Interview: EGM Now's Steve Harris

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Interview: EGM Now's Steve Harris

Following the closure of Electronic Gaming Monthly by parent company Ziff Davis Media earlier this year (after nearly 20 years in the game industry), the magazine's original founder Steve Harris repurchased the rights and promised a rebirth for EGM. We ran into Harris at E3 2009 and cajoled him into speaking with us about his purchase. (He was a bit busy with business at E3, as you might imagine, thus we're talking a few months later.)

Though we're still a little ways off from the mag's December 1 "return," he gave us a few hints of what to expect, his explanation of how EGM Now will succeed financially where "old EGM" failed, and a few of his favorite games on the current-gen systems.

Hit the break for the whole thing.

So Steve, though I would imagine most Joystiq readers know what EGM is, they may not know what role you played in the past and now the future of the magazine. Could you please briefly explain your history with the magazine and what role you play with it now?

First of all I'd like to thank you for the opportunity to talk to your readers and give some updates about the new EGM.

For those who don't know me I was listed as the "Founder" of EGM right up to the final issue published by Ziff Davis Media. I served as Editor (and later Publisher) during the early issues and put together the initial staff that produced the magazine's largest issues.

The early issues of EGM were all about being first with the information and being honest in our assessment of the games and products we reviewed. My philosophy, born from earlier experiences writing for coin-op trade magazines, was that we had to know who we were writing the magazine for and focus on delivering to that audience regardless of the fallout. As long as we wrote the magazine for the readers I knew we would be fine. This was a philosophy that Dan Hsu and James Mielke continued and expanded upon -- to the great benefit of the magazine's Ziff Davis era.

Going forward I'm doing a lot of the same things I did back in the day. Working on a look and direction for the magazine as well as creating a blueprint for how the publication will serve the needs of the readers in a way that's useful.

It could be said you took an extended break from the game industry, working outside of game writing for many years. What brought you back to the magazine and what makes you think EGM can succeed in print form?

"If you're a staunch fan of web-based content or just want print, the new EGM will work for you"

The opportunity to bring EGM back has been an exciting proposition filled with challenges. The early issues of EGM found an audience by being first with information and honest editorial. Today, stating the obvious, print can't compete on time-sensitive content. Even though there are many things that print does well I'm not sure I would be doing this if the goal was simply to do a print magazine, especially when there are so many ways print can augment our online and digital strategies. There will always be people who see no value in print. And there will be people who enjoy the experience of reading a magazine. Finding a way to merge the different kinds of media is at the core of what we intend to do with EGM. But if you're a staunch fan of web-based content or just want print, the new EGM will work for you.

For the past three months I have been doing all the nuts and bolts things you have to do when you start a new company. I'm used to project timelines that are typically twelve to twenty-four months in the film business so it feels like we're moving through hyperspace to be where we are at this point. But we're also trying to be deliberate in what we do -- and it is much more important that we do this right than trying to do this fast. Even in hyperspace you don't want to fly right into a star or bounce too close to a super nova!

We've also been spending a lot of time putting together the core of our editorial group. Although EGM is a great brand with a great history I'll be the first to tell people that without a proper staff it won't be anything more than a shell of its former self. The value of my contributions to the new EGM are only going to be made greater by the solid editorial team we've put together. There will be some big announcements on this front very soon and I'm confident people will like who we have on board to supply EGM its new voice.

the "old EGM" logo, reborn

Given what you're saying about print media with regards to timeliness, how do you specifically plan on addressing this in terms of the new EGM's content? How much of the content from old EGM will make it into the new magazine?

You'll still see material and stories broken in print, but it can't be the editorial objective in my opinion. If you approach the content from the perspective of depth of coverage you can offer something that online doesn't do as well. As far as specific content you'll have to stay tuned!

"I'll be the first to tell people that without a proper staff it won't be anything more than a shell of its former self"

What we saw at Ziff Davis (in terms of GFW Magazine and EGM), as well as what we've seen at Future recently, seems to indicate a lack of financial viability for print publications in gaming -- at least in terms of those with a traditional newsstand business model. Why is EGM Now/"new EGM" a financially viable idea?

I don't think newsstand viability is as big a contributor to the problems that some publishers are facing as are their subscription strategies. I'm not knocking those strategies as many publishers are actually suffering because of their success in that regard. But using traditional methods employed to chase a rate base in print is something I won't be doing.

Some publishers do this by not only giving away subscriptions through agencies and other sources, but by actually paying big dollars for the privilege of having suspect circulation. It's circulation that doesn't help their advertiser and, frankly, doesn't give them many prospects for renewals. They have these huge loss leaders that can cost millions and millions of dollars and when they're unable to monetize the investment through advertising sales they suddenly find themselves saddled with a huge obligation.

Without giving up our entire circulation strategy I would just underscore the fact that EGM will not have that problem at launch nor will it pursue it down the road. I'd also comment that print is only a component of what we intend to do.

You tweeted a December 1st "return" for EGM a couple weeks ago. What will this "return" mean for EGM fans -- an online portal? The magazine itself? An announcement?

Stay tuned. ;)

In terms of the first issue, what kind of numbers are you looking at printing? Will the magazine be available via traditional channels (bookstores/convenience stores/supermarkets/etc.), exclusively through subscription, or both? Will ex-EGM subscribers who are now receiving Maxim be transferred to a subscription of EGM Now?

A lot of work has gone into working on authorizations and making sure that you'll be able to find the magazine in most of the places you could before. There will also be subscriptions available. As I've said on Facebook/Twitter, there is no way for me to fulfill the new EGM to the old subscriber file because it had been transferred prior to my acquisition. There really was nothing I could do in that regard although I recognize how many feel and hope to do some things that will reward our most loyal readers for their support. More to come on that front.

You've said the magazine will "incorporate digital content within the magazine (professionally-produced video, audio and other types of content)" and that this content will be "fully transportable." Could you explain what this means, exactly? Is the delivery method something other publications have done? A totally new idea?

We will be unveiling more details on this front soon. As I've said in the past I have no interest in hyping the uniqueness of what we're doing even though how we will deliver gaming information hasn't been done in this way.

Will EGM have a central office that its employees work from or will the staff be in scattered locations? Any idea where yet?

There will be remote staffing as well as an HQ for management and sales.

And finally, it's been a little while since we last heard your opinion on a game. What's your favorite game this console generation?

Hard to name a favorite. Recent releases I enjoyed include Prototype and I like the Call of Duty series. Street Fighter 4 as well. I also enjoy Halo and am looking forward to anything related to Gears of War.

Thanks for your time, Steve!
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