C3 Exclusive Interview | Steve Jarratt, Official Nintendo Magazine

By Adam Riley 16.03.2006

Future Publishing gained the rights to the Official Nintendo Magazine and had basically a month to not only rustle up a concept, but actually MAKE the new look version a reality. Tight deadlines require someone dedicated and focused to oversee matters; a veteran in the field to steer the ship. That man is Steve Jarratt, and Cubed3 has the exclusive interview with him right here, right now...

Cubed3: Could you please give our readers a little background information on yourself and how you got to where you are today?

Steve Jarratt: Okay, briefly: trained as an industrial chemist, earned my degree and was then made redundant. Took job as staff writer on Zzap!64. Edited Crash for a few issues. Offered a job on join ACE magazine at Future, and been here ever since. Launched S: The Sega Mag, Total! (Europe’s first independent Nintendo mag), Commodore Format, Edge, The Official PlayStation Magazine, T3: Tomorrow’s Technology Today, and then a bunch of smaller mags and one-shots. My current position is Group Senior Editor with a watching brief over 22 titles, including our car portfolio, the London-based games mags and some music titles.

C3: Do you have any interesting stories to tell from the days of the C64 or when involved in Total! with Andy Dyer?

SJ: Dunno about ‘interesting’. We had a lot of fun, though, and worked bloody hard.

C3: Talking of ‘Thicky’ Dyer, do you still keep in touch, and whatever happened to him? And was it hard to shake the ‘Misery Guts’ nickname (those computer images in Total were scary…!)?

SJ: Oh, everyone knows I’m a miserable bastard in work. I mean, it’s work, y’know? But I’m much more fun outside of the office. Especially with a few drinks inside me. Andy is now happily married, with three kids (the third, Charlie, appeared just a few day ago). He’s moved away from the high-pressure world of publishing to take up the life of a surf-dude type by the seaside. His wife is a designer (we worked together on the Sega magazine) and they’re setting up their own print/design/marketing agency… thing.

C3: Other than Andy, are there any other previous co-workers who you have enjoyed working with?

SJ: Well Andy is - and probably always will be - the funniest man I know, so everyone else takes a back seat, really. There are a few of them I really don’t ever want to work with again, but generally Future is full of really nice, very talented people. I’m kind of spoiled for choice, really.

C3: Were there any problems or points of contention that arose at the various publications you have been involved with? You have previously mentioned that it was a ‘painful exercise’ leaving CF to launch Total! - any chance of elaborating slightly, please?

SJ: I’m still very proud of CF. We launched late into an ageing market with an established leader and, well, kicked its arse. The problems arose because of some friction between staff, but it’s all ancient history now.

C3: How has life changed over the years from working on the likes of ZZAP! and Commodore Format to Edge and beyond?

SJ: Well, I’ve grown a lot older, which is an absolute bitch, but I can’t really see a way round it! I grew bored of games around the time I launched T3 (nearly ten years ago now), but got back into them with the Xbox, and now the Xbox360. I’m also a big fan of the Nintendo DS, which is the best portable games machine by a huge margin (emphasis on the ‘games’ bit).

The biggest change is that I no longer hands-on edit a single title, but have this weird sort of overseeing, quality control job. Which is good, but I do miss having a mag to call my own.

C3: The world of videogaming media has changed drastically over the years, with the Internet medium becoming the primary source for the latest news and views nowadays. Does this necessarily put extra pressure on the staff, or is the issue moot due to the ultimate difference in quality and professionalism?

SJ: This is a constant point of discussion on the mags, and we’re continually evolving the products to reflect this. We’ve ditched news in favour of news analysis, as we’re so late compared to RSS feeds and so on. Likewise, we need to make sure our features and reviews are as sharp as possible, and we try to keep thinking of new ways to present the information. Fortunately, magazines are a much more visual medium and I think we can still do lots with the combination of words and pictures that websites are a long way from emulating.

The gap in ‘professionalism’ isn’t as great as it used to be, since websites are raising their game and can now afford to pay for full-time staff. But I think the reader experiences websites in a different way to magazines: websites are much more news-based, with bite-sized snippets of information or opinion. Magazines still have the edge when it comes to longer features, and also in forming a real bond between the team and its audience. Hopefully the recent ABC increases for Edge (it’s highest ever) and GamesMaster prove that there’s still keen interest in titles that have a clearly-defined character or sense of humour.

C3: The original NOM gained the unfortunate label in certain sectors as being childish during the GameCube era. In your role as Group Senior Editor there, have there been any particular efforts made to aim at an older demographic or is it more a magazine that appeals to all groups?

SJ: The launch of the Official Nintendo Magazine was driven by a clear brief from Nintendo. The company is reinventing itself - you only need to look at its upcoming product and the marketing support to see that - and so they needed a publication that reflected that new look. The company’s aim is to open gaming up to as wide an audience as possible, and the old-look NOM clearly didn’t fit into that plan. So the new-look title is a much cleaner age-neutral kind of read. If we’ve done our job right, anyone from about 10 to 50 can pick the mag up and enjoy it. There’s still work to be done on refining certain aspects, but for a magazine that was conceived and launched in 30 working days I think it’s pretty damn good.

C3: In the first issue of ONM this month, you wrote a succinct and refreshingly frank overview of Perfect Dark for the N64. Will such a retro-themed section be a recurring feature of the new format, and if so will you be the one overseeing it to share your views on the ‘games of yore’?

SJ: Those ‘retro’ parts of the mag serve as a gentle reminder of Nintendo’s vast gaming heritage. I’d be happy to write these small bits, but we’ve got stacks of writers with huge knowledge of Nintendo’s back catalogue, most of whom can write better than me…

C3: The magazine has undertaken several major changes since its initial ‘Nintendo Magazine System’ days. With this latest re-branding, what are you hoping to achieve and what plans are in place to keep the format fresh? Any chance of incorporating the sense of style that made Super Play such a cult favourite?

SJ: I kind of answered this in the point above. With regards Super Play, it had a very specific look and feel, but that was in line with the mag’s independent stance, plus the focus on Japanese games and grey imports. That look and feel is very much at odds with what Nintendo is now trying to do so I guess ‘no’ is a the most succinct answer I can give!

C3: How important, in your opinion, is an official magazine as a resource for gamers and how easy is it to police bias?

SJ: Despite how brilliant the Internet is - and I’m glued to the damn thing all the time - there’s still something very pleasing and tactile about a good quality magazine. Printed images are very high resolution and, as I mentioned, we can include things like annotated images, diagrams, charts, step-by-step walkthroughs and so on that websites can’t easily do. And with Nintendo’s help, I think you’ll see some great exclusives in the magazine over the course of this year.

With regards bias, I don’t think you can fool people for very long. Hopefully, you’ll agree that the review scores were completely realistic.

C3: Looking at Future Publishing now, the readers at Cubed3 are wondering two main things. Firstly, what will be the key differences be NGC and ONM; and furthermore, will NGC Magazine actually manage to compete sufficiently?

SJ: With the closure of NOM, there’s a gap there for a slightly younger magazine that’s a bit irreverent and can look more closely at stuff from Japan and the US. I think NGC will naturally shift to fill that vacuum, but we’ll have to wait and see!

C3: Could Future's monopoly on the GameCube and Nintendo magazine market prove unhealthy for that sector of the Industry? Or do you foresee a resurgence in other unofficial magazines hitting the market once the Revolution details hit the fan?

SJ: It’s all down to market forces. When there’s enough interest in Nintendo’s products to support more than two mags, you’ll definitely see new launches into that space. I’d be surprised if Imagine Publishing didn’t churn one out later in the year.

C3: What are your thoughts on the new direction that Nintendo is taking? Will the fickle nature of the gaming public work to the company’s advantage, helping it to drop the infernal ‘kiddie’ references that seem to plague it? And can the sleeping giant wake up to stave the threat from Sony and Microsoft in the upcoming generation?

SJ: I believe Nintendo has already made great strides in its Dr. Who-style regeneration. It already feels like a different company to the one it was five years ago. The look of its new hardware is very chic, and it has lots of interesting new games starting to filter through - the success of nintendogs and the Brain Training series is testament to this new direction.

Personally, I think Nintendo is wise to steer clear of the Xbox360 vs PS3 bloodbath (remember, it cost Microsoft a billion dollars to get Xbox into second place). If Revolution is clever enough and cheap enough, I’ve no doubt it will secure a good slice of the market. Will it regain the number one slot? Well that all depends on how you measure it: in terms of profits, Nintendo has always been a highly cash-generative company, no matter which position it’s perceived to be in.

The company has a real knack for making hardware and games that people want to buy. Look at the DS - they just can’t manufacture them fast enough! You always write Nintendo off at your own peril.

C3: And finally, do you have any ideas of how the innovative Revolution controller could be used for any certain franchise?

SJ: I have as many ideas as you do, but - like the rest of the world - haven’t seen a damn thing yet. The only thing I think is missing from the Freehand controller is a microphone. Given how successful karaoke is in Japan, and how cleverly it’s being used in the DS, I think it’s an oversight. Unless, of course, they just haven’t announced that bit yet…

C3: Many thanks for taking the time to answer our questions. The team at Cubed3 wish you the best of luck for the future!

SJ: Thanks guys!

The team at Cubed3, and I personally, would like to wholeheartedly thank Steve for taking the time out for this interview and wish him and Official Nintendo Magazine a bright run in the future!

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