I’ve been meaning to write this for a while but, what with job hunting, traveling and the ton of new games recently, I’ve kept putting it on the backburner. Lazy old me. Anyway, what follows is a brief collection of thoughts on the new and improved CitizenGame.co.uk – why it was relaunched, how it was done and where we are now. I’d intended to write one post about this, but I quickly realised it would simply be too damn large, so I’ve decided to split things up a little bit. Here’s part one, wherein I recap (as well as my befuddled memory will recall) on Citizen Game’s initial rise to internet mediocrity and try to give some impression of where we stood prior to the relaunch a little while back. I’m a bit fuzzy on specific chronology and events of the dark and distant pass, so please forgive any errors.
Rewind back to the first half of the 2009. Citizen Game (CG) had been in operation for over a year in various forms. Danny O’Dwyer and Denis Walsh (boyhood friends turned heterosexual life partners) started the CG podcast in 2008, with the first episode going live in March. Literally dozens listened. I didn’t come onboard until much later, by which time Danny had knocked up a functional website with the goal of eventually producing regular video and audio content to a professional standard. It was insanely ambitious. The phrase “Top Gear for Games” was used more than once. The website was to support that, providing regular news and reviews with a forum added later to push the community side of the project. I was brought in to manage news content and other bits and pieces, appearing semi-regularly on the podcast and doing my own bit of freelancing on the side.
But, by June ’09, it was pretty clear major changes were necessary if CG was ever going to establish itself properly and stand apart from the umpteen games sites around the web. We had problems. Lots of problems. For a start, despite Danny’s sterling work building things largely from scratch, the site now looked and felt creaky while on the back-end we had trouble organizing and managing all our content. A serious overhaul/redesign was necessary.
In terms of my work, I wasn’t happy with what I was doing. News coverage is a pain in the ass at the best of times, and it was particularly so for me because I had neither the time (because of real life work) or the contacts to keep up with the constant flow of information coming from so many sources. We didn’t break stories, we didn’t have time for any in-depth coverage. It was usually just a scramble to post about things everyone else had already heard. We weren’t being a useful source of news. The only posts I really enjoyed were the stories where I had the opportunity to inject a little bit of commentary into the proceedings, and I think it was telling that the posts that generated the most discussion were the ones where we did such things.
Our reviews section was fairly healthy, thanks in no small part to the great core group of regular contributors CG had collected, but we didn’t have a standardized format or style guide. Reviews varied wildly in length and in the approaches they took, writers given pretty much free reign. While that might have had an upside or two, it meant we couldn’t shape any sort of unified editorial identity for the site, which we really needed if we wanted to build a proper name for ourselves. Freedom is important for any writer, but we needed a consistency to our review content.
The last big issue was that our video content, long promised and teased by Danny, was too slow in coming. We were simply being too ambitious with what we wanted to achieve. The original idea was to produce a regular, full length games show with various segments. This was, for a bunch of blokes with full time jobs and living hours away from one another, madness. What content Danny did manage to get up (and I still giggle when I think of the faux Killzone 2 ad) was very solid and well received, but it just wasn’t possible to do anything close to the original concept with the time and resources available.
In spite of all of that, CG had done well enough in its short time for a site run by a bunch of people you’ve never heard of. I’d come into the whole thing feeling like a bit of a stranger, like I’d walked into Danny and Denis’ show, but I think we quickly gelled despite not being able to meet in person for many months. CG went from being something I worked on primarily to help add to my portfolio to being a project I became heavily invested in, that I really wanted to see explode in a storm of success. The level of traffic we were getting was encouraging, we had an active (if relatively small) community around the site and we were starting to build a name. The podcast, particularly, was something to be proud of (most of the time!), thanks to Danny’s skills and experience in radio broadcasting. We had a start. So, with a mind to capitalizing on that and trying to take CG to some kind of next level, the site went into hibernation in June ’09.
That’s the end of Part One. I’ll lob Part Two, talking about the specific changes that were made for the revamp, up in the next few days.