Well, here we are – the final post on Toronto Thumbs. It’s funny, but I have been so busy editing all of the final content for the site that I have neglected my own writing – go figure. That’s really the story of the site, though – one of sacrifice and endurance. As of this post, I am on record as having written 1,341 articles on this site. The funny thing is that there is really a lot more to it than just the writing. For that, though, we’ll have to start at the beginning.
Shaun artfully tells the tale of the origins of Toronto Thumbs in his farewell post. When Shaun asked me if I would like to write, I jumped at the chance. I was a little nervous, to be sure – my own blog was nothing more than weird musings and a bazillion haiku poems (made to order, doncha know?), so writing more “professionally” was a little bit scary. However, Shaun is a pretty patient guy, and he knows how to get his writers to express themselves effectively; plus, chances are I would have written about games that I played on one forum or another – why not have something a little more structured with a little more reach?
Within short order, we had something awesome. While we had originally started with numerical ratings for the games that we reviewed, we quickly doffed them in order to have a little more flexibility. I have always hated “scores” on reviews – to me they cheapen the writing, and they can be misleading. I was a lot more comfortable with the reviews after that. As time went on, I started attending events and putting my photography skills to work. I really started to jive with the networking aspect of the site, as well, and I loved making new friends in the industry.
This period of growth is probably best accompanied by listening to some of our crazy podcasts (which dwindled after I took over).
When Shaun was hired on to be a host on The Electric Playground, I was super-happy for him. Of course, this meant that the fate of Toronto Thumbs was at stake. As luck would have it, though, he offered the site to me. This was both an honour and very scary, as it would mean that I would have to step up my game in terms of writing. My friend Dave had given me some books on writing, so I studied and practiced. I also enlisted a few of my awesome friends to help me out.
The New Beginning
In the first few months of running Toronto Thumbs, the writing load was reasonable for a new editor (with a toddler, for the record). I would have a post on the site every two or three days, and it felt like a good pace. The numbers fell a bit – mostly because I didn’t really understand how to properly publicize the site yet – but I was making new contacts on my own and enjoying interacting with a larger sphere of professionals – not only in the gaming industry, but in the tech industry in general.
It was at this point that something pivotal happened. I was in Walmart, looking for a portable DVD player for our car so that we could keep Smallest Thumbs occupied on a big trip. Once I had selected the DVD player, I made my way over to the videogame section to browse. There, a lady (probably in her late 30’s or early 40’s) was asking one of the workers to recommend a Wii game for her two kids, aged 7 and 9 (girl and boy, respectively). She stated that she only really wanted to purchase a single game that they could both play – rather than buy one for each of them, which would have resulted in them fighting over the console. The Walmart dude unlocked the cabinet and handed her a copy of a game from the Call of Duty franchise. He excused himself, informing her that he would be back in five minutes, as he was being paged, and then he took off. The lady studied the game case (which was a little misleading), and seemed puzzled.
I walked up and told her that she didn’t really want to buy that game for her kids. She looked up and I smiled and took down a copy of Boom Blox Bash Party from the shelf (dude left the case open). I told her that Call of Duty was violent, and that Boom Blox was way more fun – and would engage both of them at the same time (as well as the whole family, if they wanted). She thanked me, and told me that I “should have a website or something”. Oddly enough, I had just printed business cards for Thumbs that day, so I handed her one and told her to check us out (and let all of her friends know).
It was at that moment that I really felt good about what I was doing: I was running a website that dispensed our opinions on what we were passionate about – and while we might not always be in agreement with the bigger sites, we certainly weren’t shy about saying what we felt was right. I felt reaffirmed about our direction, and came up with some plans in regards to coverage – and also how to gather new writers (and help existing ones out). We weren’t in the business of making money – we were about knowledge; and if I could help fledgling writers get a leg up in the industry? Well, that was just fine, too.
After a year or so, I started to ramp up the posts. I found that having more content was the best way to get more eyes on the site. I had also taken the hardware side of things to the next level as well, reviewing things like gaming mice and headphones (among other things). Part of this decision was based on the fact that friends were asking me for my opinion on many of these things – and I was ill-informed. I also started to ramp up event coverage – though my style was different than most media blokes. I liked watching people enjoy the games and the tech. I found that there was great value in observing their impressions and then adding my own spin. I also managed to have some fantastic interviews over the years – with the best being the least planned for. My interview methodology has always been somewhat casual, and I could find out more information with a simple conversation rather than a structured hit-list. I like to think that the people that I chatted with always had fun.
While I have always been happy with my still-life shots (I did my own shots for pretty much all of the products that I reviewed), I wasn’t satisfied with the quality of my event photos – so I practiced by going to events and capturing as many images as I could (with some strategy behind it). If I liked any of the shots that I had taken, I would make sure that I noted what I did. I also made the decision to give good images to event organizers and PR folks, as a thank you gesture – after all, they took a chance on me by inviting me to the event. That tradition continued for the remainder of the run of Toronto Thumbs.
Writers would come and go (some because they wanted to move onto other things; others because I kicked them out), but there were a few who remained on the site and helped immeasurably. I owe my sanity to many of these writers, who managed to help me with the content load.
I always tried to maintain a balance between family life, work, and Toronto Thumbs. It definitely wasn’t always easy – but I think that I did a good job. My wife has always been very patient with me in regards to what amounts to a very busy hobby. Events were the killer – as many of them happened during the day (which meant I would have to burn some vacation time), or in the evenings (which meant that I would have to burn family time). I didn’t really like to sacrifice either of those things (they are important), for the record, which would explain why I would drift in and out of industry events. It was very rare for me to stay for the entire duration – usually just an hour or two. While it was always nice to get free food, drinks, and sometimes goodies, that wasn’t really my main motivation for going (though it seems to be so for others). Invariably, I would end up back home, writing about the event that I had just attended, after the rest of the family went to bed.
Probably my favourite interview during my tenure.
Eventually, Toronto Thumbs started to get requests to attend press screenings for movies, and we were also invited to review some DVDs, Blu-rays, and toys. I enlisted the help of my daughter to write about games (she will talk your ear off about Animal Crossing: New Leaf), toys, movies (TIFF loved her stuff), as well as cool places (props to the Ontario Science Centre for letting us hang out there).
Things were certainly getting busy!
The Challenge of the Decision
I’m not going to lie: there were moments during my tenure that really tested my resolve. For one thing, contrary to popular belief, it is really hard to play so many games, watch so many movies, and test out so many gadgets – while still maintaining some level of enjoyment. Sure, all of those things are fun to do – but there is always something of an academic edge to it. As time went on, I would get further and further from finishing games; that being said, I always made sure to play a significant amount to know what I was talking about (it is very rare for game-play to change halfway through a game). I would eventually return to them later to finish them (and feel satisfied that my review stood the test). My ability to return to games also eventually became taxed, though. Free time to finish games started to erode – as did my general level of fitness.
Some of the reviews also started to become unreasonably late. Folks that know me and the site know that I have never seen the benefit of reviewing things for release day – no, I think that reviews that are published a week after the initial hype of any release are far more valuable to the general consumer (which flies in the face of a lot of PR and marketing philosophy, I suspect). I’m all about measured responses and careful thought – things that I wouldn’t have been able to do if I had rushed through my reviews. Take Driveclub, for instance: if you read a day one review, you might never buy it. However, if you read my review (which hit a month after it was out), you might have a different opinion (it was patched a lot and many features were added for free). Given the general review load of the site, though (damn our popularity), deadlines began to slip. It was this that was the main driver behind my decision. People looked to our site for fair and balanced coverage – with a little bit of a lag; I didn’t want to become “that guy” – I didn’t want to be known for extreme tardiness.
So I made up my mind to wrap up the site.
There has been a lot of projection flying my way over the last little while. People don’t seem comfortable that I can just decide to wrap things up and let the site sit until it ceases to get hits (at which point it will be shuttered). I’m not sure why that is. In the age of electronic permanence, the footprint of Toronto Thumbs will be around for a very long time, so there is nothing to be sad about, really. I mean, if it makes you feel better to think that I am all broken up inside and tearful: feel free to imagine that.
Me? Well, I’m getting a lot of time back. How much is a lot? Between writing on the subway, playing games, evaluating tech, and writing, well, you’re looking at an average of 3 hours a day. I can now dedicate this time to doing other things that I should have been doing in the first place, like: practicing guitar, working on my sketches, fixing up the house, and catching up with all of those shows and movies that friends have insisted that I should watch (though I’ll still not watch some of them, just to piss some of you fuckers off).
I have also had a few offers to write for other (way larger) outlets, so I’ll be able to satisfy my writing bug. And, hey! If you’re throwing a gaming event, and you’re looking for someone to take photos for you – you know where to find me! My rates are reasonable – and just think about all of the time you’ll save by not having to explain what to do (and the photos will be good).
In the days following my decision, I was thinking about a lot of things. For the most part, the reactions of many were supportive – but there were some people’s words that weighed on my mind a bit. I hate failure, and even though I didn’t feel as if I had failed, I wasn’t sure if others thought that I had. It’s easy for people to infer that I had given up, and that I was not rising to some sort of challenge. After a little while, I came to the realization that the people who expressed that opinion to me were shitheads, and that in the grand scheme of things, I was a-ok. Who wouldn’t want to end on a high note, right?
Shortly after I posted the news, I was in Future Shop, checking out some of the latest Disney Infinity 2.0 figures (because I am an addict), when I overheard a conversation between a father and son. The son was trying to explain Infinity to his father – who was struggling to understand it. I walked over and asked if I could bend his ear while his son was browsing nearby, and he acquiesced. Over the next ten minutes, I explained the premise behind Disney Infinity, which set he should get, and what to expect after (while it is a fun game, it can also be a money pit). After our chat he understood exactly what he needed to do – and do you know what he did? He thanked me, and then told me that I “should have a website or something”. I laughed, and told him that I did – but that I was closing it down. He asked for the address and told me that he was going to check it out before it was gone, because he liked my style.
And so we come to the end – the end of an era, some have said. I don’t think it’s as big as all of that. We were a website that approached reviews in an interesting way. We would pretend that we were sitting down with a friend, talking about something that we liked, or that we don’t liked. We would use simple language, and we would talk about the reasons behind our feelings. This would be even more important for the titles that we didn’t like, for which we would make suggestions as to how they could be better.
Sure, I could spend time talking about how gaming media is broken – but that would turn into a philosophical discussion on how humanity is full of knobs in general. Really, that could be a whole other blog. No, instead I’d like to dwell on the fact that I got to provide a service for folks that needed it; I also got to meet some neat people, and even be a Canadian Videogames Award judge for several years! I also got to make a lot of people happy with games, gadgets and gizmos that they might not otherwise be able to afford (I gave away a lot of the stuff that I reviewed – after getting permission from my sources, of course; spread the wealth, I always say).
I just want to cap this article by thanking everyone who accompanied me on this journey. The readers have been great. The PR and Marketing folks that I interfaced with were kind and patient. The writers were (for the most part) super-awesome. Most of all, I want to thank my friends, and especially my family, for their patience, understanding and support.
I’d love to write more about our adventures, but, well, you can always go back and check out the site!
Thanks for reading!