Video game magazines first became popular in the 1980s when video games were starting to draw attention - before online casinos and Grande Vegas no deposit bonus codes. As print journalism moved online in the 2000s most gaming publications did the same in order to save the publishers money and widen circulation. Now, it appears that a number of print gaming periodicals are returning to their print roots.
History of Specialist Magazines for Video Gaming Fans
Until the 1990s most news and information was disseminated through print journalism. Video game fans had their pick of a number of video game magazines including Mega Action, Tokuma Shoten's Family Computer Magazine, Game Informer, CD Action, Bug-Bug, Compute and Computer Gamer.
Videogame publications served as a link that united the industry and fans. These magazines were stuffed full of news, previews, game reviews and tips and their “journalists” were people whose only real qualifications were their early access to the games and equipment which they then reported on for their publications.
By the mid ‘80’s the publications were becoming more international. One of the most iconic gaming magazines of the era was Famitsu which came out of Japan. Famitsu originally launched to cover Nintendo’s Famicom but it quickly expanded its coverage and became an unofficial preview of the direction in which the Japanese videogame industry was heading. Famitsu paved the way for international gaming publications which was becoming more relevant to the gaming world.
Through the early ‘80s, gaming on home computers gained popularity but when the Nintendo 8bit system was released, the industry changed and gaming publications changed to reflect the new reality. The quality of the 8bit-compatible games couldn’t be matched and the home console market flourished.
To fill the void, Electronic Gaming Monthly (EGM) launched in 1989. It quickly became the flagship games publication in the US. EGM was headed by founder Steve Harris who was a member of the US National Video Game Team. Within a year of its first issue the magazine was being sold in over 50,000 US locations.
Additional console-related publications followed including Mean Machines, Pelt, Raze, Total and Zero. These magazines focused on home console gaming. A particular stand-out was Super Play, dedicated to the Super Nintendo and focused on import RPGs, anime and other Japanese games.
By the late 1990s the Internet had become home of most publications. Publishers reappraised their whole business model. Instead of pushing hardcopy reviews and previews they could sell information. No longer were the magazines text-based newsletters. Spurred by the arrival of affordable download plans and 56k modems these publications led the way to a world that is now populated by sites, forums and blogs.
Hard copy gaming magazines continued to survive as the era of Internet dawned and now it seems that they have new openings to take advantage of a desire among gamers to return to print media for their gaming coverage. Print media can’t offer the same 24-hour news cycle as you’ll find online but there’s more opportunity for more in-depth analysis where information is put in context and the wider industry can be properly examined.
The gaming media seems to be in no rush to return to print publications of gaming material. Currently, there are four influential publications available in print – Edge, RetroGamer, Play and PC Gamer. Recently however, a surge of gaming nostalgia and a resurgence in demand for retro “mini” consoles has fueled a small but growing demand to bring game magazines back. Younger players seem to be content with the online content but veteran gamers in their 30s and 40s are pushing for print options where they can get their faming and computer news.
Jon Naylor who runs an IT services company is one such player. Together with a group of friends he has reached out to the online Amiga community to secure funds for Amiga Addict, a magazine that covers classic titles, developers and activities in the Amiga community. His magazine doesn’t draw millions of subscribers but it does fulfill the desire of Amiga enthusiasts to stay in touch with their passion.
Another new print publication is Freeze64 which features interviews with developers and retro reviews. Ninty Fresh launched in 2020 with the goal of covering Nintendo machines and classic titles. Sega Powered was powered by Kickstarter and covers new Sega titles and indie releases and intends to do re-reviews, working its way through the Sega back catalogue to see how old games have stood the test of time.
The new print publications are part of the independent publishing sector. They see the return of games magazines as a revival that’s buoyed by accessible desktop publishing software, falling costs and the rise of small-scale independent printing companies who are prepared to take on limited print runs.
Daniel McCabe, manager of the Magalleria magazine store in Bath told The Guardian, “It is often compared to the return of records. In the same way that many young people today completely missed the vinyl age, they’re no discovering the joy of analogue. The modern, more high-spec magazine feeds our inner craving for tactility in a digital age. That is, the magazine offers touch, smell and even a change of pace – sure, you can curl up with your mobile phone but, where practical, a print magazine is more immersive and transporting. They offer a break from ‘instant’ and ‘non-stop’ media.”
Caspian Whistler, a freelance graphic designer who makes gaming zines, sees the print publications as a genre of art. “Being exposed to all these amazing, high end publications for other areas of the arts and culture sector really made me wonder why there was so little out there that gave games the same treatment.”
Edge magazine covered the new interest in print gaming journalism with a special edition that highlighted best-loved games. During COVID, editor Jen Simpkins told The Guardian, when everyone was working from home, “We were exhausted, terrified and wondering how we could possibly stay focused on working on something like a video game magazine when all that was going on. We found we’d retreated into old favourite games looking for comfort - I think a lot of people did during lockdown…..Friends were calling on us for recommendations, stuck indoors and feeling down. Suddenly this lightbulb went off, and we realised we could do something that felt useful and hopeful, and completely of the moment by compiling this issue. It was such a joy to make – to pay homage to games designed to tell tales of hope and laughter and love, to keep us fit or connected with faraway friends.”