MobyGames – a whale of a project?

whaletimeOne of the things I’ve always had a bit of trouble with is how to compartmentalize when I let a ‘passion project’ into my life. Obviously, I don’t want anything I do to distract me so much that I can’t do my dayjob.

But I also need creative things to be passionate about which aren’t just what I do 9-5. And they also still need to leave me time to – well, have an expansive personal life. And I won’t deny I’ve struggled with this at times. But I think I’m finding balance, after I overtaxed myself in the mid ’00s. (Hint: if your _dentist’s assistant_ asks if you’re a workaholic, you probably are.)

So, after closing down my electronica net.label Monotonik in 2009 and stepping back/eventually shutting GameSetWatch, I started out fresh by co-creating indie game bundle site IndieRoyale – probably inadvisably as a work project, and passing it on at the end of 2012. And from there I’ve found something new to pour passion into, this time as an advisor/investor/community helper – seminal video game database MobyGames.

Switching here to the first Weekly Whale newsletter I wrote up for the site:

“For anyone who isn’t clued in, MobyGames – originally founded by Jim Leonard, Brian Hirt, and David Berk in 1999, was acquired by GameFly in 2010. But as of December 18, 2013, San Francisco-based Blue Flame Labs has acquired the site – and reverted it to its previous design (following a couple of months of an attempted website update which didn’t go so well).

The key folks involved in the site now (besides the admins, approvers and contributors who continue to be key!) is Blue Flame Labs owner Reed – who is a designer/coder who’s created sites like Drawception, VGBoxArt and GameTab (back in the day), and help from investor/advisor Simon Carless (me!), who has a day job overseeing GDC and Gamasutra and is committed to preserving video game history in a major way.

For more info and comments from the community, please see Reed’s initial post – and take it from there!”

Background: I’ve been interested in working with MobyGames for 10+ years, but the timing was never quite right. While UBM Tech looked at licensing MobyGames data in recent years, it became clear that wasn’t a biz direction that made sense for the dayjob. (Partly, it was my self-realization that I just wanted the data to be ‘safe’, and I shouldn’t try to shoehorn that into a business justification!)

Luckily, when GameFly SVP Saujin Yi – who I’d had multiple previous discussions with – came to me asking who might be interested in carrying on the MobyGames torch, I was able to connect her with Reed at Blue Flame Labs. He’s had a significant history of working designing/coding great database-based websites. And as an ex-dev like me, understands the value of preserving our history (credits, screenshots, box art, and more) in a centralized, well-moderated database.

And there’s so much of it – 76,000 games, 560,000 screenshots, and likely millions of credits alone. Just in the last few minutes, I see the revitalized MobyGames community has poured in new ‘Starglider 2’ Atari ST screenshots, info on a decades-old nuclear plant simulator,  and, uh, cover art for Apogee’s ‘Blake Stone: Planet Strike!’

In the short-term, I’m working with Reed and the community to finish the transition from GameFly’s servers and stabilize the rather gigantic codebase – and we’re also looking very closely at how to license and distribute the database so that it never gets lost or destroyed.

And in the medium and long-term, we see some very exciting opportunities. For example, we’re looking at the potential for an ‘unofficial credits’ section – for all those developers who have been left out of their game’s credits unfairly, or whose publisher decided it wasn’t necessary to even print any. Obviously, that’s quite a way in the future.

But the potential here is massive – most of the other post-MobyGames database sites have concentrated on adding detail to existing games rather than drilling down on the amazing variety of games out there.

For Reed and myself – as ex-developers – a seminal credits and screenshot/box art database with canonical release information for video games (_ALL_ video games) is what matters. And we’re going to get MobyGames back on track to be that. So watch this space for updates!

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