Are games-mag writers as clueless as we think?

For want of anything less depressing to do, your reporter found himself leafing through a few videogames magazines yesterday. While this website often bemoans the lack of perception or insight in gaming journalism, there were some interesting comments in some of them, of relevance to some recent WoS pieces, so  to save you time, I've helpfully snipped them out and noted them below. There'll be an interesting conclusion at the end, natch.


"Abstract games have signally failed to gain popular support. Fine coin-ops like Tempest and Qix, graphically impressive for their time and addictive enough to achieve cult followings, had trouble paying their way just because they were unconventional: it wasn't obvious how to play them, or whether they would actually be fun once you'd figured them out.

That's not the end of the communication problem. If a game's got to convince onlookers both that they can play the game straight away and that they'll enjoy playing it, innovation's clearly a risky business for designers. The easiest way to make a game that clears these hurdles is to use an existing game format, improving on graphics and minor gameplay features but keeping the overall idea conventional enough to be (more or less) instantly recognisable."

"If prices for licences continue to be pitched way above the majority of company's heads, we could well see a return to wholesale cloning - with just enough differences programmed in to make an accusation of copyright infringement difficult to stick. Indeed, it's already happening - there are any number of games on the market today which bear a striking resemblance to well-known others."

"The courtroom's that way." Simpsons Road Rage - or is it Crazy Taxi? (No, it isn't.)

"Things are hotting up in the war against pirates - the first prison sentence for the crime has just been passed. The pirate sent to the brig is one Gerhard Wilhelm Martens, a German living in Torquay. Martens got 12 months after pleading guilty to charges of forgery, copyright infringement and illegally importing software into the UK."

"The publisher is obviously cagey about passing comment on a game that, reading between the lines, they are unhappy with. A spokesman for the company said 'We could have put more money into the project, but then we couldn't have recouped our costs. If you spend ten times as much money on a game, you don't sell ten times as many.' If this is the case, then overheads need to come down. Perhaps the message is that the market just isn't big enough to support the degree of hype, overhead licence fees and programming costs that the larger companies are committed to.

Speaking for the programmers, a representative was refreshingly honest about the game. 'We didn't necessarily want to do the product,' he said, 'we were told to aim for the younger market... We're not 100% happy with it, but for the kids we think it's good.' It's debateable whether this product should ever have been on sale in the first place, but the best thing to do now would be to bin the entire stock and start work on something better." 

Driv£r? Driv3/10er? Driv3l? Take your pick of comedy names for 2004's gaming atrocity.

"Things may change if the signs and portents seen at the arcade industry's annual get-together at Olympia come to pass. It looks as though the coin-op industry has run out of new ideas and has come to sticking-point in the actual graphics-handling technology. In a bid to woo players away from their computers and back to the arcades, the Japanese and American coin-op designers have been concentrating on the areas where the home cannot compete - the actual playing environment. Another trend for the coming year is to produce much-enhanced sequels to old faithfuls (I told you they were running out of ideas).

One Operation Wolf-style game is in incredibly noisy simulation in which you will soon find the realism of the action urging you into a homicidal frenzy. It certainly made me get carried away; my policy of aiming careful shots and avoiding shooting civilians soon gave way to a murderous bloodlust in which I quite happily blew the heads off flak-jacketed soldiers. If anything, the game takes realism a little too far and raises questions as to whether these games ought not to be subject to some form of monitoring."

Target Terror - Eugene Jarvis' controversial post-9/11 terrorism-themed new game.

"In the sickening world of many of today's games, the only virtues or qualities worth having are rippling muscles, macho aggression and a bigger weapon than anyone else, and this portrayal of maleness is degrading to men. All problems and conflicts are to be resolved by violence and killing, and this is always justifiable because, you see, we're the good guys and they are the evil ones. Seriously, software companies, a bit more restraint please?"

"I feel I must comment on the state of magazines - including yours - on today's market. Firstly, let me say that I am not a newcomer to the gaming world, and I have been buying (and reading!) games magazines for about five years. Recently, I went through a few of my old magazines from that time, and something struck me about the style of the news, reviews and articles contained in the issues from this era. The first thing I noticed was how much more interesting they were compared to today's equivalents, but there was one thing that stood out more than any other, and that was news and articles concerning programmers. Today in most magazine news sections all that seems to be topical is what companies are doing. The same thing happens in reviews; 'X Company has surpassed itself with the release of Y Product', and no mention of the people who wrote the thing!"

A years-old videogames magazine, yesterday.

"A good home game has to meet a different set of requirements to a coin-op. It'll be judged not only on how addictive it is, but also by how long the addiction lasts. If a coin-op holds your interest for a solid day's play before you tire of it, the game designers have done pretty well. If a home game comes apart that easily, on the other hand, it's in for a rough time from reviewers and the sales will probably suffer accordingly. Very few pure arcade titles can manage the lasting interest to justify being released at full price; it takes enormous skill on the part of designers and programmers to hold an experienced player's attention that way."

"The future? Will the games industry survive? Will the rich get richer and the poor get poorer? Probably. The big boys with the big money for the big licences will continue to coin it from coin-ops and films. And the smaller, independent houses? Mergers and marketing deals seem to be the order of the day. Rachel Davies doesn't think that many houses will actually go bust this year; 'Software houses are more professional than they used to be.' But she does believe there will be 'mergers, a polarisation around the big houses, with the small ones becoming development teams still publishing under separate labels.' Let's hope that it doesn't mean they'll just be turning out clones to order.

We could see some of those independent software houses signed up by EA as associate labels. 'We're still looking for associates,' says EA's Mark Lewis, 'and it's more than likely that we'll sign some more software houses in the new fiscal year.'"


Enough clues yet? World Of Stuart's readers are intelligent people, and this correspondent is entirely sure that you'd already figured out this feature's twist before now, but if not then that last one should have finally given it away. Referring to developers and publishers as "software houses"? Big money in coin-op licences? Mark Lewis still with EA?

Every quote on this page, of course - except with the occasional word or title removed to avoid giving the game away - actually comes from the issue of ACE magazine which is pictured above, the coverdate of said issue being March 1988. Yep, that's just a little fraction over 16 years ago, viewers. What a long way we've come since then, eh? Thank heavens for the ever-growing maturity and sophistication of the world of videogaming!

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