The swan song of Hoog Spel (1990-2000)

Amsterdam, June 2000

At the start of June we informed all our subscribers that we’ve stopped distributing Hoog Spel. All subscriptions have been transferred without any extra payments to subscriptions to RealGamer, the youngest game magazine in the Benelux (Belgium/Netherlands/Luxembourg). A good deal for our subscribers, we thought, since it’s a magazine that costs substantially more in the stores. Note 2002: The magazine RealGamer does not exist anymore.

In the letter to our subscribers we did not have the space to explain the reasons why we stopped with Hoog Spel. Because it’s otherwise impossible to inform the people who used to purchase our magazine in stores, we decided to have an alternate place to inform.

Here are a couple of factual experiences:

With growing frequency we were confronted with advertisers who did not want to advertise because the tone or conclusion of a review was not to their liking. It’s even happened that the placement of an advert depended on what our final conclusion regarding a title. An unacceptable situation, according to us.

It happened more and more that so called exclusive agreement with certain magazine were made. For that kind of exclusivity, you have to be willing to do something in return. We have never wanted to cooperate with this, with the result that it regularly happened that we couldn’t review a game. Because clearly other magazines were accepting these deals.

This lead to a situation last year that we were completely verbally cussed at by a distributor, because we broke one of the exclusivity contracts of one of our competitors. What we had done was place an article with the help of one our relations in the United States and had managed to cobble it together this way. But clearly, the Dutch distributor of the game had made an exclusivity agreement with another magazine here. Something we couldn’t know, didn’t need to know and what on the whole isn’t very interesting to know in the first place. Journalistic free right to gather news, right? How can it be my problem that you make an agreement with your neighbour and are not informing me? Isn’t that how you are taking care of business?

It’s bizarre that you’ll penalize me for doing something that goes against said agreement. It’s become clear that in this industry that is a problem and instantly, we lost another few ads. Plus — and this was worse — we wouldn’t receive any materials to review for a while. You understand, that doesn’t make the production of the magazine easier.
The reader, who doesn’t know what’s happening behind closed doors, will soon draw the conclusion that this magazine isn’t doing their work well. And will judge the magazine for this.

For some reason everybody (and yes, that also counts for the average consumer) seems to be convinced that a game magazine is only good if it reviews games that aren’t for sale yet. The sooner the games are discussed, the better the magazine is looked upon.
This situation is in fact untenable. After all, the sooner you write about a title, the more unfinished the material you’re reviewing is. As a result, a decent review is impossible.
But that doesn’t seem necessary, there is ample example of magazines with reviews about games that didn’t have more available than a few screenshots, followed up by a phone conversation with the developers or a visit to Texas to see the latest developments. Score of 94% and obligatory purchase. Objective? Naah!

Anyways, both publishers/distributors and the average gamer seems to want things this way. We fought the good fight for the longest time and even reviewed games that had been for sale for a while.
And yes, we were honest in these. Eventually we had to change, not only because it was becoming clear that our readers wanted the information sooner, but also because our advertisers started to pull out because we only reviewed ‘old games’. To cite a Dutch distrubtor “I wouldn’t want to advertise in that cunt magazine of yours! You only review games that are already available for sale. Well, I’ve reduced prices of those already to minimize my loss. Why would it be interesting for me if you would review that junk? You can forget about any ads. I just want you to review my newest games.”

Well, we too have to eat, dear reader. We started to review beta’s, with all risks entailed. Because it is very well possible that the product we review will be different by the time it arrives in stores.

To be honest, that’s when the joy and passion started to go away. In particular the last year there were a couple of reasons why we had begun to ask ourselves if it was us who were crazy or this industry. Examples of this I’ve given you; and in HoogZit (a column) in Hoog Spel, I’ve frequently given you the opportunity to let you enjoy these kind of experiences.

The biggest example is the ad we took for a cd-burner. One of our competitors immediately started to call our entire industry, how could it be that a games magazine received an ad like this. “He” would never do this. At what point the fact that readers of his magazine received giant discounts on burners and empty cd’s. Isn’t that what you butter on the head? (dutch expression meaning: people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones). Anyways, the result was that everybody found this a problem. And people have forced us not to replace the ad.

This ad I’ve seen in a number of magazines afterward, and I still see it with regularity in other game magazines in the Netherlands. Strange.
Stranger still: recently I saw a dutch hardware magazine with a test of burners with the comment that Playstation cd’s are very easy to burn with brand X. Or this other magazine, that explains in detail how to put a DVD on a hard disk or tape. The examples are everywhere. I wonder how many complaints those magazines received, how many advertisers cancelled contracts.

No readers, having principles in an industry that makes a magazine is not something you can afford. We haven’t compromised on our principles and then there’s only one choice left. And that’s the one we made.

This doesn’t mean that we don’t look forward to a magazine about games that can make it exactly like they want it, without making any concessions!

Finally, we opened a couple of forums on our site, for you. Because we’d love to stay in touch. Who knows where that could lead. Even if you don’t see everybody from the Hoog Spel crew there, we will certainly be present. And we’ll look forward to reading your opinions.

Sincerely yours,

Harry d’Emme
Distributor Hoog Spel

Ps. One thing, do me a favor. No meaningless discussions about RULEZ or not (the usage of such terms is in my view only valuable to people with the mind of a child), no throwing of mud and fooling around. A discussion of what magazine is the best magazine at this point, should clearly be a wasted effort.

This is a translated article from a dutch website.