Newgrounds.com holds a special place in my heart ever since my first days going on the website during my childhood. There were thousands of Flash animations and games to choose from, each created by a user just like me (although with much more drive and skill). Over the years, Newgrounds evolved from being the personal site for one man’s semi-finished Flash projects to being the number one place for Flash animators and Flash animation lovers to go to post or check out the newest hits. Newgrounds was a sort of YouTube before YouTube; it allowed for the uploading of user-generated content long before our favorite modern video website was even thought of. This change, from a site owned, operated, and contributed to by only one man, to being a massive community of animators, can be easily seen in the change in the design of the site from 1998 (and 2000) to 2008.
In the years 1996 and 1997, after spending a few years making BBS games, distributing fanzines (fan-made magazines) over Prodigy, and learning how computer networks functioned, Tom Fulp, a freshman/sophomore at Drexel University, started two websites: New Ground Remix and New Ground Atomix. Here, he hosted all his various Flash projects. After being contacted by Insider Edition to do a piece on one of his games, Assassin, he ecstatically bought up the domain name Newgrounds.com, combined the two sites together, and made both redirect to the new one. Slowly, he continued to add more and more Flash projects to his website, and Newgrounds drew in more and more attention from fans, news outlets, and the public.
The earliest archived version of Newgrounds is from December 1998. The website is very barebones, with some basic HTML and CSS, and what I think was supposed to be a Flash animation at the top which will not load in the archive. All that it contains is a handful of links to games/projects Tom had created, including such hits as Club a Seal, Beep Me Jesus, and, the most relevant to the development of the site, The Portal. The Portal was, in Tom’s words, “not really a full feature, but [was] pretty weird. It [sent] you to random little mini-sites.” These “mini-sites” were half-baked projects of his, and he frequently updated it over the years. The main body of the website is a list of updates on the development of Newgrounds and Tom’s life. As is evident by the visuals and content of the website, it was crafted and contributed to by Tom Fulp alone. It was the work of a singular man, showcasing his skills to the world. However, that all changed in 1999 and 2000.
People began to reach out to Tom with Flash that they had created as they had no place to showcase it. Tom began to add these fan-made Flash projects to The Portal. Very quickly, the number of submissions for The Portal increased (about as frequently as the average quality decreased), to the point where there were too many for Tom alone to filter through. Thus, he and his friend and colleague, Ross, began working on automating The Portal.
Fast forward two years to 2000 to find the website with a much-needed graphical overhaul. All the buttons seen here are Flash, and the large grey box on center-left plays Flash animations when the website first loads. The site is also constantly playing music: specifically, this particular very famous drum beat sample. The same chronological development updates are the main body of the website, but all the Flash animation and pictures at the top of the page distract from it. The tagline of the site is “The Problems of the Future, Today!”. All the games and animations outside of The Portal are still creations of Tom Fulp, but the website has a slightly more professional, hand-crafted feel. This version of the site still feels like one man’s dumping ground for all the childish, outlandish, and frequently risqué creations, even though user-generated content was being added at the time.
Sometime in late 2000, the automated Portal was finally created and released, allowing users to automatically have their Flash projects uploaded to the site to be reviewed by others. This point marks the greatest shift in the history of the website. No longer is it just the weird ideas from Tom Fulp. Now, Newgrounds is the place where all Flash animators could come, release their creations, and receive criticism and views. This turning point marks the beginning of a community of Flash animators which thrived on the website. The website developed its own culture and memes, and became centered around not Tom, but the creators and the thousands of hours they spent crafting their animations.
In 2008, Newgrounds’ community-orientation can be felt immediately upon opening the site. The motto of the website has been changed to “Everything, by Everyone”. The larger navigation bar contains the Flash Portal, Audio Portal, Games, and Movies as its first four entries. The body of the website is composed of Featured Movies, Featured Games, and Featured Music, with a small section for site news, and even a section for artist news. Just in those observations, it is plain to see that user-generated content was the most important thing about Newgrounds now. Tom Fulp’s original works of Flash animation are nowhere to be found, but Newgrounds now hosts tens of thousands of movies, games, and art produced by thousands of creators, some of which received hundreds of thousands, and sometimes even millions, of views.
The website’s design also got a massive upgrade. The logo changed to a man in a tank, the color scheme changed to black, grey, and orange, and all the buttons, panels, and pictures just look much more well designed. As Tom Fulp’s creations stopped taking the spotlight, he started devoting more and more time to improving upon his greatest creation, Newgrounds.com, and the newer design is just a product of that.
Over the years, Newgrounds.com transformed from a collection of Flash animations and games created by Tom Fulp, to being a massive website filled to the brim with user-generated content with its own culture. The design of the 1998, 2000, and 2008 versions of the website showcase this change perfectly; the spotlight on Tom’s products moved to the content created by the many thousands of users submitting weekly. This change in Newgrounds’ design and focus allowed it to become the largest and most important Flash animation website on the Internet for many years, starting the careers of many well-known animators and creators on YouTube today, such as psychicpebbles, Egoraptor, OneyNG, and videogamedunkey. The website’s community also started many of the memes from the early 2000s. A lot of culture and content came out of Newgrounds, all from Tom Fulp’s decision to add other people’s Flash content to The Portal.