When I first hopped on the Internet I did what most people did back then; I made a personal site. After a while I felt the need to write about games because I was heavily into PC games at the time. I started the site strictly for fun and it evolved from my passion in gaming. I started writing about my experiences with a game, then I wrote strategies so I could put them in one place and share them with a couple of people. Reviews naturally stemmed from there. And I admit, I had the “I was at the mall, I tried to walk past the store but I couldn’t help myself. X was on display and I picked it up. I’ll let you know how it goes. Yeah!” entry. I started the site for fun and only cared about my friends (that were into PC games) reading it. I could have cared less about strangers. Then a funny thing happened.
A game truly pissed me off.
I don’t remember which game it was but I remember being so pissed off I ranted about it on my site. I ripped that game apart, called out the developers, recommended people not buy it. I was hot. The developer found my entry and someone from within the company contacted me. They told me a patch was coming out to address many of those issues, would I be willing to install the patch and give the game another try? I said, “sure” and the next email made my jaw drop. They invited me into their beta program.
Around this time I realized the way the site was organized wasn’t optimal. I had a hard time finding things so I hired a programmer to write custom scripts for me and that was a fun experience. I’m a tweaker and I will keep doing little things to make MY browsing experience better and that ironically worked for the audience I wasn’t aware of at the time.
To make a long story short, I began interacting with developers because I wanted to get in other beta programs. It got to a point where I had a list of contacts with each of the major developers, new ones would contact me, and I was a part of the “important” beta programs. I had a steady stream of content ranging from my “I got it!” entries, reviews, interviews and screenshots. Then I encountered a problem.
I needed to monetize the site because I needed a dedicated server to handle the traffic and files. Hosting wasn’t cheap back then. Enter advertising networks. Money was easily made back then if a webmaster had traffic. I was stunned at the amount of money advertising networks were making. But that didn’t come close to the money that could be made from custom deals directly with the developers/publishers. The custom deals I arranged became the default ads and the advertising network became the filler ads. My site became commercial and I handled it as such. I have an ethics, privacy and Terms of Service statement. I had advertising, interview request, contact and commenting policies. My site in many ways became bureaucratic but it was still so much fun. I had over a million unique people viewing the site (which was a lot back then, not so much today), people where sharing ideas and experiences, the content was flowing from me throughout the day because I loved gaming, I was making way more than I would if I was working outside the home. Life was like paradise. Being one of the early gaming sites definitely gave me an edge over others because, in the end longevity, quality content and consistency wins out. Corporations (like cNet) started to move in the space but their presence did not affect me like other sites because I had that edge of longevity. With all good things, they eventually have to come to an end.
My mother was diagnosed with cancer and I was told the odds were the cancer had spread all over her body and she was dying. They were going to open her up and see. Receiving news like that I didn’t care about anything else. I obviously wouldn’t have time to play around on a site all day because I would have to take care of her during her last days. I needed to make arrangements about my site.
Selling it did not cross my mind. Not once.
I decided to break the site down and give it to other smaller sites in the community to help them grow. I was sad when I made the announcement the site would be closing, contacting the advertisers, the developers, publishers, etc. I smiled picking the sites I would give the content to and the excitement they expressed in receiving it.
I cried when published the page redirecting everyone to the sites I picked and saying goodbye. Tears are in my eyes now thinking about it.
But I have no regrets. My mom ended up having one tumor on her kidney, they removed the kidney, she had treatment for a year and today, she’s probably as healthy as I am. Eventually, the sites I picked died out because the corporations (ZDNet, cNet, GameSpy, etc.) were choking out the gaming enthusiast. Now it is very hard to break into gaming because the corporations dominate the space and I know in my heart that if I sold the site it would have ended up as a corporate site.
I started that site from my passion in gaming. I ended the site on a positive note, giving back to others. From that site I built a community that still has followers from a decade later – if I sold my site I doubt that would have happened.