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The Secret History Of Rock Paper Shotgun - Part Two: How We Chose Our Name And Where It Got Us

Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters

So continues The Secret History Of Rock Paper Shotgun, a textual history of the beginnings of this very website, some twelve years ago. You can read yesterday's Part One here, and probably should, for this to make any sense.

This is the origin story of RPS, the tale of how the site came to be, as recalled through the increasingly snarky emails we sent each other at the time. Today, we learn the result of our attempted coup, then discover how we picked the name (and what else we nearly went with), and the earliest sketches of what we wanted RPS to be.

“Well that didn’t work.”

The deal we were chasing, which had six-figure numbers all over it, didn’t come to pass. Jim’s email on the 4th July began with the above. Much of the detail of why is lost to the grimy mists of history, but it boiled down to the investors chickening out. It felt like a blow - this was to be a superpass to riches - and yet, as I mentioned yesterday, I think we were also all a bit relieved.

Talking to Jim about it now, we both agree it’s not an alternative timeline we’d want to visit. It likely wouldn’t have worked out long-term, it clearly wasn’t the Thing we were wanting to do. Jim’s email from the 4th continued,

“I've spoken to each of you separately and we seem to be in agreement that we shouldn't abandon the idea of owning our own site just yet. So the next step is to look at something that will be less work, and consequently less money. It's my opinion that we should at least try to get the blog part of our plan up and running.”

I guess it’s fair to say we did that. It all went far, far faster than I remember.

“So, what we need to do now is

a) All commit to it
b) Think of a name for it
c) Get some webspace - John can you ask your hosty mate about packages, bearing in mind we intend to be commercial asap?
d) Work out a launch date and content”

So yes, part b there. You might well have wondered. Good grief, so have we.

Rock Paper Shotgun (commas or no commas was an unknown from the start) wasn’t the first name we thought of. It was in fact the 58th. For real. The first was, I can reveal: The Grind.

Do You See What We Did There?

Other suggestions included:

On The Level
The Monitor
The Game Engine
Crash To Desktop
Rocket Jump
The Megaphone
The Green Mob

As this mad email chain continued, Jim started sending in long, long lists of suggestions, the last of which read:

“The Cooldown
The Sniper
Rock, Paper, Shotgun

And there it was.

I replied,

“I like Rock, Paper, Shotgun ultimate best of all ever, and officially give it my vote.”

Alec suggested PaperShotgun as a more pithy, if more meaningless name. Kieron agreed. He wrote:

“I think either or is the way to go. Rockpapershotgun is good, but not as good - also the 3-beat name reminds me a bit too much of GameSetWatch for some reason.”

I came back in.

“I prefer rockpapershotgun, and will make this pitch for it: I think it means a lot more, and is certainly funnier. The development of games from rock/paper/scissors to the electronic world of shooting people in the digital face. It also implies the succession of PC games over former methods of play, which is an arrogance I'm in support of. I also think it's a lot more memorable, and that might be important. Paper Shotgun is a lot harder to fit into your brain, as it doesn't have the familiar source. Other thing - the site's not on paper, which I know isn't all the point, but it does seem a bit odd. I feel like it would be a good name for a printed fanzine.

However, would I be upset to write for a blog called Paper Shotgun - no.”

Then Jim:

“Rock, Paper, Shotgun = cleverer, more meaningful
Paper Shotgun = snappier, cooler

Which are we?”

Alec put in one more pitch for the shorter name, but ended magnanimously with,

“But fuck it, doesn't upset me enough to delay the vote if that's where we're going. Realistically, 3 out of 4 of us agreeing is probably the best we can hope for out of a group comprising a toy robot-collecting miserabilist, a comics writer who pretends he has a drill for a cock, a bunny-drawing christian and a philosopher with a pet crab.”

That was us.

With a name picked, Rock Paper Shotgun was a real thing. I think it was as simple as that. We’d all been so energised by the reasons we’d not really liked the business deal we’d been pitching, that acting on what we really wanted began to feel inevitable. This was something unquestionably driven by Jim’s tenacity and momentum. Without him, I feel fairly certain the other three of us would have allowed it to be a thing we wanted to do, but probably never got around to.

But Jim is a robotic dog with a laser bone, and he was off. And since a lot of the discussions that designed the site in our minds took place in IM and over drinks in the pub, Jim took to writing out long emails that captured our thinking.

“We go for this hell for leather for six months. It doesn't mean losing real work and not paying the bills, but it does mean take a couple of hours a day, or a couple of days a week, to pour your soul into this site.

If after six months we have a tiny, pointless readership then we just drop the idea. If it's growing and going places, we put even more into it.”

This was July 9th, barely a month after the original lunch where we conceived the idea. We made the decision to launch the site on August 20th, to coincide with the release of BioShock. Having attended preview events, and recognising the buzz surrounding it, we knew it was the biggest name we could attach to. Plus, Kieron had already interviewed Ken Levine about it, and the words were ours.

There were other features and articles we’d all written, piggybacking off other work, in the bank and ready to use. As Jim put it, “We try to get one piece a week that will get on all the link aggregators for as long as we can muster.”

And then he added,

“This means we have to design a website by August 20th. I don't actually know that much about this, but I'm certain we can mutilate a Wordpress template for this purpose in record time.”

What’s so brilliant is that the soul of RPS was already there, before we’d even written a word on it. “We don’t actually give out marks,” Jim continued. “We write about games. That’s it. If the game happens to be new, then maybe it’s a review. But we have no need to call it that.” In fact, I’m just going to paste the rest of that email, because it speaks so clearly about what RPS was meant to be, and wonderfully, what it absolutely became:

“Let's jettison magazines, and what PCG is now, and make this its own thing. This is THE blog about PC games. Let's be funny, vicious, happy, obsessed. Let's do concept pieces, random slatings, ludicrous features.

Let's capture something of the spirit of Gamer's crazier hours, while still being the best games read on the web. The joy of this site is it belongs to us, and we only write about what we want to write about. We need to take that single idea as far as it can go.”

To be continued tomorrow.

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