The Evolution of A Games Magazine

Published: 21 Jan 2022

20 years is a long time, especially in video gaming, 1992 saw the release of the Super Nintendo, the seemingly all-conquering 16-bit console, whilst in 2012, four console generations later the WiiU was released with full HD graphics and a controller with a screen! The technological landscape changed enormously in this time, with users first gaining access to the internet on their computers, and then on their phones. With this users gained a wealth of knowledge at their fingertips, meaning magazines had to evolve to accommodate this change.

Way back in 1992, no-one had internet access, other than the elite computer scientist. Magazines were therefore a gamers primary source of information. This meant that the main focus was on the news section. Game guides and tips sections were another big draw, as there was no other way for gamers to get past the tricky bits of games they were stuck on. Magazine staff also had difficulty previewing games, often needing to travel to far off countries to get screenshots of new games, it was far from easy!

Over the years with readers already having a massive head start on the month's news, this section provided more of an informative outlook, with the writers able to have their say on the big stories of the month. Nintendo Gamer in particular had a great column from ex-editor Mark Green as he looked at various topical articles in the world of videogames. The final 10 issues of Nintendo Gamer were very feature heavy, although this suited the new style of the mag, allowing the team to try new things.

As the magazines evolved, tips also got a complete overhaul. With GameFAQs now the go-to place for tips and guides, as well as cheat codes almost a non-event in games, there wasn’t much point in including this. Instead, the magazines focussed on interesting things you could do within a game. N64 Magazine started this trend, with Game On, where readers came up with challenges for games, as well as several How To... guides to get more out of games, although tips and walkthroughs were still the main focus of the back of the magazine. By the time NGamer launched in 2006, guides were replaced with inventive things or particular collectibles within a game, usually a month or two after release. These were definitely shorter than the average guide, but were definitely entertaining. Nintendo Gamer dispersed with tips and guides entirely.

Another constantly changing aspect of a games magazine was how it interacted with their readers. As was the norm, all four of the magazines featured letters from readers, although of course with the advent of email in the late 90s, it became much easier to send in letters and by the end of N64 Magazine’s run they often had 5 pages devoted to sent in letters and pictures. Of course there was lots of other interaction with readers. In Super Play N64 and for the majority NGC's run, to complement the tips sections, readers often asked for help with games - with the magazine’s experts doing their best to answer, in N64 there was also the reader’s top 15 tips each month. 

N64 Magazine brought a whole new aspect to reader generated content, with I’m the Best running throughout the magazine’s run, where readers could send in their top scores to the best games on the console. Skill Club set challenges for readers, and they could earn certificates for how many of their 20 fiendishly difficult challenges they could beat and Game On was full of reader set challenges. NGC continued this trend, including new takes on I’m the Best and Game On. These types of features were scaled back a little for NGamer, as there were more games to cover, however they still included plenty of letters and even forum posts. In Nintendo Gamer this trend continued, although with the advent of features, readers were tasked with trying to beat the judge in suggesting their favourite games to be included within the top games for each console.

Throughout all the magazine’s lifespan they offered plenty of quirky competitions, I’ll cover this in a future article - but the prizes ranged from a bunch of tat the magazine had found, all the way to a brand new car!

Pocket Power!

Whilst the Game Boy didn’t really garner much coverage in Super Play, that all changed in N64 Magazine, especially with the introduction of Planet Game Boy in Issue 26. For the first time the Game Boy had its own dedicated section, and this really helped push the handheld, covering the latest reviews, news and often big features too. This carried on as the GBA was launched in 2001 up until NGC’s relaunch in June 2002 when GBA reviews were more cut down with only 2-4 pages each issue. 

As the handheld market blossomed with the DS and 3DS, they gained a much more equal footing in the magazine. Throughout the life of NGamer, reviews and previews were incorporated into the main pages of the magazine and very much equal to console reviews. This really showed how much the pocket consoles were valued at the time, as the DS was to almost become the biggest selling console of all time.

Pokemon was another major area that became prominent following the game's release in late 1999. Of course with this world-wide phenomenon there was great benefit in covering the game all the kids (and some of the adults) wanted to play. Both N64 and NGC featured Pokemon where they needed to, however NGamer for several years had its own Pokemon Feature “World of Pokemon” which had Pokemon news, and regular features about Pokemon, including Matthew’s highly entertaining diary of his journeys through Pokemon  Black.

One of the biggest aspects of the magazine world over time was the changing audience, which reflected on the style of the magazine and also it’s free gifts. In the early 90s the magazine market was flooded, meaning Super Play had to do something different, hence its Japanese influence. N64 and NGC both were Future’s only Nintendo dedicated products at the time of their release, so made their focus on the UK games. NGamer had direct competition in the form of Future’s own NIntendo Official Magazine, so again had to do something a bit different, instead putting more of a focus on Nintendo’s culture.

Alas the final chapter of this evolution is one of sadness, with October 2012 marking the final issue of Nintendo Gamer. The internet had finally taken over, and it became no longer viable to print two Nintendo Magazines so Nintendo Gamer got the chop. The spirit of NGamer did live on within NOM for another two years as former writer Matthew Castle became editor, but it could never hold a candle to NGamer.