AATG.-Some-thoughts... AATG. Some thoughts...

   04/12/2012 at 19:24       Richard Horne       26 COMMENTS.
 - AATG, It's All About The Games, Games Journalism, PR

As regular visitors to this website will know (and let me just say that you guys know who you are, and you’re all awesome) substantial recent updates have been few and far between. The reasons for this lack of activity are numerous. Though it should be pretty obvious that time and motivation are the two biggest factors. Time, because running this site in our spare hours in addition to having full time jobs and lives to run, means we don’t actually have all that much of it. And motivation, because, well, I’ll be honest… When I originally set this website up back in 2006, I hoped more would ultimately come of it. Particularly if I’d known back then that it would still be up and running some 6 years later.

The fact that our membership is still less than 1,000, a considerable chunk of which are spammers, plus the fact that our traffic is far from stellar, has also left me wondering lately “What’s the point?”

But then the recent games media shit-storm has reminded me exactly why the site was set up to begin with. Just look at the URL. That simple mission statement was supposed to be the main ethos behind everything we do here. The be-all and end-all. Fuck developers. Fuck publishers. Fuck PR. We write what we want, about what we want, when we want. Or at least that was the plan.

But then it became a vicious cycle. Reviews needed to be timely. In order to be timely you needed review copies. In order to get review copies you needed to engage with PR people. In order to engage with PR people you needed to have a decent level of site traffic otherwise you got stone-walled. In order to get a decent level of site traffic you needed timely reviews. And so the circle of doom begins all over again. You get the picture.

As a quick aside, while we’re addressing PR firms, now feels like the perfect time to bring to your attention the latest tactic being employed by these companies. In the past it was the case that close to a game’s release you’d fire off an email requesting a review copy of said game. Before every man and his dog had a blog dressed up as a professional gaming website, generally you’d receive a copy of the game in good enough time such that you could play it to completion and have a review go live either on the embargo date or on the release date. These days most of my emails are ignored, or I get a response along the lines of “We’ll add you to the waiting list but can you first send us links to any coverage you’ve produced as well as a breakdown of your traffic figures.” With the implicit message being that only those sites that have spent all year pimping said game will receive a copy. And that if your number of unique visitors per month is anything less than 100k well you’re shit out of luck.

But while it’s easy to jump on the anti-PR bandwagon right now, I think we all need to look ourselves in the mirror. When I first started thinking about building AllAboutTheGames, I didn’t know the first thing about building a live and dynamic website or a forum. But thanks to the positive outouring I received from like-minded gamers, I gained my focus and spent months studying databases and PHP, before analyzing the competition trying to find a unique hook. That hook was supposed to be that the website would generate its own content. That its readership would write with the same verve and passion for games that I had, and that it would provide enthusiastic, well-written copy, which in turn would spur on other would-be writers. And between us we’d build a popular and engaging website, while simultaneously improving our own skills as writers. And lots of you encouraged me. You were all disillusioned with the so-called professional sites with their recycled press releases, inflated review scores, paid-for exclusives and poorly disguised bias. You clamoured, nay demanded something that gave you raw, honest reaction. And so I, no WE, built it.

And for a little while everything was perfect. 

You all contributed. We built a small army of excellent writers each with their own distinct voices. There was no pressure. We wrote what we wanted when we wanted. 

We set the bar high, too. Dirtbox’s second life diaries, Stevas’ epic rants, NewYork’s ironic titillations, Peej’s consistently excellent and prolific output. I even attempted a bit of poetry and non fiction, too. And generally the response and feedback was positive.

At this point I'd like to give Peej a special mention. That he’s written almost 300 reviews and around 2500 news stories, completely off his own back for no pay whatsoever, is frankly astonishing. That he’s paid for almost all of those games out of his own money and never once asked for any say or control over the site is also a credit to him. If we’d had just a few more like him then I wouldn’t be writing this article.

But then over the course of the last couple of years, something changed. We lost our focus and direction. We started trying to play the others sites at their own game and did exactly what everyone else was doing. As a result, apathy kicked in. We got lazy. We got busy. Some of us had kids. Some of us just fell out of love with games. Some of us went on to bigger and better things.

And while that might make me sound bitter and twisted and like I’m blaming everyone else for the site’s failure to become the next big thing, let me get one thing clear: the above is not a criticism. In fact in my eyes it’s perfectly understandable and a natural, and perhaps inevitable conclusion. And in fact, I’m just as much, if not more to blame, than anyone else. In fact, that we’re 6 years old is a bloody miracle and a reflection of mine and Peej’s bloody-mindedness and stubbornness.

But I’m not even bothered about that and that’s not what this article is about. What’s really got my goat is that after the whole aforementioned Rab C Florence-gate, people (not you guys) are once again starting to ask the question “Why doesn’t someone create an unbiased, honest, website, which won’t bow to the pressures of PR people and will not be held to ransom by publishers?”

WE FUCKING DID AND YOU DIDN’T GIVE TWO SHITS. IN FACT MOST OF YOU LAUGHED US OFF AS THE PLACE WHERE PEOPLE THAT FELL OUT OF LOVE WITH EUROGAMER GO TO DIE.

You guys wanted it. You pleaded for someone to come along and build a site like this but when we did you didn’t take advantage of it. To use a tired old internet cliché, you deserve a massive facepalm.

All of which has made me re-evaluate things. At the moment the site feels like it’s in a terrible state of limbo with me having to ask myself some difficult questions. Do I kill the site and put it to bed? But if I do that then what about the history, the articles we’ve all slaved over? And what of the forum? That which still provides a safe friendly haven for the dedicated few of you that still use it. Could I really kill it off?

Or do I let the site continue in its current stagnating form with few updates and a quiet barely-used forum or do I make one last massive push and try and reinvigorate the site with perhaps yet another site re-design? Is the onus on me? Has everyone else given up because I have? If I got my finger out, would that inspire everyone else? Do we need to take a new approach or look for a new angle? Should we follow everyone else and provide unique video content ala Giant Bomb? But then that’s even more time consuming than just providing text copy and I’m not entirely comfortable with the prospect of opening myself up to even more ridicule by being on camera or a podcast.

For too long the site has been a noose around my neck. There were times where I felt like I had to add at least 3 news stories a day, a couple of reviews a week and a feature here or there. I used to studiously pore over Google Analytics reports looking for trends and analyzing which types of articles were more popular than other. I even famously, or infamously, went trolling for hits on N4G. But again, for what? 

From now on it’s back to basics. I’m not going to force myself into writing reviews and news. I’ll do it because I feel inspired to and because I want to. And if that means only one update a week or a fortnight then so be it.

I’m not going to bust a gut trying to rush a review through just to have it go live on the day of a game’s release. I’ll write a review because I have something to say and because I want you to read it.

Nor will I continue to go through the motions rewriting tired old press releases. Any news stories I do post will be things I’m genuinely interested in and think are worth bringing to your attention. And, as evidenced by articles such as this, I’m going to remain true to my Yorkshire heritage and go back to calling a spade a spade again. If I think something is going to be shit, then I’m not going to pander to some fly-by-night PR firm and trying and look for the positives. I built this site for you and for myself. So let’s come full circle ourselves and never again forget why we’re here. It’s all about the games.

 

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