1991: The Zine
Newgrounds was not originally intended for the web, but rather was a Neo Geo fanzine by the name "New Ground", "Neo" being a synonym for "New", and "Geo" being a synonym for "Ground". I published New Ground from my parents' basement in Perkasie, PA, sending sporadic issues to around 100 members of a club on Prodigy
. I was 13 at the time, which explains why I have so much faith in today's thirteen year olds.
1995: Tangled in the Web
When I first obtained space to create my own web page, I immediately took on the New Ground name. The only problem was I wanted something more, to imply it was the next step. Thus "New Ground Remix" was born!
I used up my "tfulp" webspace at fast.net, so I branched my content into my brother Wade's "wadef" space as well. I had tidbits of goofy content and a page for "OGRE Programming", which was the group my friends and I formed for programming local dial-up BBS games. Wade operated a dial-up BBS known as "Chaotic Order" and I produced exclusive games for it, such as Ambition and Nippon X!
New Ground Remix had some mildly interesting content, but was pointless until the last few weeks of the summer of 1996 when my friends had all left for college. It was in this time that I created Club a Seal and Assassin, the games that finally brought meaning to the name New Ground. A small NG cult followed.
1996: Freshman Slump
As a student of Drexel University, I had a network connection in the dorms and not a modem. Because of this, I no longer had dial-up access to my home service provider, and could no longer access the New Ground Remix FTP server (they don't allow outside IPs to enter). In other words, I could no longer update New Ground Remix. During freshman year I didn't accomplish much, but I did start to work on a new layout for Assassin.
1997: Tale of Two Newgrounds
During the winter of sophomore year, I got back on the ball and created Club a Seal II and Assassin II. I decided I needed a new place to house these great attractions, so New Ground Atomix was born on my Drexel webspace. There were now two separate and chaotic entities - NGR and NGA, with 2 versions of Club a Seal and Assassin to boot. Still on a roll, I produced Cat Dynamics
and Beep Me Jesus. New Ground Atomix had taken on a solid form, kinda like how digested food becomes a turd.
1998: The Call to Flash
I moved into an apartment in the spring and once again had direct dial-up access to my home service provider. It was at this point that I finally took the time to combine Assassin I and II into a single site. I didn't bother to redirect users who were still going to Assassin I, so a bulk of traffic continued to ignore New Ground Atomix and stay in Remix instead. I wasn't very motivated, so my activity crawled to a stop and stayed that way until a few months later when I began experimenting with Macromedia Flash. A Flash front page was introduced and the infamous Telebubby Fun Land
In late September I received a call from Inside Edition; they wanted to do a piece on Assassin! I got very excited and quickly got back on the ball. I decided it was time for NGA to get its own domain name, so that when it appeared on the TV screen it was easy for viewers to remember the URL. I decided on "Newgrounds", plural. Club a Seal I and II were combined and users were redirected from the old sites to newgrounds.com. I paid $33 per month out of pocket to host the site.
Inside Edition never followed up with me after that initial contact. This did not stop me, as I was ecstatic to have my own domain name. I continued to update the current features and traffic boomed. I had to change hosts to accommodate the traffic, and started producing t-shirts in an attempt to pay off hosting fees.
1999: Hot New Games
What a difference a domain name makes! Traffic to newgrounds.com was booming and every few months it seemed like I had to upgrade to a new host. Banner ads were introduced to pay growing hosting bills. Ultimately, I was unable to make ends meet. My host wanted over $1000 per month and I was dropped by my only good ad company due to the controversial content on NG (back then it was just comedic violence, go figure). Running out of options, I partnered with Troma, who hosted the site in exchange for a cut of ad revenue.
This year introduced some legal disagreements, most notably my little tiff with the BBC. The site had received global attention, having been featured in Yahoo Internet Life magazine, Stuff Magazine, Internet Tonight (ZDTV), wired.com and many other media outlets. Some backlash was inevitable.
This year also saw the introduction of Pico's School
, hailed by many as the pinnacle of Flash 3 "programming". I say that in quotes because Flash 3 didn't offer much in terms of programming - it didn't even support variables. I came up with a very complex work-around for tracking events and data, making Pico the most advanced Flash 3 game I am aware of. It wasn't until Flash 4 that variables were introduced, and Pico would have been much easier to make. :)
By the end of the year, I had also made UFA
and Samurai Asshole
. I actually programmed a good portion of them while working at Qwest, but I was a consultant, so I didn't bill them for the hours.
Among all this I also created a page on the site called "The Portal", where I dumped my smaller / unfinished projects. People began reaching out with Flash to show but no place to show it, so I began adding pages to The Portal where I showcased other peoples' stuff as well. For each SWF that was emailed to me, I manually created an HTML page to feature it. The Portal was shaping up to be a fun little gallery.
2000: Full-Time Job
The new year brought with it a tightened Newgrounds community. A general navbar was finally added to the top of each page, making it much easier to explore the site. I also added a chat room and message board, which further brought users to the forefront. Users became more addicted, and more and more were sending me their own Flash creations to showcase in The Portal. The number of submissions was starting to become overwhelming!
My friend Ross became an essential part of NG when he built the Grounds Gold system, which allowed users to gain points for visiting the site. Ross and I would have frequent Newgrounds discussions at the gym, the main topic being a system to automatically accept and showcase user submissions. Ad revenue was picking up, so I hired Ross and we got to work developing the automated Portal.
During this time, I left my job at Qwest and Ross and I both eventually stopped signing up for classes at Drexel - which I suppose made us drop-outs. Newgrounds became a full-time focus. The automated Portal was our dream. Its launch would forever change the face of Newgrounds, which, at that point, was still predominantly my personal showcase. The automated Portal opened the floor to much better artists, who submitted quality work that would soon surpass my own. Newgrounds was the first Flash showcase site of this type, which is what really helped establish it as THE place to show off your work.
Despite the competition from new artists, I kept making my own stuff. Games from this year included Wasted Sky
and the Police Simulator!
It was also around this time that I met Shok, a Newgrounds fan who happened to be DJing at Shampoo (Philly club). We soon became good friends and teamed up to create the catchy FDA
music videos. Shok and I teamed up for plenty of other exploits, such as the Newgrounds party.
Ross coded a new message board from the ground up, integrating it with our existing user system. The growing community required increasing administration so I hired my brother Wade to help keep up with the users. Wade had always been an active, dedicated user of the site, so he was the perfect choice to help keep an eye on everything that went on.
I also hired my friend Andrew Brozyna on a short-term basis to do some art for the site before moving to DC. During that time we introduced the Newgrounds tank logo and level icons to denote user voting power. By the end of 2000, Newgrounds had one of the most active user communities on the internet and just four employees!
2001: Hustle to Survive
Just when things were picking up steam, the Internet bubble burst. We watched almost every major entertainment site go out of business, while struggling to keep ourselves afloat. Andy had already moved to DC as planned, so there were just three of us remaining. Ad companies defaulted on payment and things got really tight.
We continued to keep the site updated, and I continued to work on games - releasing Crazy Shuttle
, Captain Low-Rez
. I even managed to wrap up Mason's Bubble Blast
and Sack Smash 2001
at the end of the year, despite being in a really bad mood (maybe I work best that way).
2002: Imminent Comeback
The year started off on a sad note. Our hosting was in dire need of expensive new hardware and the slow servers made working on the site a nightmare. I had resorted to running adult ads to cover expenses and it didn't help our image very much. Ross decided to move on and pursue his dream of teaching.
The new lean and mean Newgrounds consisted of just me and Wade. The automated Portal continued to chug along, thanks to Ross's exceptional work. We sometimes joke that we could die and the site would keep running. In reality, the site needs constant, nearly infinite maintenance. Blocking stupid AOL users would have helped... You'd have to be around back then to understand.
The year 2002 wasn't coming along nearly as well as the previous two years. Newgrounds remained popular, but growth was stagnant and the servers were choking to death.
One good thing did come from this downturn - Ross and I both went back to school at Drexel. I finally graduated, receiving a BS in Information Systems. School kept me busy during this time, Wade and I kept the site updated and I kept making games. I teamed up with Dan Paladin (then known merely as Synj) to produce Alien Hominid
, with no clue of where that would eventually lead.
Upon getting my degree, I moved to Atlanta for a change of scenery. This left Ross at his new job and Wade back in PA, officially breaking up any semblance of a Newgrounds HQ.
The lack of advancement was really getting us down when out of the blue, something amazing happened. I was talking to a long-time NG buddy, James, when he offered to take a look at our PHP. It turned out that over the years, James had become quite a whiz with PHP and database-related programming. I by sending him individual files to work on but it wasn't long before we gave him the keys to the kingdom; direct access to everything on Newgrounds.
James tore in like an animal, overhauling and optimizing everything in sight. The site began to perform better than it had for the past year and we were implementing fresh new features. Reaching a new peak in usage, we got Troma to agree to some of the server upgrades we had been needing. The site was running better than it had in the past two years and I finished off December with the release of three games: Domo-Kun's Angry Smashfest
, Chainsaw the Children
and Sack Smash 2003!
2003: Growing Up, Moving Out
The effects of the Internet crash were still being felt across the globe. Our bandwidth bills were huge and ad revenue wasn't. In February, Troma released us from our affiliate contract and ceased operation of the Tromaville Network. We were given full control of the servers in NYC.
Having closed down their internet operations, Troma no longer needed their sys admin, who continued to help Newgrounds by maintaining our servers in NYC on a part-time basis. I was finally in full control of site-wide advertising, which meant I could better manage the ads and collect checks directly. Our hosting bills were cut to a fraction of what they had been, thanks to cheap new bandwidth plans made available by Cogent Communications. We finally had the money to grow!
This was the perfect time to upgrade our hosting infrastructure, as we had just launched the Audio Portal
, where independent musicians could showcase their work and have it featured in web games and movies. To sustain growth, we bought a new database server and added several new webservers. Old 4U (four shelves of rackspace) servers were replaced with new, faster 1U (one shelf) servers. Even then, our single cabinet looked like it would become full in the near future.
March 21st marked the day when Wade became a Dad and I became an Uncle! I made the trip up from Atlanta to visit and found a house in the process. It was time for me to move back to the Philadelphia area and put down some roots for NG.
On April 1st, Dan Paladin and I partnered up with some of his co-workers in San Diego to form the Behemoth and make a console version of Alien Hominid. This was no April Fools joke; making a console game is serious business! I went on to spend the rest of my year and much of 2004 working on this project.
In mid April, we launched the multi-author system. This allowed Dan and I to both finally share credits on Alien Hominid and opened the door for many other collaborative projects.
I flew out to San Diego in June to meet the Behemoth team face-to-face for the first time and attend E3 in LA. I also happened to meet Trent Reznor!
It was a very brief meeting. This trip marked the first of many trips to San Diego over the next year and a half. I would fly out for weeks at a time, working 16 hour days and sleeping at the office. Did I mention console games are serious business?
June also marked the official hiring of James as a full-time NG staff member! This was the first time since the dot com crash that I was able to hire a new full-time staff member. It was a great feeling to be back in action.
In July, long-time Portal contributor Will Stamper surprised us with a new front page design. It took NG to a whole new visual level! It also made us dependent on Stamper for all future site design work... How sneaky! We continued to "Stamperize" other parts of the site, although for many months the overall site experience was inconsistent.
Eventually, Francois took a new job in NYC that kept him too busy to manage the NG servers. We realized it was time to move Newgrounds to Philly and finally take on 100% of the responsibility for NG hosting. Philly real estate is a lot cheaper than NYC, so we were able to get two cabinets for the cost of the one we had in NYC. On the day after Halloween, my friend Tim
and I drove a rental SUV into Manhattan, packed up over 20 servers and brought them to the new facility in Philly.
Moving the site to a new city was a big task - it required getting the space set up at the new facility, as well as coordinating for the bandwidth provider to switch us over on the day of the move. Everyone had to work together to get everything in place, but the final transition was relatively flawless. The site was back up that same day.
Over the course of the year, we bumped our bandwidth cap from 100mbps to 300mbps. Our hosting fees returned to five figures per month, but NG bandwidth was over $20k per month during the downturn so we were still grateful.
It was an amazing year but I was bummed out that I didn't release any new Flash games. I made a commitment to myself that I would not start any other programming projects until Alien Hominid was finished - a decision that came back to bite me. We hoped to have AH finished in September but it was taking much longer than anticipated. The end result was worth all the work, though!
Having moved back to the Philadelphia area, I started getting serious about finding an office.
2004: Our Console Debut!
After a long dry spell, 2004 is the year when revenue really started to kick in for Newgrounds. I'm not talking millions of dollars, but definitely enough to keep things moving. I narrowed my office search to the Glenside area, just north of Philadelphia.
In January, Dan Paladin moved to the Philadelphia area so that we could get hardcore with developing Alien Hominid for consoles. The rest of the team was still out in San Diego, so regular trips were still necessary and they stretched for weeks at a time.
The local crew continued to grow, as Stamper moved up from Florida in July and became an official member of the NG staff. Having Stamper around helped us get more serious about the visual presentation of NG. We continued to work towards making the site design consistent; at one point, we had three generations of layouts all intermixed. A new nav was introduced in August and we worked tirelessly to make sure it was consistent across most of the site. Stamper "Stamperized" parts of NG that had been neglected and re-Stamperized his 2003 layout to fit the new look.
This was the year of the Time Trials
. The Time Trials were started by Luis
and some friends, who had the idea of giving authors a short deadline to produce animations around a central theme. The end results were collaborative submissions where multiple artists were featured and credited, using our multi-author credit system. The collaborative submission concept soon grew beyond the Time Trials and became known as the more general NG Collab
. We originally built the multi-author system for teams of artists and programmers; it was cool to see the massive collaborations that came about as a result.
In September, I moved from my house on the border of North Philly (not the nicest area) to a house in Glenside. I figured if I was gonna make a base in Glenside, I should live there too!
I hired my friend Tim as the full-time sys admin, which was really important considering how much hardware we have and how much attention it needs. Tim had been previously assisting me on a volunteer basis, as Stamper had done with site design in the past. It was great to finally hire the people who had given so much to NG in the past!
We continued to upgrade the site hardware to meet demand, although our expansion resulted in technical issues at times. By the end of the year, we were consuming 500mbps of bandwidth!
The development of Alien Hominid
continued to drag on for most of 2004. Not only were we developing the game, we were developing merchandise as well. We produced t-shirts and figures and sold them at Comic-Con while showcasing a nearly finished version of AH. Check out my Comic-Con 2004
It all came to a grand finale in November, when Alien Hominid finally hit stores. Who would have thought that would ever happen? Seeing it on the shelves was a very euphoric feeling, although I still say nothing beats the rush of submitting a new Flash to NG. :)
The year wasn't over yet! December 6, 2004... A day that will live on in infamy... The day Numa Numa Dance
made its internet premier right here on Newgrounds. No one anticipated how much press and popularity would follow. Can you believe YouTube wouldn't launch until a year later?!
2005: Busy Year
With Alien Hominid on shelves, I was really scrambling to get some new games of my own on the web. Dan and I had been working to release "Dad 'n Me", a game where you beat up kids on the playground. Jose and I were also working on another long awaited project, that I no longer talk about anymore because I don't want to tease anyone (although I guess I just did).
In February, John and I attended Slamdance
in Park City, Utah. We were part of the Independent Games Competition. Newgrounds also launched its official monthly contest with cash prizes!
Immediately after Slamdance, I visited James in London
for a weekend!
In March, we won three awards for Alien Hominid at the Independent Games Festival
in San Francisco. Direct from San Fran, I flew to Austin, Texas to speak at South by Southwest
about Alien Hominid!
We celebrated April Fools this year by changing the site to Numagrounds
, a spoof on the popularity of Numa Numa Dance. I need to dig up a picture of our header. That same day, John and I flew out to England to meet with Zoo Digital, our European publisher for Alien Hominid. We stayed with James' (LilJim) parents in Doncaster for most of the trip, although by day we were in Sheffield. We spent our last leg of the trip in Manchester, doing press interviews. I've been to London a few times, but it was nice to finally tour Sheffield, Doncaster and Manchester! It was also great to see James, who then followed up with a visit to the US before the month was over!
In May, I went out to LA with the Behemoth team for E3. The coolest thing had to be all the copies of Game Developer magazine floating around - Alien Hominid was on the front cover!
June 17th was the first ever NG Mod Meetup!
A ton of NG mods came to Philly and stayed at the Embassy Suites. What followed was a lot of drinking, walking and good times overall.
In July, I flew out to LA to make a one week appearance as guest host on Attack of the Show, a daily show on G4TV and a live broadcast! I really need to put a page together with pictures and videos from the appearance. After my last appearance, I drove down to San Diego to prep for Comic-Con, which was the following week. We were selling copies of Alien Hominid but also unveiling a sneak peak at our new console game! Check out my Comic-Con 2005
July was a busy month overall, as July's tend to be. The grand finale was the release of a new game I made with Dan Paladin; Dad 'n Me!
In August, James finished coding a new content management system which allows us to more easily categorize content without digging through HTML code and FTP. We also started allowing authors to upload their own icons, and James made tools to submit icons
, so that users could help us fill in missing icons from years past!
August 15th was the fourth anniversary of the Clock Crew
and the largest Clock Day ever. We received so many great Clock submissions, they got their own page
just for the event!
To celebrate back-to-school time, we had an NG Campus Promo contest, where users were asked to creatively promote Newgrounds on campus. Check out the winners!
You haven't seen it all until you've seen StrawberryClock riding a train.
On September 16th, I proposed to my girlfriend April while we were on vacation in Las Vegas. I did it after dinner at the Eiffel Tower Resaurant, overlooking the Bellagio fountains! April said yes!
In October, I made another guest appearance on Attack of the Show, this time to show highlights from our Halloween 2005
collection. We received tons of great submissions this year! If NG keeps getting better every year, I can't even imagine how good it will be in 2006.
For years now, I've talked of my dreams to have a Newgrounds HQ. That finally happened, when I found a building
to call home for NG. We moved to the office in mid October and final settlement on the building was in November. I put together a page about the early setup
at the office! Stamper also produced a wonderful video of us smashing through walls with our feet.
Towards the end of the year, Josh from the Behemoth team moved here all the way from San Diego to facilitate console game development. We also hired Jeff Bandelin (JohnnyUtah
), the artist who won our Opie & Anthony
contest. Jose Ortiz (Mindchamber
) began commuting from Brooklyn and making good use of the office apartment. Tim had a lot more space to work on servers.
In December, John and I traveled to France
to share our new console game with potential publishers! While I was in France, we celebrated Denvish Day
on NG. My contribution was Denvish Diving
. I came back with a stomach bug that lasted for two weeks, could have been the raw meat.
Also worth noting is that we started showcasing Audio Portal submissions on the front page. The Audio Portal is a very important part of Newgrounds and often waits on the backburner while other features are developed. We greatly appreciate all the support we have received from musicians and I'm sorry for the neglect! The final noteworthy item of the year is our Christmas 2005
collection. We received more holiday submissions than ever! Bandwidth usage exceeded 800mbps during peak hours.
2006: Getting Down to Business
We started the new year settled in at the office with a lot on our plates. The groundwork was being laid for the next big redesign which would launch the following year. There were hints of change coming to the site, such as an overhaul of the account system that had previously consisted of a series of pop-up windows.
Then we unveiled a new header, with JohnnyUtah's new tank logo! Old vs. New:
We also introduced a new slogan. "The Problems of the Future, Today!" was replaced by "Everything, by Everyone." You could say we lost some of our edge that day, but the old slogan was no longer relevant to what NG was becoming.
We wanted the new site design to be done with CSS, so my friend and fellow Drexel alum Bob
joined the team in March as our official HTML / CSS developer! Bob would later spearhead the Newgrounds Store as well.
Also in March, Dan and I won an award for Dad 'n Me
; best web game of the year! We won the award at the Independent Games Festival, in San Jose.
April 30th, in addition to being my birthday, marked the first ever Pico Day.
We received a ton of great fan-made Pico submissions, and gave out over $6,000 in cash prizes.
In May we were joined by Mike
, who rose from the community in response to my request for game developers! Mike would help out with aspects of the upcoming Castle Crashers, but also worked on features for NG, such as an audio visualizer that would be introduced with our upcoming redesign.
Due to the increased amount of spam-bots spidering Newgrounds for email addresses, we replaced email links with the Private Messaging system! I can't imagine life without it.
The summer of 2006 marked a big moment for the NG team: The return of Ross!
With both Ross and Liljim on the team, the future looked bright.
July marked another year at Comic-Con
in San Diego. The following month I found myself in Seattle for the Penny Arcade Expo
To prepare for the introduction of user pages with their own URLs, we undertook a massive change of the username standards
. It took a few months but went pretty well.
The Flash Portal had been programmed by Ross and the Audio Portal had been programming by Liljim, so one of our goals of the upcoming redesign was to overhaul the Flash and Audio Portals to share more common features (such as voting and reviews), so that we could "easily" include an Art Portal with the launch. While we did manage to make the portals more unified, we ultimately accepted the reality that new portals were further off, so we launched the Art Forum in the meantime.
LisVender, a Newgrounds contributor, met Weird Al
as a result of one of his submissions! It turns out Matt Groening's (creator of the Simpsons) son is an NG fan and Matt showed Weird Al the submission during a Simpson's party. This has to be one of my favorite stories ever.
With Bob on fulfillment, we began the first leg of our grand merchandising experiment
that would result in the NG Store.
The year ended with our first ever Treasure Hunt and Wacom giveaway!
Good habits are hard to break; these have been annual traditions ever since.
2007: The Great Redesign
For the first half of the year, we were all pretty immersed in the ongoing site redesign. The rest of my time was spent working on Castle Crashers, which won some awards at the IGF
with a demo build.
With both projects well past their anticipated launch dates, it was probably bad timing to goof off one night and release the Queers of War
collab. We really were working hard the rest of the time and we did managed to release Alien Hominid on XBLA in February!
April and I got married on May 12th!
We developed the Tank Trophy this year, introducing a Best of the Year awards list for the first time on NG. It's a serious trophy, probably nicer than anything outside an Oscar or Grammy and better IMO.
I popped out a video for Luis Day
, to show my appreciation of the guy who would go on to win our first User of the Year trophy.
July 16th marked the launch of our redesign, two years in the making! Details are listed in the announcement post
but major advancements include a streamlined layout, faster load-times, user pages instead of profiles and the web's first ever real-time audio visualizations!
September 22nd was our first ever Madness Day
, now an annual tradition.
Upon setting up the NG Store, I obtained a sales tax ID. This apparently raised a flag with the PA Department of Revenue, who wondered why we hadn't filed sales tax in previous years. I explained that it was because we only started selling goods recently, to which the auditor responded, "Well surely you've bought things you owe tax on." I was completely unaware of the Use Tax for out of state goods.
So you know what this meant - AUDIT! To prepare for the audit, I had to gather receipts and invoices for every dollar we spent from 2004-2007, records of all income generated from 2004-2007 and payroll reports from 2004-2007. Any dollar unaccounted for would be subject to 6% PA sales tax.
When all was said and done we owed money on some servers that were bought in 2005 from a company that wasn't charging PA sales tax. The real burn was the time lost gathering records, the stress and the accountant fees. And the audit ran right through Christmas.
Speaking of Christmas, we unveiled the Penicorn plush
, a perfect stocking stuffer!
Long-time contributor PsychoGoldfish
came aboard and developed the NG API! Our first in-Flash Ad rolled out with Trick or Treat Adventure
. The age of the bulk payment system was upon us.
The majority of 2008 was a dark year for me personally because I had finally accepted the reality that Castle Crashers had to be finished.
Fortunately, darkness is followed by light and we managed to see it through.
Newgrounds itself had some unfortunate luck this year. Things looked bright out the gate; Ross and liljim were wrapping up post-redesign improvements and a friend from Drexel was developing the new NG Store on a contract basis. Then Ross announced he was leaving for a job with Yahoo. Having been working from home in New York, Ross yearned to be surrounded by a team of programmers in an office and so the second coming of Ross came to an end. Around the same time we realized the store "wasn't getting there" and needed to be re-evaluated.
We were quick to go on the hunt for a new programmer and were fortunate to find Rob
. Rob decided it would be best to... start the store from scratch. We aren't always dancing on rainbows over here! The good news is that Rob finished the store and it launched in August. It was a stumbling block for NG but we could now move on.
And that wasn't the only highlight in August; Castle Crashers launched for XBLA!
PsychoGoldfish had meanwhile been working on the NG API and payment system. In September we introduced the rev-split feature, where authors of Flash submissions could determine who gets what % of the revenue generated by Flash Ads, including songs from the Audio Portal.
Rob introduced a new genre-select for games and movies based on a list I had pondered and researched for the past year. The goal: create the nerdiest, most comprehensive list of game genres on the web. The actual use of that information would come much later. We also added tags to games and movies, also to be used later.
There were plenty of highlights beyond the development end of NG. User of the Year Luis hosted our first Munny competition
and has continued to do so on an annual basis since. A bunch of guys from NG teamed up to take on an NG booth at Apple Con
in NYC. Pico Day, Madness Day, the Treasure Hunt, Halloween, Wacom giveaway and Winter Flash-Off all went great.
2009: Fighting a Recession
The highlight of January was our trip to London for the UK Meetup!
In February we introduced Medals to the API, first appearing in Portal Defenders.
During April and in the midst of "the Great Recession" we introduced the Page Ads
system, giving artists the opportunity to monetize their pages here on NG.
In May we announced the Power of Three
summer event, bringing together artists, programmers and musicians to create original games and raise money for charity! The roster was ambitious. A lot of teams haven't finished their games yet but a number of great games have been made, such as Time Fkuc
, which introduced the Sharing component of our API to share user-generated levels!
In June Rob unveiled the Art Portal, our third portal and one step closer to the larger creative vision for NG!
On the first floor of the office, we began renovations to turn it into an event space.
We wrapped up the year by giving out 26 Wacom tablets in December.
2010: Scope Creep
We kicked off the year by hiring uber-user Luis!
Renovations on the first floor were done in time for a big Pico Day
JohnnyUtah and I spent half of the year making a game adaption of The Room
, which ultimately lead us to meeting and befriending Greg Sestero, co-star of the film. The game is also referenced in his book, The Disaster Artist.
2011: Preparing for the Future
In September we began our private beta of Swivel
, a tool developed by Mike to do best-ever SWF to MP4 conversions. Swivel allowed us to launch a Roku channel and prepare classic content for a future without Flash but it also sped up the migration to YouTube, as a lot of popular artists were now able to convert their classic work to a proper video format.
With the redesign approaching the finish line, NG's future in question and a promising offer from another company, Bob accepted a new job in November. It's sad to see friends go but it was also a really helpful move given our circumstances.
2012: Redesign Time and a Break Away from Flash
We kicked off the year with the release of our first and last iPhone game, GroundCats! It's no longer in the iOS store because I forgot to pay the $100 annual renewal but it would have been removed by now anyway for not constantly updating every few years, because iOS is stupid bullshit.
The NG redesign launched on February 7th, introducing a fresh new look, more advanced content browsing, in-site artist feeds (previously only available via email), a community calendar and a new Project System for managing games, movies and audio.
Much of the year was spent fine-tuning and making subtle improvements to the new site but there were some really big changes as well, notably our break away from Flash.
In mid-April we introduced our video player
, allowing for the first time ever movies that weren't in SWF format. We also began an ongoing initiative to create video versions of all the classic NG content, so that it may exist forever on future platforms that may not support Flash.
We had the big Pico Day
party at the office but it was a weird time for me because our efforts weren't really changing the trajectory of the site and everyone was living la vida YouTube. I was in an especially low place because Stamper was leaving NG, something I've never really stopped being sad about.
In July we hosted a Core Mechanics Diagram Game Jam
and Robot Day
, followed by a Stencyl Jam
To alleviate some of the strain of a tough year, we launched the Supporter Upgrade
option in the store in September. Supporters can pay $25 to browse NG ad-free for a year. The site runs a lot better and looks a lot nicer without them.
We also brought the Art Portal scouting system to the Audio Portal and hosted an animation Jam in September, with the theme Too Scared to _.
In October we unveiled support for HTML5 games
on NG, making it official that we won't live or die by Flash, as much as we still love it.
There was also our Halloween Spooktacular
and the Cabin in the Woods
We added the ability to unpublish content; previously staff could only delete content entirely and users had no removal options of their own. This change made us comfortable enlisting moderators to crack down on shovelware and stolen content, since we could undo anything that needed undoing. Before this, staff had to handle all content removals and we had to be extra careful since removals were permanent. Shovelware had become a big problem in the games space and moderators were especially helpful here.
joined the team in November, to assist Tim
with systems administration. Brendon previously worked with PsychoGoldfish
on his multiplayer server and ultimately took on other cool projects like our video processing server, NG Chat and NG Radio as well.
JohnnyUtah and I released Talk Head
, a game built from the lip-syncing tool I made for Nightmare Cops, the console game we had started working on this year. As of 2018 we are still working on it.
The year ended with the introduction of NG Social and Playlists, both cool additions. NG Social boils down to a friends system, where you can compete for scores with friends, browse their shared content in games and see when they are on-line. We had much bigger plans, such as joining friends in-game but a lot of these plans have been on the shelf due to all the other projects and downsizing.
2013: A Nightmare
This was a pretty shitty year so I'm gonna go negative and list the negative sides of even the more positive achievements.
January kicked off with the public release of Swivel
; the beta had already been getting passed around among a lot of animators for more than a year. Swivel is an awesome and necessary tool and YouTube was a huge beneficiary as well.
We also launched The Collabinator
; it's like a dating service for creative people. This system has been a modest success but I always hoped for it to be so much bigger. Overall the year was off to a decent start though.
In February, JohnnyUtah and I released Cathode Raybots.
Fun fact: Cathode Raybots had started as Nightmare Cops but we decided to make an entirely different Nightmare Cops game for console, at which point we replaced the characters in this game with space marines and TV robots. This game was ambitious for me in a lot of ways; it included a tile editor, an art editor and a boss pattern recorder. It tied in to our API for medals, high scores AND boss art / pattern sharing. It even introduced NG passport, where you could play on another site while still opening an NG session and getting all the API features. I feel like this game was SO CLOSE to being something really big but the ingredients weren't quite right and it never truly took off. It really discouraged me from making more web games and it turns out I haven't made any since. That's probably for the best though because Nightmare Cops is better for all the effort going into it.
We triggered a federal audit by the IRS, due to the hundreds of 1099s we sent out in previous years. This was possibly related to healthcare reform; companies with a certain number of W-2 employees had certain requirements to meet and part of the audit was to confirm all these 1099 payees shouldn't actually be W-2 payees. The good news is, the audit went fine and we didn't owe any money. Of course, I spent $10k in accounting fees just to go through the whole process.
Adding to our troubles this year, in May Verizon began a peering dispute with Cogent, our bandwidth provider, effectively throttling our bandwidth. Cogent was also the bandwidth provider for Netflix and the theory is that Verizon wanted to boost its own video on demand platform. This is why Net Neutrality is important! The throttling had a huge negative impact on NG and we couldn't do anything about it; we were stuck in a long-term contract with Cogent and their terms didn't allow for cancellation due to peering disputes.
In August we did a big internal overhaul to support unicode, solving a bunch of legacy quirks with the site. These are the sort of crazy projects new websites never even have to deal with, so projects like this are like punishment for having been around a long time.
Rob moved to San Francisco this year and continued development work on projects like thumbnail compression and database changes for text formatting but ultimately it was his time to move on to other things and we parted ways in September.
September also marked our first attempt with video pre-roll ads, partnering with a network out of LA. The result was a lot of lag before videos could load, most of the ads were house ads from the company in LA and in the end NG didn't get paid anything. It was pretty disappointing. Advertising difficult for Newgrounds because Google Adsense blocks us and as a result anything that integrates with Google or Google-owned DoubleClick (aka most video ads on the web) ends up hitting the blacklist. Google won't unblock NG and they make that clear to anyone who asks.
Oh did I mention something called FATCA passed this year? It created extra tax reporting requirements to address government concerns about money laundering. We had to build a system to log W-8BEN forms for non-US payees and run their payments through a filter based on whether we had a tax ID for them and whether their country has a tax treaty with the US. Based on this, anything from 0-30% is withheld from our payment and I make a federal tax deposit each month, with a bunch of additional paperwork at the end of the year. Lots of development time on systems people will never see or appreciate... Just what we needed!
In December, BrenTheMan took over as the sole NG sys-admin. Being the only sys-admin for a site like NG is a really stressful job; you are managing a ton of physical hardware and anything can go wrong at any time of the day.
2014: Lean but more Nostalgic than Mean
It was time for NG to replace its storage system. Buying a new NetApp would have cost like $60k and involve ongoing service fees so BrenTheMan rolled up his sleeves and built a custom storage system from scratch. This was scary at the time but it worked out great! Bren also did a bunch of server upgrades and consolidation, eliminating our third rack and reducing monthly hosting expenses. We ultimately recycled over 50 decommissioned NG servers and various parts.
Since May of 2013 we had been experiencing degraded performance due to Verizon throttling Cogent, our bandwidth provider. We worked around this in January by integrating CloudFlare as a CDN (Content Delivery Network). To quote Wikipedia, a CDN is "a geographically distributed network of proxy servers and their data centers. The goal is to distribute service spatially relative to end-users to provide high availability and high performance." Basically it helps us deliver files to users even when our own servers are bottlenecked. It's not a matter of just flipping a switch, though; on the development side we had to do a bunch of integrations to be sure content was caching properly on the distributed network when updated.
In February I made a post about how cool Jenjamik is
and he went on to be one of the key artists in Cuphead. This is a reminder that you don't know who the NG legends will be until hindsight kicks in later. There are future legends on NG right now.
With NG still contracting, Luis started a new job in March. He's still around and being as cool as ever but man, I just get sad including stuff like this in the history.
The morning of March 7th was the official closing of the NG Store.
This came with the introduction of a standalone Supporter Upgrade
page. It was a bummer to close the store but we didn't have the manpower to ship packages and do customer service every day, not to mention we had small profit margins and one lost international package ate up a ton of sales revenue.
We partnered with a new company for video ads and did a full integration into our stats system. The fill-rate for ads was low but the CPMs were good. Users were often treated to a spinning wheel while the ad server tried to find ads that weren't blocked by Google services.
To celebrate the launch of Stencyl 3, we hosted a Stecyl Jam.
We also had Pico Day
in April and a Construct 2 2030 Jam
and Newgrounds Annual Tournament of Animation
We updated our thumbnail uploader for games and movies so authors could upload much larger images, despite them still being displayed as 140x90 on the site. The larger images are on-hand for future updates but are also used for things like Twitter and Facebook cards on social media, or later on Discord, Slack and various other sites. It's good to represent well in all these places.
In July we launched an update to the feed, basically re-building it from the ground up for better performance and customization. We also updated the html of our emails to make them read a lot better on mobile. If you've never done html for email, it's more finicky than html for websites.
Topping it all off, we hosted a Game Jam
and Robot Day.
The response to both was pretty low and looking back, I never bothered doing another game jam outside of platform-specific jams for Construct and Stencyl. Was the theme bad? Were people busy instead trying to make stuff for our Power of Four event, which also flopped? This rocky period of game-making events really discouraged me and I regret going so long without getting back on the horse.
I aired some of my other ongoing frustrations in this big post
about the animator migration to YouTube, after animators began expressing disillusionment with the YT platform.
In some positive gaming news, we sponsored the release of Phonotopia
, a great game and our last big game sponsorship for a long while. We made it exclusive for supporters for the first month, a model I would have liked to have continued this model but NG never had the money for it.
NG hosted an animation jam
with some fun results and Lalo began organizing the Sheep Collab
, which would later arrive in early 2015. What really gave me hope in August though was the final round of NATA
, where Butzbo and StejkRobot swapped styles with spectacular results.
We added direct support for uploading a .unity3D file, which turned out to be a waste of time because browsers then removed support for the Unity3D plugin. Unity has since added an HTML5 export option and Unity games are now uploaded in HTML5 format, which we already supported.
Possibly the most requested feature ever was released in September; the forum post edit button.
We also added the ability to custom sort forums and follow individual threads, then re-arranged some of the existing forums and added a Voice Acting forum.
We brought back the "Random" buttons that vanished in the 2012 redesign and expanded them to cover all four content categories.
In late November I flew to LA for the Animation Breakdown festival, featuring a screening of classic 2000-2004 NG animation curated by Sean Buckelew, aka @wh347
on NG. StrawberryClock himself was in attendance and got to see B
on the big screen. You just never know where life will take you, right?
This year truly was a trip down memory lane, between the theater screening and the weekly Throwback Thursday posts on NG as well as Facebook and Twitter. Along the way we created MP4 versions of a lot of classic animation and larger thumbnails for social sharing. It was a time to
reminisce about the past while also preparing works for a future without Flash.
2015: Trudging Forward
Other than the Best of December, my first post of 2015 was outlining our proposed change to the voting system.
In the time since this post was made, a lot of work happened on the back-end to prepare for the merge and new features. The final front end changes are expected in 2018.
I went to MAGFest and hosted a Newgrounds panel with Stamper, RicePirate and Spazkid. Lots of NG folks were in attendance
, making for a cool weekend.
In February we raised the upload size limit on audio and introduced a category for Podcasts, along with NG Radio!
We also put together our internal road map for how the next NG redesign would go down and adapt to mobile. Rather than make one giant redesign that rolls out all at once (like 2007 and 2012), we would create a transitional adaptive layout that resembles the 2012 layout and roll out page updates one at a time.
In March NG hosted a Darkest Dungeon art contest
, Stencyl Jam
, a Super Chibi Knight Art Contest
and a Mercenary Kings Fan Art Contest!
April featued a Rogue Legacy Fan Art Contest
, a Lakeview Cabin Fan Art Contest
and of course Pico Day!
This was our biggest Pico Day party yet, only to be topped by the 2016 party.
In May we released a bunch of little updates like WebGL support for Unity games, blog comment sorting, audio submission details and the ability to log out sessions from other devices remotely. We also launched the Construct 2 Deception Jam.
The Newgrounds Tournament of Animation
had a lot of great entries this year, as did Robot Day!
We had art contests for Crypt of the NecroDancer
In August more small changes were unveiled, such as a new recommendations system, customized "Best of the Year" items on user pages and changes to how art is organized on user pages. We also began the private beta of Newgrounds.io
, the next generation of our API, made to be adaptable to any game or app anywhere, rather than just Flash games.
NG appeared at the Ottawa International Animation Festival in September, thanks to the screening of classic content curated by @wh347
October marked an update to the Supporter system, allowing for monthly and annual subscriptions. Until now people could just buy an annual upgrade. Getting a lot of people onboard as recurring subscribers as the new mission to secure the future of NG. The month wouldn't be complete without our Halloween Spooktacular
, of course.
In November we replaced our Flash-based video player with an HTML5 player and gave supporters the ability to change their username up to once per month.
Wade started a new job in December, making it his last month at NG. The years of downsizing really took a toll but this was the last of it for the foreseeable future.
Throughout all this, work on Nightmare Cops continued.
2016: Growing Supporters and Going Mobile
With our newly added subscription option added to the supporter system, we started the year with aggressive goals to get to 1,000 recurring supporters and beyond. To further incentivize, we introduced the Wall of Honor
to celebrate incoming and renewing supporters.
This January also marked our first ever Pixel Day
, an event suggested by @RealFaction
that has gone on to become my favorite annual event on the site.
February was a huge moment in NG history, where we moved Newgrounds hosting from rack space in downtown Philly to managed hosting in "the cloud", which basically means we don't physically managing our own servers anymore. I can't believe I didn't make a blog post about this but here's a Tweet
showing our servers before we loaded them in the trunk of my car.
This was an emotional moment because NG had been physically rooted in Philly for so long and we had total control over every aspect of the hardware. It was also a huge relief knowing we no longer had to worry about every aspect of the hardware. Gone are the big surprises where something expensive suddenly breaks and needs emergency replacement.
Of course we never really get to relax around here; a week later NG was inundated with 1000s of spam accounts from Russia that we had to meticulously clean out while adding additional spam and proxy preventing measures. Looking back at the 2017 election, this was some scary foreshadowing of what was going on elsewhere.
I also posted Nightmare Cops teaser footage
but I had used Vine, which shut down. Looking back at 2016 is a reminder that all these other social media sites suck and NG is cool.
One more bonus, we added the ability to add passwords to project previews, so artists and developers could better share unfinished works.
In March I attended the first GLAS Animation Festival
, organized by @elementalbadger
and featuring the Newgrounds retrospective screening curated by @wh347.
Having closed the store in 2014, we were happy to announce the return of NG shirts
The big update this month was the re-introduction of our flagging system, which had been missing from content pages for a while there. We also adding flagging for user icons and PMs, to grow the NG police state.
Our April Fools gag revolved around Trump taking over NG
, which I hope didn't help him a year later.
Focused on increasing our supporter numbers, we added the ability for supporters to choose from any level icon they had unlocked previously. Lollipops forever for @Luis.
We followed that up with a private Supporter Forum
where a magical party is happening 24/7 and if that wasn't enough, we then tossed in custom supporter emotes.
Not a bad month for supporter perks!
Leading up to Pico Day in May, we had a serious of gifts, including new emotes and the launch of a new NG Chat
, which has since become a supporter perk because mere mortals ruined it with drama.
May 7th was Pico Day
, along with the biggest, craziest and currently last Pico Day office party.
In June we began a series of summer animation jams, which resulted in Loop Jam
, Robot Jam
, Sound Jam
, Mascot Jam
and Creep Jam.
The other cool thing about these jams is that we commissioned several site skins featuring the original characters artists came up with for their entries. It was an awesome event that I regret not doing the following year, due to a crunch to get a Nightmare Cops demo ready for Comic-Con. Maybe 2018 will be the return?
After a year of private beta, Newgrounds.io
went public in August. We also pulled the plug on video ads. As in 2014, Google still wouldn't unblock Newgrounds and our options for inventory were too limited. This is why we hate dedicating development effort to ad solutions when running ads clearly isn't the future for NG.
In September we unveiled more drastic layout changes on specific pages such as collections and the feed, as we continued development of our mobile-friendly layout. Sometimes change isn't always bad for OGs; we reintroduced the Classic Portal to the navbar after having relegated it to drop-down menu status since 2012.
October featured our Halloween Spooktacular
and a mini-doc about independent animation by Jazza.
Worth a watch!
In November we updated the game and movie hubs as well as front page archives with our new layout and the mobile versions from then on would only show mobile-friendly content, unless you changed the display options in your account settings. Vice also published a nice article about NG
and we hosted an Owlboy Art Contest.
In December we announced a partnership with OpenAI
, giving game developers the option to have their games used in AI studies. Hopefully something good came from this and won't lead to our eventual demise.
If death by robot wasn't scary enough, we were also executing a major seak and destroy operation on unlicensed commercial music to avoid growing legal issues. We added a page of royalty free resources
to give artists options beyond the Audio Portal, already an amazing resource. Please don't use unlicensed commercial music in your work!
We did update the front page to our new layout before the year ended, so that was nice.
2017: Search, Security and Steady Improvements
In January, we hosted our second Pixel Day
and I went to Richmond, Virginia to give the opening keynote for the Global Game Jam
venue at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Continuing the choppy waters on the music front, we were experiencing issues with the growing popularity of Geometry Dash, which allows users to load music from the Audio Portal in their custom levels. We added a permissions option for music the be available to external APIs and RobTop (creator of Geometry Dash) started a whitelist of approved artists, to discourage kids from trying to upload music that wasn't theirs with the hope of using it in GD. We followed this up with a new global rights management tool, so artists could update their licensing and useage permissions in bulk.
In February we rebuilt our follow / favorites system from the ground up to make it more robust and ready for future updates.
In March, kaptainkristian released an uplifting video about Newgrounds.
I really cherish stuff like this.
In April we overhauled Dumping Grounds
with a mobile friendly layout and drag and drop functionality. We ended the month with our 12th Pico Day.
In May we hosted a Construct 3 Jam
featuring the beta release of Construct 3, a great tool for making games that works right in your browser! We also hosted a Flinthook art contest
and a Super Rude Bear art contest.
In June I reflected on an old use case document I wrote in 2009
, describing some of the goals for the site. None of the updates so far this year were especially glamorous but sometimes the necessary work has to get done.
In July, BrenTheMan built a new custom storage solution to expand our storage capacity while further reducing costs. I also journeyed to Comic-Con to unveil Nightmare Cops
, the console game we've been working on for many years.
After a beta release for Supporters in August, September marked the official launch of our dedicated Elasticsearch cluster, ushering a new era of NG search. In addition to making the whole site searchable, we introduced real-time suggestions and meaty Advanced options. We also celebrated Madness Day
and migrated all of NG to HTTPS, no small feet for a site this large!
On October 26th we hosted a theater screening of NG animation, organized by @PhantomArcade
, who began co-working at the NG office this year. It was an energizing event for all who attended! We wrapped up the month with our Halloween Spooktacular.
Working with Shark Robot, we introduced the coolest piece of NG merch in a long while: Tank Pins.
November brought us big updates to the audio players, as we switched them from Flash to HTML5 and made playlists mobile friendly. We followed up in December with completely mobile friendly pages for both audio and art.
We checked off some big long-time goals this year such as search and HTTPS, while continuing progress towards a mobile friendly NG that no longer depends on Flash for the Audio Portal.
As is the new tradition, our year kicked off with Pixel Day.
I hope to see Pixel Day grow bigger each year until the whole world knows about it.
This year was off to a bumpy start due to some mysterious performance issues, which ended up being due to an HTTPS-related bottlebeck. In the process of discovering the root cause, we actually spent a month heavily optimizing various parts of the site. The end result was NG running REALLY WELL, so it was time well-spent.
By mid-February things were back on track and we launched our new view pages and games and movies. We also updated our User of the Day Archive
with search capability, as a fun demonstration of how our Elasticsearch cluster was going to be put to use in more and more places.
With these ongoing updates, we've continued to reduce the in-page ads. Ad rates are low and ads hurt page performance, so we're curious to see if better performance leads to more paying supporters. Time will tell if this is the case. Up next are new user pages and a long-planned merging of our voting systems, so we no longer have two unique voting bars for general voting and reviews. After these we will be making big updates to the forums and private messaging system, to make both mobile friendly and more usable in other ways as well. If you want to help with these ongoing efforts, please consider becoming a supporter!