pirate software in front of twitch surrounded by follower notifications

For at least 12 hours a day, Jason “Thor” Hall streams on his Pirate Software YouTube and Twitch channels. Tens of thousands of viewers flock to watch him play video games, talk about game development, or just share insights on his day. In just the past six months, the long-haired, deep-voiced creator staring into his Elgato webcam, long-flowing hair draped over his Blue Yeti microphone, has exploded in popularity, becoming one of the top-most subscribed channels on Twitch

Hall’s viewership has vastly increased on YouTube as well. “[My team and I] were like, ‘Our plan is to go from 13,000 subs to 15,000,” Hall told Mashable in an interview at maker and creator event Open Sauce in San Francisco. “And now we’re at 1.9 million [YouTube subscribers], six months later, so it did really well.”

The origins of Pirate Software

Hall’s down-to-earth persona has been crafted over years in game development, following a path unlike any other streamer. When he was 16, he landed a dream job as a game tester at Blizzard Entertainment, which — before the bloated loot boxes and corporate acquisition by Microsoft for $68.7 billion — was considered one of the most respected companies in the video game industry. It helped that he was a nepo baby, since his dad Joeyray Hall had spent over two decades at the industry titan since almost the very beginning. 

But after around six months, Hall realized that he just wasn’t ready for corporate life. He acknowledged, “I was shit at it. I was completely awful.” So he left to hone his skills in “3D modeling, texturing, and programming,” earning his living in the underbelly of addicting 2000s games, running his own corporation in the spaceship/spreadsheet simulator EVE Online and real estate empire in life simulator Second Life

After five years of freelance grinding, Hall again applied to Blizzard and earned a job without his father’s help. Over the next seven years, he worked on blockbuster games like Overwatch and World of Warcraft, before leaving again to expand his knowledge at Amazon Games Studio and then eventually hacking power plants at the United States Department of Energy, as he wrote on X (formerly Twitter). 

While working for “the man” was a good way to grow a resumé, Hall knew he wanted to develop his own games. In 2016, he published his first title as Pirate Software, the toaster shooter Champions of Breakfast, creating it in just 24 days. Though it failed to garner much attention, it gave him the confidence to write, program, and develop Heartbound, an adventure about a boy and his dog that is as weird as it is cozy. 

In 2017, Heartbound was just a simple demo with a Kickstarter, but it managed to catch the attention of Seán “JackSepticEye” McLoughlin, who played it for his 30 million YouTube subscribers. Hall saw the potential of influencers firsthand, as that initial push earned him and his team of developers nearly $20,000 in crowdfunding, four times what they originally asked for. 

But that wave of success was a lot to handle, and Hall struggled when the hype slipped away, moving on to the next shiny indie. 

“The first time we grew, we weren’t ready,” Hall said. “I had no idea what to do. We lost the lightning in the bottle. When lightning strikes, you have to be able to catch it, and you have to know how to manage all that out.” 

Hall knew that the next time virality struck, he was going to be ready so “if it ever happens again, we don’t lose that opportunity.” He started streaming himself developing Heartbound in 2017 on Twitch to an audience of almost nobody — which he admitted was for the best since the streams “were pretty bad.” He created a Discord server “in a way that’s easy to manage” and “set up a moderation team.” 

From 30,000 to 200 million views a month

In 2023, YouTube pushed Shorts content heavily and Hall thought it would be a good opportunity to capture important moments from his streams. And that’s when lightning struck twice.  

Clips of him talking about developing a game engine, VPNs, and defending V-Tubers started getting millions of views. Large streamers took notice, too. Hall went from 30,000 video views a month in August 2023 to 200 million views in December, according to Socialblade

But with this much momentum, Hall knew he had to keep going. Taking what he learned working in those virtual worlds, he started talking to business and money managers, gaining “as much information as possible to do this the right way,” Hall said. For example, his moderators — who scour his chat rooms and keep his community from getting messy — are all full-time employees with full medical benefits. They split the donations Hall receives on stream. Considering most online moderators, whether it’s on Twitch, YouTube, Reddit, or Discord, are volunteers, Hall’s take is fairly revolutionary.  

“The general standard of not paying your moderators, I think is absurd,” Hall said. “I think that anytime you have someone that’s helping you generate the content you have, they should have financial compensation in some way.” 

That business-forward approach has already grown his indie game business. In June, Hall announced a partnership with live-event production company Offbrand, which was co-founded by Twitch streamer Ludwig Ahgren, to publish indie titles as Offbrand Games. 

“The first time I met Ludwig was at the Streamer Awards, he was wearing knee-high Crocs,” Hall remembered. “We started talking and he said they were forming a game publishing studio, and asked if I was interested in it.” 

Hall had been approached by multiple different publishing houses, who shared the sentiment, “We want you because you’re the face of Indie Dev, but we’re not listening to anything you say.” Hall would give studios a test: He asked for a sample contract for a game of his they’d publish, and he’d give them feedback. While other studios balked at his “redlining” and wanted the full rights to his content, Ahgren and his team agreed to his terms and to only have “a license that is not in perpetuity, but for the term of the contract.” 

Outside of streaming dozens of hours, publishing games, and sleeping five hours a night, Hall even managed to find time to create a ferret rescue in Washington state. 

“We take in ferrets that are either injured, or not taken care of, or abandoned,” Hall said. “And we rehabilitate them and keep them forever.” 

You can watch the over 50 ferrets on the FerretSoftware Twitch channel, which is entirely funded by ad revenue. The rescue has been so successful, that Hall is bringing on another two full-time employees, started researching cures for ferret cancer, and will be building a facility that he claims “will be the largest ferret rescue in the United States.” 

As to why a game dev streamer is running a ferret rescue, it’s personal. While grinding away in game development, Hall adopted two ferrets that were used as “laboratory animals,” and realized he wanted to save more. 

“I’m just going to keep doing that,” Hall said. “It wasn’t even a thing of like, ‘I want to do this.’ It was like, ‘I’m doing it.'”

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