Another-Castle.com, a website I had been writing and publishing articles and other content for the last four years, ended its run last week on November 1st. This marks the final end for a community that was founded more than 15 years ago on Aussie-Nintendo.com. What follows is a brief reflection on my time spent working on the site and being involved with the community.
Just over four years ago in September 2012, I published my first article for Another-Castle.com. The site had began a month earlier and had been in planning even longer. Another Castle (AC) began when Aussie-Nintendo.com ended and was created by members of the same community. I was an active member of Aussie-Nintendo.com for about four years from early 2004 and even briefly wrote for the website. I left partially because of events in my life and because I began playing more non-Nintendo video games. When went back to the website years later and found AC, I was immediately interested in joining. I had began playing more Nintendo games again and was keen to get involved with a community and do more writing. I didn’t know at the time just how much I would end up getting involved.
The founders of AC had big plans for the site, wanting to see it grow into a large, thriving community and also be profitable enough to pay the staff who contributed. They started with the industry contacts from Aussie-Nintendo and other publishers and the site was given support as well as review copies of games right up until the end. As I’ve said, I wasn’t part of any of this and I started writing once the site was already up and running. I was drawn to their enthusiasm though and hoped to become a useful member of the team. The site was already off to a very good start when I joined which stayed strong right up until July 2013 with the launch of a redesign in time for the inaugural Penny Arcade Expo Australia (PAX AU).
Something I was able to bring to the site apart from my writing was my basic Japanese language ability and my location in Japan. This meant from early on I was able to write some previews for games released earlier in Japan like Animal Crossing: New Leaf and Monster Hunter 3G and sometimes get reviews out ahead of the mainstream press. The same month of the redesign, I had one of the earliest reviews of Pikmin 3 on Wii U (thorough and unrushed), which was also linked from GoNintendo.com bringing in a lot of views. As far as site traffic goes, this was my biggest success for the life of the site. I was a lot prouder of all the little things I could do though such as with Japanese gaming news and showing obscure Japan-only releases.
A screenshot of the redesign from later in 2013
The July 2013 redesign did not go as planned. I neither financed it or was involved with it, so I can’t speak with authority on what went wrong. From what I was told and what I witnessed when it went up, it was far from ready and we would have been much better off if we’d stuck with the original design until it was. This isn’t just hindsight, as my first thoughts upon using it were that we should immediately switch back but I kept quiet about this as I didn’t think the criticism would help at that time. This didn’t end up mattering though as this design had done the damage. Our coverage of PAX was supposed to be the big chance for the Another Castle brand to come through. The Wii U had come out in late 2012, the PS4 and Xbox One were on the way later that year and we were a new site for this new gaming generation. All the energy and enthusiasm for the site that the staff had evaporated in a matter of weeks and less than a year after the site had launched.
The complications with the site not only affected our ability to cover news but caused trouble with our community. The forums no longer worked properly and actually never did again. Not only that but the forum change meant we lost all previous posts and members all had to re-register. The site now used WordPress which was much better but was still something we had to get used to (and was later useful for me in my day job). All our old content was now badly formatted in the transfer and we lost most of the screenshots and images in the transfer too. This definitely struck the writers and community hard and lowered morale all round and we soon lost half the writers and much of our community regulars in the process.
As I was still a relatively new writer, I hung back and tried not to say anything negative and remained supportive. I continued to write where I could and make the best I could of the site. While most of the staff (including the leadership) drifted away, a few of us remained and one in particular (who I won’t name here), kept the site afloat. It was this one person and the few of us who stayed with him that kept the site going for the majority of its run. He began redesigning the site and repairing what he could, the forum was updated and began working better and the site became a whole lot more stable. The more involved community members generally stuck around too.
How the site looked in 2014 and how it largely remained until the end
I played my part by going back and updating all our articles from before the redesign which wasn’t so much hard as it was time consuming. I was able to repair all the reviews, previews and features and made sure all the URLs were live and even get back a good deal of the images. Part of the reason for this was to preserve what the writers had done but the main reason was with our application to be included on MetaCritic.com. They answered politely but ultimately declined. This was the expected answer but still a blow that was slightly mitigated as we could use Valve’s Steam Curator feature to link old content to a wider audience.
Though the site was never the same after the disastrous redesign, there were fleeting moments when the enthusiasm returned. Though I never attended, we came back for the next two PAX AU events (though only doing actual press coverage in 2015). The fourth year of the event is on as I write and members and writers are in attendance but AC is not. There was also the Friday Castle Jukebox feature which became a staple of the site and something we were truly all involved with. This was simply selecting some video game music tracks on YouTube with a bit of a write-up on each but it was fun and well received by the community.
It would be wrong to pretend the site was anything but a failure in the end. Even had the redesign gone well and the enthusiasm continued, we were competing against forces we couldn’t control. Social media had done a lot to kill forums and message boards already and even as we started many mainstream gaming sites were closing. Throughout our run GameSpy, 1UP, PALGN, Joystiq and most recently GameTrailers.com all closed. None of these sites were small time. YouTube had really taken off with an enormous variety of video gaming shows, as had the streaming site Twitch. The industry was (and is still) changing with mobile and tablet platforms becoming more popular. The traditional console/PC model seems to be over, along with the way the industry communicates with consumers (e.g. Nintendo Direct). This all deserves a separate post but I only use it to point out we were swimming against the flow in many ways without our own problems.
I don’t write the above to be negative though but to point out how much positive can be taken away. We survived four years with regular content despite making no money. The only payment we received were the occasional review copies from publishers and independent developers and they weren’t always games we liked. The site was funded by all of us and I certainly don’t regret a cent I contributed. This is to say nothing of the great group of people I got to know and still hope to meet one day, perhaps at a future industry event. I’ll use this time to thank everyone in the community for all they did no matter how small. It made it all worth it.
I could it end it here but I’ll just write a few things I learned while writing for the site that I can apply in my future endeavours.
- The first is related to the redesign but I’ll state in different terms, “a gravel car park is better than a half-finished concrete one.” Basically, don’t change what works and certainly don’t rush into anything new.
- Reliability is important. Talent is also important but if you’re not bringing it when its needed or when it’s promised, you aren’t much good.
- There is a lot you can learn from failure. This is something I’d been told and something I’ve experienced but AC was that experience drawn out over four years.
- Trying is better than doing nothing. It is easy to sit back and laugh at those who try and fail but they’ll probably be better off than you will after a similar setback.
So after putting up over one hundred articles for the site, I’m done with it. Once the archive is done I’ll add links to my old work and that will truly be the end. It was truly time well spent and I’m glad I was involved. There may be new projects on the horizon and I’ll certainly bring updates on any that do. Thanks again to all involved with Another Castle!