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The Game Effect: The Profile Series

Part One: From Dreams to Reality-

By mikedeas879 on 4/23/2012
COMMUNITY ARTICLE
Over the coming weeks/ months I'll be posting a series about the creation and creators of this very site we've come to know and love. From the formation of the site itself to a profile piece on all the various contributors, this series will be a chance for all of the fans of The Game Effect (TGE) to learn more about the people behind the scenes.

For our first installment we'll talk to Creator and EIC of TGE, Josh Garwood about how The Game Effect came to be, and where he hopes to see it go in the future. 
  
 MIKE DEAS:   How did The Game Effect even get started? How did this site go from a glimmer in someone's eye to what we all love today? 

 JOSH GARWOOD: For as long as I can remember I've been a patron of video games. I love the industry, the sub-culture, and the unique entertainment value that games can provide. Even at a young age I wanted to be a part of the industry and contribute in some significant way. My initial attempt was to actually create a game, and while that project is on indefinite hold until I can afford to assemble a full team, it's still something that I'm passionate about. As an avid reader and consumer of daily gaming news though, I slowly began to realize that a journalism site could very well be my entry into the industry. After hundreds of game-related emails and IM conversations between friends, I became motivated to finally put something together. At the time (Winter 2009), I was a Software Engineer building Windows applications, but had zero experience with web development. So I took my Christmas vacation to learn the basics and several months later TheGameEffect started to take shape.

The original intent was to simply provide an outlet for friends and I to express our opinions through the supreme megaphone that is the Internet, but throughout the course of development the site grew into something much more. After some planning and introspection I decided to change the course of the site and set out to build something that felt fresh, unique, and that offered users a new level of involvement and engagement when consuming news. From this I formed three pillars that would serve as the foundation for the site:
  • Functional applications and features
    • From user ratings and wishlists to "follows" and favorites, I wanted to make TheGameEffect a site that offered functional and intuitive features from top to bottom. This eventually led to the implementation of a full social network within the site, wherein users could follow one another, track their activity feeds, write their own articles, and much more. We've continued to improve and iterate on these concepts over time, with a focus on following user feedback to implement the features in which they're most interested.
  • User engagement and involvement
    • This was a critical component to making the site unique and attractive to new users. At the time, there was really just one other site that had anything similar to the XP and progression system that we have now, and that was GiantBomb.com. So I set out to create our core "gamification" layer: XP, levels, Conquests (our version of achievements), and most importantly, tangible takeaways. No other gaming site offered you the ability to use the points that you earned to buy real items, and as a huge fan of art in general, I wanted to offer gamers the chance to purchase art prints with their GEP. From this, the Game Effect Store was born. It took quite some time to find artists who were not only willing to let me "sell" their prints in our store, but who were also talented enough to inspire a purchase in the first place. After some searching, I was lucky enough to get in contact with an amazing artist named Patrick Brown, a cornerstone in the industry and someone who has firmly planted himself as a leader in game art. It's been awesome working with Patrick, as he's not only incredibly talented, but also very humble. The driving idea here was to provide users with a means to compete with other users on the site by simply being active day-to-day. We wanted to provide inherent rewards for being loyal to the site, and for driving our community forward. While there have been challenges here (namely with users trying to abuse the system), I've been very happy with the way our community has grown over the past two years.
  • Veracious and substantive content
    • This was the primary point of concern when first starting the site. No matter how nice the site looked or how great a first impression may have been, if we didn't have a fairly continuous stream of content we wouldn't be able to maintain a high user retention rate. I wanted users to check our site every time a big game came out, or when a new trailer dropped. To do that we needed fresh content. Not just reviews and previews, but editorials as well. We needed to build a "relationship" with our audience, and create a level of trust between them and the quality of our work. The other two pillars were areas that I had more control over, but finding a group of willing and able writers was a distinct challenge when first starting. This was largely because I had never sought out a group of writers before, and for that matter had to make a hard sell to those who did express interest simply because no one had ever heard of us before. For better or worse, I was also quite picky when finding the right people for the site. I wanted writers who were passionate, well-informed, and capable of conveying humor in their articles. It turns out, this is rather difficult. But over time I was fortunate enough to snag 5-6 core writers who helped get the site off the ground and set a standard for our content going forward. Ironically, the time that I had hoped to spend writing was devoted to designing and coding the site itself, and in the beginning I was far more excited to do that than anything else, so it turned out to be a blessing.
MD:  How does The Game Effect compete with other, bigger sites? 

JG: Well, if we're talking site traffic and active users, the honest answer is that we simply can't compete with the likes of IGN, Gamespot, and GameInformer. They each have massive teams, significant financial backing, and far-reaching networks, among other things, that allow them to remain at the top of the industry. However, with regards to well-written content, rich UI design, robust user features, and a responsive and professional corps of writers, I feel like we are in many ways at least as sound as each of the "big boys." Before there was "My IGN" and before there was "Gamespot Fuse," there was TheGameEffect with our full suite of gamification features. To date, I still feel like we offer a more rewarding and engaging experience than either of those sites with regards to user level progression, user articles, wishlist management, and more (then again, I might be a tad biased, haha). It's been rather disheartening to be honest, to have been the first to market with many of the XP and Leveling components that we have, only to have IGN and Gamespot slowly catch up and reap the rewards. But that's simply the nature of the business; they have far more visibility than we do, and as such users are going to identify these things with those sites. In many ways I feel like I dropped the ball here, because there was a great opportunity to get out in front and market TGE like crazy, but at the time I simply didn't know how to go about doing those things and was honestly content to have a relatively small but extremely loyal community.

We do our best to leverage news aggregation sites such as N4G.com and Raptr.com to broadcast as many of our stories as possible, but traction on those sites is inconsistent at best. Truth be told, getting popular on N4G typically requires a sensationalized headline and something related to graphics or nudity, or both, sadly. One of our writers published an amazing blog post on this topic over at GameInformer (he was an active user there before joining us) that is certainly worth reading for anyone interested to know how difficult it can be to attract readers even with quality written content.

Where we really aren't competing with the bigger sites though, is in video content. Video is rapidly becoming a leading way in which gamers consume news, and we have not been quick to react to that. It's something that I hope to change throughout the course of this year, but it's a significant challenge to produce high quality video content without the equipment and studios that you would find at IGN, Gamestop, or GameTrailers, for instance. That said, we have plans to launch a podcast this year with hopes of making it a video podcast over time, and hope that will lead-in to more video content in the future. 
 MD:  What kind of numbers do you guys pull in every week/ month? 

 JG: This tends to vary based on the popularity of our articles on N4G and Raptr (as well as a new network called ZergNet.com, which we've been grateful for lately). On average though we get between 60K and 80K hits a month. At peak times of the year (towards the holidays and around E3) we see hits closer to 100K to 120K a month. 
 MD:  How do you guys afford to run this site? Or afford to give out free stuff? 

 JG: In the beginning, I never set out for TGE to be a source of revenue, and was happy to fund it out of some personal savings I had put away in the years prior. As for the free items, those too came out of some savings I set aside for the site. I truly believed in what we were doing and wanted to offer our loyal users something extra for being a part of our community. To boot, I was incredibly grateful for the users we had on the site, and felt compelled to show them that gratitude with our Item Shop. But as we've grown and the need for more writers arose, the cost of running the site naturally went up.

That said, I sought out to dampen the financial burden as much as possible, so I promptly signed up for Google AdSense several months after our initial launch. We saw modest returns from that, but it was still a small fraction of the actual cost to keep the site running. And recently, without reason (literally, Google refused to give us a reason), they disabled our AdSense account (I'm still bitter about that one, haha). So at the moment we have no source of income, which has been a bit of a struggle for me, because I love the site, I am ingratiated by our users and our dedicated team of writers, but without some steady income to offset the costs of the site, it's going to be a challenge to continue to run the site as we do now. I have a few things in the works now though, that will hopefully get us back to where we need to be. 
 MD:  How did you assemble your team? 

 JG: In the very beginning I reached out to just about all of my gamer friends who I thought would be interested in being a part of the site. I did my darndest to get them on board, and while I got a few bites (many thanks to Mike Bentley, Adam Pannell, Phil Wogatzke, and Ben Harrison for leading the way here), I still needed several additional writers with time to publish at least 3-5 articles a week. Oddly enough, that led me to CraigsList, and as much as I can't stand that site for its interface, horrible usability issues, and nonexistent support, when you are actually able get a post to show up, it can be a very effective hiring tool. From there, I brought on at least 5 writers; several of whom are still with the site today. More recently, I've taken to the blogosphere to find new talent; namely the GameInformer blog scene. And as of today, three of our top producing journalists (Nick Shneider, Nate Gillick, and Dan Jones) came from the GameInformer blogs. As well, referrals have also been extremely helpful in finding new writers, as a number of our TV and Movie journalists were referred to me by our existing group of writers.

As for the artists and designers, I scoured posts on DeviantArt.com actually and was fortunate enough to find an amazingly talented group of people from there. 
 MD:  What has the evolution of The Game Effect looked like? Did it start as a blog that you wrote for fun that turned into this? 

 JG: The site was always built with the intention of it being closer to something like IGN than a personal blog, but it has certainly grown in concept over time. I started out designing everything myself; partly for my own edification, and partly because I wanted to do as much as I could without spending money up front. In time though, I realized that I needed a designer. I needed someone with the creative and artistic aptitude to bring everything to life. This brought me to Christopher Nelson, who was extremely patient with me and my litany of requests. Chris also stepped up and did some writing for us when we were first getting started; something for which I'm still grateful for today. About six months later, in May of 2010, I got connected with another designer Mok Hofai of iDesi9n, and he created the design that you see now. I have made some minor modifications since then, but Hofai put together the design for what TheGameEffect has now become.

---------------------------------------------------------

Alright ladies and gents, that's all she wrote for The Profile Series: Part One. Stay tuned for upcoming pieces where we get to examine the personal lives of all of the TGE team.
Disclaimer: This article was written by a member of the Game Effect community (a non staff member), and includes views and opinions that are their own, and not expressly shared by TheGameEffect.
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JohnWittenmeier on May 29, 2013
Very nice, very nice.
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Jaafa1 on June 06, 2012
Nice to hear from the founder of TGE, please keep up the good work. And to all the visitors to the site here help spread the word about this site!
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epicgamer50055 on May 01, 2012
Very informative read. I think it's awesome that you were willing to take your own money to spend on stuff like rewards for your users. Wish you best of luck with the site!
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quantifier on April 26, 2012
Rocking idea for an article, really enjoyed it. It's pretty interesting to see the inner workings behind this website, especially the recruitment process. Here's to seeing this site continue to grow!
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Elleyena on April 23, 2012
Very interesting article. I'm glad that we'll get to know more about the makers of this awesome site! Definitely looking forward to more pieces.
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