Veteran games journalist Chris Stead has launched Grab It, a digital magazine devoted to iOS gaming.
Stead describes Grab It and "an indie for the indies," an independently created digital magazine focused on independent games and their creators. A free sample issue 0 is now available for iPad through the iTunes App Store and the first issue will go on sale in late January.
Published by his new company, Old Mate Media, Grab It sees Stead striking out alone after spending the past four years as editor of the Australian edition of Game Informer.
MCV Pacific caught up with Stead to find out his plans for Grab It.
Can you take us through the development of the mag, from the initial idea to now?
For quite a while, possibly even years, I've wanted to strike out and start making magazines for myself, but I haven't felt overly inspired to do that in the traditional print/website advertising driven outlets. I love making print magazines and working on websites, but I just felt a bit drained by it all after four years launching Game Informer into the local market.
I remembered writing this article for Official PlayStation magazine back in 2000 about the future, where I hypothesised that by the time there was a PS4 Magazine, we would have video content and interactive touchscreen control and dynamic pages and all that kind of stuff. It seemed like that future was here, but I wasn't engaged with it properly in print.
But even when I went through the magazines on the App Store, I felt like everything was kind of hedging its bets. Not really letting go of the traditional design and content of print and just existing in the digital magazine space rather than feeling organic to it.
Around the same time I saw this huge movement in the indie downloadable game scene steamrolling through the industry and there was so much quality and creativity there, it begin to feel like the right time to try something completely new.
Ryan Payton, founder of Camouflaj, did a big interview with us for our République cover story. Listening to him talk about quitting the creative director role at Halo 4 to put his life-savings into the idea of making a console-like stealth game on a touchscreen - and all the risk that entails - made me realise I am not alone.
It's interesting because we as an industry are in our mid-30s, we're all starting to have perspectives change through kids and mortgages and deaths. We're all starting to realise we have these skillsets that we've built up over 16-odd years and that we have our own ideas that we have the power to pursue. I think a lot of people in the industry are starting to see the indie sector as an opportunity to strike out and create a new voice in a moment when people are willing to listen.
So I began conceptualising Grab It Magazine to create a new voice. And at the same time, create a showcase piece that will open the doors to other custom digital publishing opportunities for my company, Old Mate Media.
Why did you choose to focus on indies and also why focus on iPad?
The indie scene has passed the acceptability tipping point amongst gamers - it can't be ignored. You look around and see games like Minecraft crushing FIFA and Assassin's Creed. Titles like Journey, The Stanley Parable and The Walking Dead scooping Game of the Year gongs. Sony and Microsoft standing on E3 stages fighting for customers with indie promises. Steam appearing under your TV. And only this week the App Store revealed $10billion was spent in its "shopping mall" during 2013.
Indies matter. Indies are influential. Indies are creative. And most of all they're fun.
Since I have started to pay more attention to what is happening on iPad, I've been blown away by the quality of titles hitting the format. We just did our Top 50 iPad Games of 2013 and you have titles like Oceanhorn, République and The Shadow Sun in there that can stand toe-to-toe with console titles, as well as your quick fix Backflip Madness or Ridiculous Fishing, and your weird and wonderful Device 6 or Type:Rider style titles. But how do you discover all these games?
It's difficult to talk about indie games in a commercial media outlet in any meaningful way. An indie doesn't have money to spend on advertising, and advertising is a crucial to keeping traditional media afloat - one doesn't define the other explicitly, but you need to pitch your editorial to an audience that is in that space already to be relevant to everyone involved in the model.
I remember when Angry Birds II came out and it got a couple of hundred words at the back of Game Informer - it's the biggest game on the planet. I'm not saying you can find more than a few hundred words to say about the game, but the point remains that these titles matter to a lot of people. So by focusing on (not limiting to) indie games, we can go in-depth and give these developers a platform from which to be heard and discovered.
Then by focusing on iPad, we can do some really great things for the magazine experience itself. We can maximise its strengths in terms of interactivity and intuitive control, and we can exist in the ecosystem itself. You're on your iPad, you're reading about something and you can tap a button and start playing it. It's all relevant to you and what you are doing. It makes sense. But while we're launching on iPad, I certainly hope to expand with the same ideas into other categories as we etch out a brand and some awareness. But like most indies, we need to start out within ourselves.
How does a digital mag differ from the work you've done previously in print and online?
In terms of the editorial, there is no deviation in quality. I am driving it to my usual standards. We do like to celebrate creativity a bit more than we would on say a $100 console blockbuster, as part of what is so fun about the indie scene is that it only costs a couple of dollars to experience something new and interesting, even if the draw-distance is off, there is pop-up or so forth.
The biggest difference is in the way you think about the magazine design. It's quite challenging to break away from what's established as being "the right way." For example, for ages we had this traditional Grab It masthead at the top of a vertical cover images But why? We don't need to stand out in a newsagent. Why not have a horizontal cover, and have the image as a video, and have the masthead in the centre of the magazine? Thinking differently like that is challenging and fun, but it also asks the reader to accept change and be open to something new. So hopefully that isn't a hurdle we can't jump.
How would you like to work with developers? What's the best way for them to pitch to you?
The door is always open at email@example.com and we have a number of avenues set-up on the grabitmagazine.com website to help developers and publishers reach out with news big and small. As well as the social sites. Obviously we love working with anything exclusive, but we're a start-up and we need to grow and gain worth so it's not something we demand or expect. But first and foremost we really like the idea of introducing gamers to cool new games, so we'll do that whenever we can.
How often is Grab It going to come out?
Monthly is the current plan, although we will be listening to our readers to see if they'd prefer alternatives. Either way it will be a flexible date. We want our cover features to launch as close to the cover game's on-sale date as possible. Given that we exist in the iOS ecosystem, I think it is important that a reader can grab the game right there and then if they like it. It would be frustrating to read about something great and then find out you have to wait a week as there are no pre-orders here. So if the mag needs to shift its on-sale around a bit, within reason, we'll do that to make the most out of it all for the game, the developer, the reader and ultimately the mag.
Will you carry advertising?
I'm not sure at this stage. For a small indie start-up like us, if someone said "hey, here is some money," I'm not going to turn it down. But I really don't want to get into the idea of pitching for or negotiating for ads. That's not my natural habitat. So if there is interest from advertisers, I think I will simply auction off some space and let the industry define the cost and have it be a completely clean, purchase-and-provide model where it's all on the table. Plus, that way if an indie has $100 bucks and they want to be there, they have that possibility. But in short, advertising is not a pillar of our business model.