Richie Shoemaker flips through the debut issue of Debug. The magazine is edited by seasoned mag-ician Dean Mortlock and aims to champion indie titles, studios, and publishers.
Gaming magazines have entered a strange and unknown territory. Despite established titles continuing to post copy sales that 15 years ago would have seen them closed in the turn of a page, there’s been a steady increase in the number of boutique titles filling the shelves. There are now in the UK, for example, just as many magazines for the Commodore Amiga – a machine that stopped being produced 30 years ago – as there are for PC gamers.
On the console front, there are more titles that support Sega hardware (the last of which rolled off the production lines more than 20 years ago) than for the still-very-much-in-the-game Xbox. The resurrected Crash Magazine, along with Zzap! Amtix and Crash magazines can now be found at select WH Smith branches, almost 40 years after the magazine was launched. To borrow a phrase from the era, it was quite remarkable.
Bring back PC Zone
Debug is the latest games magazine to have offered a satisfying thud as it hit the MCV doormat this month and what’s interesting about it compared to the other newcomers and returners to the newsstand is that there is no obvious reverence for the games or technology of old. The focus of the magazine is not retro but rather on the latest, greatest games.
“There are so many indie games now,” says Dean Mortlock, Debug’s editor (and that of the aforementioned Sega magazine), admitting that while there may be too many titles for one magazine to reliably cover, an attempt to offer a flavour of the most enduring, interesting and current indie titles was something that he and his fellow co-conspirator (Wave Game Studios’ founder Daniel Crocker) were keen to deliver, not just for indie fans, but for the indie-curious.
“There are the indie people that will know the genre well and regularly buy the games, but equally we want to try and appeal to the people that are a bit more casual or that don’t buy more because they’re not quite sure which are the best games.”
Bring Back PC Zone
Debug isn’t the first games mag to devote itself to indie gaming (that accolade likely belongs to the defunct Indie Game Magazine), nor is it the only one around at the moment (Patch Magazine – also UK-based – is nearing its 20th issue), but Debug is perhaps the most substantial, coming in at 80 pages; the vast majority of which are devoted to previews and reviews. Debug has scores as well, with an average of 7/10 in the first issue.
While Mortlock admits that previews and reviews have been “done to death” in terms of being the stock-in-trade of traditional games mags, it’s the format that best serves what Debug is trying to achieve, which is to help gamers find titles they might enjoy rather that going into the making of a game that they’re already familiar with.
Debug could also become a beacon for developers and gamers alike in their quest to discover new games. By way of example Mortlock mentions Idu, a “strategic plant-growing sim”, which might have remained in glorious obscurity had its creator not made themselves known to Mortlock on the mag’s Discord. That’s not to suggest appearing in Debug is a surefire route to success and riches, but that the printed page offers a distinct avenue for exposure that’s traditionally been denied gaming’s more esoteric projects.
Bring back PC Zone
Debug’s team also aims to promote independent games via events. This is why they launched the magazine at the Norfolk videogame conference OLL where Debug sponsored a stand that showcased over 40 games. “The idea primarily being to support indie titles that ordinarily wouldn’t necessarily have an outlet,” says Mortlock. Debug is also set to headline other events in 2014, and there are plans to take the event to the next stage, or to new directions. Mortlock isn’t prepared to say what, where or how, only that raising the profile of indie gaming and getting more people invested in them is the ultimate aim.
Debug, as the sole breadwinner of the family, has to aim at making a profit. In today’s world, sales targets must be modest. “Whereas Future [Publishing] would close a magazine that was selling five to ten thousand copies because it wasn’t making a profit, if we produced a magazine that sold that amount – we’d literally be rolling in it.”
According to Mortlock, Sega Powered magazine, which he launched in 2021, sells between 500-800 copies a month, which is “enough to justify doing it.” With Debug the aim is to go above and beyond that. “Obviously, the days when we were selling large numbers of magazines are long gone, but I think if you’re a small company, independent, have reasonable expectations, and sensible budgets, there’s no reason why you cannot have something that can cover its costs and make a small profit.”