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Dreamcast Magazines: Appreciation and Preservation

In his recent DCJY interview the former President of Sega of America, Peter Moore, put forward a passionate and convincing case as to why the Dreamcast was ahead of its time. One of the primary reasons for this characterisation of the Dreamcast by Moore was its out-of-the-box internet functionality; a pioneering feature intended to “take gamers where gaming was going.” From a technical standpoint this was executed well by Sega, but being ahead of the curve doesn't necessarily always pay dividends, and cruelly “Sega flung themselves onto the barricades…and was trod on by subsequent consoles.” 

At the turn of the millennium the capabilities of (and consumer familiarity with) the internet were still relatively limited, and the average gamer was perhaps not as enthused about online play as they would become a decade on, by which point other consoles were ready to build on the foundations laid by Sega. Indeed, one of the indicators of how premature internet functionality was in 1998-2002 is that the primary source of gaming information, even for owners of Dreamcasts with built-in modems, was still the printed word. Even many of those who may reasonably have been expected to be further advanced on this front, such as gaming industry heads and retailers, were often still getting their news fix via specialist print periodicals like MCV or GameWeek.

This context probably goes some way to explaining why, despite being a short-lived commercial flop, the Dreamcast had a surprisingly large number of print magazines dedicated to it. 36 to be exact(ish), in seven different languages, spanning a whopping 576 issues crammed with at least 50,000 pages of professionally produced content (good maths, eh?). Of course, most of the Dreamcast's key markets had their very own officially sanctioned magazine that nominally had the advantage of a close connection to Sega, and were usually paired with a GD-ROM demo disc series that undoubtedly increased their appeal.

But in many territories these faced stiff competition from not just one but several unofficial variants, vying to win the attention of readers with their independent editorial lines and offering a panoply of ‘free’ tat (VHS tapes, cheat books, posters, postcards, water pistols) in a bid for market share. The gaming and publishing industries have changed to such an extent in the intervening 20 years that even the most successful current generation consoles are extremely lucky if they have a single (print) magazine dedicated to them in operation.

Dreamcast magazines from three different continents

To be sure, there were quite a few failed starts. Dreamcast Magazine of Italy published just one single issue, thereby having no opportunity to atone for their front cover error of illustrating their Virtua Fighter 3tb coverage with a Street Fighter character. Total Dreamcast was mysteriously canned right before release, presumably much to the ire of those who had sweated over its 100+ pages of copy and layout. DCM, the only unofficial magazine in the States - which is bizarre given the sheer magnitude of the US market - bailed out after a paltry four issues. 

Even many of those publications that made it past their formative stages abruptly called it quits soon after Sega's official announcement of the Dreamcast's demise in early 2001, without as much as a sentimental goodbye to readers in their last issues, suggesting that the editorial teams probably had little notice of the cessation themselves.

The covers of the final issues of the three Dreamcast magazines that were last to cease publication. From left to right: Dreamcast Magazine (Paragon, UK) April 2002; Dreamcast Le Magazine Officiel (Mon Journal Adomedias, France) March/April 2002; Dreamzone (FJM, France) December 2001/January 2002

Yet, plenty of the pack valorously struggled on against the onslaught of PS2 hype, doing a commendable job of filling their pages with news of the dwindling trickle of officially-licensed releases, hopeful glances at arcade games that could be ported (those DC releases of Beach Strikers and Virtua Fighter 4 are still coming, right?), or even shamelessly re-running old reviews. Here in ol' blighty Paragon Publishing’s Dreamcast Magazine is remembered fondly for unflinchingly maintaining its publication schedule until April 2002 when they gracefully bowed out with a tear jerking final issue packed with retrospectives on what had been.

There are honourable mentions from elsewhere across the world too though. France's official magazine showed up its anglophone comrades, bidding us au revoir as late in the day as March 2002 in respectable fashion with a special collectors issue, while their unofficial compatriots at Dreamzone nab the crown for longest running Dreamcast magazine in Europe, publishing 29 issues between December 1998 and January 2002. Ok, those last few issues did come with the amended strapline of “toute l’actualite de la Dreamcast et des autres consoles 128 bits” (all the news about the Dreamcast and other 128-bit consoles), a survival tactic which some of the Dreamcast-committed members of the editorial team may have been a little salty about, but this was a good innings nevertheless.

Magazines were a huge part of being a gamer in the 90s

For the enthusiast, the corpus of long-defunct Dreamcast magazines can serve as a focus of interest and a creative product to be enjoyed in its own right. Those who were around at the time can certainly get a nostalgic kick out of revisiting them, while younger generations are able to soak up the atmosphere of the era for the first time. These magazines also represent a fairly reliable record that can be used to establish what actually went on with the Dreamcast at the time. Of course, the veracity of everything contained within their pages is not guaranteed, but given that these magazines were staffed by professional journalists with access to those in the know, there is some level of trustworthiness and clout there. This has a practical application for those still producing content about the console and its era too - whether that be books which ponder what could have been with unreleased titles, or blog posts investigating potato-based marketing gambits.

The covers of three Dreamcast magazines that are yet to be digitally preserved. From left to right: DreamWave (KeyMind Group, Hong Kong); Dreamcast Kult (Germany); Dreamcast Magic (Germany)

But here's the catch. The trouble is that most of these magazines are currently only accessible to those who have copies hiding away in private collections. High-quality digital scans of the likes of the UK’s DC-UK or Hong Kong’s Game Players DC are available in all their glory thanks to the archivists of Out of Print Archive, SegaRetro and RetroMags, but these are heavily outnumbered by those publications that are yet to find their way onto the internet - from Germany's Dreamcast Kult to Taiwan’s Dianji Dreamcast.

Of course, there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for this. Dreamcast magazines were published during an era when print was king, and little thought was given to digital preservation by magazine publishers (at least, not for these particular titles). Furthermore, the publishers who were involved then and are still in operation now - many sadly bit the dust - have zero incentive to begin investing in the retro-digitisation of material such as this. If there was a way to monetise such a venture, someone would most likely have had a punt on it already. Therefore, it is left to voluntary enthusiasts to take up the task, and there is currently only a small pool of people with the requisite skills, tools, time and inventories to measure up to it. The barriers are not insurmountable though, and many of you reading this article can probably help in one way or another.


Preservation: An Appeal for Assistance

DCJY readers, wouldn't it be grand if we had access to every last Dreamcast Magazine to grace the earth at our fingertips? Is it not a shame that there are potentially mind boggling long-forgotten secrets hidden away in dusty cupboards and damp attics? Is it not profoundly unjust that your hankering to read 12 different reviews of Jet Set Radio, for no justifiable reason whatsoever, has to be left unfulfilled?

With a little coordination and goodwill we should be able to resolve this situation, so here is the call to action. If any of the following apply to you please let me know in the comments section or in this Dreamcast Talk forum thread:

  • I have copies of unscanned Dreamcast magazines (list available here) and intend to scan and make them publicly available in the near future.
  • I have magazines I am willing to donate to a scanner.
  • I have the skills, tools and willingness to do some scanning, but no magazines in my possession.
  • I am aware of people who are currently planning to scan and make public currently unavailable Dreamcast magazines.

My intention will be to compile details about folks who fit into each of the above definitions, and then bit by bit, help coordinate efforts to preserve these magazines. That is, until it all becomes too laborious and I lose motivation - but here’s hoping we make some progress before then.

P.S. Those who are interested in after-market Dreamcast magazine activity, and have a reasonable grasp of Spanish, may want to check out the fan-made Revista Oficial Dreamcast.es. Also, keep your eyes peeled for the forthcoming fifth issue of Sega Powered which will come with a demo disc featuring Dreamcast indie releases - something which hasn’t been attempted since 2004.

3 comments:

Tom Charnock said...

Fantastic article Lozz - magazines are a source of infinite interest to me and I'm sure many others who grew up with them. Intrigied to see if any of these 'lost' magazines can be found and put online...

Lewis Cox said...

Really great article!

Sergeanttodd said...

Love this article!