Games Asylum through the ages – a self-indulgent 20th-anniversary piece

Games Asylum is twenty years old this month. Turns out that early 2001 was the ideal time to launch a new gaming site. We caught the tail end of the Dreamcast, Game Boy Color, N64, and PSone – managing to cover the final big releases for all these systems, from Shenmue II to Conker’s BFD – and were ready to jump on the GameCube and Xbox hype train, with the two systems poised to go head-to-head at the end of the year.

Following a slightly disappointing launch, the PlayStation 2 was about to get its anticipated second wave of titles too, including such greats as GTA III, Metal Gear Solid 2, and Jak & Daxter.

Sometimes I feel a little embarrassed when looking through Games Asylum’s archives. Our writing style was certainly livelier in our earlier days, possibly due to being slightly less cynical, but the pages are also full of weak puns, nonsensical ramblings, and the occasional typo. Uninformative, SEO-ruining headlines were our ‘thing’ – a news piece called ‘Prefab Sprout’, detailing a new Cooking Mama game received some very odd comments from fans of the ’80s band. At least you couldn’t accuse us of clickbait.

When rummaging around the Wayback Machine to gather images of old page layouts and designs, I did feel a rare sense of pride. Sticking with a (non-profit-making) gaming site for twenty years is quite the achievement. We managed to cover the launches of the GBA, GameCube, Xbox, DS, Wii, and PSP, amongst others. Hello, Gizmondo and N-Gage.

A few exclusives fell our way over the years, such as a downloadable demo of TDK’s Lady Sia for GBA – which was downloaded tens of thousands of times. We were early with news on several big(ish) games, including Super Monkey Ball Adventure, Gun, Killzone, and The Getaway: Black Monday – Matt’s subscription to The Official PlayStation 2 Magazine paid off handsomely.

And there was our embargo-breaking Aliens: Colonial Marines review, which marked the first (and last) time somebody used our content for an angry YouTube ‘reaction’ video. (Note: we weren’t under embargo – we had purchased a copy ourselves.)

Below, you’ll find a rough outline of Games Asylum’s history, as told by site designs. The site has not only changed its look at least ten times during its lifetime but also its direction.

(Excuse any dodgy screenshots, we were somewhat reliant on The Wayback Machine to view old site designs.)

Games Asylum 1.0 – March 2001

Games Asylum March 2001

Rising from the ashes of DigiApe, a Dreamcast site, Games Asylum burst onto CRT screens on 26th March 2001. Presented in a blaze of SEGA blue, the site was split into four channels – Sega, Sony, Xbox, and Nintendo – which separated news and reviews relevant to each format. The Xbox was still a year away, so that section was occupied by launch news and previews.

Ten people gave up their spare time to fill those hallowed pages, with early reviews including Zone of the Enders, Oni, and Star Wars: Starfighter on PS2. The Game Boy Advance was just a few months away, and the team was curiously excited to cough up good money for a bunch of SNES conversions. Street Fighter II on the go? Take our £30.

The Dreamcast remained a focal point until its untimely demise – the DigiApe URL forwarded to Games Asylum – so reviewing DC games was a priority. I’m mildly confident that we covered them all, right up to the final release PAL release – Heavy Metal Geomatrix.

Contributors did tend to come and go often during our early years. This includes the chap we took on for PC reviews, who promptly returned the two or three games we’d sent in the post, along with a note explaining that they weren’t a fan of those particular genres…

(Adam writes: “This has to be the worst logo I’ve ever designed.”)

Games Asylum 1.1 – July 2001

Just five months after launch the site received its first revamp. It looked a touch more professional with large attention-grabbing images on the main page but was still quite…wordy. In fact, a printed web directory in a newspaper – The Sunday Times of all places – described us as being “overwhelmingly text-based.”

Also, there was a cheats section. The team has no recollection of this whatsoever, Presumably, it was linked to a database or similar. We really have no idea.

Games Asylum 1.2 – January 2002

It seems Adam spent Christmas 2001 tinkering with site layouts. New year, new look. A fresh logo too, complete with a possible trademark-infringing Space Invader.

The cheat section had vanished (phew!) but there was both a chat room and a forum. A weekly newsletter was being pushed too. Gotta get that reader retention.

The main page was still quite wordy.

Even as far back as 2002, a weekly release round-up was a prominent feature. It usually went live on a Friday, as this is when the majority of new releases launched – midweek launches (outside of the US) were uncommon. Most weeks only saw around 5-6 new titles. A week with more than ten new titles would be considered absurd, ludicrous, and hectic. Simpler times, eh?

Games Asylum 2.0 – June 2002

This version of the main page was a bit tidier. The logo was a bit cramped though.

Weirdly, publishers were very fond of sending us GBA games – barely a week went by without one or two falling through the letterbox. Occasionally we’d receive pre-release versions too – elongated circuit boards that protruded out the handheld itself.

That doesn’t really explain why the presumably awful Scooby-Doo movie tie-in on GBA had pride of place one week, though.

Games Asylum 2.1 – Feb 2003

Ah, that’s better. In 2003 the logo was legible again. There’s a new media function too, giving access to screenshot galleries. Moments of fun for all.

This version of the site was quite popular if memory serves. We had peaked! The three-way battle between the PS2, GameCube, and Xbox was well underway and we did our best to bring readers all the news announcements of the day. E3 2003 was a thing to be feared, with a tidal wave of news comprising over 70 articles over the course of the week. Burnt out didn’t quite cover it.

Our image uploader also stopped working at one point in 2003, forcing us to leave THQ’s Yager – an often forgotten sci-fi shooter – as a ‘top story’ for around six weeks.

Come Christmas time, we had a little tidy-up and a sprinkling of festive cheer, including a snow-covered logo and a then-annual Christmas quiz.

Games Asylum 2.2 – April 2004

Baby blue is the ‘in’ colour for 2004. Throughout this iteration of Games Asylum, we fully embraced the handheld scene, covering both the PSP and Nintendo DS extensively. Matt imported a Nintendo DS with a bunch of titles, giving us early access to the likes of Super Mario 64 DS, Spider-Man 2, and, erm, Ping Pals.

The joy of reviewing games on a handheld was that you could sneak a few hours in at work – something still true of the Switch today. This is also why the PSP went on to receive more coverage from ourselves than the PS3.

For some reason, Matt’s review of Harvest Moon DS was being used as an impromptu chat room for American teens. Even after being directed to the forum, they used the comments section to chat on almost a daily basis, resulting in thousands of posts. Weird.

Games Asylum 3.0 – April 2005

It pains me to say it, but Games Asylum was fading out of its prime here. When the site began, Adam, Jake, and I had lots of spare time, especially in the evenings, to cover the day’s news and maybe upload a review. By 2005, things started to feel like a full-time job. Or a part-time job, at least.

(Adam writes: “It was all downhill from here. Which is to say, looking back I think this was one of the site’s best designs, although things all got a bit quieter the year this design launched.”)

This is when we started to scale things back. News was still an important part, but only major announcements or things that piqued our interest were covered. If we didn’t have something to say, or couldn’t put our own spin on it, then it wasn’t worth covering.

The Xbox 360 launched in 2005, but none of the team picked up a system on day one. Given the red ring fiasco and the fact that the launch model shipped without HDMI, it was probably for the best. Matt finally ‘jumped in’ a few months later.

This version of the site also introduced a blog, which wasn’t integrated into the site but rather a separate page with tweet-like musing in the days before Twitter. Ahead of its time? Not really, no. It was more for our own amusement.

Games Asylum 4.0 – December 2006

2006 and 2007 saw us edging into blog territory, as evidenced by news round-ups -with commentary – and other ‘ramblings’ on events in the industry. The UK chart and new release round-ups, now including XBLA and PSN releases, were still around, helping to keep us relevant.  

Matt took solace in reviewing PS2 budget games. Midas, Phoenix Games, 505 GameStreet – if it was under a tenner, he’d give it a go. Considering very few other gaming sites were covering these games (budget titles were rarely sent to the press), we found a new niche. Nintendo DS and PSP imports were other specialities, thanks to the region-free nature of the two platforms.

Why weren’t we reviewing bigger games, you ask? Turns out that by cutting down on news posts, ergo reducing site traffic, PR companies were more hesitant to send out review codes. An attempt to re-join Sony’s mailing list was met with the response, “We don’t send review code to new gaming sites.”

Oh well – we still gave Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune on PS3 a rare 10/10.

Matt leaped onto YouTube at the ground floor, uploading trailers, developer interviews, and other bits that found their way into our inbox. A couple of trailers amassed over a million views, but everything ended when WWE filed a copyright claim over footage of WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2008 on Wii. Attempts to re-establish the channel sadly fell on deaf ears, lost to automated email responses.

Games Asylum 5.0 – March 2008

By 2008 we had fully embraced blog culture. That meant very little news, just commentary on gaming goings-on. The majority of games reviewed were purchased by ourselves, meaning reviews appeared only sporadically. Being able to pick and choose what we covered was actually quite refreshing.

Our memories are hazy, but updates may have been reduced to just three a week: the chart on Monday, a review or feature on Wednesday, and the new release round-up on Friday. Vague headlines are a-go, leading to ‘Can Raptors Open Doors?’ becoming our top Google result.

Also: orange is the new blue.

Games Asylum 5.1 – July 2009

2009 marked the launch of Twitter! The early days of social media were wild, with large corporations giving a ‘follow back’ just to get their numbers up. To this day, we’re still followed by Subway.

Totally misunderstanding the platform, Twitter was integrated into the site’s main page to be used as a news ticker. Due to Matt being a sociable fellow, replying to tweets, this didn’t really work and we ended up with random replies on the main page instead.

There was a slight shift to retro content, with Matt recalling games of his youth. eBay round-ups – focusing on certain franchises and platforms – and magazine look-backs helped fill the gaps between reviews. As a result, the site was occasionally mistaken for a retro gaming blog.

Matt occasionally reviewed Xbox Indie and Kinect Fun Labs games to keep things ticking over, leading to the discovery of the thoroughly excellent Super Amazing Wagon Adventure. Jake embraced mobile with a semi-regular mobile round-up. Adam was…somewhere. Rich joined the fray, with one of this first reviews being the late PS2 RPG Growlanser: Heritage of War.

The site’s still rather orange.

Games Asylum 6.0 – December 2009

2009’s colour-clashing logo wasn’t perhaps the best we’ve had, but regardless, it was used for around the next four years.

Reviews were still sporadic, and content irregular. It was around this time that Matt accidentally severed ties with THQ (the real, old skool THQ) by posting a spoof review of a Barbie game on Wii, written in the style of a pre-teen girl’s magazine. This review, somehow, ended up on THQ’s main page before being swiftly yanked.

In 2011 Matt also managed to anger DC fans by referring to The Green Lantern as a ‘B list superhero’ who ‘wears a green lycra suit’. Both of these statements were, according to fans, incorrect: he’s one of DC’s biggest and most popular characters, and the suit is part of his ring’s power. That movie tie-in review, somehow, ended up on DC’s main page. Talk about being fed to the lions.

Games Asylum 7.0 – February 2013

After four hazy years cruising along at our own pace, Games Asylum received a splendid new coat of paint. A new colour scheme and a new logo, as well as chunky and contemporary headings, ushered us into a new era.

The arrival of the PS4 and Xbox One brought a new sense of purpose thanks to the indie uprising, with Xbox digital content no longer restricted to two measly games a week. This made for a far more exciting weekly round-up, and lots of indie game reviews, although the UK chart started to lose relevance over time as digital sales started to overtake physical.

Jake started spying on developers using Google Street View for a new weekly piece, while Lauren pulled up a pew to cover obscure indie games on Steam and the occasional Wii U release. Matt got a bit..listy with Buzzfeed-style lists.

The eShop round-up become a regular feature, bolstering content. Backing the Wii U heavily at launch didn’t really pay off, however. After an advanced hands-on preview was read by literally dozens of people, we should have seen this coming.

The site was also finally accused of “clickbait” after reporting that Red Dead Redemption 2 wasn’t able to beat FIFA 19’s launch week sales in the UK.

Yes, really. Of all things.

Games Asylum 8.0 – June 2019 to Present

Games Asylum 2021

So here we are, and quite possibly the most ‘comfortable’ we’ve ever been. The absurd amount of indie titles released every week, along with the presence of Xbox Game Pass and (to an extent) PlayStation Plus means there’s always something to write about.

A minor revamp brings the site up to date – now it isn’t quite as horrendous to view on a mobile. Matt joins Mixer and hosts streams of indie games. Shortly after amassing a milestone 100 followers, Microsoft pulls the plug on the service. Lucky, Twitch steamer Rachel joined the team around the same time.

With three weekly regular articles, at least one review, and the occasional blog post or feature, the site ticks over nicely nowadays. I mean, we could cover Fortnite character announcements, Call of Duty: Warzone season pass news, new Apex Legends skin reveals, and other bits – which would no doubt boost our views – but also, what’s the point? Dozens of sites cover this information already.

Sniffing out a neat-looking indie game that other sites have overlooked, or perhaps talking about a hidden gem, seems a much better use of our time. In a sea of gaming sites, it certainly helps to have a special flag to wave.

If you’ve been a reader for the site’s entire duration, we sincerely thank you and hope our typos and grammatical errors were never too distracting.

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