In January this year one of my closest friends, Ben, and I drove down to Kent to meet up with a girl called Jenn. We knew her fairly well and had both met her a few times in the past at various events, back from the days when Ben and I wrote for a site called Gaminglives and Jenn ran Death By Robots. We’d been talking for weeks between us about a video game website we wanted to create and couldn’t stop talking all the way to Jenn’s house about our ideas – we got so carried away I missed the turnoff for the M1 onto the M25 and we ended up driving through London and adding an hour to our journey.
Why did I want to set up a gaming website when there must be more of them than there are guns in Borderlands? Truth is I was bored – about a month or so prior I’d stepped back from writing because it was stressing me out too much. I’d fell out of love with it and it had taken its toll on what was a close friendship with its owners, one that still isn’t and probably never will be fully healed. Like I said I was bored, I missed it and I needed something to do.
So I talked Ben into helping me out and to do the hard work stuff that I didn’t understand, like making databases and all the coding. Community was something that had always been important to him and his guidance in creating what I like to think as a friendly atmosphere, is all down to him. There are so many things that we wanted to do that still haven’t got around to doing, and I know it’s one aspect that we’ve not done all we can with on the site yet. It will get better, we’re just waiting for the right tools to come along.
We started throwing out ideas into a Google docs file entitled “No Gods or Kings, Only us”; working through them, tossing them aside as we decided they were stupid, wouldn’t work or were the wrong tone for the website. There are 16 files in that folder covering everything from Ben’s initial community proposal to the ominously titled “The Document” – a 30 page design doc that effectively became the website and everything TheGameJar stood for.
We worked sollid for about two weeks on creating that document and the site. I tried my hardest to make everything look swish and pretty, Ben did the fiddly bits, while Jenn kept us both in check and on track. We couldn’t do it alone though and a gaming website is nothing without people to write on it. Thankfully Jenn had a small army over at Death By Robots; my god it was ugly, but Jenn had a solid team and a soul with what she had created on the site. A lot of the team from Death By Robots and that soul makes up the core part of what TheGameJar is now, and as a nod to the past we decided to keep the podcast pretty much as it was, name and all. Closing her baby down couldn’t have been an easy thing to do – I certainly couldn’t do it and it’s something that I’ll come back to after I’ve finished telling my story. She likened it to a Pokemon evolving, which in a weird way kind of made sense.
We’d prepared two week’s worth of articles and had them all ready to go. We orginally wanted to launch on Friday 3rd February but I was getting paranoid that the secret would get out and that people who often smile through their teeth at us could be malicious and do something like steal our username on Facebook; in hindsight it was daft to think like that but trying to register social media pages and keep them a secret in the process is not an easy thing to do in this interconnected world we now live in. So we did it all late on the Wednesday night, jumped the gun and launched on the Thursday. Never in a million years did I expect the warm welcome and the support we had during those first few days from readers, other websites and people who work in the industry. I’d become quite attached to something Todd McFarlane said in one of the first interviews we did – “No mother thinks their baby is ugly”. It’s something that I’ve kept in my mind ever since so it was nice to have people compliment us on what we had created.
Two weeks later we had a rather nondescript email from Dan Sheridan (you may know him as EA_Actionman) inviting us to a hotel in London with only the information: “wear some boots”. This was to be our first event. We packed onto a rather swish looking SSX tour bus and drove from central London to Battersea Power Station. For our first event Dan wanted to throw us off a roof 200 meters from the ground. Naturally, when the extreme sports lady asked who was next I pushed Jenn forward and took a step back, then watched from the top of a viewing platform as she jumped off the roof and traveled about 600 meters down a zipline with a snowboard strapped to her feet – the things we do for a free copy of a game.
Months passed and the site continued to go from strength to strength, not without starting to take its toll though. Financially I was taking the burden of paying for the site; in theory it shouldn’t have been much a month but I have a tendency to just do things and worry about the mess later. I was spending money on everything I thought we needed rather than trying to make money to pay for things and with our only revenue stream at the time being Google Adsense it was a blow when we were blocked from the program, with the money we made kept by Google. No reason was ever clearly given and after countless appeals to Google to get them to reactivate our account (or at the least give us a reason) only resulted in being told there was suspicious click activity on our advertisements. Basically somebody had sat there clicking our ads for long periods of time from the same IP address – the team knew not to click the ads so I know it wasn’t any of them which lead me to believe it malicious. I never had any proof of that but it was a blow at the time nonetheless.
I found myself thinking about things differently, almost as if I was becoming everything I started to hate and I was all too aware of just how much money I was spending. Jenn and I started having the odd little tiff, the workload was piling up and it wasn’t getting any easier – I was reaching breaking point. Another event was coming up at Codemasters for DiRT Showdown where Ben was now working as a Community Manager; he had to step back from the site shortly after we launched as there is a conflict of interest issue, but we stayed as close as we were before and he was always on hand to lend his opinion on one of my hair-brained ideas.
This was Ben’s first event from that side of the fence and I wanted to do him proud. Jenn came up to stay at my house for a few days and we sat playing the game for the whole day. I was exhausted by the end of it and so was she. We got back to mine and both fell asleep on the sofa. It was the first time either of us had been to sleep before 2am in months and turned out to be the reset I/we needed.
Weeks turned into months and the site continued to grow. I started to get twitchy and wanted bigger things for the site – the first of which was the picnic, which originally started out as a way for us to say thankyou to all our writers and those people on Twitter and Facebook that interact with us on a daily basis. I was bricking it thinking that nobody would show up, but they did. Yes it was small, about 30 people, but I had a really good day and I’d like to think that the people who came had a good time too. The Picnic wasn’t big enough though and we’d missed E3, so I had my eyes firmly locked on Gamescom – Jenn was having none of it.
We just didn’t have the money… we didn’t have any money! So I turned to eBay and sold pretty much everything of value I owned, with the exception of my AV system and two signed Batman prints I have on my wall in the living room. Jenn wasn’t happy that I had done it; she was OK with going next year but I wasn’t prepared to wait. I felt like if we wanted the site to be taken seriously we had to go, no exception. To cover Gamescom how we wanted to though we’d decided we would need/want six people there. I was intending on spending most of my time doing video and getting that up as quickly as possible, while the others interviewed and wrote, with Jenn managing the team. Gamescom is hard work and I knew that, but the others didn’t really, and I wanted it to be as little work as possible so we could enjoy our time outside the show rather than spending it working in a hot hotel room.
Organising Gamescom was another test of mine and Jenn’s relationship; I wanted everything and I wanted it there and then, to a point where I just booked a hotel with no flights or even passes for the show sorted. I had to send Jenn flowers after that and promise not to get involved with the planning at all from then on. I only interfered a few times after that… OK I interfered a lot, but just not a bad. All this was on top of arranging to go to Rezzed in Brighton for our first proper expo. In my head Rezzed was a test for Gamescom; I wanted to see how the team would work in that kind of environment, and I think we pulled it off quite well. I also spent the night talking to a lot of the guys from The Indie Stone, who are without question the nicest bunch of guys I’ve ever met. The universe really doesn’t want them to get that game finished though.
Rezzed was expensive and I’d spent about £700 on a camera, mic and getting to the show. This was £700 out of the money that I didn’t have for Gamescom, so it was back to eBay to literally sell anything I had left. It wasn’t enough though and on top of the massive ongoing loan from the ‘Bank of Mum’ I asked my brother if he wanted to come. He’d done all this before but gave it up for a tidy job in the video game industry – he was willing to come away with us and even pay half my way… we just needed to get him cleared to write with his current employer. Gamescom took weeks to plan and Jenn did it all, although I think the hardest part of arranging it for her was controlling me.
Running along side all of this in the north Ant was busy planning his wedding, not just a normal wedding though Ant was going to be on BBC’s Don’t Tell The Bride and with the big day falling the weekend before Gamescom. It went without saying that Ant wouldn’t be coming to Gamescom, but this came about after the tickets and passes had all finally been sorted. I was disappointed, Gamescom would have been good with Ant but at the end of the day it’s 270,000 sweaty people playing games, or a solid week of post-marital bumpings. I can’t blame him. Ant dropping out meant having to take the running joke that is Joey though, which was fine – Joey’s a good guy, we just give him a hard time because it’s funny. He never deserved any of the stick we gave him.
Ant’s big day was finally here, Jenn and Ryan had drove up to my house to stay for the wedding, which was actually the first time any of us had met Ant in person. I remember getting a little breathless every time I thought about it – this guy who I’ve known for over a year who has gone through some really heavy and hard times after leaving the Jehovah’s Witnesses was starting a new life with somebody, who he was so in love with that whenever he spoke about her struggled to articulate himself (which believe me is the only time Ant struggles to find words). It was a lovely day out, filled with all the different colours of wine and rocket ships and so much standing around waiting we broke out the video camera and started messing around just to pass the time. It was a fun weekend and another one of those that we needed away from the site so that we could cool off for a few days – it was the longest the site had effectively gone unattended since we launched and it wasn’t even a full 24 hour period.
The following day the three of us went to my mum’s for a BBQ, which somehow ended up with my step-dad breaking out his Mass Effect looking air rifle and me telling my bat-shit crazy 90 year old nan that Jenn was my wife and Ryan was our son. I think she was ready to give him some pocket money before my mum told me off for winding her up. Then came a call from Joey… he had lost his passport. Two days before before we fly to Germany after all the cost, ballache and effort we’d put into it. In that instant Joey deserved all of the crap we’d ever given him and all of the crap we ever would at that very moment in time – were he there in person I probably would have punched him in the face. The three of us fell silent for pretty much the rest of the day, with one of us occasionally breaking it saying “fucking Joey!”.
Eventually Jenn made me realise there was no point stressing about it, it was time to go to Germany and after getting what we thought was lost in the airport right before the flight was due to board we were off to a start that pretty much set the tone for the week. Jenn stressing at me for getting us lost, Ryan telling us to calm down, Josh standing there looking like a kid watching his parents fight, while Adam just kept out of it and put his headphones on. Every time we had to catch a train in Cologne we went through this whole routine – I would just want to get on the next red train one as the rest of the team got mad at me for having a bad sense of direction. “Yeah but my sense of adventure is through the roof” I’d reply.
Gamescom went to plan as much as Gamescom does go to plan – some publishers are as organised as a Vulcan town planning committee, while others seem to keep their appointments on Post-its. Gamescom was everything I wanted it to be; I felt like we as a site absolutely nailed it. Originally it was all about the site and trying to take it to the next level, but by the first day of the show I didn’t care about that. It became about spending time with friends and I just wanted to make sure that they had a good time – I owed them that above anything else.
We returned back from Germany and I was content that Gamescom was a success – I had absolutely destroyed my bank account and the company’s in the process but it was worth it. Weeks pass and the site continued to grow – Jenn started arranging Eurogamer Expo interviews while my two lives started to collide.
In the real world I work in a hi-fi shop, it was just a job that I found myself doing after falling into the retail trap in my teenage years. It was never really hard work as such; I just plodded on as many people do, still not really sure with what I wanted to do with my life, well… I was sure. I wanted to do TheGameJar, I wanted a cool trendy office with beanbags and consoles all over the place, I wanted a Coke-a-Cola vending machine that dispensed free fizzy pop and I wanted that to be my life.
Annoyingly we live in the real world of mortgages and gas bills, so I know that those things are either a long way off or just a little bit too lofty. It is the goal though, albeit long term. Short term I just wanted to get the site making enough money to pay Jenn a wage. She’s been relying on the bank of mum just like me to get by, which I can assure you isn’t a nice feeling during your mid-twenties. Then I was faced with a hard choice – I’d been offered a role at a developer that is pretty much a dream job and the reason (right or wrong) that a lot of people get into this whole gaming website ‘thing’ that we do. Before TheGameJar I’d have been all over it but now it means giving up my baby, stepping away from the one thing I actually felt that I did well. I can’t work in a hi-fi shop anymore though; I’m doing nothing and just getting by. I want to work hard and be able to sit back at the end and say “I did that” which is the void the site filled for me, but it doesn’t pay the mortgage or the gas bill.
I’ve wrestled with the decision for weeks and on more than one occasion I considered turning it down. I knew that wasn’t the right thing to do, nor was it the sensible one and I didn’t want to…. Arghhh can you see how messed up I am over this? It’s a dream job though and one only an absolute berk would turn down, so it is with a heavy heart that I made the descision to step back from the site. The position I’m moving into isn’t one that’ll let me continue doing TheGameJar – for now at least.
I’d be lying if I said I won’t miss it and as dumb as it sounds it’s breaking my heart to think I won’t be doing this on Monday morning. It’s been fun, it really has; from the moment Jenn, Ben and I sat on the sofa and ordered the server, to jumping off the roof of Battersea Power Station, being one of the first to see Assassin’s Creed III, mine and Jenn’s DiRTy weekend, clipping a GameJar padlock to a bridge in Germany, Ant’s wedding and everything inbetween. It has been an emotional roller-coaster, but one that I would go on again in a heartbeat.
I would like to thank everybody in the industry who has supported us and the site since we launched – your advice, insight and attention to has helped make the site what it is.
To the team; Ant, Ed, Joey (Fucking Joey), Josh, Adam, Paul, James, Ryan and Chris – I can’t believe you guys put up with me. You guys give up so much of your own time for little reward, you’re different; you don’t pretend to be “journalists” or “writers”, you don’t consider yourself the law of video games or self important, don’t ever change that. You are the soul of the web site.
And to Jenn…
You’ve put up with my hissy fits, my distractions, my over eagerness, my stupid ideas, my falling asleep mid conversation, my rants and my teasing. This whole final piece of mine was supposed to be about the website and it’s story but it’s not really is it? it’s about us, it was always about us. You’ve gone from being a girl I thought was too cool for me, to my best friend.