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?”


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.


User Comments:

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nekotcha - on 04/12/2012 at 20:05 wrote:
"Do not try to build Grand Theft Auto - try to build Journey", as a not-very wise man (well me) once (well, just now) said. Totally empathise with the sentiment, and I think you're absolutely right in getting out of the soul-destroying game of trying to compete with much bigger and much better-funded competitors.

I know you and a few of the other major contributors have agonised over what the site's niche is or could be, but I think it's obvious now that this is secondary to what the site needs most - which is for you and everyone else involved to return to enjoying their involvement with it, rather than, as you say feeling like it's 'a noose' around the neck.

I firmly believe that good writing from people who are knowledgeable and passionate about a subject will always find an audience. How big that audience is, well, that's less certain, but at least if you do things that way you can honestly say that you're doing it for the love of it.

DDevil - on 04/12/2012 at 20:15 wrote:
Kids are my "problem". I was hoping to get some video content for you, but just as I was getting the hang of my capture equipment it broke!

I would love to do nothing but write for AATG, but you're correct, kids, families and full time jobs really eat up your time.

Sillothian - on 04/12/2012 at 20:34 wrote:
I visit the AATG forum everyday as it is a great way of keeping up with the lads I used to play games with on Xbox Live. I'd be disappointed if the site was taken down, but I'd be even more disappointed if Richard felt the need to keep the site going for the benefit of the 'AATG community' even though running the site was becoming a chore. It is his time, effort and money that keeps AATG running and he should only keep it going if he enjoys running the site.

Whatever the future holds for AATG I'd just like to say that I have massive respect for Richard in showing the desire and dedication to run his own gaming website. Good work fella :-)

LockeTribal - on 04/12/2012 at 20:37 wrote:
Good write up. I'd just like to say that I've probably enjoyed more articles, reviews and what not here on AATG than on any other gaming site in the few years since I was pointed towards the site.

The quality of writing here is, for the most part, very good and every review I've read has never come across as anything but honest opinion. Articles like Peej's Duke Nukem review and Chris's daughter's DS reviews were both things that stood out at the time as being the kind of thing you wouldn't see elsewhere.

Keep up the good work guys, quality over quantity (or regularity) in my eyes.

HairyArse - on 04/12/2012 at 22:46 wrote:
Nekotcha - I should have, of course, added your column to my list of highlights.

kentmonkey - on 04/12/2012 at 23:31 wrote:
I think why I stopped was that I was spending considerable time doing stuff like the 'Top 100 games of all time' and the 'Letting the dust settle' articles and for...well...very little readership.

It's not an arrogance thing. It's not a 'I demand people read my stuff' stance. It's just more that I'm really, really busy. I've got an extremely busy job, an unwell father, a house that has needed a lot of maintaining, and therefore very little time to game.

If I'm going to take away 2-3 hours of my 6-8 hours of spare time each week, I like to know it's being put to good use. It just didn't feel like I was achieving anything with those hours.

And to add to your sentiment, I go along with the massive facepalm as well. I got a lot of positive comments for my Uncharted 2 'letting the dust settle' on here, on Twitter, on Facebook, to my PM on Eurogamer and even my email. Some of it from EG staff and a lot of it from the community. Few, if any, stayed for the next installment or with the site.

And when some of the contributors to this site even put the boot in elsewhere or made snide comments, it left a nasty taste in my mouth. Especially as both you and Peej had spent so much of your time (which makes my own efforts seem inconsequential) getting it up and running and posting regularly.

NewYork - on 04/12/2012 at 23:47 wrote:
Dear god I was so scared reading this piece that it'd end with a decision to close the site. Don't, I visit daily.

HairyArse - on 04/12/2012 at 23:51 wrote:
As you've hopefully gathered, of course I'm not going to close the site. I think part of me would die if I did to be honest. I think I will start to emphasise quality over quantity and I have a couple of ideas I'm going to play around with over Xmas.

As ever I'm eternally grateful to those of you that do visit often and contribute and very much appreciate the kind words. But it's not about me, it's about us. :)

evilashchris - on 05/12/2012 at 01:53 wrote:
Good words Rich! I genuinely do visit every day also, it's a great little site, and it's lets me get away with actually liking things rather than picking everything to bits to 'edgy'.

nekotcha - on 05/12/2012 at 10:18 wrote:
I can tell you from my experience seeing games I've worked on getting publicised that it is an incredibly difficult thing to convert people from one-time visitors to a site into regulars. It's frustrating but it's just the way most of us are. You can of course do more to chase a larger readership but then the thrust of the article seems to be a move away from trying to commercialise the site and back to simply using it to write passionately about games.

@Hairy - thanks for the comment, even if I did only write a handful of posts in the end. I still want to get back to writing for the site every now and then, I just need to get better at fitting it into my schedule (doesn't help that I tend to write enormously long articles usually).

HairyArse - on 05/12/2012 at 10:23 wrote:
Neko - you're in the same boat we're all in and herein lies one of the cruxes of the article. We all contribute to this in our spare time and sometimes, more often than not, the real world gets in the way.

Another interesting thing I didn't mention in this article is that when I started the site it was also an attempt at building something of a portfolio in order to help me get a job in the industry or doing this full time. Having tried that for a bit and got a bit older and wiser, I'm not even sure now that if something like that came along I'd even accept it. The would inevitable be shit and it'd kill my passion. I think I prefer to be a bit more independent and underground.

HairyArse - on 05/12/2012 at 10:23 wrote:
Also, this is what I miss. Interesting, rational and intelligent debate.

TheBoy - on 05/12/2012 at 10:51 wrote:
That was a dread filled read Rich! I'm really pleased you are keeping the site going as I still think what you and everyone involved has built is something pretty amazing.

I can understand your disappointment that things haven't progressed as much as you would have liked. But I think your decision to emphasise quality over quantity can only be a good thing. If there's one thing that everyone agrees on about AATG, it's that there is a large number of interesting and entertaining reads that people don't get elsewhere.

peej - on 05/12/2012 at 11:01 wrote:
Christ I nearly burst into tears when I read this. First off, thanks for the mention - I seriously think that this site still rocks and would be gutted if it disappeared, primarily because you guys are now pretty much my only source of gaming wisdom and knowledge. I'm so tied up, time wise that something had to go and unfortunately it was gaming (and in particular writing about games) but I'm still as passionate, and still love seeing the debates and discussions (and some of the crazy decisions the industry makes) just as I did before.

But I'll echo exactly what Rich said about PR companies, and I'll also have a huge size 9 dig at Metacritic and Gamerankings, who have consistently ignored our requests to join up but seem to welcome any tom, dick or harry who shoves some pile of shite up on tumblr and expects people to send them free shit.

For me it was definitely never about the freebies, it was about the opportunity to eulogise about great games and sometimes on a rare occasion, have a good old fashioned moan about really shit ones.

I really wish I could spare more time to squeeze in a few bits for here and ironically since I stopped writing about games it seems to have given me a bit of my gaming mojo back.

To be honest though, the other regular contributors are consistently brilliant and that's something I never was, so I'm enjoying seeing others picking up the mantle (particularly Chris, Drew, Tom, Jason and all you other folk who've put stuff together for here).

Fucking good article and one that ought to be sent to just about every PR outfit on the planet to show 'em what they're missing out on. Ligging free-lunch scoffing bastards that they are :)

Trip SkyWay - on 05/12/2012 at 11:46 wrote:
Glad you're going to keep ATTG going Hairy. Like others people here this is one of the few games sites I still look at, and it would be a giant shame if it went away.

Whizzo - on 05/12/2012 at 13:30 wrote:
A good heartfelt editorial about the trials of running the site with little publisher support.

I'd like to write more of my nonsense for the site but while I don't have any kids to get in the way actually finding time to play everything that I'm (probably) stupidly buying let alone writing about them!

spanky - on 05/12/2012 at 22:04 wrote:
Redesign, you've got a wealth of content that can be refactored to a more responsive design quite quickly. The aesthetic is a clumsy and dated and the site is littered with little blips of sharing code that distract from the content and the editorial has suffered massively for it. I take full responsibility for what little I did back in the day, but to be fair there's a difference between mucking in/helping out a pal and actually taking a responsible approach. Forget the coding and get your photoshop on, work on the content display because that's your thrizzle, the site/cms is just a platform for distribution, forget about it.

Forget the PR btw, fuck them, their attitude is just one of the many symptoms of the malaise affecting the games industry. It's politics and margins, something you don't need to give a fuck about.

Big smooch(not for peej though, he's still a bit emotional)!

El_MUERkO - on 05/12/2012 at 22:29 wrote:
For a time I regularly added news items and looked to do reviews, I have about 15 half finished somewhere in /My Documents/, but life has gotten busy for me, married, moved twice, had a child, started to work for myself. Free time is at something of a minimum. Wish I had more time to get ahead of some news and drive traffic that'd get studios wanting their games reviewed by AATG but I don't. I even missed E3 week this year which I've always tried to push content on :( Oh well. Life. By the time you know what you really want there's no time to do it :P

King_Edward - on 06/12/2012 at 23:03 wrote:
I feel bad that my first comment on this site is attached to this article. I signed up a month or so ago and always meant to keep regular tabs on it, maybe even contribute occasionally. Unfortunately it coincided with a lull in my love for gaming.


Kay - on 07/12/2012 at 18:06 wrote:
Not much else I can add, except to say that I also feared this would be a eulogy for the site. Really glad to see it's sticking around though, as I do love this place, even though I don't get a chance to contribute as much as I'd like to.

As an aside, has anyone tried tweeting the website to Rab Florence? :)

PixlBitNick - on 07/12/2012 at 23:08 wrote:
Honestly, this is the first time I've ever visited this site, but I wanted to jump in and say a few things because this article hit really close to home for me.

I too run a game site (www.pixlbit.com) and it's stunning how closely your story mirrors mine. I started in the "industry" at Nintendo World Report and decided to strike out on my own and build a site for many of the same reasons you've listed above.

I love doing it, I really do, but it's incredibly tough to keep at it. Granted, I'm approaching about 5 years of doing this, 3 of which are under my own site, but it can be utterly demoralizing releasing content that you've worked hard on and receive little to no readership on. The numbers don't really matter, but the lack of comments and the lack of repeat visitors who enjoy one of your pieces is the real tough one to stomach.

I've spent countless hours searching for trends, going back and forth with Metacritic over placement, and shopping articles to N4G (hell, we still do it), but very little seems to come of it all. The PR grind has gotten so much worse, just as you described, and it's becoming an increasingly hostile and toxic environment for the independent guys like us.

However, I took a few minutes to peruse your content (your Trine 2: Goblin Menace Review led me here - nice work!) and you guys definitely have a talent for this. I hope you keep at it and do it for the love of writing and not to appease anyone but yourself.

Based on the comments I see here, it looks like you've got a nice group of people who care for what you do and that definitely counts for a lot. I know I'll be back, and while it won't be every day, I'm sure the content I find here will be worth my while.

Thanks for this, it helps knowing that I'm not alone.

kentmonkey - on 08/12/2012 at 21:50 wrote:
/wipes a manly tear

Khanivor - on 11/12/2012 at 04:13 wrote:
If it's all about the games then you've all succeeded long ago. Playing, writing and sharing.


Tuckey - on 11/12/2012 at 12:17 wrote:
I check this site most days, would be sad to see it go

Dragul - on 21/12/2012 at 22:52 wrote:
Great article Hairy!

Happy that the site carries on!

Unfortunetly the little time I have available since moving house (and now that I have a daughter) I've use it mostly to play games, and not read about them... Sorry. :(

And to tell the truth in the last 3 months (this is a mea culpa) I almost haven't put my smelly feet in here... :(

Great articles and great reviews (not day 1 reviews but reviews that tell the truth) is what AATG means!

darkmorgado - on 18/11/2013 at 07:47 wrote:
Never mind - what I originally wrote is best not said out loud ;)

But good work with this article, Hairy! And here's to another 7 years of being All About The Games!

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Better late than never, eh Ror?
Khanivor - In response to: Battle Chasers: Nightwar Review - 281day(s) ago.
Enjoyed this, cheers!
evilashchris - In response to: Reflecting on the Life of a Tomb Raider - 366day(s) ago.
Looks who's back. Shady's back.
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Micro Machines was my favourite!
ClaytonNotClive - In response to: Mantis Burn Racing Review - 738day(s) ago.
i agree chris, the Aliens table makes the others look bad.. because its so goood!! but they arent that bad.. haha! ...
neosalad - In response to: Aliens Vs. Pinball Review - 1000day(s) ago.