“Oh my god, what have I got myself into?” The inside story of the golden age of video game magazines

Speaking to gaming magazine veterans for this feature, a theme comes up again and again – that in the 80s and early 90s there was a special kind of magic that was bottled up by gaming magazines , as we will never see again . “They have a certain tone and style that is very much of the era,” says Julian ‘Jaz’ Rignall, former editor of Zzap!64 and Mean Machines. “I mean, you know, Mean Machines, I don’t think we could get away with saying some of the things we used to say these days.” Matthew Castle, who was the last editor of Official Nintendo Magazine when the publication closed in 2014, says his biggest regret is not getting into video game magazines earlier, in their teenage years. gold. “I read a huge stack of old Super Play magazines when I joined Future, and it was like, ‘Oh my God, this is all so good. Why didn’t I spend my pocket money for that instead of Boglins or whatever?

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Officially licensed magazines like Nintendo Magazine System (which went through several name changes before ending up at Future Publishing as simply Official Nintendo Magazine) rose to prominence throughout the 90s and beyond. Interestingly, several publishers simultaneously had “official” and “unofficial” magazines covering the same format, such as Sega Magazine (1994) and Mean Machines Sega at EMAP, Xbox World (2003) and Official Xbox Magazine (2001) at Future, and PSM2 (2000) and Official UK PlayStation 2 Magazine (2000), also from Future. The original incarnation of the latter in particular – Official UK PlayStation Magazine (1995) – was a huge success for the publisher, its phenomenal sales probably having a lot to do with the generous demo disc that straddled the cover each month.

Gradually, over the next two decades, “unofficial” monoformat magazines
be almost completely eliminated from the market. Matthew Castle saw both sides of the divide as editor of the unofficial NGamer (which evolved, via several name changes, from 1992’s Super Play) and later as editor of the magazine Nintendo official. But when

NGamer shut down in 2012, it was initially reluctant to sail in officially licensed waters. “In my head, you know, I was ‘unofficial Nintendo magazine for life’. We were the same company, but they were our rivals. I didn’t really want to be part of it, I didn’t necessarily think their worldview matched ours, but I wanted a job.

Yet he says that even though the Nintendo license meant he was more constrained
in what he could do to Official Nintendo Magazine, the Wii U’s lean years were actually a kind of blessing in disguise, freeing up writers to fill pages upon pages with gloriously absurd features thanks to the lack of new games on which to write. Somehow the anarchic spirit of magazines like YS and Amiga Power resurfaced for a moment. “I think the last year or so of ONM is actually pretty strong,” says Matthew. “There were things where I was like, ‘There’s no way Nintendo is reading this magazine anymore.’ There were some weird alternate Christmas carols that made fun of the former head of Nintendo Europe and stuff like that. There were several things that we printed where I then had nightmares that I was going to get fired. We got close a few times: I made a joke about McDonald’s, which almost blew me away because they had a Happy Meal deal with McDonald’s.

(Image credit: future)

And so we come to the present. Over the past decade-and-a-bit, even the most powerful magazines have fallen as they struggle to compete with the migration of readers online. C&VG closed its print version in 2004, living a half-life as an online-only publication until 2014. Official Nintendo Magazine retired in 2014 after Nintendo pulled out of print magazines. Play ended its draw in 2016. GamesMaster survived long after its eponymous TV show was put to pasture, but it finally succumbed to the inevitable in 2018, after 25 years in publication. Multi-Format GamesTM from Imagine Publishing, former home of Retro Gamer himself, went silent around the same time, after 16 years on the market.

But there are still a few holdouts. The Official Xbox and PlayStation Magazines
are still carving out a niche in WH Smith, and PC Gamer has been published continuously since 1993. Last year even saw the launch of a brand new games magazine in the form of the indie-focused Wireframe, while tween-focused magazines like 110% Gaming are thriving on the back shelves of newsagents. And then there’s Edge, which earlier this year celebrated becoming the UK’s longest-running games magazine. Long may they all continue!

This feature is taken from Retro Gamer magazine and you can save up to 57% on a print and digital subscription by subscribing today


More information about “Oh my god, what have I got myself into?” The inside story of the golden age of video game magazines

Speaking to games magazine veterans for this feature, one theme comes up again and again – that back in the Eighties and early Nineties, there was a special kind of magic that was bottled by games magazines, the likes of which we’ll never see again. “They have a certain tone and style to them that’s very much of the period,” says Julian ‘Jaz’ Rignall, ex-editor of Zzap!64 and Mean Machines. “I mean, you know, Mean Machines, I don’t think we could get away with saying some of the things that we used to say nowadays.” Matthew Castle, who was Official Nintendo Magazine’s final editor when the publication closed in 2014, says that his biggest regret is that he didn’t get into videogame magazines earlier, during their golden age. “I read a huge pile of old Super Play magazines when I joined Future, and it was just like, ‘Oh, god, this is all so good. Why didn’t I spend my pocket money on this instead of Boglins or whatever it was?’”
Read more great retro features in Retro Gamer magazine
Crashing into a new era of games magazines

The most influential games magazines

Making magazines with scissors and glue

A new age of personality journalism

Hey Amiga

Officially licenced magazines like Nintendo Magazine System (which went through several name changes before ending up at Future Publishing as the simply named Official Nintendo Magazine) gained prominence throughout the Nineties and beyond. Interestingly, several publishers had concurrent ‘official’ and ‘unofficial’ magazines covering the same format, like Sega Magazine (1994) and Mean Machines Sega at EMAP, Xbox World (2003) and Official Xbox Magazine (2001) at Future, and PSM2 (2000) and Official UK PlayStation 2 Magazine (2000), also at Future. The latter’s original incarnation in particular – Official UK PlayStation Magazine (1995) – was a massive success for the publisher, with its phenomenal sales probably having a lot to do with the generous demo disc that straddled the cover each month.
Gradually, over the next two decades, ‘unofficial’ single-format magazines would
be almost completely pushed out of the market. Matthew Castle saw both sides of the divide as editor of the unofficial NGamer (which evolved, via several name changes, from 1992’s Super Play) and later on as editor of Official Nintendo Magazine. But when
NGamer closed down in 2012, he was initially reticent about sailing into officially sanctioned waters. “In my head, you know, I was ‘unofficial Nintendo mag for life’. We were the same company, but they were our rivals. I didn’t really want to be part of it, I didn’t necessarily think their world view matched up with ours – but I wanted a job.”
Still, he says that although the Nintendo licence meant he was more constrained
in what he could do at Official Nintendo Magazine, the lean Wii U years were actually somewhat of a blessing in disguise, freeing the writers to fill pages upon pages with gloriously nonsensical features thanks to the lack of new games to write about. In a way, the anarchic spirit of magazines like YS and Amiga Power flared again for an instant. “I think the last year or so of ONM is actually pretty strong,” says Matthew. “There was some stuff where I was like, ‘There’s no way Nintendo is reading this magazine anymore.’ There were bizarre alternative Christmas carols that were making fun of the then head of Nintendo Europe and stuff like that. There were several things we printed where I then had nightmares I was going to get fired. We did come close on a couple of occasions: I made a joke about McDonald’s, which almost got me nuked because they had a Happy Meal deal with McDonald’s.”

(Image credit: Future)
And so we come to the present. The past decade and a bit has seen even the most mighty magazines fall as they struggled to compete with the migration of readers online. C&VG closed its print version in 2004, living a half-life as an online-only publication until 2014. Official Nintendo Magazine bowed out in 2014 after Nintendo withdrew from print magazines. Play ended its print run in 2016. GamesMaster survived long after its namesake TV show was put out to pasture, but it eventually succumbed to the inevitable in 2018, after 25 years of publication. The multiformat gamesTM from Imagine Publishing, former home of Retro Gamer itself, went silent at around the same time, after 16 years on sale.
But there are still a few holdouts. The official Xbox and PlayStation magazines
still carve out a space in WH Smith, and PC Gamer has been continually published since 1993. Last year even saw the launch of a brand-new games magazine in the form of the indie-centric Wireframe, while pre-teen-focused mags like 110% Gaming thrive on newsagents’ bottom shelves. And then there’s Edge, which earlier this year celebrated becoming the United Kingdom’s longest-running games magazine. Long may they all continue!
This feature is taken from Retro Gamer Magazine and you can save up to 57% on a print and digital subscription by subscribing today

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