So I picked up the next issue I saw for that sole purpose, and emailed him what I liked and didn't, while acknowledging that I know nothing about printing a magazine and how much work changes take. Again, he appeared to enjoy the feedback, and appreciated the feedback on their 20th anniversary article in a summer issue.
He left GamePro a couple of months ago after 10 years at the magazine, so I contacted him on Facebook to wish him luck and such. So yesterday I sent a message asking him if he would be interested in doing an email interview for this site and asking him not to hurt us. He agreed (to the interview at least). So here it is (Retromags’ questions are bolded).
You started at GamePro in 1998 (November issue), at 18 years old. I was finishing my last year of high school when I was 18 (Ontario high school used to go to Grade 13). How did you land a job at GamePro at such a young age? Did you have any journalism training/experience prior?
To clarify, I should preface that I began contract writing with GamePro in 1998; I didn't join the company as a staffer until 2004. That said, I had been a long-time reader of the magazine and had a friendly relationship with GamePro's senior editor, Dan Amrich, who I had met on AOL game message boards some years prior. He needed a writer to tackle some previews, I had just turned street-legal 18, and we danced the freelance tango.
Prior to writing for GamePro, I was an AOL "Community Leader." We were the guys who ran the various mini-sites and message boards from the early days of AOL, and I contributed a couple of dozen reviews. It helped me learn the ropes, thanks to tutelage from Dan and another former GamePro writer Hugh Sterbakov. I owe those guys a big debt of gratitude.
What turned you on to working at GamePro opposed to the other magazines that were around at the time?
Well, I had been an avid GamePro reader since its first or second year in operation (89-90), and I knew its writers and writing style well. As a kid, I had always secretly wanted to write for the magazine, but it wasn't until Dan called me that one fateful day that my dream became reality. It still blows me away!
What kind of position did you start at, and what steps were there along the way to senior editor?
Having already invested six years in GamePro as a freelance writer, I was lucky enough to land a job as assistant editor - typically the starting position for young bucks in any editorial operation. I paid my dues and put in long hours, thrilled to have the opportunity to play a pivotal role in the magazine's creation (as well as the slowly growing website).
Nine months later, I was promoted to associate editor and put in charge of Games.net, an intriguing website concept that was never able to achieve its full potential. I later headed up news coverage as GamePro's news editor, all the while contributing features to GP and GP.com. That morphed into a role as the News & Features Editor and, later, senior editor. That role involved a bit more management, but my core contributions (cover features, news coverage, online features) didn't change much.
In a previous conversation, you stated that you were the one mainly responsible for the great editor avatars/ pseudonyms from being dropped from the magazine. What was your reasoning behind dropping one of the magazines most well known and unique features?
I was outspoken about dropping the editor personas; I felt they had run their course and were becoming a barrier to our efforts to mature the magazine's voice. I wasn't the only one pushing for that change, but it was a close decision with internal consensus being about 50/50. I certainly pushed hard for the change, partly because the newer personas (Papa Frog, Fart of War) were getting increasingly silly and esoteric.
What was your position at the magazine at the time the pseudonyms? Apart from Vicious Sid, did you have other pseudonyms that you wrote under at some point?
Answered above; I felt it was important for readers to see our real names. I used two persona names: Vicious Sid, and also Deuce Magnum (who was my Johnny-on-the-spot for Halo coverage). Personas were fun, but they needed to go.
As your position changed, did the number of hours you worked also change? What was a typical day like when you in the first few years at GamePro compared to the last few years?
Boy, I don't think it changed much at all. I worked crazy hours when I started at GamePro, often getting in at 9 or 930 and leaving no earlier than 7 or 8, often with working lunch breaks and tasks to finish in the evening. That kind of schedule can be gruelling, so later I began leaving a little earlier (6 or 630) and catching up on any excess over the weekends. Some weeks were easier/shorter than others, but on average I probably ranged between 50 and 60 hours any given week (counting weekends, evenings).
Were there a lot, if any, days where the stress, or having to play a terrible game for several days for a review, make you question why you did that kind of work?
Yeah. You get moments like that in any career, when the weight of the world seems crushing -- when you just want to curl up in a dark, isolated corner and forget your troubles. Magazine printing deadlines could be extremely stressful, as was live coverage of events such as E3 or Tokyo Game Show. Playing a bad game, though, rarely stressed me out. In those cases, I'd be eager to write the review so I could vent my venom.
What's the most notable mistake that you’ve made writing for the magazine or missed when editing the magazine?
Most notable mistake? I don't make mistakes! I'm kidding, of course. Looking back, there are probably a few games I reviewed too high (The Outfit being the biggest I can remember). One time, in the heat of deadline week, a note I'd left in a Word document became the opening paragraph of a feature story (the designer had rushed and missed it). There was the odd factual error now and again, but generally I am pleased by the track record there.
The magazine changed drastically during the 11 years you worked there. The last issue s almost 100% different than the first issue you worked on. What was the process of making certain changes, like going from giving a game a review in four categories with a small summary of each, to giving one overall score? How much work, research, and time goes into a big change like that?
A fair bit. The magazine went through two separate redesigns during my 5 years of staff editing; the website went through three.
Being a young assistant editor, I didn't have much to do with with the 2005 redesign. But I did have a lot of input into the 2007 redesign, especially Spawn Point (which I named). The 2007 redesign was a fairly quick process, perhaps three months or so. Typically, the magazine's creative director and the art director will lead a project like that, though the staff definitely has a say.
Have you ever gotten bad feedback from an advertiser who thought your review on a certain game was below expectation?
Oh sure. It happens to every publication at one point or another, but the controversy usually blows over quickly. Sometimes a publisher will give you the cold shoulder after receiving what they perceive as a "bad review score," which is a short-sighted strategy some inexperienced PR professionals use from time to time. All you can do is state your case, agree to disagree, and move on.
Back in the 90’s, GamePro explained to readers that while one editor was writing the review of the game, more than one editor was playing the game and giving their opinions on the scoring of the game, and also reviewing the review. Was that process still being used at the end of your run (if that was even the process at some point)?
The reviews editor typically watches over the review process like a hawk. If anything seems out of whack (maybe the reviewer was going overboard, or doesn't seem to comprehend the point of the game), the reviews editor will examine it more closely and ask questions. I recall a few times when a submitted review didn't pass muster, and before it was published, the reviews editor opted to commission a rewrite from another writer or staffer, presumably someone who would be a better fit for the game.
Does it take a passion for videogames to work for a magazine like GamePro, or could someone just looking for work in media perhaps fall in to a job?
Nah, I think you need to live and breathe games to survive in a game editorial gig. It's the only thing that'll keep you going because a) the hours are tough, the responsibilities are endless, and c) you'll never get rich. It's a wonderful, one-of-a-kind job, but it takes immense stamina and constant drive.
How many employees stay in the office versus working at home or on the road?
Staff size fluctuates, but the full-time editorial staff typically averaged out to five or six full-timers, with a handful of interns and freelance writers.
What are some common subjects that come under fire when editing a video game magazine, aside from the normal punctuation and grammar usage errors? I am thinking more along the line of censoring.
Not quite sure what you mean here. We never censored our writers or editors. Though one topic that always raised controversy was (sigh) the Xbox 360 vs. PS3 fanboy war. Thank god that seems to have died down.
What is your opinion of the video game magazine industry? Do you think it will be around (in one form or another) in 5 years? Will GamePro? Can it support the number of magazines out now? I am asking based on the internet ruining game magazines, and not the economic slump.
Magazines are in a tough spot, there's no doubt about it. I don't think they're doomed, but the sheer number of monthly magazines (across all topics) will continue to fall for years to come. To survive, magazines need to change. But change into what? It's hard to say: one popular school of thought is to make them prettier, nicer, more polished and charge a higher price. That way makes a lot of sense to me, but it's tough to charge anything when you've got the Internet - that bastion of free information - ready and waiting. So it's not an easy question, though the efforts of Game Informer and Future (with PC Gamer and PTOM) look encouraging.
I love both print and online equally, so it'll be interesting to see what happens.
What is the process of putting an issue together? For instance what is the first part that is done, and what is the last section to get finished before being sent to the printers? How many weeks/months ahead of being sent to the printers is each of the sections done?
This changes from month to month. But typically, previews, reviews, and the Letters section came in first at GamePro, with feature stories (2-3 big ones per issue) trickling in all the while. The monthly cover story was often (but not always) the last item to come in for design, as it's the biggest to write and plan.
How far ahead of an issue being worked on are all the ads finalized and decided on? i.e. How far ahead of working on an issue do you know how many pages you will have for content?
We plan issues as far as 6-9 months in advance, and generally make an educated guess as to page count, what it'll look like, and so forth. Those details get firmed up as the issue approaches.
Are games reviewed by editors randomly, or do certain editors review certain types or games because they enjoy them? If you didn’t care for role-playing games, would you ever be given one to review?
The editors all have preferences; I'm not a big fan of Japanese RPGs, so it's known that I wouldn't be a good fit for a review of Blue Dragon (though I could handle FFXIII). As always, good communication is key, but there was always an effort made to pair reviews with an appropriate reviewer (hence me writing all the Tekken reviews between 2004 and 2008).
I would like to thank Mr. Shuman for taking the time to answer these questions for the readers of this site. I certainly found the answers very interesting! You can check what Sid is up to on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sidshuman to see his latest thoughts on gaming.