Retro Gaming Australia

Reflecting on PALGN

by on Feb.12, 2012, under Editorials, Specials

Most of you have probably heard that the editorial crew of PALGN have walked out, effectively leaving the site with no writers. The site’s shutdown is imminent.

What some of you may not know is that I was heavily involved with the site for its first five years. PALGN formed a major part of my life throughout my university years and my early to mid 20s. I fostered the editorial direction and helped to define its style, wrote more than 200 reviews, a series of regular features called Easy Mode and even met my fiancée through the site.

Even though my time with the site ended over four years ago, it’s still sad to see it all come to an end.

You probably all know the site’s origins: it was borne out of frustration at the lack of quality PAL coverage on the Internet back in 2001-2002 from the posters of the IGN PAL Community boards – Eurogamer was only then in its infancy. A few posters banded together to start on the site – originally a GameCube centric site called PALCUBE, but eventually changed into a multiplatform site. The forum was opened on March 5, 2002, and the site launched on February 3, 2003. The development stage was not without problems – a site crash combined with a lack of frequent backups nearly took PALGN out before it began.

My first encounter with PALGN came in September 2002. In the past year, I’d made the decision to start writing things about video games, and was on the lookout for places to showcase what little talent I had. I contacted James Gay about the Xbox writer position they were looking for, and was brought on board. James had practically forgotten about me during the downtime. When I contacted him, we were about 4 days away from launch and the team of 17 was busily scrapping together what work they could.

Of those original 17, one remains at the end – PALGN’s designer, John Buck (sonicwired).

Originally the focus was all PAL markets, but it proved difficult to find committed European writers. The axe was eventually taken to PALGN’s European side, but several Europe-based writers would contribute to PALGN until 2008. Of particular note was the one-two Chris combination of Chris Greenhough and Chris Sell; the former’s unyielding commitment to quality during his leadership stint and the latter’s reviewing prowess were key assets to the site in its glory days.

I had only intended to write bits and pieces for PALGN, but found the concept of being involved in a video game site intoxicating. Rather than waiting for the publishers to come to us, I figured that we could just try to do the best we could with renting games for review, along with getting the staff to review anything they bought themselves. Blockbuster ran a 4 new release games for $15 promotion, so I could get my hands on most new releases within a few days.

E3 2003 was PALGN’s first turning point. Our traffic was stinking up the place, and nobody bothered with coverage for the event. James was ready to give up the running of the site, but I politely convinced him that we could salvage the site if he agreed to put me in charge of the Australian side. That quickly turned into being in charge of all of PALGN’s editorial and public relations activities.

I’ll admit that I wasn’t the best with managing PR. While I established many of PALGN’s PR connections, others built on those relationships in ways that I never dreamed of. Acclaim Entertainment and THQ were the first to take a chance on us, and we had great relationships with both companies. Not being based in Sydney is a huge weakness in the video games press – I was running the site out of Toowoomba in Queensland, which might as well be in another planet in relation to Sydney. Fortunately, there were always plenty of keen volunteers to attend events in Sydney as representatives of PALGN.

The editorial side of the site’s operations were my real forte. PALGN had no editorial standards, no scoring guidelines and no quality control. I tried to fix that. Being a hater of the 7-10 scoring system employed by the games press, I tried to correct that by giving PALGN one of the harshest scoring systems around. Future editor David Low revised the standards later on to make them a little friendlier without losing the initial message. I don’t think a 10 would probably ever have been awarded under the original systems, but games given 10 by PALGN really deserved it. The site only awarded two 10s in my time – Resident Evil 4 and Super Mario Galaxy.

We needed articles that could draw traffic too. PALGN didn’t offer anything different to the big sites, and our coverage was really all over the place. Staff editorial articles were encouraged, along with release date tracking. I also started the regularly updated Australian Gaming Bargains feature, figuring that people hated paying too much for games and should know what was on sale. Some of the staff actually originally were against the feature, but I must admit that I did not run the site democratically.

Credit must go to Joseph Rositano, who did an amazing job of turning the bargains feature from a simple list to a tour de force of bargain hunting, particularly in an era where there were entire sites and communities dedicated to the activity.

Things started to turn around for the site from our mid 2003 lull. Traffic was picking up, our reviews were beginning to get respect (we were even listed by Gamerankings), and new writers were eager to join the site. I started my own editorial, Easy Mode, which proved popular at first, but wouldn’t really explode until its 2005 return. Admittedly, Easy Mode wasn’t always a quality production, sometimes thrown apart at the last minute with too many jaded streaks, but I always had fun with it.

I took a break from PALGN for most of 2004. Through circumstances that I admittedly do not entirely remember, James lost control over the domain. We tried to do the best we could to get it back from the domain sitter, but the site had to relaunch with new and domains. The traffic loss was substantial, and at that point I threw in the towel. Working on PALGN was akin to a full time job when the staff numbers were low and I’d managed to fail a university subject in the second half of 2003, so I decided to take a break to focus on my studies (a fortunate move – when I repaired my GPA, I was able to transfer into a better degree which led to my current career). I split the duties of editor and PR manager between Brendan Fitzgerald and Luke Van Leuveren, and went on my merry way.

Twelve months later, I was contact by the PALGN administration with a request to return to the site. Things were basically back to the way they were, and they wanted me back to lead the site. I had recently moved to Brisbane and was trying to finish off my degree, but the promise of review code to a student with no gaming budget proved too strong. I didn’t want to upset the work of those who had run the site in my absence, so I decided to come back with the lowered rank of deputy editor. Some decry this decision, and often I agree that I should have just taken the reigns back.

Regardless, this was the start of what I feel was PALGN’s peak. Between 2005 and 2008, the site ran like a well oiled machine. Traffic numbers exploded, the industry supported us and a fantastic community started to develop around the site. We started to gain respect. PALGN’s coverage of console launches was second to none. There were some really great writers working for the site: Brendan Fitzgerald, Chris Greenhough, Chris Sell, Dan Golding, Evan Stubbs, David Low, Phil Larsen, Tristan Kalogeropoulos – the list goes on. All of these guys have gone on to do great things, both inside the video games industry and out.

My time with PALGN drew to a close at the end of 2007, when we could not find an acceptable solution for both parties concerning my desire to branch out into full time freelancing. Things were already changing behind the scenes – James appeared to be at the end of his tether with the site’s operation and had been looking for buyers, which I guess is how the situation got to where it is today. James invested countless hours of his time and a lot of his own money in building the site and keeping it going – we should all thank him for his efforts.

We should all be glad that the now-former PALGN staff and administration managed to keep the site going as long as it did. Although it is disappointing that the site will probably not see its tenth anniversary in a month’s time, they did a fantastic job of moulding the site to their desires, and building upon the work of those that came before them all while battling against what I understand to be very uncooperative management.

I understand that a new site is going to be run by a number of ex-PALGN staff – I wish them the best of luck. Part of me is a little disappointed that the content I created for the site invariably won’t live on in its original context (it’s nice to be able to claim to be on Gamerankings and Metacritic), but we – everyone ever involved with PALGN – should be proud of what was accomplished.

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4 comments for this entry:
  1. reptilescorpio

    Great read, most of my time at the site seemed to be during that 2005-2008 period which means you had a strong hand in my enjoyment and subsequent daily visiting of the site.
    Which means I now have RGA bookmarked to keep an eye on.

  2. Anthony

    What a great read. I didn’t realise what your background was but it really shows in this little niche site.

    Thank you for sharing this story. More people should be reading the RGA!

  3. Greymist


    Its a pity the website has come to this end.

    I used to enjoy reading most of the articles as they where thoughtful and well written.

    I was involved in some of the coding for the website for a brief time in 2004/2005 and helped by creating the Game Exchange forum.

    The code was all over the place but James did a wonderful job of maintaining the site and implementing new features.

    Good luck to the future for all the ex-staff.

  4. David

    Great read. Yeah a lot of history there. I guess the web has changed too, and even without the main issue with the site (which was ultimately the performance), it wasn’t very sustainable.

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