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From Dummy Issues to Official Dreamcast Magazines

It’s surprising what you discover if you take a little time to look around as we did with our videogame magazine collection. It’s also even more surprising if you happen to come across a rather rare dummy issue of a Dreamcast Magazine. And we don’t mean the issue zero or preview issues that are floating around the web in a pretty poorly scanned fashion. We’re talking about the blueprint of a magazine that would come away with the official Sega Dreamcast magazine licence. This was a fascinating discovery and we felt compelled to learn more, so who better to ask than Mark Higham, the editor-in-chief and the man who was brought in to produce the Official Dreamcast Magazine for Dennis Publishing.

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The fold out cover of the Official Dreamcast Magazine dummy issue, featuring the familiar Dreamcast cover girl who would go on to dorn the covers of the ‘preview issue’ and the ‘Special issue’

As suspected, these dummy issues were indeed produced to tender for the official Dreamcast magazine licence. So, just how did Mark and Dennis Publishing win that much sought after licence, especially with Future Publishing (who were publishing the Official Playstation Magazine) and EMAP (the previous holder of the official Sega licence with Sega Magazine/Sega Saturn Magazine) both in the running?

The first thing you will notice about the August 1999 dummy issue of Dreamcast: The Official Magazine is the use of two alternate cover editions. “The alternate covers were simply a way of showing Sega the kinds of options we envisaged,” explained Mark. Also of note is the thick bookazine production values used. “We went for very high production values in order to demonstrate what we could with the title - that's why the paper is so thick,” Mark added. “But as it was just a dummy issue it was only ever an example of the kind of content we could produce and was never intended to be a full magazine - it would have been far too expensive to produce an entire issue. Instead, we produced about 64 pages and then duplicated that number of pages to make it up to the kind of issue size that the final mag would be.”

Sonic Adventure
Sonic Adventure

As the pull out front cover opens,  the content of the demo disc is revealed, with the likes of Sega Rally 2, Virtua Fighter 3tb, Power Stone and Sonic Adventure, and then there is Mark’s editorial. The key principles that Mark discussed in the editorial were “Dreamcast gaming is cool,” that the console had a “sense of community,” and emphasized the magazine’s “passion for games...” “We believe that with this title, GAMES MAGAZINES HAVE GROWN UP,” commented Mark as he rounded off his editorial. “The Dreamcast represents the future of console gaming. This magazine represents the future of games magazines.”

Content wise, Official Dreamcast Magazine’s dummy issue seemed to offer the usual news, previews, reviews and features, but there were little differences. Obviously, the lifestyle features of videogaming fashion stood out as something quite unique within the pages of a gaming magazine. Also in this issue was an interview with the crew of sci-fi comedy Red Dwarf (with their take on the Dreamcast and the games), a Dreamcast online feature, a readers’ gaming night feature, an online interview with John Romero and much more. Reviews wise, Sonic Adventure led the way with a perfect 6/6 rating. A 6 out of 6 rating scale? “We initially selected marks out of six because it felt closer to a lifestyle magazine approach rather than a games magazine approach,” stated Mark.

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The top five game babes gather for the alternate cover fold out spread

Rather surprisingly to a lot of people, Sega chose Dennis Publishing’s offering over the other offerings. “Sega were keen to pitch Dreamcast as a mass market machine aimed at the general public rather than at hardcore gamers,” recalled Mark. “What they liked about our offering was that it felt more like a lifestyle magazine than a gaming magazine. I'd argue they were wrong in this approach. They really played up the idea that you could potentially play against six billion players worldwide - of course, the reality was very different and the hardware simply wasn't up to the task. I went to Marseilles for the creation of the launch ad which was very clearly aimed at a mass market.”

With the official Dreamcast licence in the bag, Mark and his team began work on a preview issue, a 28-page edition that would give the public a taste of what to expect from the magazine. While some things were familiar (the Dreamcast cover girl and other features re-appeared in re-worked form), some things had changed. “There were minor tweaks introduced as part of the review process after we evaluated the preview issue,” stated Mark. “It was felt that marks out of ten gave us more scope to distinguish the stronger games as over the longer term we'd have had too many games with a similar score.” As for the front cover, the main change was the Official Dreamcast Magazine logo. “I remember we felt that the official Dreamcast logo didn't work particularly well as a magazine logo,” commented Mark, “but as we had the official licence it would have been ridiculous not to use the official logo on the launch edition.”

Judgement Day - Dreamcast meetr Red Dwarf cast

Expanding on the ‘preview issue’, the ODM team produced a Special issue, dated October 1999. Coming in at 132 pages and packed full of similar content as the dummy issue, this was effectively the magazine’s first proper issue to go on sale. The only thing left to sort out was the covermount DreamOn disc, which contained all the playable demos, but just how important was that covermount disc? “It was absolutely crucial,” commented Mark, “as indeed it was with any console magazines back then. It was always the demos that sold the issue and that was what ultimately distinguished the official mag from the competition. The most important thing was that demos had to be playable. Many gamers were happy to stick just with the demos and felt it was a cheap alternative to buying full games, which it was.”

Official Dreamcast Magazine went on to become the most successful title out of the main four Dreamcast magazines, but all good things come to an end and the Dreamcast and its accompanying official magazine were no exception. “Sony announced the PlayStation [2] shortly before Dreamcast was launched,” added Mark. “It was clear from that point that the PlayStation [2] would be a superior machine. Dennis Publishing had been desperate to win the official Dreamcast launch until that point. It's a shame that the console itself never lived up to expectations, particularly as far as multi-player gaming went. However, there were still some excellent games for it right from the start.”

Special thanks to Martyn Chudley for preserving these dummy issues in an immaculate condition for so long which enabled us to experience a piece of videogaming magazine history.


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