I have enjoyed video games for over 20 years, and writing for most of my life.
In hindsight, it seems ridiculous to consider how long it took to combine the two. In the late 2000s, I was a man in my early 20′s of age, living in an apartment, soon dating and saving up for the best down payment on a mortgage that I could muster.
In the evenings, if I was not hanging out with my fiancé, I was writing simple little freelance articles. Quick topical pieces that required minimal research, 500-word profiles on recent celebrity events, basic how-to features, office administration tips, etc. These were the bite-sized snacks of the web world.
I wrote for content farms typically, rather than actual outlets. This meant that the pay for most of my efforts was very low, but with an intriguing twist: I may only have gotten a couple bucks at first, but every view got me a fraction of a cent. That sounds paltry, sure, but there were nights I was cranking out three articles an hour and the best ones would make me fifty cents to a dollar per month in views.
And sometimes, if I got lucky, one would catch on, thanks to the dark magic of search engine optimization. I had a top-ten list on Yahoo! that garnered over a million views and made between $100 and $300 a month for a while. It was a weird, cool feeling, knowing that something I wrote had been read that many times by that many people.
One day, I noticed a a certain batch of gaming-related titles (sometimes I would pick my own titles, sometimes I plugged into what was available to write to) that seemed strange. Apparently, I could review NES games. Those old Nintendo games I loved, the ones I still had around somewhere, they actually had some demand for content?
So it began. I started with titles I was most familiar with. Now, keep in mind: I had never written video game reviews before. I literally had no idea what I was doing (not that I have much better now). But, boy, did I enjoy it! That was the stuff, man, right there – writing about my Nintendo memories, essentially.
My brain was cooking with adrenaline-fueled excitement. I was banging out consistent works, but, where to go from there? Now what? I had all these reviews, and I had the stirrings of a quest that I was elated to work on, but I wanted to drive some attention to it. After all, I wanted those half-pennies for each view. How could I enhance traffic beyond simply trying to abuse SEO strategy?
Well, I needed a website, of course. And a Twitter account, yes, that would be a great fit. You could accuse me of being all about the money at the time, but please understand: I really did enjoy it, and it was fun. But, sure, yeah, I liked the idea of potentially having a profitable hobby rather than an expensive one.
I began with a basic WordPress template. Through some bizarre cosmic miracle, a certain guy stumbled across my 8-bit review blog and decided to politely inform me that it was ugly and he could design it to be much better.
That was so cool. All the pieces were in place: My own NintendoLegend.com URL, a custom theme, logo, and the Twitter account.
By far, the most popular page on the site has always been the list of NES games. People are more likely to Google “complete North American list of NES game releases” than, say, “Athena NES game review.” I really like the list page. Heck, I use it myself when I need the reference.
The question always came up every once in a while, though, concerning the format. Why do you write an informal blog post, then link separately to the full review? And the reason was always simple, if unintuitive for most people: I got paid more to host the reviews on pages where I was paid on a per-click basis. NintendoLegend.com, believe it or not, by hosting these reviews elsewhere has always turned a profit year-over-year.
I mean, not, like, a significant amount, at all, but it has paid for itself.
To be clear again: I did it primarily for fun, not out of some fantasy of getting rich by writing about 20-year-old games. In fact, I got hooked on Twitter and that became as great as anything else. Discovering the rich retro gaming community was a blessing, and I am so glad to be a part of it. That is the short way to put it.
Especially since the blog stuff got more difficult. In the first month of NintendoLegend.com’s existence, before the redesign, I wrote 50 reviews. At that rate, I would have been finished reviewing the North American release library in less than a year and a half. After that first month? A steep decline in review rate. Life got busier: Having a fiancé turned into having a wife. Living in an apartment turned into maintaining a house.
Then came Google’s understandable decisions to redo their search algorithms to negate SEO and nullify the content farms. Then came the changes in policies of the struggling content farms themselves. No more upfront payments, per-view pennies only. Eventually, one of the sites died outright. Thus the dozens upon dozens of broken links now. Sorry about that, I will get around to fixing those someday.
Hear me out: That sucked, but the best part of the gradual decline in revenue potential was a massive shift in my motivation. I went from a vague hope of maybe being profitable but having fun on the side to purely trying to be the best member of the retro gaming community I could be.
There was a really neat period of about a year or so where I was collaborating like crazy, writing a bi-weekly retro news column for Retroware, doing stupid Let’s Play videos just because I could, exchanging lots of emails with people, trying to do interviews, growing the Twitter presence rapidly, and still wanting more.
At some point, we founded 1 More Castle. To make a long (already too long) story short, I became more passionately involved in that than I did my own original personal blog – largely because, frankly, I recognized that it was so much better. Something about a collaborative community goal beats out a lone rogue’s journey into the niche. I am so fond of having a contributor team, and being about something just a little bit bigger, and doing really nifty events.
And then came unemployment, and then a new job that had me working more hours and traveling more (but I like the job), and then the pregnancy, and… here I am.
I am in this strange new place of recognizing that my time is scarce, but not entirely gone. I mean, I am writing this, after all, right? But my time is not best spent playing an obscure NES game and then crafting a quality review for it. My priorities do not quite align that way.
I could write more, about that feeling, right there, that specific phenomenon that it has taken years to go through; although, it does feel like so much navel-gazing, and so silly. I do not consider myself famous, nor do I even believe I owe anyone anything. I am merely Some Guy. I just really like old video games, and I like writing, and I like occasionally combining those two items.
Yet the idea of writing over 400 more NES-game reviews, and trying to do it well, sounds utterly exhausting. It sounds like labor. It sounds futile, at this point.
… okay, I’m not shutting down the site or anything, no. No, that’s not it.
But I’m not making any promises, either.
This corner of the web will keep the lights on, even if I have no idea when the next new review will be, nor how many more I will do. I am just a man with a busy life outside of video games that wishes I could curl up under a magic time-freezing blanket and return to my old friend here more often.
I think I am more honest now. I think I am, for the first time, okay with the thought of never finishing the project – which, at points past, would have been upsetting to consider. Now, it’s okay. I am far more concerned with always striving to be a better husband, a better father, and a better person. That’s okay, too.
I think I’ll always find room for old video games somewhere in the picture, and it will take something truly devastating to take me away from 1 More Castle and Twitter, but here it is. Just something I needed to write for myself. This has been a great ride, and now is a great time to really ease off the throttle.