How Newgrounds Changed the Game
And why it needs our help
To say that a 45-second cartoon about a dog fetching a grenade changed my life probably sounds a little ridiculous, but it’s also a little true. It was the year 2000. I was eleven years old, exploring the world-wide web at the lightning-fast speeds of 56k, when I discovered a website called Newgrounds. The first thing I watched was a crummy little thing called Scrotum the Puppy. It took longer to load than it did to watch. The second thing I watched was The Pygmy Shrew, which still holds up today. Then I played a game called Pico’s School. In an evening, a whole world opened up to me.
Before Newgrounds, cartoons to me were either Fox Kids or Disney. They came in show length or movie length; nothing in-between. They were made by professionals employed by companies, and aired on TV or shown in movie theaters. Games, similarly, were made by developers, for publishers, on consoles. But Newgrounds changed the notion on both counts. It showed me that one person could make a cartoon and share it with the world. One person could create a game and host it on the internet. Nothing but perseverance stood in the way of making this stuff. There were no gatekeepers.
A few years later, I saved my money and bought the most affordable WACOM tablet I could find, got my hands on a copy of Macromedia Flash MX 2004 in a manner I’d rather not elaborate on, and started making my own stuff. In my time on Newgrounds, I made over 30 cartoons, three games, and participated in a number of collaborations. And while I rarely made anything I truly felt proud of, Newgrounds gave its community an opportunity they never would have had before. And they took it.
Newgrounds’ list of success stories is staggering. YouTube channels like Game Grumps, FilmCow, or Hot Diggedy Demon; games like Super Meat Boy, Castle Crashers, Snipperclips, or Binding of Isaac; and numerous cartoons on Adult Swim wouldn’t exist without Newgrounds. Steam has a curated list of games created by developers who cut their teeth on the site, which features over 60 titles. It was the first and the best portal for user-created content that helped democratize animation and game design simultaneously. It’s hard to imagine where the indie game scene would be without the role Newgrounds played in giving thousands a platform to share their work and find inspiration.
But the most important philosophy Newgrounds creator Tom Fulp never swayed from is the idea that creators matter. It’s a belief that has cost him financially, for the betterment of the Newgrounds community. Many advertisers have dropped support for Newgrounds because of Tom’s unwillingness to capitulate and censor obscene content. Newgrounds was one of the first sites to support revenue sharing with its content creators, and continues to offer far more generous margins than its competition. Newgrounds loses money for Tom Fulp, who has managed to keep it above water through income from his other projects, because he understands the value it provides new creators. It’s a place that gives a great deal and asks for nothing in return. It’s the Giving Tree, if you will.
Sometime around 2006, my tablet broke. I made a comment about it in a thread on the site’s forums. It was upsetting not to be making work to post and share with all my friends, and I was distressed realizing how long it would put me out of commission before I could afford a new tablet. But then I got a message from Tom Fulp, who’d read my post. He asked for my address, and mailed me a new tablet. I was baffled. He had no reason to do that. I wasn’t generating top-shelf content, or driving tons of traffic. And he wasn’t making a PR play, either — he didn’t make a big post about sending me a new tablet or anything. He saw that I lost mine, and sent me a new one. In fact, I still use it today.
That’s the kind of guy Tom Fulp is, and that‘s the kind of site he runs. It’s a place where creators have always mattered. Which makes it all the more heartbreaking when Fulp has to make the case for users to support the website financially. From a post he made in March:
“I really don’t enjoy asking people to do this. It’s not like I woke up one day and said, ‘Wow, after all I’ve accomplished, I think I’ll spend the rest of my life begging people for money.’ … We’re getting hammered by declining ad rates and ad blockers. We’re blacklisted by Google Ads, which makes us blacklisted by Google-owned DoubleClick and any ad network that ties into Google services. We don’t track weird personal details about our users and share it with marketers. We have indecent content but we’re one of the last decent websites and we’re 100% independent.”
Newgrounds is a site that revolutionized independent animation, and paved the way for independent game development. The careers of some of our favorite creators and entertainers wouldn’t exist without it. It wasn’t in the cards for me to be one of those animators or designers, but because of Newgrounds and the people it brought me closer to, I am where I am today, making content I’m passionate about (doge memes for discord bots, obviously), for a company that might not have existed without the opportunities Newgrounds made for us.
The problem with The Giving Tree is that the tree gave everything it could to the boy, and the boy never reciprocated. So if all this tree needs is $2.99 a month from some of the people whose lives and livelihoods were built upon its foundation to keep the lights on, where do I sign?
Oh, right here.
The point is, we owe Newgrounds this. We owe Newgrounds so much more than this, but we at least owe them this. If you’ve played Castle Crashers, or Snipperclips, or Skullgirls, or shared Charlie the Unicorn with your entire family, binged through hours of Game Grumps, or made an embarrassing All Your Base reference, or maybe told your nephew about a creep called Salad Fingers, you should consider keeping the place those creators called home around a while longer. That little bastard never said thank you to The Giving Tree, but now’s your chance to say it to Newgrounds.
KaptainKristian made a remarkable video about Newgrounds’ role in the future of animation. Check it out.