Every reader - everyone - had strong opinions abut this layout, a sequence of fixed pages that looked more Wired than web. I was going to say that "you've never seen anything like it," except now every iPad magazine app is doing exactly what The Escapist pioneered five years ago.
"In an email exchange," says Smith, "Richard Bartle expressed surprise that we were doing this weekly, and that he was impressed. I think that may have been one of the most meaningful comments for our team; it was for me."
Publisher (and Harvard lawyer) Alexander Macris explains the reasoning behind the innovative layout, "Our concern was that if we launched with a traditional web format, people would say, 'Ho hum, another blog.' When you're up against massive competitors in an entrenched position, mere quality doesn't carry the day; you need a unique design. We felt an amazing, graphically beautiful magazine-style layout would capture more attention. And we were totally right!"
"We were very interested in capturing the romance of the printed word," says Lincoln. Though he wishes standards back then had today's support for web fonts, so they could have escaped "the Times/Tahoma/Verdana dungeon," Lincoln says, "the backend tech was dynamite, supporting what worked out to be a fantastic display of our creative talents."
"The Escapist's design was pretty anti-establishment at the time," says Hayter, but "our objective with the design - as it should be with all design - was to complement the content. If the writing was our high-caliber bullet, our design was striving to be the best possible rifle to deliver it on target. I worry what would have happened if we hadn't stepped onto the scene with the big designs and covers. I worry we would have - like many other startup gaming sites - gotten lost in the mix."
That never happened. Regarding the July 2005 launch, Smith recalls that the first day brought 16,000 unique visitors. "These days a single article or video will frequently top those numbers, but we were thrilled with them."
The format proved labor-intensive. Hayter commented in a 2005 forum post, "It's a difficult process each week. All rewarding accomplishments are challenging by nature, so I'm happy to say The Escapist falls into this category." And some of the hardest labor fell to Editor-in-Chief Julianne Greer.
"I was working as the copywriter in Themis's marketing division," she says. "We knew it would be tough to hire an experienced editor to head up the venture since it was so quietly done, so we decided to choose from within. I had never been an editor before, let alone the founding editor, laying the groundwork for the whole editorial tone and process. 'Daunted' is an understatement to describe my feeling, but I was honored that the planning team put so much faith in me.