Angus Swan Leaves EMAP

By Damien McFerran - 15 Sep, 2009

God bless you Angus!

God bless you Angus!

September 11th may be remembered for being a day of sorrow thanks to the terrible attacks on the Twin Towers, but this year it was given an additional layer of sadness as it marked the end of an era for Mean Machines.
 
Angus Swan - who joined the original magazine in issue 24 (just before it split into two) and went on to edit Mean Machines Sega - finally parted company with EMAP, the publisher of the original magazine as well as the likes of CVG, Nintendo Magazine System, Megatech, Official Sega Saturn Magazine and Maximum. He'd worked with the firm for 17 years and is the final link to what remains the greatest video game tome of all time.
 
To mark this event Angus sent me this message, which covers his current musings on the state of the video game industry, where print media goes from here and what kind of games we'll be playing in the future. It's a fantastic read and my hat is well and truly off to the last Mean Machines staffer to leave the company that started it all.
 
Take it away, Gus...
 
"I thought i'd send you a note as it's occured to me that tomorrow will some small footnote on the era of Mean Machines and all the other console mags you reference on your site: I leave Bauer Media after 17 years at Emap/Bauer, the last remaining person there from the time between 1989-2005 when the company published video and computer game magazines.
 
It's incredible to think that back when Mean Machines and C&VG were being edited by Julian, they were for most people the only source of information, opinion and passion about games. This was before Gamesmaster and other TV shows, and the internet, of course. We were aware then that a large part of our market were 'kids' and also what appeared then as small niche of adults who had grown up with games and continued to be interested in them as we entered out twenties and thirties. PlayStation Man was yet to have evolved, though I guess we were his progenitors.
 
You look back over the magazines then and there's a kind of boxfresh naivety about what we were doing and what we were writing. There were far fewer games coming out, on a small number of platforms and only a few really good titles. The excitement that used to be generated when something we had waited for months to arrive was immense. And we played those few good games to DEATH.
 
Now the sheer volume of slick product, the ubiqutuous marketing and the fact the consumer is just about as informed as the journalist about the game by the time it hits the shelves has changed the nature of the job and the experience of working on and writing games magazines. However, the number of games which exhibit true genius is probably about the same.
 
Has the games magazine finally served its purpose? Back then, the sky seemed the limit in terms of what circulations could be achieved as the market grew and grew. But it was clear as soon as the interwebs appeared and we were culling our news and pictures from the first games sites, that eventually it would do better whatever we could do in print. The arrival of the cover-mounted demo gave the magazine a new, and expensive, lease of life, at least for console owners, but in the last couple of years digital distribution of demo content has even made this redundant for anyone who has bothered to hook up their console to broadband.
 
Of course, we all still get on planes, and ride trains so the magazine will survive, and those which offer a coherent and well-crafted opinion on games and cover the creative and technical process knowledgeably are doing something which the web aggregators and fanboy review sites cannot match. However, citizen journalism has taken over for me when it comes to the central question of reviewer trust - i am more likely to buy a game based on 100 opinions of players, than one expert review, because the numbers even out the whole issue of personal taste. I'd like to mention C&VG at this point, which was a site earlier in its life spawned from the technology and behind Emap's first game website, (though it's radically evolved) and it's somewhere I still go almost daily for news and opinion. Clever filtering is one of the best services that online games journos can offer and I think these guys do it very well.
 
What does this mean for the reviewer, now that we are all experts? It's not the job it once was, I think. There was a time when we were feted by gamers - mainly odd ones it must be said - to the point of being stalked, and at the same time looked down upon by 'serious' lifestyle journalists. But we could make and break games commercially - and we knew it. Having a marketing manager go apeshit over a review score was one of the funniest and simultaneously most unnerving experiences on the job. I think we genuinely considered we were saving people who were not usually awash with cash with wasting time and money on cynically-produced crud. It required a certain level of chutzpah and on some few occasions, courage to stand up to corporations who would one day fly us in the front cabin, and the next blacklist us from their booth based on review score prospects.
 
I don't think games writers have that power and kudos anymore. There are just so many of them for any one voice to hold sway. And the consumer is not so innocent and better informed. It's a less powerful job, but a more challenging one, because now games are complex media forms, and arguably artforms in a complete sense of that term. To understand and convey their nuance and complexity, and the social power they are beginning to exert is a bigger journalistic challenge than taking a screengrab of the level 5 Parodius boss.
 
The influence of games in a social context is what interests me, and what is going to shake things up the most. We knew earlier than others, what the impact of simultaneous multi-player gaming could be, because we were doing it after hours when office networks were pretty new things in themselves. The first decade of mass-market multiplayer gaming has been about socialising within the context of the game itself. As an occasional multi-player gamer and a crap shot, for me this normally means being abused with in-game messages and getting kicked out of lobbies.
 
But there's a new social context forming in games, and it hasn't hit the sweet spot yet. There's a 'Facebook' of gaming out there, it just hasn't happened yet. In fact, the social casual gaming of Facebook - Farmville, Mafia Wars etc. is an interesting phenomenon, but highly irritating to me personally because i can't invest the time to build a gangster empire or plough a field and don't know what the fuck is going on being sent turnips and donkeys on a daily basis.
 
What you may not know is facts like how big World of Warcraft is with parts of the gay community for example, particularly Bears (fat, hairy blokes). They love the opportunity to create extravagant alter egos and then get together in a group, drink some beer and set off to a dungeon together. Games reinforcing social groups is going to become a massive money-spinner. Worlds created to cater for those social groups will follow. But it's not going to be easy to get right. I find Sony's 'Home' on PS3 particularly lame. Why would anyone want to spend their alternative life in a fascist state where there is one house, one shop, a very limited set of permitted clothing and no free media? Sony have invested a great deal of time recreating The North Korea Lifestyle Experience on their console: good luck to them. The PC will continue to lead the way in terms of creativity and innovation in this respect, principally because it isn't owned by an uptight corporation who wish to 'control the channel'. I wish Jaz well with his WoW magazine. If there's a game that deserves a print companion and has the community to embrace it, it's Warcraft.
 
This is allied with casual gaming too. How many devices do i have capable of playing (decent) games? Well apart from my consoles and handhelds, there's my laptop browser, my Ipod and now my phone. Gaming is becoming a ubiqutuous past-time where it used to be about getting the Megadrive out of the box and swapping our the aerial lead at the back of the one telly in the house. Now people don't have to choose to spend time acknowledging the boring people that happen to be in their proximity. On the tube or the bus they're on their PSPs or Iphones. Does anyone bother with the crossword in the paper anymore? Compiling these must be the most depressing job on newspapers. The point is that gaming doesn't represent an temporary escape from reality. Its availability makes it an alternative choice of reality."


Dazza - 15 Sep 2009, 23:34 GMT

Good points, well made Gus!

It truly is the end of a era. I wish you all the best for the future mate.

Tom Lankester - 29 Sep 2009, 23:38 GMT

Mean Machines and its later Sega incarnation made me feel like a member of an exclusive club with its own way of life (even or maybe especially at the age of 10) including all the banter and in-jokes and Angus carried the torch brilliantly right up to the end. I still buy games' mags to this day but as much as I wish a publication with the attitude and humour of Mean Machines could exist today I am glad that it will remain as the fondly remembered bible of 90s gamelore that it was. Thanks for all the good times and all the best to you Angus.

Oh and I just watched Charlie Brooker's excellent Gameswipe and they showed Angus playing Night Trap before all the outraged news reports began to roll. Happy days.

Staresy - 15 Mar 2010, 09:20 GMT

Well said Gus, it really is the end of a glorious era. While I embrace todays new technology and it's life simpling effects, still nothing makes me more excited than plugging in my quickshot joystick or joypad and firing up some Amiga or Megadrive games. It's more than nostalgia.......it really was that good!

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