In 1993, staffers at Twin Cities video-game magazine Game Informer entered an arcade after hours. There, they hammered on the joysticks and oversized buttons of Mortal Kombat 2 before its release.
“It was like an illegal gambling vibe,” says Andrew Reiner, Game Informer’s executive editor, who was a writer for the magazine at the time. “We knew someone who knew someone who had Mortal Kombat 2 early, and they were going to turn it on for free play. There was a bouncer at the door. We played all night long and put fighting strategies in the next issue.”
Netting exclusives became an important part of Game Informer’s strategy, and still is. For issue 299, the magazine broke the news on the next game in the Metro series, flying some staff to Malta. For issue 300, which comes out this Saturday, they’ll be doing something they’ve never done before: teaming up with Fulton Brewing to throw a party at the North Loop taproom. The brewery will also release its 300 IPA dolled up with a celebratory Game Informer design.
“We’ll discuss the collaboration, reveal all the special edition 300th issue covers, and reveal the top 300 games of all time list,” says Game Informer managing editor Matt Bertz of what to expect at the party.
Editor-in-chief Andy McNamara began writing for Game Informer in 1991 when it was a sporadically published newsletter owned by Funcoland (the magazine is now owned by GameStop). Three years later, he was in charge. Reiner joined a year later.
These kind of unorthodox outings happened often in the ’90s. Back then, they essentially worked in a closet, often in crunch mode like game programmers.
The crew also wasn't afraid to try new things or go the unconventional route. For example, Reiner made the decision to put Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater on the cover of the November 1999 issue instead of Pokémon Yellow from the already hugely popular series. Playing Tony Hawk, the office couldn’t stop performing outlandish back flips and grinding everything in sight. To them, Yellow was boring by comparison. Unable to reach McNamara in Japan where he was covering the unveiling of the PlayStation 2, Reiner made the switch.
“I was like, ‘I’m probably going to get fired for this, but I’m changing the cover from Pokémon Yellow to Pro Skater.' I didn’t sleep after that. I was so nervous that I was going to lose my job, what I should put on my resume,” Reiner recalls. But the game blew up and it was the right call.
Today, Game Informer no longer has to attend shady events to get video-game exclusives. Their readership hovers around 7.6 million subscribers, and the Minneapolis-based magazine is a worldwide brand, including a branch in Australia.
Although Minneapolis has never grown into much of a video-game hotbed -- Activision holds an office here for sales and quality assurance testing; indie developer Big John Games has made a name for itself on the Nintendo 3DS -- Reiner believes that isolation has helped.
“Going way back, [the industry] was really based in Japan and L.A.,” Reiner says. “We really felt like we were on an island. We were Iceland. We were so far removed from the industry that it allowed us to do our own thing.”
Three hundred issues is nothing to scoff at, and Game Informer doesn’t see its print magazine disappearing anytime soon.
“A lot of people say magazines have been beat up over the years, but there’s something to be said about a magazine,” says McNamara. “All the work, it’s not rushed. We try to think about what we’re doing, plan everything out. There’s something special about that.”
IF YOU GO:
Game Informer’s 300th Issue Release Party
Noon to 11 p.m. Saturday, March 3
Fulton Brewery Taproom
414 Sixth Ave. N., Minneapolis
Free; find tickets at Eventbrite.
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