Hyper (www.hyper.com.au; more information can be found here) is an Australian gaming magazine. Not just a cornerstone – a foundation for some – of the Australian gaming scene. Hyper began its life in October of 1993
AARON DENNIS-JACKSON: Could you tell as us who you are and your relationship to Australia’s most august gaming institution?
WILKS: I’m Daniel Wilks, currently the editor of Hyper. This is my second tenure as editor. I started on the magazine around mid-2004 as deputy under the previous editor, Cam Shea and stepped up to the big chair when he left to work on IGN. Previous to this current tenure as editor I was at the helm of Hyper for just over three years. I’ve been back since last November, so all up I’ve worked on Hyper as deputy or editor for about 7 years and I’ve freelanced for them for about 10.
AD-J: Were you familiar with Hyper before you worked there? If so, what impact, if any, did the magazine have on you?
WILKS: Not really, to be honest. Before I started working at Next Media I wasn’t all that familiar with any of their magazines. I was pretty much strictly a PC gamer to that point and had freelanced for a number of PC titles but before I got my first full time journo gig working on PC PowerPlay I had little to no knowledge of Hyper even being a thing.
AD-J: It’s amazing that a print magazine for a topic that’s so connected to technology and appealing to an audience in love with newer, better things is able to stay in business. What aspects of the magazine do you think keep it in business?
WILKS: There are a couple of things I think that have led to the longevity of Hyper, one of the primary ones being that we have never really tried to compete with the Internet. In the beginning, Hyper filled all niches for the multiformat gamer, covering news, previews, cheats, reviews, features and opinion. With the rise of the Internet, the type of immediate content that websites are so perfect for, such a news and cheats, were made less of a focus in the magazine and were eventually omitted. Thanks to the long lead time of magazines we can focus on some of the things that don’t necessarily work as well online, such as exhaustively researched features – the types of things that won’t necessarily entice people to click a link but will entice them to buy a physical product. The fact that the magazine is entirely independent, beholden to nobody and is platform agnostic is also a major selling point.
AD-J: I have noticed the trend toward think-pieces in the mag. As you say, it’s an adaption to cover for being unable to fill the magazine with a month’s worth of news that will still be new to people when it hits newsstands. What about the game reviews themselves, though? Do you purposely spend more time with a title before reviewing it, so you can give a much more in-depth assessment?
WILKS: We try. It’s not always possible but the goal with every review is to finish the game before writing (if the game has a finish, of course). I also try to assign reviews to the freelancers with the soundest knowledge of that genre or franchise so that they are more quickly able to both understand and analyse the game.
AD-J: I also think it’s admirable that Hyper hasn’t embraced the ‘paid content’ thing, where an advertiser will pay to have an article-length ad done in a magazine; an easy out, it appears, for a publication to both add content and make money. Are you guys approached to do those sorts of things, and is quantity important to a print publication? I mean, I know quality trumps all, but is there pressure from advertisers and corporate bosses to pad out a page count?
WILKS: We never pad page count with advertorial. If an advertiser wants to do something like that then they have to pay for another section in the magazine so that their content doesn’t eat into the regular magazine content. We recently had a 20 page Monster hunter 3 Ultimate brochure/guide in the magazine, but those pages were in addition to our regular content rather than eating into it. Quality always trumps all, but quantity is sometimes a factor. In the slow release periods there can be some problems finding content, but that’s where the real strength of think pieces and non-timely features come in. An interesting story is always interesting and doesn’t have to be about the latest and greatest thing.
AD-J: Continuing on in that theme, as gaming has grown, so has the amount of news and review outlets, so the competition for advertising dollars is high. Have there been any contortions you’ve had to make to appeal to those who want ad space? Have any big companies that offer to buy a lot of space in your magazine made demands that made your job more difficult; someone in marketing saying you must do such-and-such so we can get the money to keep the magazine afloat?
WILKS: Over the years there have been a few instances of companies trying to pressure the magazine in a certain direction for advertising dollars but we’ve never folded. Of course we try to court advertisers with interesting advertising bundles, but those bundles never include guarantees of scores, opinion and the like.
AD-J: What’s your view of the gaming industry as it stands, and what’s it been like watching grow into what it is? And as someone who’s witnessed the exponential growth as part of his profession, are there any common misconceptions about it that you’d like to correct or illusions about it you’d like to shatter?
WILKS: Last year I was lamenting the fact that everything seems to be a franchise or a sequel these days, but some of the most impressive and fun things I saw at E3 were either new IPs or indie games. To my eyes the gaming industry is still going through growing pains and a feeling out period. The big distros have essentially reached the blockbuster period (as ushered in by Jaws in Hollywood) so everyone seems keen on making the next huge thing, but I think after a while things will settle out and smaller productions will be seen as having just as much value as larger ones. The success of some recent Kickstarter campaigns demonstrates this. As far as misconceptions go, they seem to be tumbling at an exponential rate. If American media would give up on the whole murder simulator argument that would be grand. One thing that I see as having to change, however, is the role of gender in gaming. There is still way too much over sexualisation of characters (both male and female) to leave an impression that is much more than juvenile. There are almost as many women playing games as there are men, so it’s time the industry grew p and embraced that. It’s also high time that the gaming community, or at least a subsector thereof grew up as well.
AD-J: And finally, these two questions were submitted to me by American readers:
1) What do you see as the biggest difference in Australian gaming culture vs. American gaming culture?
2) What’s it like dealing with the cultural differences between games? As an American, I say “What the fuck?” when I play Japanese games, but are there moments in American games that make you say that?
WILKS: As to your first question, I really don’t see that much difference between the Australian and American gaming cultures aside the obvious scale. There is still the same sense of brand loyalty in some gamers and the same evangelism of favourite franchises or genres. I guess one of the real cultural differences is one that has to do with retail rather than the gaming community as a whole. There is a real sense of resentment in some of the Australian gaming community over the fact that we usually have to pay twice as much or more for a game than our American compatriots, even when our dollar was worth more than theirs.
For your second question, there aren’t too many cultural Americanisms that have me scratching my head – within games at least. I’m always amazed by America’s adherence to identifying a tool intended to remove another being’s freedom as the symbol of freedom, but that’s a political debate, not a gaming one. I do shake my head sadly every time I see a new hero announced and he is either a tired looking bearded man or a muclebound neckless freak. I guess the last time I really had a cultural WTF moment was playing the original Army of Two. I know it was developer at EA Montreal but it’s a very “American” game. When I first encountered the whole, “dude, we just murdered the hell out of a whole bunch of Arabs, BROFIST!” I could barely believe it.