This meant eleven weeks between heart-breaking resignation and first deadline. Eleven weeks to start being accepted by somebody, anybody, at a time when most were more than happy with the trade weekly they already had.
Since launch in September 1984, Computer Trade Weekly had been a cornerstone of the business.
It was the first trade mag for the games industry and, under the editorship of a certain Greg Ingham (who would go on to join Future and drive its incredible success for 18 years) CTW had already become essential reading when I joined as a fresh-faced reporter in April 1986.
By 1988, Ingham had quit (taking Colin Campbell, still one of the best journalists in the business, with him). Deputy editor Simon Harvey had already left a year before to set up the UK’s longest-surviving games PR agency, Barrington Harvey.
CTW was run by a tiny company, with less than a dozen staff. Apart from a shortlived consumer weekly called Bang! it only ever boasted one title.
Over the years CTW tapped into the energy and passion of a young team including Dave Roberts, Alex Jarvis, Russell Beadle, Ronnie Dungan, Lisa Foster and Samantha Loveday.
Together they grew its UK and international profile – whilst beating off rival launches from giants like VNU.
But the arrival of MCV: The Market for Home Computing & Video Games in September 1998 changed the face of trade media in the UK.
Why? A higher circulation, backed by an ABC certificate, certainly helped. As did improved design, strong personnel (most of whom moved across from an increasingly frail CTW) and driving ambition.
Within weeks of MCV launching, CTW was sold by its panic-stricken boss to the public group, Highbury House. It lost its soul and desperately lacked good management or any kind of leadership. Indeed, it was eventually acquired and incorporated by Intent Media further down the line.
But early on, survival, let alone success, was far from guaranteed for MCV. And our following story of the road to launch offers a fascinating snapshot of what the industry was up to during that hot summer of ‘98…
Thursday June 18th
The CTW team is still recovering from its best ever E3, our Atlanta issue carrying a rare interview with EA boss Larry Probst. But another edition reaches deadline and then we do it; editor Dinsey and deputy editor Foster quit. No going back now.
Friday June 19th
Deputy sales manager, Alex Jarvis, also quits. She is to head up MCV ad sales. Dave Roberts is offered to name his price (yes, really) to stay, but says he will join MCV from the beginning of August. I’m supposed to be watching a test match at Lord’s today, but dip out and spend the rest of the day convincing Alex she did the right thing. Neither of us are very sure.
Sunday June 21st
My son Alfie’s christening. Friends and family are there, of course. Me quitting CTW after 12 years is big news. Dad calls me an idiot.
Monday June 22nd
Am officially now on garden leave. Meet CTW staff writer Samantha Loveday in a pub and explain that I’m not allowed to offer anyone a job. Yet. England lose 2-1 to Romania, with Chelsea’s Graeme Le Saux making the mistake that costs us the game. Everything is my fault. Happy days.
Tuesday June 23rd
Three days in Poole, supposedly on holiday, but feels more like purgatory.
Friday June 26th
The first non-Dinsey edition of CTW is published for over 12 years. It looks absolutely fine. No one is missing me. Meanwhile, a 23 year-old called Beckham scores his first goal for England in a crucial 2-0 World Cup win over Columbia. He clearly has a future. But do I?
Friday July 10th
Thanks to the garden leave, little has happened, apart from England losing on penalties to Argentina and making everyone feel like shit. Lisa and Alex have ‘holidays’ but come back more stressed than ever. I tell them we’re making history. We’ll look back and oh how we’ll laugh…
Friday July 17th
First official day at work. Rubbish temporary offices in a Bedfordshire shithole called Arlesey. Cavalry arrives as Bastion are signed as our agency, handling everything from circulation management to media pack.
Monday July 20th
Andy Lane at ECTS gives MCV a booth. It’s in piss alley, but at least we’re in. Bastion will handle the show for us too. Dean Barrett starts saving my life.
Tuesday July 21st
Larry Sparks promises ad support from Interplay. Rod Cousens gives me Acclaim’s entire dealer list over dinner. Am starting to discover who my friends are.
Friday July 24th
A good week. Chris Meredith of MicroProse sends back our first signed order. It’s in MCV Issue One, due to hit the trade on Friday September 3rd. Six weeks to go.
Wednesday July 29th
MDs dinner at Soho House. We’re not too sure whether to go with the red masthead our German bosses are insisting on – it’s a bit too similar to CTW for our liking. But Gremlin’s Jenny Stewart and Take 2’s Kelly Sumner are amongst those who say “fuck it, just do it”.
Monday August 3rd
First day for new hire Owain Bennallack, a big signing from Edge. He only agreed to come because I got him drunk on Guinness at the The Cock, Highbury Corner. He’s never been to Arlesey. Takes all morning to find it.
Thursday August 6th
I move house. Might as well keep myself busy.
Friday August 7th
Ciaran Brennan gets the MCV circ list to 5,000 names. CTW was publishing just over 4,000 when we quit. Hitting branch managers rather than just buyers is our big USP. But we have to hit a promised 8,000 by launch and get an ABC super-quick.
Monday August 10th
We have a designer! Trouble is, he’s useless. And sacked within two weeks. We have to complete our dummy issue without a designer. And it shows.
Thursday August 13th
Dave Roberts and I get an audience with Charles Cornwall of Eidos – currently the biggest of bigwigs in the UK games industry. Issue One cover story sorted. Then off to Virgin Interactive’s retailer event at Hartwell House, Aylesbury. Tim Chaney and Graeme Struthers allow us to distribute our dummy. Woolworths’ Gerry Berkley says it’s rubbish. He’s quite right.
Wednesday August 19th
Big prelaunch party at Soho House. Over 60 marketing and PR types get pissed and destroy. Our ad manager falls down the stairs. The girl from TLC pukes up. Garry Williams says we’re doomed. Still does.
Thursday August 20th
CTW is sold to Highbury House in a deal publicised to the City as worth up to £5m – and I lost my shares when I quit. I also learn that their new editor, an American called Jeff Kaye, is being paid twice as much as I was. Must get drunk.
Friday August 21st
Two weeks until launch. Still no designer. I finally take up ex-Future man Tim Smith’s offer to help. I blub. He finds me freelance Bath-based designer Maryanne Booth, who agrees to a few days in Arlesey. We don’t let her go until she’s hired Stuart Moody from Broderbund several months later. I still love Maryanne.
Monday August 24th
Chris Ratcliff of influential indie guide GamesGuide agrees to write exclusively for MCV. It was big news in those days.
Tuesday August 25th
Colin Campbell agrees to write for us. Some ad copy arrives for Issue One.
Wednesday August 26th
The Germans stop pestering me to go to Nuremburg yet again. Dave Roberts gets an interview with Sony boss Chris Deering. One week to deadline.
Monday August 31st
Late nights and tears, but Issue One starts coming together. Advertisers include Acclaim; GTi; Broderbund; Codemasters; Wireplay, Nintendo Direct; Cendant, LMP, Cryo, Thrustmaster, Paragon, Ubisoft, ASCII, One Stop, Hasbro, MicroProse, Phoenix, Planet, Interact and Anglia Multimedia. Can you name the quartet that are still trading with the exact same name?
Tuesday September 1st
Cornwall and Deering exclusives in the bag. Dave Roberts writes a legendary valediction to Virgin Interactive (owner Viacom had just sold Westwood to EA) called ‘Dismantling of an Empire’. We learn that LucasArts has ditched EA for Activision and that Ray Maguire used to own a hair salon.
Wednesday September 2nd
Press day. Front page is an exclusive about Eidos buying US studio Crystal Dynamics, plus UK wasters Elixir and Mucky Foot. Nintendo promises retail that Zelda for N64 will make Christmas. Tim Christian appointed MD of Hasbro Interactive after it acquires MicroProse. GameBoy Colour to debut at ECTS.
Friday September 4th
First issue published. It’s 64 pages compared to CTW’s biggest-ever 112 page monster. Round One to the competition. But at least we’re in the ring. Just.