On May 13th, Trinity Mirror announced the shutdown of UsVsTh3m and Ampp3d, and a week ago we were all officially laid off.
UsVsTh3m was a three-month experiment that eventually lasted two years, and I was lucky enough to be a part of it, initially as a freelancer then later full-time. Here are my personal highlights:
TL;DR version: it’s been mind-blowingly amazing
1. Being part of something odd & groundbreaking
The phrase “BuzzFeed-like” was and is tiresome; perhaps that’s how the experiment was initially pitched, but it became something very different (I once saw it described as “Monty Python to BuzzFeed’s Saturday Night Live” and quite liked that). Overall the site had a uniquely quirky, eclectic, left-leaning tone that shouldn’t have been coherent but somehow was.
2. Working with lovely, super-talented people
Yes, yes, I know, it’s like when actors are interviewed and gush about how wonderful all their co-stars were, but everyone I encountered really was lovely and super-talented. Sorry, I’ll work harder at my cynicism.
Each person contributed something different; just from the title of an article I could usually tell who’d written it, and every game clearly bore the stamps of its creators.
3. Learning from successes & failures
Mostly the successes, to be honest. Failures tell you a lot, but also clobber your morale, making it harder to take it in and apply it to the next project.
Starting out, some of us had a decent track record in viral content, but no one had created anything quite like UsVsTh3m before so we had to work it out as we went along. I doubt there are many other teams who’ve had the chance to release that much experimental content with so much freedom.
4. The Eighth Wonder of the World: Paul’s drawer
If you ever needed dozens of AA batteries, plastic cutlery or an emergency jumper, he had it covered.
5. The reaction to the shutdown
Apart from the usual few trolls and arseholes, everyone seemed shocked and supportive; it really did make the news easier to take. And numerous people have since told me about their favourite UsVsTh3m games/articles, or how it inspired change at their workplace.
6. Building my daftest ideas…
Out of the things I made, this is probably my top 5:
- Super Tory Boy — Could interactive satire work well and be a whole new thing? This game convinced me.
- Crapper Mapper — I had a feeling that this incredibly in-depth toilet site had an interesting quiz in it somehow (we paid Bob for the content used, by the way).
- Eurosong Generator — All the campy nonsense of Eurovision; owes an awful lot to Tom Kincaid’s music.
- 1000 Seconds — Silly and trivial, but I liked the challenge of trying to fill all that time with ridiculous rambling.
- JAWS: The Text Adventure — This tried to avoid all of the annoying things about ’80s text adventures, it was just 30 years late.
7. …and getting interesting responses to them
The immediate reaction to Super Tory Boy bowled me over, I don’t think I’ve ever had such a sudden deluge of lovely comments.
Crapper Mapper did OK but interest soon tailed off… before steadily growing and growing, accumulating millions of visits. The only mentions of it on social media were by young people complaining about relatives asking them to play it, and eventually we realised it was spreading amongst older people via email.
Eurosong Generator didn’t get a huge amount of traffic initially, despite it seemingly making most people laugh out loud, but then YouTube star PewDiePie made a fun video and it took off:
Just recently, I discovered that Einar Saukas has converted the HTML5 JAWS game into a real ZX Spectrum game. It’s incredibly flattering that someone went to so much trouble, building a custom graphics converter and recoding everything from scratch, and it really does work:
8. Oh, and one not-so-nice response
Lawyers representing a certain payday loan firm sent me a legal nastygram about a satirical interactive toy. They didn’t put any stamps on the envelope, so I had to pay a couple of quid for the privilege.
9. This photo
10. Seeing what everyone does next
This is the very best aspect of the shutdown, and I’m excited about the next few years.
The site’s already been influential through its content and former staff, but now the remaining expertise will be dispersed across the media industry, meaning UsVsTh3m will end up making more of a lasting impact than it ever could have as a single site…