Today has been a bit of an awkward day around here on TouchArcade, as Jared already posted about Hook Champ coming back courtesy of GameClub, with what might be the biggest disclaimer we’ve ever had on an article, but I figured I’d provide some additional color to folks on what I’ve been up to. Back on February 22nd I announced that this Friday would be my last day at TouchArcade. I’ve had a outpouring of support from people thanking me for all the work I’ve done on the site, all the things I’ve done to help their game or studio, and wishing me good luck for whatever I’ve got ahead of me. This morning a guest editorial by me was published over on GamesIndustry.biz, but I figured I had some additional explaining to do for the TouchArcade community who have been so awesome to me over the last decade. It has been a decade too, as almost ten years ago to the day my first review was published on TouchArcade, in what would become the most awesome accidental career move I could ever make.
Backing things up a bit, I’ve always been weirdly obsessed with portable gaming because it fit so well into my life. I grew up on a farm, in a (then) very rural part of the Chicago area. This made my school bus rides fairly absurd, as it seemed like they picked up the kid who lived the farthest away first, and dropped them off last. As urban sprawl reached my family farm they would eventually build way more schools, but I spent close to two hours on the bus every day until I was old enough to drive myself. I’d spend that time playing the earliest handhelds, including the various Coleco and Mattel games that were little more than simple LED’s, and then eventually Tiger Electronics devices which weren’t really any more complicated, but just generally looked better. The Game Boy was a game changer for me, and I owned every evolution of that, along with a bunch of other weird portables in between, like Sega’s battery-hungry Game Gear. (Although, curiously enough, the Turbo Express still is something I’ve never even seen in person.)
When personal digital assistants and cell phones started to become a thing when I was in high school, I found my next obsession. This of course led me to be the earliest of early adopters on the very first smartphones as these things could not only play games but also do so much more. Regardless, they were almost all universally terrible, at least until the iPhone came along. (Although I will give a strong honorable mention to the Palm Treo 650, which was a really great device by pre-iPhone standards.) I was one of those people standing in line to buy a $500 phone overnight in front of the Apple Store, and it was pretty remarkable what a difference even the first generation iPhone running iPhone OS 1.0 was compared to everything else on the market.
Around this time I was also working on building a medical tech startup in the Chicago area. I created what would become the first full practice management suite that ran inside of a web browser. It sounds laughable now, but, this was seriously cutting edge technology at the time. I worked with a lot of cool hardware, particularly as we built up our server infrastructure inside of a real-deal .com-era datacenter, but this whole thing was the complete inverse of where my passions were. Like a lot of people in similar situations, I fell even deeper into gaming as a form of escapism from how boring my day to day life had become. So, when the App Store launched in 2008, I was unbelievably ready to consume all that content.
And consume I did.
Looking back on early iTunes receipts, I’m fairly certain I bought everything that was for sale under the Games category on the week of the App Store’s launch. My love of portable gaming, my love of smartphones, and instant accessibility to this seemingly bottomless well of content was like nothing I’d ever experienced before. When I wasn’t downloading and playing iPhone games, I was reading and posting in forum threads about iPhone games. Not everyone seemed so into the idea of buying literally everything as I was, so to help out those communities I started posting reviews of my favorite games I had downloaded that day.
Folks in the Something Awful Forums started leaving weirdly positive comments on my reviews, particularly for a forum that’s packed to the brim with ruthless sarcasm, but even more strange was the amount of people who agreed and suggested I tried to get them published somewhere. I had Arnold Kim (the owner of TouchArcade) on my AOL Instant Messenger buddy list from when I had IM’d him to complain about being banned from trolling the MacRumors forums, so, that seemed like as good of a start as any for getting my reviews published. We went back and forth for a while on it, eventually he brought me on as a freelance writer, and I wrote most of TouchArcade’s early in-depth reviews and shot many of our gameplay videos, back when you actually had to shoot video of the screen itself with a camcorder.
Arnold had me fly out to WWDC 2009, where we met in person for the first time. We spent the whole week meeting with developers, and just generally having a good time, to the point that I was absolutely dreading going back to my boring medical tech company to write more insurance claim processing subroutines. By the last day, things got serious and I remember Arnold and I talking about what it would take to bring me on full time as I was walking with him to the BART stop to head back to SFO. After I got home we sussed out all those details, I exited my previous company on good terms, and was living the dream of writing about iPhone games full time.
Not long after, I was promoted to Editor in Chief, we brought on Jared Nelson, then Brad Nicholson, and an entire cadre of the absolute best freelance writers in the mobile industry. By around 2011, TouchArcade was seriously at the top of the world, the App Store was the place for indies to launch their games, and we were absolutely drowning in absurdly creative games to play by the best developers in the world who had all chosen to focus on the platform that we had become the defacto tastemakers of.
While we were riding high, an unmistakable trend was beginning to form, which many OG TouchArcade community members were also picking up on: As Apple’s technology charged forward, many of our favorite games were being left behind. This first became majorly apparent when Apple released the iPhone 4 back in 2010. The Retina Display was a complete game changer, as if you had used basically any other piece of handheld electronics, the pixel density of Apple’s display almost looked so good it felt fake in comparison. Supporting this increased resolution meant all developers needed to update their games to add higher resolution textures, or higher resolution sprites. Sometimes those assets didn’t exist at all, as the whole project was created with the 320×480 screen of the iPhone, iPhone 3G, and iPhone 3GS.
This spurred the awkward question from developers of how much support does a game I sold for a buck a few years ago really deserve? Was it worth going in and re-creating all your 2D assets to make your game look good on the new device? Quite a few developers said yes, but many said no, creating the first of what would become many splits between the advancing technology of iPhones and iOS and software that was never designed to survive through such massive hardware and operating system changes.
So, those games just sort of existed in this state of being not a great experience anymore at best, to completely broken at worst. While the iPhone 4 was the first time this happened, it wouldn’t be the last. The biggest hit to the vintage App Store library was the advent of iOS 11 when Apple removed 32-bit support entirely. We maintained a list of all the games that died, and while a few would eventually get updated, even today looking at the list isn’t pretty. The TouchArcade app even died with this update.
Throughout this process, I started to realize that, entirely by accident, TouchArcade had become this weird museum of the glory days of iOS gaming. Loads of games that passionate developers were excited to release to a hungry customer base now only exist in TouchArcade reviews, or TA Plays videos. We’ve grumped about this a bunch, in multiple editorials, too many episodes of the podcast to count, a near infinite number of Tweets, and basically every other place you can air a grievance online. These complaints were often framed around, “I wish someone would do something," or “Why isn’t anyone doing anything," as our digital history vanished like a photo of the McFlys.
Well, I’m leaving TouchArcade to do something.
Around a year ago now I ran into the guys behind a stealth-mode startup called GameClub. They pitched me on what they were doing, which pushed all my buttons. The extreme cliffsnotes version is there’s all these amazing games that have been released on the App Store, many of which to significant critical acclaim, that just don’t exist anymore because they eventually made so little money that rationalizing updates became impossible. But what if that didn’t have to be the case? GameClub had a bunch of plans with innovative pay models that straight up didn’t exist when most/all of these games were first released, which makes sense of actually bringing these old games back to the App Store.
I figured, “Well, that sounds pretty rad, I hope it works out," and did what I could to help them with a few intros to developer friends of mine who had bonafide dead games I’d love to see brought back to life. I’ve kept very close tabs on what GameClub has been up to, and eventually just hit a point where I decided to make sure that GameClub is a success, instead of just watching from the sidelines and hoping everything works out. It’s a perfect fit, in that now I have the power to actually work on doing something that fixes one of the problems that’s become incredibly important to me over the years.
So, starting next Monday, their mission will be my mission. I’ll be working tirelessly with GameClub to bring the ancient classics of the App Store back to life, and building a product I’m absolutely certain the folks in the TouchArcade community will love. My first order of business next week will be to kick off an early access program to get people playing the games that GameClub has already updated (which you can sign up for right now by visiting the GameClub website) and along with that my role will be half digital archaeologist and half museum curator of the best collection of premium game experiences anyone will ever see on the App Store.
You guys are going to love it.
While this move to GameClub is super exciting, the decision did not come easy. It is not at all hyperbole that TouchArcade changed my life, and is responsible for both an unbelievable amount of travel I’ve done (Before TouchArcade I didn’t even have a passport!) and all the friends I’ve gained along the way. I’m not sure how I’ll ever pay Arnold back for the gratitude I have for taking a shot on a banned MacRumors troll to run his iOS games site, or the entirety of the TouchArcade community for being so supportive along the way. This has been one hell of a ride.
If you’re not already, be sure to follow me on Twitter, so you can come along for what’s next.