Future US president Jonathan Simpson-Bint does Q&A with GameDailyBiz

Media Coverage: Future's Official Future

Media Coverage talks to Future U.S. President Jonathan Simpson-Bint on the publisher's burgeoning monopoly on the market for official system magazines.

Posted by Kyle Orland on Thursday, November 15, 2007

There was a time when expecting quality editorial from an official game magazine was a laughable proposition. Back in the 16-bit era, magazines like Nintendo Power, Sega Visions and TurboPlay fought primarily not over who could have the best writing but who could get away with the most thinly-veiled propaganda, the most-blatant boosterism for their assigned system. Not that it mattered too much to the target audience of 8- to 13-year-old boys that made Nintendo Power the highest-circulation magazine in the country for a period.

But as the gaming audience grew so too did the official magazine market. Ziff Davis' Official PlayStation Magazine (OPM) and, later, Future's Official Xbox Magazine (OXM) mixed insider information with a degree of editorial independence and quality writing that was unheard of for the earlier company-published mags. Even the venerable Nintendo Power eventually caught up to its audience, updating its editorial style and stagnant layouts in 2005.

Now all three of those magazines are under the auspices of one publisher, Future, which is trying to replicate in America the success it has had publishing Britain's three official magazines. GameDaily BIZ talked with Future U.S. President Jonathan Simpson-Bint on the vagaries of the official game magazine market.

On the benefits of publishing an "official"

If you see the official tag as a hindrance and are defensive about it, then you are doomed. We are always extremely proud of the official tag. We see it as enabling an inside awareness of these big companies and their brands and we work hard to communicate that to our readers. We think of the magazines as 'Official but independent' and we go to great lengths to make that true and ensure that readers understand that and see the benefits.

On the credibility of official magazines among readers

The key here is that these magazines start from the point of being madly enthusiastic and evangelical about their platforms and so this sets a tone which I think readers respond to very positively. They're not as jaded as some insiders or industry watchers can be and they have high expectations and are largely non-cynical.
It's our mission to be a positive force for good and to be trusted. We can't win trust if we're not truthful and we don't tell things as they are. So, I think you see a high degree of truthfulness in our magazines along with some solid maturity about what things mean and the impact of certain news. We see our readers as sophisticated but never as cynics. It's a very important distinction.

On picking up the Official PlayStation Magazine after Ziff Davis dropped it a year ago

We love PlayStation and we believe there is a need in the market. OPM was a really successful magazine in lots of ways. We think we can replicate and build on that success. PlayStation is an astonishingly successful brand that a lot of people have a very emotional attachment to. It matters to people in their lives. It's a very attractive idea for a magazine. And we're good at this stuff. Future as a company has games magazine in its DNA. We get the market in ways our competitors simply can't. Games are at the center of our business.

On the importance of demo discs in the era of downloadable demos

The OXM disc is a real artifact. Nice packaging, great content, a unique and malleable interface. We see direct impact occasionally based on what's available for download but overall, the OXM disc remains a very powerful draw. We put a lot of effort in to these things. ... We work hard on our relationships with developers and publishers, and we're still very ambitious about the OXM disc. From a game publisher's standpoint the OXM disc remains a great way to roll out a demo in an integrated media environment and give it great marquee-style billing.

On the battle between print and online game media

I doubt any monthly magazine can compete with the timeliness of the web! But you have to remember that timeliness isn't everything to everybody. People still love magazines for their tone and voice, for their very defined character, the deeper content... magazines are valuable and loved in all sorts of ways.

Magazines aren't ever going to go away but they are morphing. They're evolving in to something a bit different to what they used to be. The trick is not to try and compete with the web but evolve products that either enhance a reader's web experience or are enhanced by it.

It's often quite subtle. News pages have a different flavor now. There's still news, of course but it's more reflective and analytical. We really value big screenshots and detailed walkthroughs. There's a lot of evidence that suggests that people don't yet want long form content online and so this remains a key benefit of magazines. You can stretch out a bit, dive deep into a subject. Truthfully though, we have a very holistic approach. We don't see the two media as competing. We see them as different but complimentary. They work together.

On the potential for unofficial, system-specific magazines in America

It would depend on the quality of the magazines and whether they could find an audience. In theory there should be all sorts of different flavors of say, Wii owners out there across a broad spectrum and so it follows that creating one magazine for absolutely everyone is almost impossible. So you would think that certain niches or niches-within-niches could have their own flavors of magazine... but it's hard to imagine. It works in the U.K. because the cost of entry is very low whereas here it's very high and so it's difficult to have very niche magazines in many areas - games being one of them.