Press Pass: An Interview With Nintendo Power's Chris Slate
Chris Slate, editor-in-chief, Nintendo Power
A little over 20 years ago, Nintendo sent a free, glossy, full-color, magazine-sized Nintendo advertisement to the 3.6 million members of its Nintendo Fun Club. In the years that followed, legions of Nintendo fans made Nintendo Power one of the most popular magazines in the United States, despite the fact that its content resembled propaganda more than journalism. The magazine's popularity has fallen off somewhat since those heady days, but the content has become much more respectable under the new management of Future Publishing and veteran game journalist Chris Slate. I talked with Slate about the magazine's history, its current challenges and its future.
Crispy Gamer: I know you've been a big Nintendo fan for a long time. Did you ever expect to be working at Nintendo Power? How does the reality compare to the expectation?
Chris Slate: Never in a million years would I have dreamed that I might get the chance to work on Nintendo Power. As you say, Nintendo games have always been my favorite, all the way back to the NES. I had nearly every issue of the old Nintendo Fun Club Newsletter and was a charter subscriber to Nintendo Power. I never imagined what it would be like to work at NP, but having done it now for nearly a year, I can tell you that it's been the most challenging and rewarding project that I've been a part of in my 19 years working on game magazines. It's a tough job because the bar is set so high; many of the sections are very demanding, and NP is the most proofread and fact-checked book I've ever been on. But the reward for all the extra work each month is holding the latest issue in my hands and knowing that it was the absolute best we could make it. I wrote for the old Game Players magazine from its second issue and launched PSM, so coming onto a magazine that already had nearly 20 years of history was very different for me. While I've been eager to bring new ideas to the magazine, it's been crucial that I respect and honor what people have loved about the book for decades.
CG: How closely do you work with Nintendo? Are you given total access, or are there things that are still off limits, even to you? Does Nintendo get any say in the editorial content?
Slate: Nintendo has always had a reputation for keeping its cards close and -springing its surprises on everyone when the time is right. So, while I -- along with every other Nintendo fan -- would love to know everything that Nintendo is working on for the next couple of years, we unfortunately can't just walk into Miyamoto's office and ask him what's up. We generally look at Nintendo's upcoming release schedule and plan our coverage around when we'll be able to give readers a really good story at a time when it will matter the most. The editorial team comes up with what we'd like to do on our own, and we're constantly working with the friendly folks at Nintendo who help us make it happen.
CG: Do you feel the newly redesigned and Future-led Nintendo Power has erased the magazine's historical image as a direct Nintendo advertorial? Or do you still struggle with people's conception of what Nintendo Power is?
Slate: Well, we haven't really redesigned the magazine since it came to Future, although we have tweaked some things here and there over the past year. I was lucky in that the previous NP editorial team (which included current staff superstars Steve Thomason and Chris Hoffman) had already worked very hard to give Nintendo Power a credible editorial voice, especially with regards to review scores. This is an official magazine with a closer relationship to the platform-holder than an unofficial one, so it's understandable that some people may never look to us first for the most critical, opinionated editorial. At the end of the day, though, the proof is in the pudding -- as long as we keep things honest, readers won't have any reason to be unhappy.
CG: I loved the Nester comic in the August issue. Any chance he could be coming back regularly? If not, is there any chance the game-specific comics from years past will make a return?
Slate: I'm glad that you enjoyed Nester's return! We had a tremendous response from our readers about the comic, so I feel kind of bad to tell everyone that it was a one-time event. As a Nintendo child of the '80s, bringing Nester back was my one big wish for the 20th Anniversary issue and the artist (Ryan Kinnaird), the NP staff, and Nintendo really pulled together to make it happen. We don't have plans to do any other comics either, but I suppose that I would never say never.
CG: Why hasn't there ever been a GameCube/Wii demo disc with the magazine? Are there any efforts to change this in the future? If so, what's the hold-up?
Slate: I can't speak for Nintendo when the magazine was published there, but here at Future we've simply been focused on getting up to speed with creating the magazine and making it as good as possible. That will continue to be our focus, but as to whether or not something like a disc would ever be a possibility, I honestly can't say.
CG: Your big reveal of Mega Man 9 was leaked onto the Web before it hit the newsstands. What can be done to stop these kinds of leaks?
Slate: Well, of course we love to be the ones to spring surprises on our readers -- and we certainly don't condone anyone scanning or reproducing the magazine without our say so -- but realistically, leaks like that are inevitable. It's a result of the times we live in; people communicate and share information in ways that we're still getting used to. I don't worry about it. As long as Nintendo Power is given credit for breaking a story -- and as long as we're writing compelling articles and putting together a good magazine -- I'm sure that we'll continue to keep readers happy and maintain a strong audience. If anything, the constant buzz that we've been able to generate online with our exclusives is great publicity for us.
CG: How do you feel about the decision to shut down the vibrant NSider forums? Are there any plans to revamp Nintendo Power's online presence?
Slate: I wasn't involved with that decision so I don't have much of an opinion on it. I know that Nintendo fans tend to be the most excited and involved people in gaming, which is one of the reasons that I'm such a big Nintendo fan myself. Our current Web site -- which at this moment is still just the old letter informing people of the magazine's switch from Nintendo to Future -- definitely needs to be replaced. I can't say by what just yet, or when a change might occur, but we've been tossing around ideas.
CG: I'm a big fan of the magazine's Community section, which highlights fan creations and events. Is there something unique about Nintendo fans that makes them more devoted to the magazine (and the company)?
Slate: I love rabid Nintendo fans because there's this purity to them. They aren't necessarily concerned with what everyone else thinks, or plays, or values in their games -- they simply want to have fun, and they're generally more open to new kinds of gaming experiences. The people who send in their fan-made creations to Community really exemplify that infectious enthusiasm. The fans that have played Nintendo games for years aren't as easily swayed by trends or what's supposed to be cool at the moment. That may sound strange at a time when Wii is the biggest pop trend there is, but the core gamers -- the ones who really care and have stuck with Nintendo for ages -- just want great, well-crafted experiences. I really respect that.
CG: With more and more people looking online for up-to-date gaming information, how can a print magazine, even one with access to "official" info like Nintendo Power, last for another 20 years?
Slate: The simple answer is that print is never going to go away; it's a different type of experience and has a unique relationship with the reader. I check several Web sites every day to keep up with the latest news, but when I sit down with a magazine it's different -- it isn't about actively searching for things, but passively relaxing and enjoying the experience. Magazines used to be the only way that game players could get information or feel like they were part of a larger gaming community, but now the Internet serves those needs better than we ever could. However, [print] can filter out the endless noise of thousands of online game previews and blog entries, zero in on what is most important to readers for that specific month, and give the biggest stories the extra space and unrestricted design options to present more satisfying articles. That's the goal, anyway, and we work our hardest to reach it each and every issue. And I still get a big kick when I open my mailbox to find my favorite magazine inside.