Future Publishing is best known nowadays for shuttering long-running magazines. In the ‘80s and ‘90s it was quite the opposite – the publishing giant was fond of keeping magazines alive for as long as possible, luring in readers with demo discs and even full games taped to their covers.
Join us as we look at six magazines – including one from Paragon, and another from EMAP – that ran long after software for their respective systems dried up. There’s a lot here to be said for fan loyalty.
October 1985 – June 1995
The story of Future Publishing began with a humble Amstrad CPC magazine and a £15k loan. Sales of Amstrad Action’s first few issues were poor, but once Future realised the sales potential of including a cover tape – just in time for Christmas 1985 – sales skyrocketed.
The cover tape didn’t become a monthly fixture until issue #66, however. It was around this point that competition heated up, leading to the infamous UK cover tape war. Instead of filling their pages with quality content, magazines budgets were instead used to acquire older games to give away via a cover-mounted tape. This led to reduced page numbers but vastly increased sales. While this may sound good for gamers – bagging well-known games for gratis – software sales started to slow, impacting the UK chart, and so it came to an abrupt end.
We digress. Amstrad Action enjoyed strong sales well into the ‘90s – in 1992, it even had a higher recorded circulation than in 1988. The micros had an incredibly long life in the UK, mostly fuelled by budget software, but by 1995 it was time to pull the plug. The PlayStation and Saturn loomed, and most gamers had moved on. Issue #117 of Amstrad Action was the last, featuring some dull publishing software on the cover, and there was no goodbye – it was cancelled mid production.
Commodore Format was another Future publication with a similar story to tell, ending its run in October 1995 – just one month before the arrival of the Official UK PlayStation Magazine.
Official UK PlayStation Magazine
November 1995 – March 2004
The UK’s Official PlayStation Magazine proved incredibly lucrative for Future Publishing, selling over 150k copies a month. The combination of the official moniker and a playable demo disc was a winning combination, giving the chance to play the latest games before release.
Towards the end of its run the magazine saw an overhaul, catering for a younger demographic. With a newfound audience, it managed to run alongside the Official PlayStation 2 Magazine for a remarkable four years, and this was despite big releases becoming few and far apart. Sony themselves released the final major first-party game in January 2003, in the form of formulaic 3D platformer Jinx, merely supporting the system with Platinum re-releases thereon.
Yet, OPM continued undeterred for over a year. A chance of stance to celebrate the wide range of games the PSone offered – leading to sci-fi and superhero special cover features – provided plenty of content, while an exhaustive A-Z review directory helped fill the magazine’s back end.
Reviews still featured but were far less predominant, with the remaining year of releases mostly formed of £9.99 budget games from Midas, Phoenix, XS Games and Gotham Games (a subsidiary of Take-Two.) Previews were close to non-existent, even for final ‘big’ releases like FIFA 2004.
The magazine continued for such a long time after the PSone’s prime that not only did the demo disc feature little to no new content, but some games featured were no longer in circulation and subsequently hard to find. Mr Driller, for instance. The last new demo was of Archer Maclean’s 3D Pool – a budget game that didn’t cost much more than the magazine itself.
Come March 2004 it was time to put the magazine to rest. It was, presumably, still selling reasonably well – the problem was filling the pages with worthy and relevant content. The team even joked about reviewing Net Yaroza games if new releases dried up entirely.
Issue #108 was the last, featuring just two new game reviews – a far cry from the thirty plus routinely featured during the magazine’s glory days.
SEGA Saturn Magazine
January 1994 – November 1998
Deep Fear, the final European Saturn game, launched in June 1998. This didn’t mark the end of the official SEGA Saturn Magazine in the UK, however. Over the years the magazine had amassed a loyal following which helped keep it afloat for several months after the Saturn’s untimely death.
Whereas official magazines tended to shy away from import reviews, SSM did the opposite and embraced them, and in doing so they created a magazine aimed at hardcore Saturn owners. The team also put SEGA’s arcade games through their paces, with both Spikeout and Star Wars Trilogy getting front cover shoutouts.
Issue #30 (April 1998) was the first to feature an import-only game on the cover, in the form of the almighty X-Men vs. Street Fighter. Vampire Savior: The Lord of Vampire (Darkstalkers 3) soon followed, while Castlevania: Symphony of the Night took the cover of the August 1998 issue.
After the Dreamcast’s official reveal, SSM jump on the hype train. Issue #35 starred Godzilla Generations – the Japan-only Dreamcast launch title – while #36 featured Sonic Adventure on the cover and was almost entirely dedicated to Dreamcast previews.
The magazine sailed into the sunset in November 1998, with the Dreamcast’s Dead or Alive 2 being the cover star. Despite still bearing the Saturn moniker, Saturn content had become thin by this point, reduced to just two or three import reviews.
It was perhaps believed that by remaining loyal to the Saturn publisher EMAP would be in with a chance of producing The Official Dreamcast Magazine. In the end, though, it was Dennis Publishing who was granted the license, impressing SEGA with their portfolio of lifestyle mags.
September 1999 – April 2002
In January 2001 news broke that SEGA was ditching the hardware business to become a multiformat software developer. This impacted the Dreamcast heavily, putting a figurative noose around its neck.
With no more consoles to enter production after March 2001, publishers were quick to wrap up Dreamcast development, either hastily ushering games out the door or cancelling them outright.
Unsurprisingly, this caused havoc for the Dreamcast magazines – anticipated releases such as Half-Life, Propeller Arena, Take the Bullet, and Colin McRae 2.0 were being ditched left, right, and centre.
Dreamcast Monthly was the first to go, ending in January 2001 – the same month the announcement was made. Future’s DC-UK – a fan favourite, almost managing to match sales of the official magazine – ended March 2001. Even Dennis’ official publication shuttered surprisingly early, bowing out with the July 2001 issue (#21) which featured Sonic Adventure 2 on the cover.
Paragon’s Dreamcast Magazine refused to go the same way. By becoming the biggest fish in a small pond, it managed to survive for another year. A bastion of sorts for Dreamcast fans.
Like SEGA Saturn Magazine before it, Dreamcast Magazine (often mistaken as the official magazine, incidentally) turned to import reviews to fill its pages. Not only this but Bleem! (PlayStation emulation) releases too. There were signs content was being used sparely, however, spreading out reviews of the final UK releases to ensure content for future issues. Letters, news, previews and other regulars continued – it was business as usual. For a while, at least.
The final PAL games – Rez, Cannon Spike and Heavy Metal Geomatrix – received the review treatment in issue #31, dated January 2002. Paragon could have ended the mag’s run here, but other plans were afoot. Issue #32 simply ran reprints of beat’em up reviews, with no news or new features whatsoever. Issue #33 was a slight improvement with a ‘world exclusive’ review of Phantasy Star Online V2 and a cheat directory, but review reprints featured once again.
April 2002 marked the end – the magazine had limped on long enough. Issue #34 (remember, the Official Dreamcast Magazine only made it to issue #21) was an obituary of sorts, featuring a plain blue cover with a Dreamcast swirl. ‘Gone But Not Forgotten’ was the lead feature, detailing the history of the Dreamcast and the magazine itself. The rest of the magazine was then formed from recycled ‘shoot’em up’ reviews, including the likes of Quake III and Unreal Tournament.
While their dedication to the Dreamcast was admirable, reprinting content was nothing short of lazy, and it’s sad that the magazine was strung out for as long as it was.
July 1989 – May 2000
Future published not one but two Amiga magazines. Amiga Power was solely dedicated to gaming, running from May 1991 to September 1996. Amiga Format, meanwhile, covered games, hardware and applications such as programming software.
As such, when big-name Amiga games started to dry up in the mid-’90s – with the likes of Team17 and Ocean turning to the PlayStation – there was still plenty for Amiga Format to cover, taking it well into the space year 2000. Cover stories were wildly unpredictable: new video editing software took the cover one month; the arrival of new games (PPC ports) the next. Want to get online? Amiga Format will tell you how, just skip past the review of Mortal Kombat II.
The life of the Amiga is tricky to document after 1995. The Amiga 4000 was the last to be manufactured in 1994, but the name and chipsets lived on, allowing PC enthusiasts to build their own machines using standard components. This allowed for CD drive add-ons, web browsing, hard drives and more – something the standard, off the shelves, Amigas lacked. The final days of the Amiga are subsequently wild, with the likes of Quake and WipEout 2097 receiving late conversions. The latter even gained a cover shoutout on an extremely late issue of Amiga Format.
Of course, nothing is straightforward where the Amiga is concerned. Amiga Format had the market to itself after rival CU Amiga ended in 1998. Then during its last year on sale, it was faced with competition once more in the form of a newcomer – Amiga Active made a surprise arrival on newsstands in 1999, some five years after the last Commodore branded Amiga released, lasting until 2001 and witnessing the death of Amiga Format.
Considering 1997’s Worms: The Director’s Cut is widely regarded as the last commercially available Amiga game, and the plummeting price of desktop PCs at the turn of the millennium, the loyalty of Amiga owners is unquestionable.
January 1993 – October 2018
If there were rules to this piece, we’d certainly be breaking them here. GamesMaster deserved to run as long as it did – an amazing twenty-five years, no less – even outselling EDGE at one point. As a multiformat magazine, it was able to move with the times and appeal to a wide audience.
Its origins are resoundingly humble. From day one, Channel 4’s GamesMaster TV series was a huge success. The 6pm time slot allowed for a cheekier tone than its counterparts, and most episodes featured celebrity guests. Seeking a slice of popularity pie, Future acquired the rights for a tie-in magazine.
The first issue launched for £1.75 in January 1993, mimicking the presentation of the show, including liberal use of images of the late Patrick Moore (the GamesMaster himself) and using the same industrial/metallic aesthetic for sidebars and boxouts. Future had another hit on their hands.
When the TV show came to an end in 1998, there was little to no reason in ceasing the magazine’s publication – the mag had evolved past being a mere tie-in and was now able to sell on its own merits – and so it continued to run. It had both a loyal readership and a decent reputation. The GamesMaster name obviously wasn’t harming sales either, lending brand recognition.
When that initial pitch meeting took place in 1993, not a single board member could have ever predicted the magazine would outlive the show by almost twenty years.