The life of a small games website owner isn’t an easy one, and yet The Reticule has been going for five years now. A lot has changed with the site, and in the industry in that time, and hopefully I can do a decent job of explaining some of the pressures that influence our output here on the site in my words you can read after the break.
The site first launched five years ago with a rag-tag bunch of university students who came together from the Rock, Paper, Shotgun Steam chat group. Dubble, Stalin’s Ghost, The Poisoned Sponge and Steve The Black were the aliases of my accomplices, better known as Sean Garland, Greg Wild, Phil Cameron and Steve Peacock. We were staunch PC advocates and dismissed any notion of talking about console games.
In those halcyon days we were all relatively free to do what we wanted and when we wanted. There wasn’t much, if any, involvement with PRs when we started, I think my first contact was with Dan Griliopoulos back when he was still in PR for games like NecroVision and Cryostasis. It wasn’t a serious thing at the start, the site design was a very limited customisation of a default WordPress template that we managed to cobble together as a team. We had a pay-as-you-go web host, and I dread to think how much it really cost me over the years on there.
We were free from pressure and had plenty of spare time to contribute to the site with articles of various types going up on a regular basis. As we settled into things I morphed into the ‘boss’ role. I never dared refer to myself as an Editor back then, we were all friends having fun and were happy with what we wrote without the need for someone coming along and changing everything behind us. However I took an ever larger role in the administrative side of things by working with PR, looking into ads and trying to expand the writing roster.
Soon enough we started to gain some traction with links in Rock, Paper, Shotgun’s The Sunday Paper’s feature by Kieron Gillen opening our site to more readers and a friendly rivalry with Gaming Daily keeping us on our toes. Moreover, our increasing reputation led to Phil being in a position to move into exploring the freelance waters while later we would see Tom Senior, now from PC Gamer appear for a few fly-by articles. In more recent times Ben Borthwick made regular appearances before getting more heavily involved in freelance action for OXM.
As time went on a few of us (myself included) started having words appear in other publications with Gaming Daily and Resolution Magazine featuring for the growing and changing cast of writers. In a personal highlight I was fortunate enough to have my own piece published on Rock, Paper, Shotgun.
Of course the cast of writers underwent a lot of change as the site moved into a slightly more professional setup…well at least it did when we had a proper site design replacing the clapped out attempts at a custom WordPress theme we were using. More crucially though, those who were still writing were becoming older and wiser, University took greater importance, jobs came and went and personal relationships blossomed and withered. In short, our time to spend on the site was becoming ever more sacred and our output started to tail off.
At the end of 2010 things were drawing to a close for the site in its current shape and combined with a couple of months of awful internet connections, I sadly called things to a close.
After a few months of down-time I knew that ending it there and then wasn’t right. In the down time I had eventually entered the current-gen (nearly old-gen now) world after picking up my Xbox 360. I got in touch with several of the old guard and got the site back on its feet with support from Ben, Michael Johnson in the early days of the reboot before figures like Steph Woor, Lewis Foster and Nick Wheeler appeared.
Things were going well, but over time I started to realise how troublesome things can be when running a site like The Reticule and trying to cover games in the depth that is required. They are aspects which have become especially paramount over the last year. (Be warned, I get a little bit melancholy at times in the following few paragraphs.)
Nick had his second child, Kevin got engaged, a few long-standing members of the team moved to pastures new while others faded away. On a personal level I have gone through the rigmarole of buying a flat while working two jobs and six day weeks since March. All of this means that we just don’t have the time, or finances to cover everything like we used to.
Since The Reticule first formed, as a group of upstarts we had a vision whereby news posts would be a small part of the site as we would focus on writing great features, delivering insightful interviews and giving games our Verdict. It is something I have tried to continue with ever since, and while at times you will see me talking about a new video for a AAA game or giving a handful of words over to an indie game, that is largely done because I have a genuine interest in the game or find the news or new media especially worth sharing.
However, you will notice that coverage of some recently released or upcoming titles is minimal or non-existent. This is because we don’t have the time to talk about the game or the media coverage is so overblown we see little need in adding another YouTube embed to the internet. It doesn’t mean we don’t care about the game, just that with The Reticule being a hobby rather than a profession, we can’t afford to give up our day jobs to write news posts all day. To be honest, there are plenty of sites which do a great job of that anyway.
You might look at the site and see that we have a few ads, which might make some people think we are raking in the money. The truth is we don’t, over all the years we have had ads (various different providers I will admit) we have never brought in enough revenue to pay for the site hosting for the next year.
Things might be different if I had lower morals, I often get spammed with people offering to pay me to write an article on the site about a new peripheral or website. I don’t give these the time of day, I throw the message into my spam folder as soon as I realise what it is. (In the process of writing this I’ve had two such messages come along.)
I sincerely doubt we will have any reviews of games from the next-gen consoles for the best part of a year, we simply can’t always afford to splash the cash on them, however appealing they might be. Further, as we don’t always post the latest news on some of the big AAA titles, we miss out on getting review code.
This is something that I can appreciate with a boxed console game where the PR, be they internal to the developer/publisher or an external agency, don’t have enough physical copies to give away to everyone. It can be disappointing at times, especially when you know you will do the game justice with the coverage of the game post-release, just look at the various titles we talk about in Our Week in Games.
What get to me though is when you get told that it isn’t possible to get a review code…for a game which is being released through digital channels. That doesn’t sit right with me; it forces us to make a choice between buying a game which isn’t always financially viable, and not covering it at all.
On the flip-side of this though is when you talk to an indie, they are more often than not more than happy to send through a code to their game, something which I always appreciate. The trouble comes when you get messages about five exciting indie games in one day and you just don’t have the time to talk about them for a week or more.
But I have no problem with indies getting in touch, just an apology for those who do and don’t see anything come from it. Indies are the lifeblood of the industry, and when Nick and I were at Rezzed we got to see some great titles on show from the indie developers.
The trade shows I’ve been to have been wonderful, they have given me the chance to meet up with fellow writers, be they from The Reticule or other sites. I have met some really smart indie developers who have great stories to tell, Cliff Harris and Christos Reid spring to mind instantly. In short, the shows are highlights of my year, and the games I play at them are only a small part of that.
For sure, there are aspects of running a small site like this which can frustrate, namely having to jump through the hoops for access to games and the costs. On the whole though, when I look back at the past five years of the site, I am so happy that we took the plunge to start it and that thanks to the numerous writers that have come and gone, the site is still going. Here is to another five years.
The Reticule – Editor