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Electronic Games: The Arnie Katz Interview


December 28, 2009 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 6 Next
 

Electronic Fun started not too long after EG started...

AK: It was an imitation published by Richard Ekstract, who was also imitating Video Magazine with Video Review. When Electronic Games became successful, he started Electronic Fun.

As a kid, I liked them both, but I always like Electronic Games a heck of a lot more. I liked that there were multiple magazines.

AK: Electronic Fun was not a very good magazine. The magazine that was pretty decent was named Video Games. Roger Sharp was the editor. We brought him in as a writer and then he got the opportunity to work for a competitor.

That magazine didn't last very long, did it?

AK: No, but while he did it, it was good!

So what you're saying is that Electronic Fun wasn't a competitor -- it was that it was crap.

AK: Electronic Fun was never really a competitor. I think any headway they made was a result of "name confusion".

I think you might be right about that.

AK: I'm not saying every writer was bad, but they had some writers reviewing games at times from photos of the screen shot. I remember a review (from one of their writers) about Kaboom! It was a review of Kaboom!, but he had never played it, apparently -- just seen a picture. He described it as "flaming bowling pins." I mean, there was some not very well done stuff in that magazine.

Tell me a bit about the rise of Electronic Games.

AK: Electronic Games was a tremendous success, really, from the beginning. Our biggest problem was that newsstands had no idea where to put our magazine since there was no other magazine like it.

It was next to Mad Magazine on our newsstand.

AK: Yeah. I remember when I lived in Brooklyn, going to the newsstand at the Hotel St. George, and rooting through the magazines and searching for Electronic Games to give it a better position in the rack.

The first issue was a one-shot. It was "let's do it and see what happens". Jay paid us and we did the issue on a freelance basis. The initial response encouraged him to say "Okay, we'll do it bi-monthly". The second issue was scheduled to be bi-monthly relative to the first. However, by the time we did that one he had increased it to monthly. After that we did it monthly until the big video game crash of 1984.

From your perspective, when did the crash happen?

AK: It's hard to say. I saw bad signs, certainly, by mid-1984. The mass dumping of cartridges, selling them for $3 or $4, alarmed me. I saw some very bad product. That was kind of distressing, because for the first couple years, while I did not like every game, you could tell work had been put in.

When the Activisions and Imagics of the world were making good stuff...

AK: Let's be fair, there was also Games By Apollo.

Yes. I remember Lost Luggage.

AK: Lost Luggage and Wall Ball, a game NO ONE could play. The guys at Games by Apollo could not play it either, as far as I could tell. We brought in the best player we knew, Frank Tetro, who had been a finalist in a Space Invaders tournament -- a terrific player. He could somewhat play Wall Ball. Somewhat. Not really. He could, in fact, return the serve. He was a God in our eyes.

Games By Apollo made the ones that I usually skipped. It was the pages of Electronic Games that informed us to skip them.

AK: We tried to be positive.

How did the original Electronic Games end?

AK: It folded because Jay fired all of us and brought in another crew that were unable to do it. What was kind of sad about it was that I had told Jay, as far back as mid-1984, that with our name Electronic Games, we should be shifting our focus to computer games because of the problems in the industry. However, Jay was much less comfortable with computers than video games.

It was something about computers. He did not like computers. Maybe they seemed more threatening? I honestly don't know. Whatever it was, we kept our format. I even suggested changing the name to Computers and Video Games. We kept doing it. The circulation went down, but not by much. I think 180,000 was the bottom.

Was the advertising down?

AK: Yeah, the advertising was down, but our main problem was that we did not re-target. When he finally decided to re-target, he for some reason decided to do it with people other than Bill, Joyce, or I.

An obvious mistake, seeing as it only lasted a couple issues, and you guys were the obvious experts at the time.

AK: I know I believe he believes it was a mistake. Hey, it was his property and his right to do it.

Yeah, but the names Katz, Kunkel, and Worley were it at the time. For kids like my brother and I, seeing your names in a magazine or on an article meant it was legitimate. If your names were not on it, it was not genuine. Did they know this?

AK: They did! When they ran out of articles with our bylines on them, our stuff in inventory, the magazine folded.

When you guys revisited Electronic Games in the '90s, what did it feel like? Did it fee like the days of old?

AK: I have to give Bill all the credit for that. Bill pursued it with Steve Harris. Steve Harris and I talked about it, and we agreed to revive Electronic Games. It was never our thought. We thought we could do something with Steve Harris. It was his idea to call it Electronic Games. We had not intended to go back that way.

I thought it was a good magazine. Jay Rosenfeld and Steve Harris were very different. Steve was much more knowledgeable about video and computer games than Jay. Jay did not really like that stuff. Jay was sincere, though. He wanted the original to be a good magazine, but he was not himself a computer guy at that time.

Steve liked the technology. The downside was that Steve had very definite ideas, and he was used to getting his way. Sometimes we did things that we might not have done had he not insisted. The whole change to Fusion was endemic.

Fusion?

AK: Steve wanted us to change the magazine to make it more, I guess you'd say, "pop cultural". Since that was something I was very interested in, I had no problem with it. In the years since then, most of my writing has been about things like wrestling or comic books, old time radio, or whatever, so I'm very at home with pop culture -- maybe more than his so-called pop culture writers -- and I thought it was a good idea.

I went out to visit Steve and we designed a magazine. We were both reasonably happy with it. However, when the issue came out it had changed completely. Steve then hired Jer Horwitz at his site and installed him as editor of the magazine. It wasn't very satisfactory, and Steve sold the publications pretty much after that. I was glad to stop working with Jer Horwitz. It was Steve Harris' magazine. He wanted to do it his way, and the end might not have had anything to do with the popularity of the publication.


Article Start Previous Page 3 of 6 Next

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