What Happened to Hyper Magazine?
After 25 years of publishing, the magazine disappeared without a trace
Mikolai Napieralski spent ten years freelancing for Australia’s iconic Hyper Magazine. He is currently working on a project about video game magazines from the late ’80s and early ’90s. Mikolai’s investigation of Hyper’s final days is presented in two parts containing detailed interviews with the magazine’s last two editors, Daniel Wilks and David Hollingworth. Both parts have been edited and re-published at SUPERJUMP with permission.
My history with Hyper Magazine dates back to December 1993, when the debut issue appeared on newsstands. Billed as Australia’s first multi-format video game magazine, it featured Chun-Li on the cover, and contained pieces on “virtual sex” and the upcoming 3DO system from Panasonic — “The future of video games?”
I was producing a video game fanzine at the time, Neo Tech, and sent a copy to Hyper asking them to mention it. I’m not sure what I wrote in the accompanying letter, but they featured my photocopied effort in Issue #5, referring to me as a sociopath in the accompanying write up. So, obviously, it was a good letter.
I would eventually go on to become a freelance contributor, and spent 10 years writing for the magazine. Former editor Cam Shea gave me a start when he commissioned my retrospective on Mega Drive shoot ’em ups back in 2008.
But as the decade rolled over, and print media was sidelined by social media and a new generation of websites, it became clear that Hyper was not long for this world. While it put up a good fight, the magazine succumbed to death from a thousand budget cuts. Its final issue in 2018 was barely noticed by an unkind and uncaring world.
So, what actually happened? And how did one of the world’s longest-running video game magazines disappear without so much as a press release? I wanted answers. So I went to the source, Daniel Wilks, the former editor.
The Internet? It’s a passing fad.
Daniel Wilks served two terms as the editor of Hyper Magazine. He was in charge from 2007–2010 and then again from 2013 to 2018. This means he had front row seats to the rise of digital media, and the profound impact it had on traditional publishing models.
As he explains, “When I first started in games magazines, the Internet was a kind of goofy thing and advertisers were reluctant to pump dollars into it. Each issue was raking in $50,000 or $60,000 in advertising and selling tens of thousands of copies. As soon as the Internet gained any momentum in gaming circles, you could watch circulation and advertising revenue falling in real-time. By the time I resigned (the first time), the magazine industry was already suffering.”
Part of that decline can be attributed to the arrival of broadband Internet and a new generation of digital media. You had start-up sites like Eurogamer and Kotaku coming into their own, heavyweight US publishers like IGN pumping serious cash into their online efforts, gaming forums like NeoGaF, and social media available in everyone’s pocket.
Despite a widespread shift towards online audiences, Hyper’s business model remained stubbornly old school and print-based. Which is what happens when your publisher makes all its money selling magazines like Golf Australia and Organic Gardening via newsagents.
If Daniel had concerns about the magazine’s future during his first tenure, returning to the magazine in 2013 showed how much the business landscape had changed.
“First time around I had a deputy editor, a sizeable freelance budget, and autonomy. The second time around, I had a tiny budget, no deputy, and another magazine to do at the same time. I also either had managers or publishers ‘overseeing’ everything I did, like I was some greenhorn. At one stage I was even given KPIs — I had to go to more off-site meetings because apparently, I spent too much time not being social with publishers. Who would have thought doing 19 or 20 magazines a year would keep you desk-bound.”
Art and commerce
Speaking of commercial pressures, ad revenue and independence are a hard line to walk for any magazine in a shrinking market. “Advertising dollars matter. It’s as simple as that,” says Daniel. “There have been a few times in my career when public relations and advertisers have tried to put pressure on me to change something or they would withdraw money or support. I don’t take well to that shit, hence being blacklisted by Activision for a year or more after I said some negative things about Guitar Hero: On Tour.”
“Staying true to readers will ultimately serve a title better than trying to cater to PR and marketing… If the readers give up on you, then all the access in the world doesn’t make a difference and no advertiser will spend on something that lacks readership.”
Things fall apart
Daniel was made redundant in January 2018. “I stayed working on the magazine for a couple of issues after that. I had no idea what was going to happen, but I figured that things would be wound down after I was gone. I’d fought tooth and nail to keep both Hyper and PC PowerPlay alive for years, so I figured that getting rid of me was the first step to wrapping them up.”
In the end, things played out much like Daniel predicted. In late 2018 Future publishing acquired Hyper Magazine from Next Media (alongside PC & Tech Authority and PC Powerplay).
Whatever the official line, the sale effectively killed off Hyper Magazine. A Nintendo-themed special was released under the Hyper banner at some point after the acquisition, but nothing has been heard from the magazine in the two years since.
The last post on Hyper’s Facebook page is dated August 2018, the Twitter account hasn’t been updated since September 2018, and the website URL redirects to a generic Gamesradar page with no reference to Hyper.
“Nobody fought as hard as me to keep the Next Media games magazines alive,” says Daniel. “I had bugger all budget so was writing [up to] two-thirds of each magazine in amongst all the administration that comes with being the editor…”
“Pretty much every nom de plume in the magazine was me. I wanted it to look like the work of a big crew, rather than one guy and a few freelancers, so I wrote under a bunch of assumed names. At times the approach worked a little too well, as I got some pretty pointed hate mail that I was lazy and didn’t do anything on the magazine.”
But as Daniel concedes, he was fighting a losing battle. A war of attrition that he was always set-up to lose. “No publishing company appears to be willing to spend money to make money, so marketing, or infrastructure investment, was not something that ever passed muster when it was brought up [at Next Media].”
Ultimately, the lack of a dedicated website spoke volumes about Hyper’s relevance in the boardroom. As he concedes, “It appears that there was no faith in the magazine.”
Which is depressing, but not surprising. When Hyper launched in 1993 there were dozens of video game magazines on the market. By 2018 that had been whittled down to Edge, Wireframe, Retro Gamer, and a couple of officially licensed PlayStation and Xbox magazines.
“I love magazines. I always will. I loved making magazines — there’s nothing quite like cracking open that first box of proofs to see the magazine you put together in the previous month. I think magazines still have a place, but in a very different form than previously. Small, niche magazines catering to markets that don’t get too much love elsewhere or have an active community can work, but something like a multi-format games review and preview magazine like Hyper can’t compete with the immediacy of the Internet.”
Stay tuned for Part 2, which explores the final, grisly details of Hyper’s last days. Follow Mikolai Napieralski on Twitter via @American80s.