The Opinion Pipe: The History of Switchaboo - Why It's More than Just a Website
My name is Alex. I am 26 years old and I live in South Australia with my beautiful partner Rachelle and our little kitten Zelda who's currently at my feet trying to bite my shoelaces. In early 2017, I quit my job as an electronics salesman to work for my older brother Cory at his digital marketing start-up business. A few months later and I thought that decision was the worst one I could have possibly made as Cory said with tears in his eyes that things weren't progressing the way he had hoped and could no longer keep me on. I was unemployed, without hope and nothing to show for myself other than two-thirds of an Arts degree majoring in English (which surely employers everywhere would've been gushing over, right?).
Cory didn't leave me high and dry, though. He knew how much I loved to write and always knew of my love for video games. We grew up playing Mario Kart 64 and Mario Party together and I can still vividly remember how mad he was when I saved over his seven-badge save file in Pokémon Yellow. Over time, my brother quickly grew disinterested in video games and opted to focus his time on work and his car - but not me. My friends and family associated the image of me with a controller in-hand and my eyes glued to a screen. "Keep staring at that screen and you'll be needing glasses," my mum would always say to me and as mothers usually are, she was right, but it was a small price to pay to ensure I'd continue to immerse myself in magical adventures involving saving the princess and shooting down dragons in the sky with my Elven Bow.
Therefore, Cory pointed me in the direction of a website called Upwork that allowed writers to apply for freelance work. It wasn't much (like, at all), but it was something to help keep me occupied and feel like I was moving forward. I applied for anything and everything for the sake of simply pulling in some income whilst Rachelle was working full-time just so we could continue to pay rent. The site allowed a limit of fifty jobs per day that you could apply for and in that first day, I had filled that quota by lunch time. Even though I thrusted my name forward for countless writing jobs, I found myself taking a lot more thought and consideration when it came to applying for video game websites. By midnight, I had received a grand total of zero responses. I was disheartened but considering my lack of experience, I couldn't blame the employers for not wanting to risk their voice being handled by someone with next-to-no experience like myself. I was so down on myself that I didn't apply for any jobs for days afterward, despite Rachelle sending me applications on her lunch breaks. I felt worthless as I sat on my couch with a controller in my hand (by default) until my phone vibrated. There, at the very top of my screen, was the Upwork logo. My shaking fingers scrolled the notifications down from the very top of the screen and there it said, "Your application has been approved".
I applied for many writing positions but only one really caught my attention. It was for a website that wanted to write articles about the Nintendo Switch. I played all types of games but from March 3, 2017, the palm of my hands were all but imprinted on the edges of my red and blue Joy-Cons. So you can imagine my surprise when the one and only response I ever received on Upwork was from David Liu, a doctor-in-training from Melbourne, Australia.
I was really excited to get started and I felt self-belief again. David said that he wanted to get a content list up first and we'd go from there. Over a week past and I hadn't heard anything; I began to feel nervous and that I'd gotten my hopes up too high and too early. I reached out to David once more and to my great relief, he responded quickly and gave me my first assignment: a 1000 word article about the fun facts behind Super Mario Odyssey (which had only just released and was all anyone was talking about at the time). Adrenaline filled my entire body and once I started writing, I couldn't stop. I had the article sent to David within 24 hours and he said it'd be the first article posted once the website was up.
Now at this time, the website didn't even have a name yet! I came up with names in my head but I didn't feel like it was my place to suggest any being just one of four writers at that moment. In the meantime, I wrote another article about the new Splatoon 2 update at the time and soon enough on November 27, 2017, both articles were published on a site called "Switchaboo"... Switchaboo - really? Safe to say, I wasn't a fan of the name; at least, not at first. It slowly grew on me but at the end of the day, what did it matter? I was a video game journalist!
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As previously mentioned, the website began with four writers (not including David) however after a few months, that number quickly dwindled to just one - me. It was quite an upsetting thought at first until I realised that I had become the chief writer. Under David's regulation, I could make Switchaboo my own.
Now did this fix my financial problem? Absolutely not! Switchaboo was a lot of fun to write for, however I learned early on that video game journalism isn't the most financially lucrative past-time. So I did the adult thing and got a part-time job and I went back to university to finish my degree but all the while, I continued to work hard on Switchaboo. I wrote biography articles on big-name Nintendo icons; I wrote news pieces about upcoming releases that I was excited about and I wrote reviews about games that I owned. It was exciting and I was tickled-pink each time someone commented on my work.
This feeling of euphoria exceeded my wildest expectations when on June 1st, 2018, Switchaboo received its first ever review code and not only that, but FOUR DAYS before it's release date, too! It was incredible; somebody out there wanted my opinion on their video game and that somebody was from Hollow Tree Games with the release of their title Shape of the World.
Despite it sitting at Page 5 on Google, the concept of my opinions perhaps influencing someone's decision to purchase a game was mind-boggling to me. Is it my best work? Well the answer to that is an unwavering NO, but it was a stepping point toward creating relationships with developers and publishers.
Luck continued to grow from mid-2018 when we were invited to attend PAX AUS as press. I still remember embarrassing myself on the train to work as I made various high-pitched noises when staring at an email from the organisers at PAX saying that I was to attend the event with two press passes. David and I were even allowed to enter the show floor one hour before the public and we ran straight to Nintendo's Super Smash Bros. Ultimate booth.
We made a lot of friends that weekend and were sure to return in 2019 and beyond for as long as they'd have us. Some writers have come and gone but there will always be a place for them at Switchaboo. Rachelle has stuck with me throughout the entire journey and has even contributed to the website with reviews of her own.
In 2021, Switchaboo has grown to become a team of six writers, with each being an important cog in the website machine. As we attempted to bolster our Twitter following, Switchaboo began talking to another gaming website called The Cross Button based in England. When the shields that were our respective sites came down, The Cross Button's creator James Troughton and I became good friends through our mutual interests in writing and video games. James no longer wanted to manage The Cross Button, so he came on board at Switchaboo and has been a valuable co-worker and friend since.
Across 2019 and 2020, our primary goal was to reach out to as many developers and publishers as possible so that we could spread the name Switchaboo and make deeper connections with the video game industry. We grew rapidly but perhaps too rapidly. With still such a small team, we perhaps bit off more than we could chew and quickly found ourselves with an ever-growing pile of work that was rising faster than we could get through. Since then, we have welcomed Dylan Covington from Kentucky (USA), Nathan Rudge from South Australia and Steve Whiting from London (England) to the team.
Moving forward, we want to do more for our followers and make more friends along the way. This History of Switchaboo article is the first of our fortnightly Patreon articles where patrons can vote and/or suggest article ideas. We decided to start with the history of our website as we wanted to formally introduce ourselves.
Over the past three years, Switchaboo has grown more than I could have possibly imagined. Being able to bring up the site's name to someone and them saying that they've actually heard of it is a tremendous feeling and the video game industry and its fans are the most welcoming I have ever come across. We have made some lifelong friends along the way and we can't wait to make even more in the years to come.
Thank you to our $5 and up Patreon Backers for their ongoing support:
- Andrew Caluzzi (Inca Studios / Camped Out!)
- Belinda Cubitt
- Jon Crispe
- Matthew Sandstrom