Under Press(ure)

Back when I was young...

This is a call to arms – a first in a series of articles in which I, as a self confessed miserable old bastard, will explain why the old days actually really were the ‘good’ old days. Why the gaming industry as a whole is slipping into a steaming pit of mediocrity, brought down by the erosion of standards of modern life with all of its ridiculously convenient… EVERYTHING.  So, bah humbug and all that, and on with the first article in which I slate the press (I know – can you feel that fourth wall creaking?)

Take a look at the ‘gaming press’ today and what do you see? Allow me to tell you.  You see a bloated mass of ‘official’ publications, toeing the party line, screaming about how great their sponsoring manufactuer’s flagship machines are and bombarding you with more useless tat than you would normally find in one of those really tacky ‘gift shops’ in town – you know the one… it smells a bit funny and it sells such joys as ‘musical chinese stress balls’ and uber cheap Rizlas that aren’t actually Rizlas.

Official Nintendo Magazine is the worst offender for this, showering its readership endlessly with keyrings, pencil tops, console stickers and the laziest of all gaming magazine add-ons – the tips book (of which more later). Official Playstation Magazine is, of course, much more ‘grown up’. Not for the Sony boys (no girls it would seem – Sony not having pulled its winning feminine crowd puller of ‘painting the console pink’ on its beloved PS3 hardware yet) the tawdry gewgaws of cheap, plasticky giveaways and feeble, badly written tips and cheats guides. Oh no, you just get a disc. A disc and a magazine so thin that it actually feels like they should be taken to court under the Trade Descriptions Act for calling it such, when it is really no longer than the average pamphlet that we all, in fact, know it to be.  But mainly it’s the disc, all shiny and promising with its…demos.

Hang on though, can’t you download demos on the Sony Network? (No, I’m serious – can you? I haven’t yet been able to bring myself to mortgage all my belongings and actually buy one of the damned things, so I honestly couldn’t tell you). Anyway, you get the disc and the pamp…I mean magazine, and you pay somewhere in the region of £6 if I recall correctly.  Then there is Official Xbox 360 Magazine, which is more or less the same offering as Sony’s effort, except slightly less glossy and shiny and generally more ‘fun’ looking. And slightly cheaper. It’s almost as if the mags themselves were a metaphor for the consoles they represent.

You also see ‘independents’. There are such heady delights as 360 Gamer, N Gamer, and…errrr – is Powerstation still around? I can’t remember seeing it recently. If you have, and you want to let me know, then please don’t. I don’t care. Really.

Finally, you see the ‘multiformat’ mags – remember C&VG back in the 80′s? You know, when it used to be an actual magazine that did actual reviews by actual journalists? Before it went shite, basically? Same idea here. Sort of. You have Edge, which is frankly so self consciously pretentious that I worry for the sanity of a) its writers and b) its readership. Then you have GamesTM, which used to be really rather good quality but slowly seems to be (d)?evolving into Edge mk2, and then, finally, you have GamesMaster. GamesMaster which is nice and soft on your bottom when that stupid bloody puppy has run off with all the proper bog paper, although make sure you remove the tips book first – those cheap recycled pulp pages are rough on the old backside.

You see all of these things, and you wonder (or at least I did), what happened to the halcyon days of old. Remember Your Sinclair? Remember Mean Machines? Amiga Power? Remember the days when magazines actually gave you news?  Not recycled propaganda from the PR office of a giant publisher or manufacturer; not the drivelling self indulgent prattle of whiny post emo young adults who think that they’re so bleeding edge cool because they read manga and play Japanese Import games; not even the ridiculous, posturing ‘interviews’ handed out by ‘industry figureheads’ bleating excitedly about how their game is going to ‘change the way that people look at games’. Just simple honest news.  Facts.  Games that were coming out.  Games that were out.  Letters (that weren’t written by an 8 year old and accompanied by a crayon scrawl of Sonic).

Your Sinclair used to last me the whole month until the next one came out, and that wasn’t including the cover tape that came affixed to the front, packed with old games and the odd demo of a new one. I would read every article, every review, all the letters and previews because they were written with passion. With wit. Mostly with good old fashioned journalistic skill.  Nowadays, as long as your pages are glossy and you have more shiny pics than the next mag, this seems to suffice. Unless you’re one of the ‘serious’ mags that is, in which case you have to have ‘controversial’ scores and indulge in articles about things which seem to be ever increasingly divorced from actual games and the playing of them.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a bit of serious journalism, but when GamesTM printed an article defending a game based on the Columbine Massacre, and used it as an excuse to have a whole debate about whether games could ever be used as a serious medium to address serious, real world issues such as murder, genocide and rape, I couldn’t help but think they had lost the plot of what it is that they were there for.   Games are just that – games, and to suggest that you can use them to address such issues in a meaningful way is, as far as I am concerned, madness.

I digress – what is the point of this tirade you may ask? Well, it hardly seems that a month goes by in videogaming circles (well ok, my videogaming circles, which are populated by interesting and intelligent people) without the subject of the ‘death of the printed gaming press’ being discussed. It is argued that the advent of the worldwide web, and the proliferation of informative gaming sites (such as this very one that you have chosen to visit today, dear reader) is making printed magazines less relevant.

They can’t provide cutting edge news as they once did, because by the time they print it has already been announced, dissected every which way by the web media and beamed to every interested party via their laptop/ipad/mobile phone. They can’t really score ‘exclusive’ reviews anymore, because there will always be someone on the web who has already played the game, finished the game, uploaded their speed run to YouTube and posted their review online before the mag even went to final editing. So the argument goes that they are no longer relevant, and that eventually they will have the good grace to die quietly.

All of this may be true but I don’t see that it necessarily has to mean that the traditional gaming press has to die. Why can’t they adapt? Your Sinclair managed to keep going for almost a year as the Speccy died a death. The reviews dried up, sure, but they still managed to keep going with a reasonably sized mag, delivering interesting articles and adapting to the climate. Can you imagine that these days?  It just wouldn’t happen. The answer, I fear, is that we are living in a ‘disposable’ generation these days, and I find this upsetting, because ultimately, the printed press could and should be so much more.

Think about it – the web page that throws out reviews and articles doesn’t have to be well written. Very rarely will there be any kind of ‘proper’ editing, and as long as the publishers are happy with their review scores then money will carry on pouring into the site just the same, regardless of the quality of the copy.  For that matter, there are a host of sites (like, ahem – this one) that are independent and small and don’t require advertising revenue to run (although, of course in the case of some of them that’s because they are just awesome *comedy wink to camera*) and can spew out whatever vitriolic fanboy ridden pustulence that they choose.  Contrast this with the ‘proper’ press, where you have to answer to an editor, to a publisher (of the mag, not the games – keep up) and ultimately to a readership who will quite happily vote with their wallets if you are crap.

At least that’s the theory. The reality, as I’ve outlined, is that the gaming press these days is declining at a rapid rate. From Edge with it’s ‘too cool for school’ image and ridiculous philosophy that as long as you’re glossy and use big words then you’re sophisticated, to the oversized advertising pamphlets that are the official mags and the patronisingly childish ‘indies’ inbetween, gaming must be the most badly served pastime in modern times in terms of the journalism that it has de-generated into. Where are the decent interviews, the thoughtful (and thought provoking) columns, the intelligent reviews? Well I’ll tell you where – they’re mostly in Retro Gamer. A magazine that is consciously modelled on a halcyon age – a better time when magazines were something to be read and enjoyed, rather than thrown away once you’d ripped off the free gift/tips book/demo disc.

That says all that it needs to for my money. These days, retro is the new chic, and for me it speaks volumes that the only decent print based games journalism these days is stuff that is based on consoles, games and people from a time when the internet was the preserve of a few nerds in various universities.

As to those bloody tips books – I’ll cover them in a later article – suffice it to say that they represent another facet of all that I find bad with modern gaming. For now, I want you to leave this article and think – really THINK, about the last time you read a gaming magazine cover to cover and enjoyed it. When it engaged you and made you laugh/cry/grin. When it reached you on a deep level. I remember mine, and if I get enough responses I might even share with the group.

Last five articles by Greg



  1. rich says:

    I bought five issues of Your Sinclair a few weeks ago and managed to destroy one of them when I fell off of my bed. True story.

    They still stand up though. Very funny. Maybe not the best journalism ever, but they didn’t seem to care about that. Crash had the ‘sensible’ thing going on but then they gave Renegade 3 a ‘Crash Smash’ so they can go fuck themselves.

  2. Rook says:

    Magazines – I remember them. I don’t buy them anymore however as magazines always went through the same cycle which was the first look was just a flickthrough page by page, reading the little snippets of news or information and then reading the scores and final points of the reviews all while looking at the pictures throughout. Then gradually I would go back and pick and choose articles and reviews to read. However, I found I was reading less and less of the magazines each month and have stopped buying them altogether some time ago.

    Cover discs weren’t being looked at anymore, tips books were laying in a particular pile never being used, the extras on the discs were pointless (gaming wallpapers spoiled by the magazines logo emblazoned upon them) and I could either choose to read a review and look at the pictures of go to Gametrailers and watch gameplay in action while listening to a narrated review.

    I still enjoy the flickthrough perusal of a magazine but don’t spend money on them anymore. And with so many websites to look at it and gaming to be done (as well as other life happenings) time left for magazines had dwindled.

  3. Ste says:

    I used to religiously buy PC Gamer about 10 years ago but it just got shit all of a sudden so I stopped. Then of course the internet really really took off and all the website cropped up and now I dont think there is much need for the magazines anymore. Demo discs and tip books are obsolete now as a quick google search will more than likely find you what you want and why the hell would I want a cheaply made free gift, I’m not 10 years old anymore. Ok, admittingly the journalistic skills of the average mainstream website may not be great but who cares when its free? I predict over the next 5 years or so the majority if not all gaming magazines will be dead and buried. The internet is getting more and more interactive and sophisticated the magazines just cant compete. It’s unfortunate but thats just the way it is I guess.

  4. Lorna Lorna says:

    Enjoyable rant, as ever, Greg ;) I’m inclined to disagree in places though…I don’t think that the state of the gaming press is nearly as bad as you say, though there are severe annoyances and too many mags aimed at the Tweeny/Teen demographic and I do share your views on Edge. I think GamesTM, however, is a solid mag and it is the only one which I consistenly buy from month to month. I also buy 360 (not 360 Magazine or 360 Gamer, just ’360′ which was stupid of them because you inevitably call it 360 magazine when there is already a less decent mag called just that).

    Gaming magazines are very close to my heart and are a big part of my gaming identity – they always have been. Some of my strongest memories aren’t from actual games but, rather, from the magazines. Memories of Crash, YS, Sinclair Abuser, Amiga Power, Amiga Format, an old mag for the orginal GameBoy whose name escapes me, and so on. I genuinely get saddened at the thought of a future without the gaming printed press, it would be a great loss. Personally, I hate the helter skelter skid towards modernity, hate the thought of having to read mags on a fucking Kindle (that just sounds like posh firewood to me), or an iPad.

    I may be old fashioned in that I love the feel, texture, smell, visuals, and tactile experience offered by picking up a mag and browsing…pulling out pages, clipping out bits and bobs, doodling on Molyneux’s forehead, and enjoying the coverart. To have that vanish because of the internet’s encroachment, as I’ve said, makes me sad. Will print mags survive? I hope so. They may have to adapt, focus more on articles, features, and interviews, maybe behind the scenes stuff which sites can’t/won’t/don’t do or have the access or clout to land…but at least there’s hope. Or at least, that’s what I tell myself.

    There is a lot of good print journalism out there – don’t write it off too soon. As for reading a mag from cover to cover…I’d say that it is more about time and less about quality which makes it a less likely scenario now. As the ‘Werthers’ generation have aged, so our commitments have grown, and with more choice in games in general comes less interest in every title that a mag may have to offer. Good food for thought, Greg. I was planning a mag piece further down the line, though not a ranty one ;)

  5. Mark Mark S says:

    I agree with you Greg. The standards have slipt in the last few years. That’s not the reason I stopped buying them though. Everything I need is right here in GL or discussed with my friends. I’ll make up my own mind on games and find alot of stuff in mags or on certain sites a waste of time reading.

  6. Edward Edward says:

    The last time I truly enjoyed them was before Nintendo Official Magazine rebooted into Official Nintendo Magazine.
    They try their best, bless them, but their change in direction to appeal to everyone rather than to the hardcore gamers made them lose a slight bit of edge and I stopped enjoying them as much. I still bought a few just for the free gifts though. I’m a sucker for free stuff.

    Great article Greg :D

  7. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    I agree in part with what you’re saying, but also think that you’re perhaps taking a very blinkered approach to the art form of games when you say…

    “Games are just that – games, and to suggest that you can use them to address such issues in a meaningful way is, as far as I am concerned, madness.”

    If literary works of fiction are capable of carrying debate when their subject is grounded in reality, such as war, poverty or rape, then why not games? Does having the subject matter represented by animated pixels somehow render the subtext pointless because it’s not the written word? Anything based on reality, whether exaggerated or not, will often push the buttons of the end user because they’re being reminded of something to which they can relate and it should be their right to discuss it without being told that it’s ridiculous to do so because it’s only a game. As an intelligent and rational person, I take offence to being told that it’s madness if I choose to juxtapose the subject matter of a game with the reality on which it’s based… surely it’s my right to do so, and shows much greater respect for the medium than those who dismiss them as being “just” games. My own opinion is that it shows much more intelligence to see through the pixelated facade to the subtext than to merely sit with a controller in hand, mouth hanging open and thinking “pretty pictures… blaaaaam!”, but perhaps that’s just me ;)

    You’re right when it comes to the games press missing out on exclusives, leaked news, and everyone has already said whatever they want to say before they’ve even powered up their Heidelbergs. Print has always evolved though, from back when Caxton was using text alone to when they started to include woodcuts in the old penny dreadfuls… right up to modern day where they’ll include a lenticular cover to attract more people to buy them and they’ll include community areas within their magazine to encourage people to interact more at the thought of getting their name in print. I too miss the glory days of Amiga Format and C&VG but I’d never assume that the printed press was on its way out – it just needs to reinvent itself and give the readers another fresh reason to buy.

    As someone who ran a magazine, albeit an “underground” mag, for several years, I know how difficult it can be to keep content fresh and exciting but I always managed it. When someone lifts up your 132 page “A3 folded to A4″ photocopied magazine and puts down their copy of Metal Hammer after reading what you have in yours, buying the underground mag instead, it shows that there are still ways for the underdog to win through. Yes, I just referred to the printed games press as being the underdog because, unfortunately, it seems to be heading that way. At the time of writing this, we were only 186 unique visitors short of 60,000 for November… and we’re a very small site compared to the big guys like IGN and Gamespot, but I bet that’s still at least 10,000 more people than some printed games mags get.

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