As British gaming magazine PC Zone closes its doors today for the last time ahead of its final issue next month, guest writer Carl Phillips shares his recollection of the stalwart publication and discusses his thoughts on what brought about its downfall.
A little part of my childhood dies today. PC Zone, the first PC-dedicated gaming magazine in the UK, closes its doors for the final time and with it ends a 17 year old legacy in British video gaming journalism. It was this magazine that introduced me to the Half Life, Deus Ex and Freespace series’. Dealspwn’s own Matt Gardner admitted to me that they were directly responsible for him becoming a slave to Championship Manager and its endless statistics. Even famous internet critic/entertainer Ben ‘Yahtzee’ Croshaw has stated that PC Zone inspired his cutthroat and comical approach to his reviews. Its closure is a sad day, and also a worrying sign of the times for gaming journalism, specifically printed journalism.
In the latter half of the 1990’s my family had finally jumped ship from using an Amiga 1200 to a PC for the main computer of the household and with that came a whole new gaming experience for myself. We were still years away from discovering the wonders of the internet and the instant journalism that came with it, so to find out the best news and have an informed opinion on the current gaming scene I had to delve into magazines. I remember looking up to the top shelf in WH Smiths trying to decide which publication to pester my parents into buying for me and one magazine grabbed my attention so viciously that I instantly grabbed it and ran to my dad like some sort of hyper-kinetic excitement machine. Maybe it was the awesome looking feature on the cover, maybe it was the almost endless amount of demos and shareware programs on the accompanying CD, or maybe it was the block capital letters of the title that put me into some sort of geek-filled entrancement. Either way it was PC Zone that won the battle of my attention and to this day I credit them for the rich gaming experience I have had.
I began reading it back when Chris Anderson was still editor (before he became too taken in with Everquest to be pulled into the real world) and Charlie Brooker was still an age away from becoming the well-known pundit-of-everything that we know him as today. Along with the reviews, previews and consumer advice you would expect from a magazine of this type, PC Zone included some of the funniest opinion pieces I’ve ever read. They were no-holds-barred with their topics, upsetting the status-quo and enjoying themselves as they did it. This was a publication that was loud, obnoxious but equally truthful towards its readership as well as the industry, and if you could get past the in-jokes and the controversial nature of some of the columns you realised that PC Zone truly was one of the best gaming magazines of its age. It’s the reason developers had a love-hate relationship with the magazine but ultimately respected it, finding a balance between pithy wit and genuine adoration for their field; a fine balance that a lot of gaming websites of today could learn a lesson from. Of course, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing and success for them. More than once has the magazine been threatened with being pulled from the newsstands, including one incident where an X-rated Doom .WAD modification snuck into the cover disc collection for one issue. That’s right, PC Zone was feeling the heat of a Hot Coffee-esque scandal well before Rockstar had begun even dreaming of CJ Johnson.
People who I speak to about the magazine usually have a particular stand-out piece from the countless articles and media files from the cover discs that resonate for them as a defining memory of PC Zone. It might have been the angry rants of Macca, Charlie Brooker’s infamous prank phone calls, Duncan McDonald’s creation of Colin Culk, or the complete irrelevance of Mr Cursor’s back page to the gaming industry. It’s a list that could easily overflow a Wikipedia reference section if someone tried to find them all. For me, I remember one issue where a reader’s letter mentioned how Charlie Brooker had promised to eat his own arse if he was proved wrong on something and ultimately was. This lead to a picture of Brooker performing said deed being published, along with a line which went along the lines of “There’s no need to send in any sauce as it happens to make its own.” It was both hilarious and creepy.
PC Zone has been a stepping stone to success for some of its former staff. As previously mentioned, screenwriter and journalist Charlie Brooker had a spell with the magazine that its readership and staff will never forget. In fact during his time there he was so inept at keeping to his deadlines that he reportedly owed the magazine in late fines; something most people probably wouldn’t believe looking at his current status as a journalist. Another noteworthy contributor is Rhianna Pratchett, daughter of Terry “Discworld” Pratchett, who eventually progressed onto writing for many blockbuster computer games of recent memory including Heavenly Sword, Overlord and Mirror’s Edge.
But even with as many fond memories of the publication as I have, I can’t help but wonder how PC Zone’s closure is a reflection on the shifting times for gaming journalism. It’s no surprise that with the growth of the internet as a media form over the last decade that printed journalism has suffered as a result. The instant nature of publishing news means that gaming publications like PC Zone which release monthly were playing catch-up with the larger websites, turning each issue into “This Month In Gaming” instead of the previously expected collection of news, previews and opinions. In addition the internet has also given a voice to, well, pretty much everybody that has even had but a glancing interest in gaming. Every single opinion on a matter is readily published on a major gaming website or some random blog for all to see.
I have to admit, it was for this reason I stopped subscribing to PC Zone; having gaming news ready to view as soon as I open my internet browser made it a needless expense. In recent years the PC Zone content has been published on CVG.co.uk, and in doing so has made the need for the magazine even more pointless. The only card that PC Zone had left to play was that of exclusives rights to previews or demos; something that in the end has proven fruitless for all printed media as such exclusive content is, in most cases, posted online almost straight away by the readers through scans and uploads. Fantastically written reviews and opinion pieces are ignored with users overwhelmed by sometimes-fantastic-but-usually-average pieces published online every other minute. It is this instant nature and copious volume of information on the internet that I feel has brought the downfall of PC Zone, and it begs the question; how long until the next major publication falls?
Don’t get me wrong, I love the internet. It’s a bless and a curse, my teacher/mother/secret lover, and the ways we view media will continue to evolve whether we want them to or not, but I can’t help but sound a heavy sigh at the fall of a once proud stalwart of British gaming journalism. Without that magazine, I would never have experienced the brilliance that was The Nomad Soul, I would have never have been scared half to death by System Shock 2, I would never have ensured I avoided Daikatana like the plague. To PC Zone and all its contributors over its 17 year journey, we salute you. You will be missed.
Carl Phillips has been an avid gamer for as long as he can remember. From early days playing on a Dragon 32 to his transition from Amiga 1200 to PC and the current generation of consoles, he would describe himself as a “gaming connoisseur.”