Not many readers know of this fact, but most of us here at Gamer Horizon work in day jobs that are separate from the website. Seeing Gamer Horizon as being “just like one of the many video game sites out there” is both a common yet welcome misconception, given that it means that we’re delivering content that far exceeds other enthusiast sites’ production values. We’re extremely proud of what we’ve accomplished since our official launch in January 2013, and we’ve always intended to improve and iterate upon the things we’ve learned as a way to stay ahead of the pack. The moments when we do decide to make these huge moves, however, are often brought on by inspiration.
The idea behind relaunching the site came after the crew finished covering E3 2013. While many gamers will remember E3 2013 as one of the best E3s in a long time, due to all the pomp and circumstance that happened, it would be meaningful to the Gamer Horizon crew in a very different way. In addition to being the first E3 the crew would cover, this would also be the first time that everyone would be working full time together – with no distractions and other responsibilities that come with having a full time job separate from Gamer Horizon. This focus resulted in higher quality content, a much more organic chemistry during podcasts, and being able to react to gamers discussing things on the site in a meaningful way. The whole experience sent a jolt into the crew’s brains: “What if,” we thought, “we can deliver the same quality content that we were able to deliver during E3, even though our availability during the week was limited?” We knew then that it was time to look at our current site, examine how we’ve done over the past few months, and begin the process of creating a brand new website.
Conceptualizing The New Site
The task of actually conceptualizing the new site usually falls on my shoulders, and it often starts by going to various other sites and examining both their design and usability. These sites usually include ones that are within our genre and ones that are completely outside of our scope, which include social media sites, aggregators, and the like. A lot of the time, I ask myself why people come back to a particular site and why people feel compelled to read their content. I’ve found that the presentation of website content actually does matter in the end. And while I’ve seen plenty of other sites regress to the old blog format, there’s value in trying to change up the status quo and tweak it ever so slightly.
But this type of change has to be done carefully. When Kotaku changed their layout a few years ago to the pre-Kinja format, a lot of their readership complained about the unintuitive nature of finding stories on their site. It also didn’t help that on mobile phones, Kotaku’s site wouldn’t display in such a way that it was easy to navigate. Kinja, Kotaku’s current format and content management system, is based off of a number of different web based frameworks that fixes a lot of these problems.
When looking at sites, I identified that one of the biggest things that needed to change was that the mobile version needed to look just as appealing as the desktop version. When I looked at Gamer Horizon’s previous site, I always told myself that I wanted to make the “mobile version better,” which pretty much meant that its features needed to seem just as meaningful as when I was viewing it on a desktop computer. Certain pieces of information needed to be put aside in order for the mobile site to be as concise and quick as possible and serve a completely similar yet different purpose. The mobile design was then approached with minimizing and completely simplifying whatever design we would eventually have.
An example that I came up with was when I was field testing the previous version of the website. When I was at a GameStop talking to a gamer who was curious about a new game, I wanted to show them a review of the game on our site. As it turned out, while the experience was quick and painless, it didn’t really show any other relevant information that could’ve further contextualized the review. Also, when you’re paying for per byte usage on mobile devices, you’d naturally want your information to display in a timely fashion, especially if you’re trying to decide at clutch if the item you want is worth purchasing.
Back when the old design of the website launched, we saw that sticky navigation was going to be a key feature in the future of video game sites. Since then a number of sites, from Kotaku to even Facebook, seem to agree with this notion and have implemented them on their sites. In order to improve our navigation, things needed to be pared down, collapsed, and simplified. Keep in mind that during this phase, none of the bigger organizational changes are on the table as of yet. In fact, no one from the crew has been brought into this conversation on how we would utilize the information we’re already inputting. But since navigation was affected, a few things needed to be tossed by the way side. It was then I decided to bring in the rest of the crew.
When I presented the ideas for the new site to the crew, they were obviously elated at the idea of having a brand new, updated design, despite having had our first redesign in March. I think, as a whole, we felt that we quickly outgrew the current site’s feature set and wanted to completely modify the site so that we can support any future content we were planning on developing.
Unexpectedly, however, when we started really hunkering down and talking about the website, a lot of us started thinking about the direction and the vision of the site. If we were going to go the distance with this new design, we should cater it to our strengths and not copy what other sites are doing. Unlike other sites who have an army of full-time and freelance journalists ready to crank out a quick news article, editorial, or feature, Gamer Horizon only has a team of five people working full-time to deliver content… and most of us aren’t available throughout the day. In fact, a lot of our editorial, feature, and review content is developed outside of the normal hours when people actually view the site.
At this point, we realized that we had to completely realign Gamer Horizon to what works best for us and to our audience. We outlined several goals to serve as guiding principles for the creation of the new site, and while we call it merely “just a new site,” it was also more about learning from the past and really optimizing it so that you, our readers, can benefit from the change just as much as we would.
A Change of Perspective
So how do five people, who have day jobs, compete with sites who employ dozens of writers and manage to make money to pay them? This was one of the fundamental challenges we faced when building the new site. Many of us in the crew felt that we were like Giant Bomb, with our core set of passionate journalists which gamers got to see constantly, Kotaku, with our engaging articles that piqued gamer interest, Polygon,with our insightful, powerful, and thought provoking editorials that encouraged discussion, and Edge Magazine, with our fantastic visual sense and wonderfully laid out articles. What this told us was that we were having an identity crisis.
And it couldn’t be helped: Gamer Horizon was, at the time of the previous site design’s launch, building up towards E3 2013 and we needed to learn as much as we could about this field and prepare to cover what to us, at the time, felt was going to be the biggest E3 in years. Our bet paid off, and our coverage was so big that we still talk about how we managed to cover it from time to time. But the question of identity was raised when talk of the new website came. Naturally, the answer was quickly apparent: We can’t compete with the big guys in both the quantity and the kinds of content they deliver. We then looked at our strengths again:
Core set of passionate journalists
Engaging articles that pique gamer interest
Insightful, powerful, and thought provoking editorials
Fantastic visual sense and wonderfully laid out articles.
…and realized that the answer was staring us right in the face. “Be more gamer centric.” In other words, let the crew make things that will be engaging, insightful, and powerful that is relevant to gamers while maintaining a fantastic visual sense that appropriately put the crew in the middle of the conversation. Creating content that is more gamer centric seems like an easy thing to do, but ensuring that things that we created were relevant to gamers was another thing. Others might say, “That’s easy! We’re gamers!” But the reality of it is that our crew needed to have their feet firmly planted into various gaming communities and firmly entrenched in their culture outside of their social circle in order to understand what gamers really wanted to see.
There’s also something else that hit us: Aside from a few exceptions, a lot of other websites out there – may they be video game sites or otherwise – have an army of invisible writers that readers never get to know. They write articles, sure, and their perspectives are shown on paper, fine. But we never get a sense of who they are as individuals, save for an occasional pop in on a podcast or a casual encounter at a game convention. None of this made sense to us: it’s as though other sites were basically running a content factory, writing content to try and entice you to click on their links.
This idea that the writers on the site needed to be more visible is at the core foundation of the new Gamer Horizon website and became one of the driving principles as to how we would approach changing the way we create amazing content and wind up designing the best video game website on the Internet.