GamedreamZ.com was an experiment in every sense of the word. Launched on November 17th, 2003, it was one of the first sites to be completely driven by users. It predated sites such as Digg and Reddit (founded in 2004 and 2005 respectively) that would later use the user-driven news model as a basis for their web traffic.
Understandably, GameDreamZ.com was not as refined or as successful as these sites. With a budget of only 900 dollars, GameDreamZ.com was conceived by Adrian and me in early 2003 as an answer to biased gaming journalism. We figured that if users could post video game news and have the ability to link directly to any source, the delivery of said news would be more equitable. So, with no coding experience whatsoever, we posted a link on Neowin in search of a capable programmer.
Not many programmers are willing to build an entire system for less than a thousand dollars. But one person was willing to do the task. His name was John and his goal was to program the entire site in an aging code called PERL. Although we were skeptical at first, John was able to convince us that the site would run quickly and it would be stable. We agreed.
Looking back at this, I now know how much John did for us for minimal pay. Recently, I finished a degree in Management Information Systems. If someone were to ask me to code a complex system similar to what John coded for GameDreamZ for only 900 dollars, I’d tell them to go f&%$ themselves. Quite simply put, it was a ton of work. We put John through the ringer. He integrated our html designs into his modules, he created a unified log-in for the site that incorporated our VBulletin forum login, and he dealt with our incessant questions and changes. John: If you’re reading this, thank you.
The last screen cap of the site:
Initially, I was going to design the website on my own. Unfortunately, the extent of my designer skills at the time was being able to use the gradient tool in Photoshop. In 2003, I met an energetic person by the name of MrXbob on the Team Xbox forums. Not only was he a superb designer, he was also willing to administer the majority of the site. To say that the site would not have been possible without MrXbob would be an understatement. Despite his leanings towards all things Xbox (he hated Sony products with a passion), MrXbob proved to be a crucial contributor to the design of GameDreamZ, as well as the articles, reviews, and forums within.
GDZ mockup for City of Villains promo
When we were first planning to launch the site, Adrian and I decided we wanted a hook. We eventually settled on the idea of gearing our content more towards video game rumors and scoops.
While surfing the web, I found a rumor reporter by the name of The Hedgehog who posted a column called the “Hedgehog Network” on various Xbox sites. With a little research, we found that a majority of his rumors actually came true. So we approached him and gave him whatever money we had left in the pot to write reviews for the first 6 months of the site's launch (this ROYALLY pissed off the owners of the site he was working for at the time). Hedgehog agreed. When the money ran out, Hedgehog (thankfully) agreed to stay and report rumors and news for free. Later, he would partner up with Jarbo (another GameDreamZ team member) and launch Twisted Joystick, a video game news podcast. Hedgehog quickly became the voice of GameDreamZ and helped catapult the website to its eventual stardom. He also kept the bathtub warm during E3.
Adrian and I, during one of our many different pow-wow sessions, also decided we needed a mascot.
While visiting GameFaqs, I found an artist by the name of Sama (from Brazil) who had submitted Silent Hill 3 fan art to the forums. Almost instantly, I fell in love with his art style. We sent Sama a query to build “Cammy” (named after the Street Fighter character), our future GameDreamZ mascot. After he showed us a sample, we were sold. Sama was instructed to make a gamer girl with green hair, cat ears, and a GameDreamZ.com T-shirt. Although Cammy’s description was a cliché of every anime character in hentai or otherwise, Sama ran with it and a legend was born.
During E3, Sama was found chasing booth babes and eating American food. He probably gained 50 pounds during his trip, but it was worth it.
Sama @ E3
Eventually, Cammy was made into a robot to greet visitors on the site. Hilarious chat logs would ensue.
Click to chat:
The rest of the staff included Jarbo, a filmmaker from San Diego, Deja, a moderator from the old PSO Explorer site, and some other contributors, including Richard, Calistarwind, Jerry, Mike, Richie, Michel, Shivadee, Dustin, Bad Donna, Chris, and Jason.
In order to coordinate people from around the globe, a crude, make-shift WBS (Work Breakdown Structure) was created and distributed via an email list. This was my first experience at project management. Now that I have taken actual courses in project management, I can now say that things went entirely too smoothly during the initial construction of GameDreamZ. Despite archaic project tools, deadlines were met and requirements were fulfilled. The site launched successfully on November 17th 2003.
...And it was an immediate success. During 2004, monthly traffic exceeded the one million mark mostly as a result of a comic by Penny Arcade where they ripped us a new asshole.
Essentially, Penny Arcade had identified what the site had become. Due to the anonymous nature of posts and the reporting bias geared towards rumors, GameDreamZ.com quickly earned the label of the armpit of the Internet. A cesspool of misinformation and unfounded rumors, GameDreamZ became infamous across the web. In fact, for a short while, it became a ban-able offense to name the site on Team Xbox.
Click to enlarge
However, peoples' contempt of the site was not the only hurdles we faced. Initially (without knowing any better) we hosted the site on APlus.net servers. Not only did they constantly shut us down (they did it without warning multiple times), they made us upgrade to an expensive dedicated server that was inoperable half the time. Tech support was little help. Aplus threatened us. Aplus yelled at us. They routinely shut us down without warning. And they made it almost impossible to leave. Finally, after multiple emails to their PR department, they let us go and dropped their unfounded surcharges. If you are ever planning on launching a website, avoid Aplus.net.
Later we moved to SpeakEasy (who unexpectedly crashed our SQL database), but that’s a whole different story.
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But it wasn’t all terrible. High points of the site included Bethesda featuring our Morrowind and Oblivion reviews on the main page of ElderScrolls, Keith letting us review X-Arcade joysticks, visiting E3 (when it was still E3), A Microsoft employee leaking news of the (then) upcoming Shadowrun FPS (Note: Game Informer later stole this story from us without credit), and the time we crashed an Activision party with the guy from Nokia N-Gage.
There was also this one time I met a Frag Doll at E3 who hated my guts. We also reviewed a weird dancing tango game for Xbox that never made it to the states.