1,300 unique visitors a week from this article.

One of our other main focuses has been press. We are fortunate that "video game addiction" is a hot debate and trending topic in the media, and we have leveraged that as much as possible. I regularly appear in the press, with over 75 features in the last two years, many of which were initially sparked by reaching out to journalists with a simple pitch for a story hook that was interesting, local, and timely.

I outline this formula with pitch templates in my guide to press. Although press doesn't drive a lot of traffic, it's fantastic for high-quality backlinks that boost our SEO, and improves our professional credibility, which in my experience drives more word-of-mouth.

Finally, we continue to tweak and optimize our website. In June we had an article about to be published in the New York Times, and I assumed we would have a traffic bump from it, so I worked with a designer to revamp the homepage while sitting on couches in an Airbnb I had rented, putting a quiz about whether or not you have a video game addiction front and center with new copy. The results blew us away.

Initially with the bump in traffic we saw big results, some days adding over 150 emails from the quiz alone, but once traffic returned to normal we still saw a 233% increase to our average email sign-ups, from 15 a day to over now 35. Since May, our quiz has helped more than 7,934 people learn important information about video game addiction.

I also regularly speak around the world to students, parents, and mental health professionals, and we publish research to advance academic literature on the subject of gaming addiction.

forum

What's your business model, and how have you grown your revenue?

Game Quitters is an open startup which means we are transparent with our metrics, including revenue, users, and traffic.

For the first two years, growing revenue wasn't our main aim. Instead, we focused on building the community. We did this for two reasons: first, we wanted to ensure that no matter who you were, if you needed help for a video game addiction, you would be able to receive it, for free. Second, we knew that if we were able to grow our brand and build a large community centralized on our website, there would be endless opportunities to increase revenue down the line as the issue of video game addiction continued to be a large and growing problem.

The biggest tip I have for aspiring entrepreneurs is to monetize from the beginning.

Tweet
Share

Up until last year our main revenue sources were our Respawn online program, a few irregular coaching offers, and speaking engagements. Respawn generated around $1,000/month, with coaching and speaking sporadic throughout the year. In 2016 we generated $40,181 total revenue, and in 2017 we generated $54,995. In 2018 we will come close to $100,000.

Starting midway through 2017 I made the decision to start building a more sustainable business, as we had accomplished our initial goal of providing a platform where anybody could receive help for free. We began increasing revenue by launching an online program for parents called Reclaim for $97, which generates an additional $1,500/month.

We also developed strategic partnerships. This past summer we partnered with a digital detox summer camp for teenagers, providing each of their campers with an aftercare program, which generated $12,000 in revenue for us. This "aftercare" model of licensing our assets to summer camps and treatment centers will be one of our main business development goals of 2019.

The biggest fluctuation in our revenue month-to-month is due to speaking engagements not being on a consistent schedule. For instance, in September 2018 we will earn $0 from speaking engagements, whereas in October 2018 we will earn over $7,000.

Although speaking is a fantastic source of revenue for us, and we have additional business development ideas around licensing our workshops to organizations. We are focused on growing our online offerings to a monthly revenue of $5,000 to add more stability to our cash flow and will do this by optimizing our funnels, improving our product, and driving more traffic through guest posts and targeted content for parents.

The biggest tip I have for aspiring entrepreneurs is to monetize from the beginning. Although we didn't pursue this 100%, we did have a paid program for people and that gave us important validation and cash flow. It also helped me overcome the personal struggle of charging for a product, because when I would receive an email from someone who shared that my course helped them get their life back, it reminded me of why it was important for me to have the program there in the first place.

The biggest challenge I've had is monetizing, not because of lack of opportunity to create revenue in the market, but my own discomfort in creating revenue from others’ distress.

Tweet
Share

Two more suggestions:

  1. A mentor of mine, Jennifer Love, once told me to spend 80% of my time on business development and 20% on product development. Most people do the opposite and that is why they are broke. This year as I've focused more on tasks that actually drive revenue, our numbers have grown, which is no surprise. Prior to making this shift I would find myself justifying tasks that were more "busy work" than productive work.

  2. Get creative! A lot of content marketers will launch an online course and then market that course to individual people, and miss the opportunity they have to license their IP to organizations. One deal with a summer camp this year doubled our annual revenue for our Respawn product, with only a couple hours of additional work to register the email accounts.

Our expenses are roughly $1,500-$2,500/month, with $500 of that being software and web services like ConvertKit, Adobe, Typeform, Zapier, and Digital Ocean. The remaining expenses are for staff, which fluctuates monthly.

What are your goals for the future?

My vision from the beginning has been to create a platform where people can get the help they need, and to also write and publish a book on my story. The first goal is done, and we will continue to improve the platform as we go forward, but the second one remains unfinished. It's now my main focus outside of daily website operations.

Although the website has a fantastic community and a lot of content available for free, I would like to make it more of an interactive platform that engages you and personalizes the content you see based on your individual needs.

We are taking a step in that direction now with the release of our hobby finding tool, so instead of having a simple PDF with 60 different ideas we have an interactive tool with filters you can select to find hobbies more specific to your desires, such as hobbies that are easy to start with, hobbies that are free, and/or hobbies that can be done offline. In the future I hope to add additional interactive features to the website as we turn it more into an app than a content site.

I also have a goal of publishing 1,000 case studies of other gaming addicts and their stories. We currently have over 60 which is a great start and we will continue to publish them one story at a time.

Finally, I believe there is a tsunami of gaming addiction coming that we as a society are not prepared for. I regularly speak around the world, training therapists and mental health professionals who have little-to-no knowledge on technology addictions. My goal is to continue doing this as much as possible, and to release more online resources for mental health professionals to be trained on the subject.

What are the biggest challenges you've faced and obstacles you've overcome? If you had to start over, what would you do differently?

The biggest challenge I've had is monetizing, but not in the way you think. It hasn't been a lack of opportunity to create revenue in the market, but my own discomfort to monetize that has held us back. My discomfort has led to more functional challenges in the business such as inconsistency, lack of onboarding, poor funnels, and slow product development.

Although most of the help I have available online is free, at times I have heard from members of the community that I am "taking advantage of people with addiction" because I have an ebook and course available for purchase. Of course that is to be expected on the internet, and my YouTube comments can be harsh as well, but it's never been easy to read an exposé by someone in the community suggesting that I am a sellout. I do this work because I struggled with the issue myself and want to help prevent people from having to go through the same experiences that I did, as well as pay the rent.

What has helped me overcome this is focusing more on offering parents and mental health professionals solutions through our educational resources, because they have a higher disposable income, and spending a hundred dollars or so isn't as big of a deal, whereas it is a significant investment for a college student gamer who earns less than $500/month.

Because I have been slow to monetize, I've had heightened levels of stress trying to survive every month when I could have been more secure in my financial situation, which would have led to better mental health and overall quality of life, which leads to more energy and time to make a bigger impact. It would have also provided me more opportunities to reinvest back into the business, especially for additional help with staff.

What's your advice for indie hackers who are just starting out?

Often when you are just starting out it's easy to focus on the 'business' side of what you need to execute on, but a business is less about what you need to do and more about who you need to become as a leader in order to bring your vision forward. Personally, my poor mindset around money slowed our growth and held us back for years.

Next, take dumb action. Allow me to share a few examples of this.

How One Tweet Led to $12,000 in Revenue:

One of the things I do on a regular basis is type 'video game addiction' into Twitter search and just check out what people are saying. It's helped me connect with journalists and stay on top of the conversation around the issue. Last year I saw a summer camp tweet an article about gaming addiction, and after checking them out, decided to tweet at them.

A few hours later I had an email in my inbox from the director wanting to hop on a call, and that call led to them licensing our program IP this past summer, leading to $12,000 in revenue.

tweet

How One Facebook Post Created a Press Tour:

Last year I was speaking in my hometown and I wanted to see if I could generate any press for it. But I didn't have any press contacts, and although I could email journalists or tip lines, a warm intro is always better. So I took dumb action, and posted on Facebook asking if any of my friends had friends in the media. Within an hour I had multiple friends who tagged different people and this one post on Facebook led to 25 media interviews in five days.

How 10 Emails Got Me More Speaking Gigs than 300,000 Views on TEDx:

A few years ago I received an email asking me to come speak at a conference in Toronto. The conference was for “problem gambling”, which is a fancy way of saying gambling addiction, and it led to a major epiphany for me.

I figured, if one problem gambling conference wanted me to speak, then they would all want me to speak, so the next day I sat in a café in Venice, California and typed "problem gambling conferences" into Google. I ended up finding 10 others and emailed them something along the lines of, "Hey, I was asked to speak at this conference about video game addiction and figured you might be interested as well, so just wanted to reach out and say hey."

Half responded to me and here were the results:

  1. A conference in Las Vegas invited me to come and speak for $500. I've since spoken at the conference twice and it helped launch my speaking career to professionals.

  2. I got connected to the Executive Director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, who has been an important relationship for me and led to many press referrals.

  3. I got asked to speak at two other conferences.

  4. I was sponsored to go to a conference in Portland where I got to spend time with Dr. Mark Griffiths, who is the top researcher in the world on internet and gaming addiction.

  5. A conference in Australia said I wasn't a good fit, but that one of their board members would love to talk with me. Turns out he's a researcher on gaming addiction as well and he now supports our community in publishing scientific research.

When you're starting a business it's easy to try and be fancy, but when I look back on the success I've had, it's come down to being the leader I need to be, taking dumb action, and being consistent. Consistency isn't sexy, but it works.

The book that has helped me the most throughout this process is The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson.

founder

Where can we go to learn more?

You can check out Game Quitters at gamequitters.com. We have 60+ stories of other addicts on our blog, and 200+ videos available on YouTube.

I also regularly tweet and share the latest gaming trends on LinkedIn. If you have any questions I'd love to hear from you in the comments. Remember, I reply to each one! ;)

Cam Adair , Founder of Game Quitters

Want to build your own business like Game Quitters?

You should join the Indie Hackers community! 🤗

We're a few thousand founders helping each other build profitable businesses and side projects. Come share what you're working on and get feedback from your peers.

Not ready to get started on your product yet? No problem. The community is a great place to meet people, learn, and get your feet wet. Feel free to just browse!

Courtland Allen , Indie Hackers founder

Loading comments...