I remember it well, how I found myself becoming a games critic, a reviewer, whatever you want to call it. As a member of rllmukforum, I saw another member mention on Twitter that he was playing a game, a game not yet released. I asked him how and he told me he wrote for Gamestyle.
I wanted a piece of that!!
The idea of writing about videogames isn’t something that had even entered my head. You see, I come from a creative background, I wanted to be a graphic designer and despite my training, it was something that, at the time wasn’t happening. I trained to be a print designer, but the web was the future.
At this time I was training myself to learn web design, whilst working in a call center, trying to make ends meet. I had a then 2 year old son and a partner out of work with severe medical conditions. Somehow surviving on £800 a month.
I have always loved games, but with that kind of monthly income, there was no way I could afford games, so the prospect of writing about games and getting the odd freebie sounded great. I had just bought a copy of DiRT 2 (I think I had gift cards or something to buy it) and was told to submit a review and if it was liked I may be able to do more.
I did that and my first review was published and I was part of the Gamestyle team. I did the odd review here and there, got the odd free game and all was good.
Then disaster struck for the site, a major hack, along with various members leaving meant the site was about to say goodbye to existence. So I made the decision to do what I could to save the place. There were some selfish reasons, I still wanted to play free games, but also I grew to love the site and felt that a long standing indie review site, with no advertising, no sponsorship and no pressure from publishers needed to be something that remained.
So I took on the role of handling the PR and running the site on a day to day basis. It was me and two other guys, just doing what we could to keep the ship barely afloat.
Between us, we added stability and all of a sudden we saw growth. I reached out for new writers many of whom would to the odd thing here and there, but couldn’t dedicate the time to offer more. Yet we had enough content to be able to get code from people and get more and more reviews written.
We owe a hell of a lot to Indie Developers, who provided most of our content, but also the likes of Activision, Ubisoft and at the time EA, who were happy to provide of with games such as FIFA, NHL, Assassin’s Creed, Call of Duty, etc.
We added big name titles to our steady stream of Indie games and slowly but surely the site had risen from the grave. We took on more writers, some who stuck and some who didn’t, but we were still getting the content out.
Why am I telling you this? Well, by this time running Gamestyle became almost a full time job, as well as a huge passion project. I wanted to see it grow and become something else.
I am not a visionary by any stretch of the imagination, but it was clear to me, that video content was the future. Not in the sense of pure video reviews, but more like what you were seeing on GiantBomb, GameTrailers, IGN and the like. I wanted to get on that, maybe carve out a niche for Gamestyle to do similar things to those sites.
What I actually wanted was a career in gaming media, to be the UK equivalent to those sites. Along with Steve and Andrew, we started Gamestyle LIVE, a weekly show where we just chatted about games in a casual manner. But it worked, we got some good feedback and despite not having huge numbers, we were having fun.
This led to one of my highest moments for Gamestyle. We had Kyle Bosman on one of the episodes. The guy was and still is a bit of a hero of mine in this field and he agreed to join us for a one off episode, it was an amazing feeling.
Sadly, keeping up with weekly shows became more and more difficult and in the end we decided that none of us could offer the dedication as a group to maintain the schedule, so we put the show on the shelf. A sad time but, hey, it had to be done.
My plan was to somehow get the site making money, make it so I could run the site full time and pay the bills at the same time. We prided ourselves on not having ads or sponsorship, so that wasn’t an option.
Patreon or Kickstarter could be something we look at, allow me to get the right equipment, maybe a studio space and start to do professional output, again whilst being able to do this full time and pay the bills.
The problem was, I couldn’t just ask for the money, I didn’t feel the site was in the right place with the numbers to be able to ask fro donations or subscriptions. We weren’t putting out enough content yet. Also we weren’t names, I am not Jim Sterling, we didn’t have the pulling power of GiantBomb. Who would offer up payments for us. Truth be told, I was scared…
Why? Well as I have said in the past I suffer depression and the thought of taking a risk like that and being flat out rejected felt like it would be the end of me. I honestly don’t think I could have coped emotionally to a failed Kickstarter with ZERO support or a Pateon bringing in £0 a month.
So I struggled on, tried to do Quick Look videos, podcasts and more. All with varying degrees of success. Yet something stood out. I was the only one who was putting in the time needed to run the site.
That isn’t a complaint, far from it in fact. I couldn’t be more impressed by the support of Steve, Andrew, John, Adam, Gareth, Stacey, Jon and everyone else who chipped in. But they all had other commitments and there was no way they could do more than what they did. Hell without them the site wouldn’t exist.
We had a period where it looked like things may just take off for us. We were getting some amazing numbers, but unfortunately there was no way to sustain it. Maybe that was the time to do Kickstarter, maybe not. The fact is I didn’t try it and I will never know.
But it was after this, that I realized something had to give. My ‘actual’ job at the time was failing to pay me and I had barely any money coming in and debt was and still is piling up. Running the site to try and maintain numbers was taking more and more time and having a severe effect on me.
I was playing loads of games, but I found I wasn’t actually getting to enjoy them. Sure I could enjoy them from a critical point of view, but I wasn’t enjoying myself. It was the same with the Quick Looks and the Podcasts. I enjoyed doing them, but it was the editing and posting that took a toll.
But I love the site and I was doing what I could to keep content flowing and making sure the Gamestyle name could continue.
Still something wasn’t right in me. I wasn’t getting the enjoyment. I was happy enough to do Gamestyle without getting income from it, but when I was failing to get paid for my job at the same time, it just became harder and harder to cope with.
So about two months ago, the chance of paid work came about and I had a tough decision to make. Well the decision was actually easy, as I am a father and I have a family I love. Paid work had to become the priority, so Gamestyle had to become part time, I had no choice.
Emotionally it was hard, as I felt I would be letting down those who put their time and effort in. Not just those at present, but also those from the site’s past.
I have a major issue about myself. I honestly believe I have the reverse Midas touch, whereby everything I touch turns to failure. It may not be instant, but somehow because of me it will fail. That is the kind of person I am.
Gamestyle though, for some reason or another was a different story, it made me feel good. Especially when I took a chance and saved the site. But in doing so I felt like I was failing myself and my family. Sure I enjoyed doing what I did, but again the lack of income was taking its toll on my life around me.
So last month I had to decide…all or nothing.
I never wanted to do this, but I have to leave Gamestyle, I have no choice. If I put my all into it, financially I am screwed and my family suffer. If I do the odd bit for Gamestyle on the side, then the site suffers.
So it is with a heavy heart I need to call time on Gamestyle for myself and perhaps any thoughts I had of making it in the industry on the media side. My family comes first and they are the most important thing in the world to me.
I didn’t take the decision lightly, because I honestly believe with the right captain steering the ship, then Gamestyle could become bigger than what it is, but that captain isn’t me. I don’t have the talent, I am simply not good enough.
I don’t know what the future for the site is, but I know there will be someone out there who can keep it going and maybe even take it to the next level. That person isn’t me though. I have to prioritize and at the end of the day, head has to rule over heart.
I have written hundreds of reviews, many articles, recorded tons of videos and podcast and all in all had an amazing time. I have met wonderful people, many whom I can now call friends. I have done things that even a short year ago I never felt I could and Gamestyle was a major part in fighting my depression.
I won’t lie, I do have tears as I write this. Because after nearly seven years, it is hard not to think I am losing something important in my life. My family even know what it means to me, as my partner tried to think of ways we could still make it work.
I am seeing the year out, because I think I owe the site that much, but I will start 2016 without Gamestyle in my life.
Everyone who has been involved at any point, I thank you. I wish I could go on, but I simply cannot. I wish everyone who is still involved all the luck in the world moving forward and maybe, someday out paths will cross again.