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Editorial: GamesFirst! the Fourth Time
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posted by: Shawn Rider
date posted: 12:00 AM Sun Nov 7th, 2004
last revision: 12:00 AM Sun Nov 7th, 2004

I've been a part of this whole relaunch thing twice in the past. 

I wasn't around until later in 1998, a few weeks after Rick Fehrenbacher and Al Wildey bought an ailing website from their pal, Zap Reicken, who had started GamesFirst! back in 1995 on his TurboNet account in collaboration with Cactus Computers, a local computer shop in Moscow, Idaho. But that was the first time, as far as I know, that the site was relaunched in a major way, with some kind of fanfare. 

The second time was in 2000 when Rick and Al and I spent several weeks charging through our already-large archive and rebuilding a now very large website into a 21st Century online magazine. The redesign was a major accomplishment, and we felt like it was a good way to celebrate the 5 year anniversary of the site amidst phenomenal success and always-increasing readership (at that time we served over 200 thousand readers per month).

The third time wasn't really a relaunch, but there was a posting like this on GF! Rick and Al sold the site to Sarah Wichlacz, Jeff Luther, and me. I wrote the editorial that time, and it got a bit sappy.  The trouble was, and still is, that since I came on board with the site, it has become a major part of my life. Since 1998 I have, every day, been working on GF! I've come to love the site like a relative, which is sort of twisted. And unstable. Since 2001, it has been clear that something had to give. 

Rick and Al left, in part, because the workload had burned them out. At that time, GF! was a bitch-goddess that would suck days out of a week, and they had things like day jobs and families. Sure, I didn't have kids, but the workload took its toll on everyone involved with the production of GF! One by one we made our way through the ranks, burning out everyone gullible enough to come within reach of the production pipeline.

The problem was, GF! had grown too much, and the Web had changed. It dawned on us by 2002 that we needed to go a new direction with the production of the site. We needed to seize the tools controlled by so many larger organizations with giant corporate sponsors and teams of programmers and IT departments. We had none of that. We had a supportive host who gave us a virtual server with FrontPage extensions. We saw a challenge. How to rebuild the site in the image of a dynamic, database-driven website, even though we've always been a lot better at writing about videogames than financing business ventures? By that time we'd seen a half-dozen of our advertising managers go bankrupt, rode GameFan down the tubes, gotten royally screwed by the jerks in charge of UGO, and been thoroughly left to dangle by the people who pay for those Technoscout natural light floorlamp ads in the Time magazine. Disillusioned with the effort and lack of payoff in trying to actually get paid, we remained focused on our writing, and decided to muscle through until we could find a solution.


First, we looked in academia, which had helped us grow to the size we had achieved. We worked with a few determined college students, each of whom eventually crumbled under the pressure. Senior theses met their demise in the challenge of a busy online magazine site. We needed something burlier.

Then, we looked to the open source community. We tried PHPNuke, Xaraya, and Scoop, and couldn't make any of them work exactly the way we needed. It's tough to satisfy a group of scholars and critics, who make it their business to pick apart anything put in front of them. As much as we ethically support open source, free software, and other progressive collaborative movements (after all, GF! is just one big collaboration), these packages didn't cut it.

Finally, we decided we needed to do it ourselves. Unfortunately, none of us knew exactly how to program a dynamic database-driven website. We just knew we liked those words. We liked using Blogger. We wanted it to be so easy? So we did what we know how to do -- we started researching. We learned all about PHP and mySQL and the ins and outs of building dynamic interactive Web content. We were finally ready to build GF! in the image of our wildest dreams and desires. It was the summer of 2004, and we were finally moving toward our goals. 

And then, as so often has happened in the life of GF!, we got an amazing stroke of good luck. No sooner than we had finalized our design of the site and gotten our heads around the implications of a new way of making GF!, than we received a phone call from Wayne.

I had been talking to Wayne Chang since E3 2003, when his company, AceGain, had just unveiled their new peer to peer (P2P) file exchange utility, which he wanted to introduce to gaming publishers. We discussed some ideas of where I thought this utility could benefit gamers and had a good time talking games and gaming. It was clear from the start that Wayne had read GF!, and that always helps me get along with new acquaintances. 

For about a year I didn't hear from Wayne much. I got updates that his P2P technology, now called Byteswarm, and a companion auto-update utility called LiveUpdate had been included with games from EA, Rockstar, Activision, and Microsoft. The LiveUpdate utility had become popular with the Battlefield Vietnam crowd, and Byteswarm had launched as a standalone free file download service -- search and download with a couple of clicks. No mirrors, no slow servers. Just a lightweight client free from spyware or foistware. Oh, and completely blazing fast speeds all the time.

Wayne and I discussed the possibility of integrating Byteswarm into GF!, and eventually those discussions grew into Wayne recommending that we get together with an up-and-coming Web design and development firm called MediaPier (we love these company names with two words squished together). This was the beginning of September. Here we are at the beginning of November, and MediaPier has built us a completely custom site architecture with all the bells and whistles. 

At this point, I'm still a bit breathless: Our dreams have come true. We have exactly what we wanted, what we needed. We are now, in the deepest meaning of the phrase, good to go. So here we go.

What to expect from here on out: 

In the next few weeks we'll be starting up our newsletter. It will feature a listing of updates as well as exclusive content available nowhere else. So it will be well worth getting.

GF! is now the best place to come for all of your download needs. Our integration with Byteswarm means that when you read a review or preview you'll be able to download any officially available binary files -- trailers, patches, mods, music, etc. -- for every game we cover. (Currently the Byteswarm client only works with IE, but Wayne assures me a Firefox compatible version is forthcoming.) Want to get the Doom 3 Demo? The Half-Life 2 trailer? There you go. We challenge you to send us a link to the site where you can download these files more quickly. 

Our streamlined system means more content and more timely content. We know that over the past year or so, GF! has trickled out the reviews few and far between. It's because we've been working so hard toward our goals, but regardless of how GF! has been in the past, the future will be better than ever before. The News Pipe remains our continual feed of headlines and current events. And reviews, previews, and articles will be coming faster and more often than ever before.

The new search tool is incredible. Now all of our content will be completely searchable and easy to find. This will apply to our backcatalog, too. We have already stocked the database with our material going back for nearly two years. Soon we will have added all of our previous articles, upward of 2200 of them, dating all the way back to our mid-90s launch. 

We are happy to bring you more information with every review and article. Now we list developer and ESRB ratings, both of which have been requested by many readers. In addition, we list direct links to download game-related files, which is another serious enhancement.

GF! articles now come with keywords. These keywords are used to create connections between articles, reviews, news and previews posted on the site. These keywords will lead you down interesting paths of reading enjoyment. 

RSS feeds are the way of the future. Click the XML links found in each section of GF! to access the RSS formatted file, appropriate for adding to various feedreaders and RSS interpreters. What with all the new content that will be popping up all the time, we thought we should give you a good way to keep up with us.

Keep an eye out over the coming year for even more cool stuff. We will be celebrating our 10th year online in 2005, and we plan to make it a big deal. We're working on all kinds of good traditional and new media features that will be released in conjunction with our anniversary.

Finally, probably the most exciting thing is what hasn't changed. GF! has always been home to thoughtful and candid videogame coverage, and it always will be. The site will remain a uniquely independent voice in the mainstream game media world. GF! continues to be produced by a dedicated team of writers who love videogames. These are many of the same folks who have been with GF! for the past 7 years -- regular readers will be happy to see the continuing contributions of Eric, Aaron, Rick, Jeremy, Monica and Matt, all of whom have remained consistently supportive. Plus, we have a bunch of new writers coming on-board who uphold our tradition of producing high quality writing. 

I'd like to thank Aaron Stanton and Eric Qualls, both of whom have been indispensible members of the team for years now, but who have especially helped in getting together this new version of GF! We'd like to welcome and offer our sincere thanks to our new partners, Wayne and company at Byteswarm, and the folks at Mediapier who have worked so hard to build us a new home. It still kind of feels like we won on a reality TV show.

On behalf of myself and my fellow owners Sarah and Jeff, this game is ON.