January 31, 2010 12:00 AM |
Frank Cifaldi, who writes for 1UP and has his own site at Lost Levels, has recently been doing some work collating as many photos as he can find of the Winter 1990 Consumer Electronics Show, back when CES was the biggest trade show for the video-game industry. The results have led to some pretty fascinating discoveries (NEC had a surprisingly enormous booth for what would eventually become the TurboGrafx-16, for one), but that's not what this column is about.
One page Frank found (from a 1990 issue of Famicom Tsushin) has a photo of some American game magazines, one of which has "PC" on the cover but is otherwise obscured. He showed me the page and asked me what other PC mags existed in 1990 apart from Computer Gaming World. The fact he didn't know about the existence of PC Games magazine isn't that surprising to me -- it sort of indicates the problems that title had throughout its surprisingly long history.
PC Games's first issue was published in August 1988 by IDG Publishing, which still had all of its editorial operations way up in Peterborough, NH (pop. 5000) at the time. It was a quarterly that, for the most part, devoted its pages to reviews and buyer's-guide roundup features. I am guessing that IDG launched the magazine because MS-DOS compatibles were beginning to form a decent-sized marketplace for games and PC World, IDG's flagship consumer publication, was too "highbrow" and business-oriented to be appropriate for pitching to game publishers as an ad partner.
After a couple of issues, production of PC Games was taken over by IDG's brand-new office in San Mateo, CA -- i.e., the outfit behind GamePro. The mag took on a flashy visual look that aped the GamePro of the day (right down to the crazily-detailed airbrush art on the cover), and GamePro staffers like LeeAnne McDermott, Wes Nihei and Rusel DeMaria contributed content -- under their real names, too, instead of persona nicknames.
The result was very eye-catching and definitely unique in the marketplace (Computer Gaming World, the main competition, was extremely text-heavy and academic by comparison), but for whatever reason, the GamePro arrangement didn't last. PC Games was back to production in Peterborough by the end of 1990, and while it was a bit more colorful than the first few issues, things looked much plainer and more suitable for the mature PC audience.
Slowly PC Games grew with the MS-DOS game audience, finally upping its frequency to eight issues a year in 1993. PC Games published its final issue in late 1993, and in its place, IDG founded Electronic Entertainment, one of many titles around this time (CD-ROM Today and Multimedia World among them) that capitalized on the "multimedia" buzzword craze gripping the PC scene. Inspired more than a bit by Wired, the new mag featured extensive coverage of new tech like virtual reality, cutting-edge PC accessories, and the Internet, although very slowly at first.
Like a lot other "multimedia" mags of the time, EE had trouble finding an audience, thanks to trying to cover every new piece of technology all at once -- PC game fans weren't much interested in 3DO reference-book software coverage, for example. As a result, by 1995, EE had become a de-facto PC game magazine, not much separated in style from CGW and the brand-new PC Gamer.
Reflecting this fact, editor-in-chief Frederic Paul changed the name of EE to PC Entertainment with the January 1996 issue. "We've been focusing on computer-based entertainment for more than a year now, and we simply decided it's time to update the name to match the content," he wrote. In June 1996, the title changed names again -- back to PC Games, allegedly to focus even more on what had become its bread-and-butter coverage.
Even by this point, however, the writing was on the wall. Most of the '96 issues are about 112 pages long, while PC Gamer and CGW were both larger by a factor of several dozen edit pages. Despite being as quick as PC Gamer to institute a cover-mounted CD-ROM, PC Games never really made itself unique in the marketplace, and in gamers' minds, it was in a third-place position from the start.
The magazine soldiered on until March 8, 1999, when it was purchased by Imagine Media (now Future). Imagine immediately closed the magazine and began sending PC Gamer to its subscriber base instead; if readers were already receiving PC Gamer, they got the (then brand-new) PC Accelerator instead.
So ended the first major consolidation of the PC game mag market in the US. Funny to think that the second one didn't happen for another six or so years, huh?
[Kevin Gifford breeds ferrets and runs Magweasel, a really cool weblog about games and Japan and "the industry" and things. In his spare time he does writing and translation for lots and lots of publishers and game companies.]
Categories: Column: Game Mag Weaseling