The Editor-In-Chief of CGW Clears Up A Few Questions
This week, following the announcement that the Ziff Davis property, Computer Gaming World, would be changing its title and direction, becoming Games for Windows Magazine, I had the pleasure to speak via IM with Jeff Green, Editor-in-Chief of CGW.
Mr. Green has had quite a week, speaking out on a number of websites and forums about the name change and, as he himself admits, his exchanges have not always been pleasant.
I asked him to join me in IM to make good on my promise to follow up with him regarding the interview with former CGW Executive Editor, Johnny Wilson, in The Escapist News Room, and also to clarify remarks he made on the CGW Radio podcast recently in regards to a website he refused to name, saying that he "can't stand them." He was gracious enough to take time out of a whirlwind schedule to answer all of my questions and share his insights on the recent announcements.
The Escapist: Sounds like it's been busy over there.
Jeff Green: That's what happens when you make a change like this after 20+ years to a magazine. I expected it.
TE: Sure. That's kind of what makes the whole thing such a big deal, I guess.
TE: Lot's of history.
JG: Lots of history, indeed. Which we knew going into it. It wasn't an easy decision at all. And it's not like I'm not still going back and forth in my mind. But ultimately I think it will be good for the long-term survival of the magazine-that-was-CGW
TE: Right. Let me actually back up a bit and apologize for not being able to follow up with you before now. With the weekend and our weekly publish deadline, things got a bit hectic.
JG: I understand, it's cool. It's not like I've had a lot of free time.
TE: Hah. Right.
JG: I've only had time to post aggro comments on other people's websites :-)
TE: So how long has this change been in the works? And was it inspired by flagging sales or more of a long-term thing?
JG: It's been in the works for coming up on one year now. I was approached by a couple guys above me on the editorial side at Ziff
TE: That was my next question: Was ZD approached by Microsoft or the other way around?
JG: ZD approached Microsoft. The thing was that over the years, Ziff Davis kept taking CGW's newsstand draw down favoring less copies on the newsstand but greater "sell through," less blanketing of issues everywhere = better profit. Not to get into an econ lesson but the editors were frustrated as hell, and I include myself there.
JG: Because half the mail I'd get would be "I can't find your magazine anywhere," and it got to the point where the senior edit guys here said, "We blew it. We lowered your draw too much. No one can find you. You're losing mindshare as well as market share because you're invisible." To which we replied: "Duh. Thank you for acknowledging what we've been saying for 5 years."
The senior editors tried to bump CGW's newsstand numbers back up after realizing their mistake, but the stores/retailers balked. They didn't want more copies. So we were stuck. And that is why they schemed up the "official mag" business. It was a way to "re-present" CGW in a way that would make it more appealing so it could be in more stores so more people could buy it and from THAT angle, I was for it. I want people to read the stuff we write. But being branded as "official" and NOT being "CGW" anymore was indeed a tough pill to swallow.
JG: Anyway ... we presented it to MS. They loved the idea. But then, as happens in situations like this, they took the idea and said, "Okay, we need to offer this around to other publishers, see if they want to bid on it. Thanks for thinking it up though."
TE: Haha. Of course.
JG: ... but in the end they came back to us. We spent a LONG time after that negotiating all the fine points. For example, I was pushing to keep the name Computer Gaming World but have it be subtitled "The Official Games for Windows mag." But MS wanted the branding. That's what they were in it for. Understandably for them.
JG: And while I was certainly in no personal position to accept/veto the ultimate decision, I did come to accept the deal simply because, for me, more exposure + more sales was BETTER than Ziff Davis letting CGW dwindle into further irrelevance. As brutal as that is to say. And maybe "irrelevant" is too brutal. I mean more like ... obscurity given its low profile on newsstands.
Meanwhile, I am doing my damn best to try to let longtime readers know that the staff is not changing at all, the articles are not changing at all, and that I have it in the written contract sitting in front of me that Microsoft is *legally* not allowed to interfere with us editorially.
TE: Right. After the earnings report announcement, with reference to seeking buyers for some of ZD's groups, how confident do you feel that Games For Windows will continue to be a "ZD" property? Are they just fattening the goose, you think?
JG: It could very well be a fattening the goose, for sure. I mean, we've known that ZD would eventually go up for sale for like 6 years now. We've been owned by an equity house. Their entire business is just buying companies that aren't doing so well, fattening them up, and then selling them again. So this was inevitable and no surprise. Hopefully, we'll get bought by someone actually interested in publishing.
TE: Which brings me to my next question: What's up with that podcast?
JG: haha :-)
TE: This was transcribed from the CGW Radio podcast:
" ... website who I don't wanna name by name cuz I can't stand them." I assume that's in reference to the Johnny Wilson piece our News Room ran last week.
JG: That was not you. I got into a flame war on another site. No, not your story; though your story did initially annoy me, but I acted like an idiot in one other place, too. It was stupid of me to react that way. It was just a week of being in "defensive" mode.
TE: So to clarify: The Escapist isn't the website to which you were referring when you mentioned a website that interviewed Johnny that you wouldn't name because you couldn't stand them?
JG: Okay, no, and [The Escapist] shouldn't be peeved in any case...it was [just] a podcast rant.
The website I couldn't stand was [another website]. I was completely angry ... and in my head at the moment, while talking live, I was conflating [both sites] But my phrasing was not correct really. Because my anger was directed at [them], not The Escapist. Not at the moment I said that. I *was* angry, for sure, that The Escapist didn't try to contact me last week when the Johnny interview first went up. I just felt like it would have been easy enough to get a comment from me. But I was over that by the time of the podcast
TE: Right. Thanks for clearing a lot of this up. So the only question I really have left is about the podcast. I'm wondering about what you said about it just being a "rant." Is that common practice over at ZD to have a sort of "edgier" or "looser" standard on a podcast recording than on what you would print in the magazine?
JG: Well I would say so yes. It's definitely more informal to I'm sure an inappropriate extent. It's not a policy, per se, it's just a function of getting five guys in a room and turning on a recorder. By nature, it's going to be more casual. And I'm sure every week we probably say things we shouldn't. But I sort of like it that way. I *do* regret if I say certain things that upset people, though.
TE: Right. Jeff, thanks for taking some time with us. I know you're swamped.
JG: I appreciate you taking the time, a lot.