The Video Game Critic's
20th Anniversary Message
I've been running The Video Game Critic for 20 years now. Somebody told me that's kind of a "big deal" so I guess I should probably write something. Since 1999 I've posted over 5100 video game reviews. That's about 255 reviews per year or almost 5 per week. Why would somebody do this? It stems from a lifelong passion for video games. I witnessed the early Pong machines of the 1970's, basked in the roaring arcades of the early 1980's, and learned how to program during the home computer boom. When retrogaming became a thing in the late 90's I jumped right in and this site grew out of that hobby. My earliest reviews date back to June 1999 so I consider that the official anniversary.
WHAT ELSE HAPPENED IN 1999
- Bill Clinton was president
- John Elway led the Broncos to a Super Bowl victory over the Falcons
- Star Wars: The Phantom Menace was in the theaters
- Britney Spears was the hottest recording artist
- Friends was the top-rated sitcom
- People were terrified the Y2K bug would bring the world to its knees
This modest website has managed to outlast pretty much all the other video game web sites from 1999! So what's it like to run The Video Game Critic? Mostly awesome. Being a full-time software engineer during the day, this site gives me a way to decompress. I can justify spending all my money on used systems and games, effectively reliving the highs and lows of each generation of consoles. It also gives me a running excuse to have friends over for beer and games (strictly for review purposes, of course). You never have to grow up when you run a site like this. My readers are incredibly supportive as well. They let me know about hidden gems I've missed, as well as upcoming titles coming down the pike. They alert me to typos, and aren't afraid to speak up when I'm dead wrong about a game (hey, it happens).
HOW IT ALL BEGANWhen I began surfing the internet in the late 90's I discovered kindred spirits who shared a love for vintage games. Some of these people were posting short, tongue-in-cheek reviews of classic games. I found these capsule reviews so entertaining I decided to adopt the same format for my fledgling web site. I wanted to maintain a non-serious, conversational tone that got to the heart of the matter. I think I nailed it, because people who know me claim I write exactly the same way I talk! I would never include profanity in my reviews but I will toss it the occasional obligatory "[expletive]" as a point of emphasis. I was always annoyed with all the pompous "professional" game reviews which read like college dissertations. To "get to the point" I decided to include a definitive grade with each review. My reviews vary in quality but I think they've generally held up well. When I go back and read them they make me laugh. I don't even remember writing most of them.
BUMPS IN THE ROADIt hasn't been all fun and games. Running this site has had its share of harrowing moments. I've had to migrate between multiple hosting services, juggle domain names, and deal with people plagiarizing my work. Despite the adversity this little site has managed to keep chugging along. And while it might seem like a one-man operation, rest assured dozens of people have played vital roles in keeping this thing afloat. Whenever the site would enter crisis mode, some kind-hearted strangers from the internet would inevitably step in and save the day. These people restored my faith in humanity.
COLLECTING GAMESI've been a video game collector my entire life but like most gamers I always sold back my old stuff to help pay for the latest systems. During the late 90's however that equation changed due to a little thing called the internet. I discovered I could systematically re-acquire all my old consoles (and more) for bargain basement prices! After reconstructing my original libraries I expanded to systems I always wanted but could never afford like the Colecovision, Neo Geo, and 3DO. The late 90's was the ideal time to collect. I would order brand new Atari games from clearance sites at 50 cents a pop. I would spend $30 at the local Funcoland and walk out with three huge grocery bags of Nintendo cartridges. People were practically giving away Atari, Genesis, and NES systems. Nowadays I tend to "cherry pick" more obscure titles, mainly from ebay.
HOSTINGMy site began as Dave's Video Game Reviews, hosted on my Comcast home page which came standard with each account. Once I obtained my own domain however I needed a real host so I signed up with a small company based in Connecticut called OLM, recommended by the guy who ran a site called Tom's Heroes. Eventually I felt the need to branch out and incorporate more interactive features. That's when my buddy Jonathan H stepped in, offering to piggyback my site off his fancy new Amazon web server. He would later help me up my very own servers and configure my own message boards. It's good to have friends like Jonathan!
DOMAINSIn 1999 I was looking for a unique domain and noticed "Video Game Critic" was not taken. At first I wasn't crazy about its negative connotations, but over the years I've become a fairly cynical bastard so I guess the name fits! My original domain was something along the lines of thevideogamecritic.com but I lost it due to an email mishap. Imagine my horror when I went to show a friend my website only to see some other generic page show up in its place. I acquired a similar .net domain and carried on. Then around 2005 I received an unexpected offer. From out of nowhere someone offered to sell me videogamecritic.com for face value! I guess this person had noticed how much effort I had been putting into my little site and felt sorry for me. It was an act of kindness bestowed on me by the internet, but it would not be the last.
FORUM PROBLEMSDuring the early 2000's I subscribed to several forum hosting services for a monthly fee. There were a few problems with this approach. I didn't control my message board data so if I left a provider all those messages could potentially be lost. In addition, the forums showed up under a separate URL, so they seemed disconnected from the site. Around 2013 my message board provider began to charge me exorbitant fees so I knew it was time to jump ship. I was able to obtain a "dump" of my old boards (for a fee of course) which I painstakingly imported my new servers. This is why you can currently find messages on this forum dating back about 15 years or more.
BETTER IN MODERATIONFor many years a group of volunteer moderators have operated the VGC forums on my behalf, approving new user accounts and painstakingly reviewing each post. If you ever wondered how these forums have maintained such a high level of quality over the years, now you know. Various people have rotated in and out of this role over the years but they all had a passion of gaming and a selfless dedication to the site. These kind-hearted folks allowed me to focus my time on what I enjoy, which is reviewing games. Recently I lifted the strict posting restrictions but moderators continue to keep things running smoothly and keep out the trolls. Special thanks to scotland, RetroStrife, Rev, Actraiser, eSauce, Mozart, JustLikeHeaven, Rev, Paul Campbell, zetax, and Atarifever. You guys are the best!
PLAGIARISM SUCKSThe site has suffered through several bouts of plagiarism which are painful even to discuss. In the early 2000's there was a video game review contest on Amazon and some kid actually won a few hundred bucks by passing off my reviews as his own! When I complained to Amazon all they could do was remove the offending reviews. This required spending hours on the phone with a person at Amazon, tracking down each and every offending link. What a nightmare. Oh well, I guess you can technically call my reviews "award winning" due to that unfortunate incident. In most cases the people I notified of plagiarism harbored no ill will and apologized profusely. But in 2009 there was a particularly nasty incident. When I asked a man to remove my reviews from his site he basically challenged me to do anything about it. This distressing situation sent me into a deep depression, but in my darkest hour the internet came roaring to my aid! After posting the details about my situation, the guy's identity was somehow tracked down and made public. He subsequently received a deluge of hate mail and threats, prompting him to remove the offending material and beg me to "call the dogs off". As much as I complain about it, the internet has a sense of justice and will not tolerate the stealing of intellectual property.
SITE REDESIGNThis site was originally designed by my old buddy Steve S who employed a frames layout which was state of the art in 1999. Over the years however my site was looking more and more antiquated. Around 2012 Terry Herman and Mark Jewell (and a few others I cannot recall) stepped in, providing templates for an updated, cleaner design. Terry created a elegant new format and Mark provided the graphics, including an extensive set of new banners. And these guys didn't stop there; they helped me implement a mobile version of the site too! What you see today is largely a product of their work: a remarkably functional design with a decidedly retro vibe. Mark continues to provide new graphics on occasion, including the festive new 20th Anniversary banner. I owe him a debt of gratitude. Later I improved the line spacing of the review text and added "read more" links on the advice of my friend Scott M who took one look at a hockey review and said "I can't read this".
REVIEWING GAMESCollecting games and running the site is like a self-licking ice cream cone. I need to keep buying games to keep the site going! I don't play online very often but I do manage to get together with friends on a regular basis. How do I pry a bunch of grown men away from their loving families on a weekly basis to play outdated game systems? Beer. Seriously though, these guys take their responsibility very seriously, providing thoughtful feedback and tossing out some hilarious one-liners. They somehow remain objective despite being subjected to some of the worst video game atrocities ever created. They also like to give me a hard time, calling me out for playing seasonally-incorrect games and occasionally threatening to connect one of my consoles to the internet. Although I write my reviews myself, rest assured that most have been influenced by one or more seasoned, professional... drinkers. Special thanks to Scott Z, Steve N, Jonathan H, Chris S, Brent C, Kevin F, and Brad P.
RPG CREWIf there's one area my site is lacking it's role-playing game (RPG) reviews. I blame myself. This massive genre is one of the most influential but requires the largest time commitment. While I do enjoy playing these kind of games I don't feel as if I can put in enough time to do them justice. Fortunately a handful of helpful readers who happen to be RPG fans who have contributed RPG reviews for me. I do find it necessary to edit and trim these reviews to match the style and format of the site, but try very hard to maintain their spirit and substance. I just hope my RPG crew will forgive me for butchering their meticulously-crafted reviews over the years! Special thanks to scotland, DaHeckIzDat, ptdebate, and RetroStrife. Along those same lines I have to thank my old buddy Scott Z for providing a steady stream of Commodore 64 reviews over the years!
MIXED EMOTIONS ABOUT THIS INTERNET THINGThe internet has slowly been encroaching upon my console world, and it's really cramping my style! I guess a lot of people are willing to sacrifice ownership, privacy, and control for convenience, but not me. Although I will occasionally review a download-only title, in my experience you need to wade through a lot of dreck to find something worthwhile in the massive digital library. And I really don't like how publishers have gotten in the habit of releasing half-baked, bug-ridden titles - at full price no less. It's hard to review modern games because many are in constant flux, and many seem intent on sqeezing extra money out of the consumer in the form of DLC, microtransactions, and subscription fees. Fortunately physical media has endured much longer than the experts have predicted, so I plan to ride that horse for as long as I can. I love the artwork, literature, and collectability you only get from physical media.
THE FUTURE (TM)When all is said and done I think I can state with confidence that this site does not suck. It looks clean and uncluttered, largely because it doesn't have sponsors. Since I'm not beholden to advertisers I can freely dole out grades as I see fit. What other site gives out as many F's as it does A's? I don't think the video game industry likes me very much, and I suspect I've been blacklisted for a decade! That said, I think this unassuming little site is one of the best around because it keeps the emphasis on fun. Readers tell me that 95% of my reviews dead on, which is not too shabby. The well-manicured forums offer a treasure trove of information going back decades. How much longer will I keep running this site? Five weeks. Five weeks and I'm shutting this [expletive] thing down. Just kidding! The site has a maintained a loyal following over the years, including many readers that have literally grown up with The Video Game Critic! I owe it to those guys to keep it going! My friends are convinced I'm going to run this thing until I die. I hope that's not any time soon because I still have a lot of games to review. So that's it for the 20 year anniversary. Thanks for all the people who made it possible and thanks to all my readers!
Be sure to use my Ebay and Amazon links when you shop online, and if you want to support the site directly subscribe to my Patreon page for just $1 per month. You'll find a lot of good bonus material there.