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The Rise and Fall of EMAP's Video Game Magazine Empire

We look back at the history of EMAP’s videogaming magazine empire, which included the world’s first dedicated gaming magazine, the industry’s best known gaming journalists and some of the finest magazines to grace the world.

EMAP (East Midlands Allied Publishing) was formed in 1947 when four regional newspaper groups in England merged. The company would publish its first consumer magazine, Angling Times, in 1953. Many more successful magazine launches would take place in the following decades.

It wasn’t until 1981 when EMAP decided to launch a dedicated videogaming magzine. Editor Terry Pratt, along with a small group of editorial staff, launched Computer & Video Games (aka C&VG) in November 1981. The first issue of C&VG contained a variety of gaming content from computers, arcade, type-ins, puzzles and more. The most noticeable thing about the early issues of C&VG is that the games coverage included illustrations instead of screenshots — the technology to capture screenshots hadn’t been implemented into magazines at the time.

C&VG issue 1

In 1984, EMAP purchased Sinclair User from ECC Publications Ltd and published their first SU issue with number 30, dated September 1984. Sinclair User was very much aimed at the serious user of the Sinclair computers, with articles on things such as programming, business software, type-ins and educational software. However, by 1986, Sinclair User, with Editor David Kelly, underwent a transformation and its focused shifted towards gaming.

With the Sinclair computers covered with Sinclair User, EMAP quickly purchased Commodore User to cover the increasing popular Commodore computers. As with Sinlcair User, Commodore User in those early days was pretty heavily focused on the business side of the computing scene with content to match. With EMAP’s first issue (October 1984, volume 2 issue 1) the magazine covered the expanding range of Commodore computers: Vic-20, Commodore 64.

The One For 16-bit Games issue 1

By the late 1980s, the 16-bit computers (Atari ST, Amiga and PC) were beginning to increase in popularity and showed great potential. EMAP launched The One For 16-bit Games, a multi-format magazine that would cover the games that these new exciting 16-bit wonder computers were capable of producing. With Gary Penn as Editor, issue one went out with cover date of September 1988. The magazine was quickly hailed as a market leader, gaining the prestigious InDin award for magazine of the year in 1990.

With its February 1989 issue, Commodore User changed name to CU Amiga – C64. The change was to reflect the increasing coverage of the Amiga. ACE was a multi-format magazine much like EMAP’s own C&VG, so it came as quite a surprise when EMAP bought the title from Future Publishing in 1989. EMAPs’ first issue, with original co-editors Steve Cook and Pete Connor, was number 22, cover dated July 1989. While C&VG was indeed a multi-format title, it was clearly aiming towards the younger reader, with a more colourful design, larger screenshots and less text throughout. ACE on the other hand was very much focused more on the content rather than the visuals and included more in-depth features, interviews and news on the gaming industry.

PC Leisure issue 1

The Spring of 1990 saw the launch of PC Leisure, a magazine that would balance its content with the gaming and serious side of the PC. With new Editor, Steve James, Commodore User completed its next transition from CU Amiga – C64 to just CU Amiga, solely covering Commodore’s 16-bit computer the Amiga. With gaming consoles such as the Mega Drive and the forthcoming Super NES making news across the UK, Julian Rignall successfully convinced EMAP to launch a new magazine dedicated solely to these new machines. Mean Machines issue 1 was launched, cover dated October 1990, and would initially feature the Mega Drive, NES, Master System and GX4000.

With issue 32, May 1991, The One For 16-bit Games split into The One For Amiga Games and The One For ST Games. The PC coverage from The One was merged with newly launched sister title PC Review — itself the successor to PC Leisure. Sega’s Mega Drive was undeniably the most successful gaming console in the UK at the time and to take advantage of this a magazine dedicated to the 16-bit console was launched. MegaTech, edited by Paul Glancey, launched with cover date XMAS 1991. MegaTech was a huge step for EMAP, certainly in terms of production values. Instead of the C&VG/Mean Machines stapled pages, copy/paste design, MegaTech was glue bound spined with a high quality production design.

ST Review issue 1

April 1992 was the last issue (55) of ACE as EMAP decided to close the doors on its second multi-format title and concentrate on dedicated 16-bit magazines...  Atari ST Review launched in May 1992 and would cover the 16-bit computer with focus on the serious side, including articles, guides, columnists, etc. With The One For ST Games closing down (its games coverage would move over to Atari ST Review), The One For Amiga Games shortened its title down to The One with its May 1992 issue 44. Just a few short months later, the magazine changed its title again, adding the suffix ‘Amiga’. Also in May 1992, Sinclair User incorporated rival Spectrum magazine Crash from Europress Impact.

With the success of Mean Machines and the increasing success of the two main gaming consoles (Mega Drive and Super NES), it was decided to split the magazine into two separate titles. Mean Machines Sega and Nintendo Magazine System both launched as separate titles in October 1992. With the newly launched Nintendo Magazine System came official endorsement from Nintendo themselves — the first of its kind in UK gaming.

Sega Magazine issue 1

With the ever declining ZX Spectrum computing market, Sinclair User finally closing down with issue 134 in May 1993. During the summer of 1993, MegaTech was sold onto rival company Maverick Magazines. Another scoop for EMAP occurred during the end of 1993. Sega had given EMAP official endorsement with newly launched Sega Magazine (cover dated January 1994). Just like Mean Machines Sega, Editor Richard Leadbetter’s Sega Magazine would cover the Master System, Mega Drive, Game Gear and, eventually, the Sega Saturn. However, unlike Mean Machines Sega, the production values of Sega Magazine were of a high quality to match such an official endorsement.

In 1995, EMAP sold The One Amiga to Maverick Magzines, who would continue to publish the magazine until March 1996. With Sega now concentrating on one console — the Saturn — it was decided to re-launch Sega Magazine as Sega Saturn Magazine. With Richard Leadbetter stepping aside to oversee the production of a new multi-format, Sam Hickman took over as Editor for the re-launch with issue 1 published in November 1995. That new multi-format magazine was Maximum, which was launched at the end of 1995. Edited by Richard Leadbetter, it was a short lived (seven issues) high production publication that would cover the 32-bit machines with huge in-depth articles and features of up to 12 pages. 

Maximum issue 1

Mean Machines Sega closed its shop with issue 53, March 1997. Editor Gus Swan paid tribute to all the magazine’s past contributors, before passing the ‘Mean Machines’ baton over to new crew on Mean Machines PlayStation. Editor Simon Clays helmed the new magazine and, following an issue zero in July 1997, issue one launched in October 1997. However, the PlayStation magazine field had some fierce competition elsewhere and, after six issues, the title was merged with sister mag PlayStation Plus. The following year, CU Amiga Magazine ended its long run with its October 1998 farewell issue. The following month also saw the farewell of Sega Saturn Magazine with the 37th issue in November 1998.

In 2002, EMAP decided to sell C&VG to rival company Dennis Publishing. What was once the flagship of their videogaming magazine portfolio and best selling multi-format in the UK was now a former shadow of itself. Unsuccessful changes to the magazine’s editorial staff and magazine design led to declining readers, which the company could not ignore any longer.

A further major loss occurred in 2006 when EMAP lost the official endorsement from Nintendo for their Nintendo Official Magazine (formerly Nintendo Magazine System) and thus meant the disapearance of EMAP’s last videogaming magazine. It may have seemed like an unfortunate run for EMAP, but it was clear from the late nineties that the company was consciously moving away from the videogaming market.

Looking at EMAP’s current catalogue of magazines, it’s hard to believe that this multi-media giant was ever involved in videogaming magazines never mind being the leading innovator in the market. Even EMAP’s website history pages fails to include any mention of their 21-year run of publishing titles such as C&VG, Mean Machines, CU Amiga or Sega Saturn Magazine, and that is a real shame as the company should be proud of the contribution they made in revolutionizing the videogaming magazine market.

• EMAP website: http://www.emap.com/.
• C&VG, Sinclair User, Your Commodore, ACE, The One, CU Amiga,  Mean Machines Sega  and Nintendo Magazine System scans courtesy of Mort at The Def Tribute to Zzap!64.
• Sega Magazine, ST Review and Nintendo Official Magazine scans courtesy of Andynick at Magazines From the Past
• ‘Maximum Carnage’ – article on Maximum written by Ashley Day and published in Retro Gamer issue 25.
• ‘The Mean Team’ – article on Mean Machines written by Damien McFerran and published in Retro Gamer issue 31.
• ‘The Spirit of the Mad Gamer’ – article on C&VG (Paul Davies era) written by Damien McFerran and published in Retro Gamer 36.  The article can also be found in PDF format on the Mean Machines Archive website.
• ‘Rings of Saturn’ – article on Sega Saturn Magazine written by Damien McFerran and published in Retro Gamer issue 45.  The article included many scans from our very own meppi.

This is an Out-of-Print Archive feature presented by Nreive ofRetroaction magazinefame.


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