Along with my business partner Shawn Andrich, I am one of the co-founders of the videogame website Gamerswithjobs.com.

It is realistic to expect that you have no idea what that is or who I am. Frankly, I am agog whenever I find someone who does know.

Gamerswithjobs, or GWJ as it is more affectionately known, is an effort now five years old; a gaming commentary/review community blog that we built on the ever-changing principle of launching the site we had always wanted to visit. We committed ourselves publicly to integrity, high standards of quality, depth of analysis and a constant flow of content. Privately, I suspect we were just trying to justify our unhealthy obsession with videogames.

Launched three months before Kotaku, a year before Joystiq and a full two years before the venerable Escapist, we are something of the Old Man of gaming sites. This is in part because five years in the online space is an eternity, and partly because several of us are in our 30s and 40s. We have a gaggle of writers who have written for places like 1up.com, EGM, the now tragically defunct Games For Windows magazine and even one guy who abandoned us to be an editor for the very site you are reading now.

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Despite our persistent obscurity, we have managed to accomplish our primary goal of GWJ, which is simply to perpetrate an excuse for refusing to grow up and stop playing these silly games. “Look,” we say to our uncommonly patient wives, “we have literally tens of people who want to know what we think!”

This is, of course a lie.

The Trouble With Tribulations
I think there are three absolute requirements to starting a videogame website.

  1. A stubborn and imperturbable certainty that other people will be interested in your opinion.
  2. The ability to remain unassailable under vicious criticism.
  3. Willful ignorance of the fact that the gaming website population is at critical mass.

Launching a site with big aspirations demands a certain degree of audacity and skin thicker than Uwe Boll’s skull. It’s easy to be discouraged at every stage of running an independent site. Building traffic is a headache matched only by the headache of dealing with the traffic you’ve already built. When you fail, you are only living up to expectations, and when you succeed, you are often marginalized by much larger sites that co-opt your words for their own.

Let me provide a healthy example, one of a thousand that spring to mind. You may recall during the development of Half-Life 2 that some very sensitive code was stolen right from under the nose of Valve. GWJ was the site that broke that story.

You probably didn’t know that. Here’s why.

When Slashdot picked up the story, professionally attributing it to us with links that trampled our tender bandwidth in minutes, they suddenly and, I presume, inadvertently became the source to which all future stories referred. The next day, everywhere I looked I saw “Slashdot Reveals Half-Life 2 Source Code Stolen.” “Bullshit!” I could be heard shouting for miles around in impotent rage, but such is the circle of life in the world of digital reportage. In the end, the result of our scoop was an unusually steep hosting bill and virtually no recognition for our accomplishment.

My point is this: There is no glory in being the little guy and trying to make a name for yourself in this online space. In fact, looking back, it’s not hard to understand why people make such short runs of this gaming life. There’s very little money, very little room to stand out and very little recognition.

You Take the Good, You Take the Bad …
There are days when the life I imagined for myself writing a gaming website comes tantalizingly close to reality. These moments are fleeting things, rare specimens of hope that briefly surface from the murky soup of failure and disappointment before unceremoniously re-submerging seconds later. They are the occasional infusions of addictive endorphins upon which I rely to carry me through the other 364 days of the year.

Moments like:

  • Getting in on an exclusive sneak peek at E3 because some guy from GameSpot didn’t show.
  • Being interviewed by Time Magazine about being an adult gamer.
  • Finding out that some big-shot developer reads your site every-damn-day.
  • Seeing one of my writers find success at least in part because of his time with the site.
  • Playing Team Fortress 2 with people who would never have come together had without the site.
  • Having one of my favorite game developers playfully rebuke me for playing his game wrong at a demonstration.
  • Having something I wrote force a major publisher to budge, even if just for a moment.

Most days aren’t like that. Most days involve banning some clown because his social skills are limited to racial epithets and spurts of righteous indignation, followed by an aching brain-throb from trying to come up with a clever topic for my weekly article. Like any other job, there’s very little glamour in responding to emails about lost account passwords and whether we’d like to swap links with a site selling foot massagers. Unlike most other jobs, however, this one doesn’t really pay me anything.

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Here’s a tip: If you’re looking to get rich, don’t go into the wonderful world of independent videogame journalism. I kid you not when I suggest that panhandling and turning in aluminum cans at recycling centers are both better ways to amass fortune than running, for example, GWJ. If I were to dramatically overestimate the amount of money I’ve earned running the site and dramatically underestimate the number of hours I’ve spent on it, I nonetheless arrive at an hourly wage well under a dollar an hour. Very good if I’m looking to retire in a third world country, but very poor if I plan to eat.

Running GWJ for me is a worthwhile endeavor for its own sake. I realize this may sound patently snobbish, and maybe that’s part of the site’s milieu. We have that same occasionally combative nature toward mainstream gaming that unsigned independent bands have toward the big labels. I’d love to say that the beauty of GWJ is that we refuse to sell out, but sometimes I wonder if it’s just because nobody’s made us an offer.

Up With People
In the end, there’s really only one thing that fires me up about helping to run an independent site in this age of blogs and wikis and twitters (oh my!), and it has very little to do with hobnobbing with gaming big-shots, scoring free games from PR companies or raking in mad cash from Puzzle Pirates ads. At the risk of sounding maudlin, it’s all about the people.

When we launched with that vision of being the site we had always wanted to visit, what we pictured was a community. I could describe that vision to you, but frankly the picture of our current community is worth far more than the words it would take to describe it. GWJ was the platform that Shawn Andrich and I used to find like-minded people. Some people find communities in forums, others in games. We just took the “Field of Dreams” approach, built our own website and waited until people walked out of the Iowa corn. In this particular analogy, said Iowa corn is best represented by Google, but just go with me.

The real benefit of building and maintaining our site isn’t really the excuse to play games, or the income which I presume someone with far better business skills would be able to amass. It’s sitting down at E3 with Bill Harris and Russ Pitts for one of my all-time favorite lunches. It’s chatting with people like Ken Levine or Brian Reynolds and finding out that they’re just gamers with jobs. It’s organizing a get-together of the site’s community and meeting people who were theretofore just words on a screen. It’s opening a magazine and seeing names like Lara Crigger’s in print, knowing some part of what I did helped them launch their writing careers.

From our readers, to our contributors, to the everyone who has donated their time and energy to helping the site succeed, they are the high-octane fuel that keeps me going. Without them, I’d just be a guy who thinks far too much about videogames.

Stolen Pixels #5: Every Shade of Brown

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