A year or so into its life, Digi became embroiled in a bitter feud with the best-selling Sega magazine of the day, Mean Machines Sega. The rivalry continued for well over a year, and would become one of the factors that cemented Digi's fervently passionate fanbase. In this special feature, we dredge the stinking pond of history, and examine this notorious period of Digi's early life - with help from some of the key people involved at the time.
When Digitiser first graced our screens with its blocky visage in January 1993, it did so as the world's first daily video games magazine. This was at a time when the internet was still a good year or two away from reaching its dirty fingers into the public's homes in any great number, and was still being referred to as the 'information superhighway' by idiots, Clive James, and that bloke who hides in your mum's wardrobe when you go in her bedroom.
So Digi's debut was seen as pretty significant even then, although it wouldn't grow into the grand, weird beast of many teats that we would come to love for a little while yet. Even so, as if sensing that it was some omen of the papery mag-free future to come, the established videogame magazines of the era took note, and many heralded Digi's arrival. Sega Pro, the title that boasted Dave 'The Games Animal' Perry of the bandana parish on staff, was one of the mags of the time to report on Digi's arrival among the constellation of early '90s games 'organs' (see right). Another to cover Digi's launch - much more portentously, as it would later transpire - was the EMAP-published Mean Machines Sega.
The UK's top-selling Sega magazine and a behemoth of the era, MMS had come into being when the multi-format Mean Machines split into Sega-only (MMS) and Nintendo-only (the officially-licensed Nintendo Magazine System) camps. It was anarchic, unapologetically outspoken, and boasted the legendary Julian 'Jaz' Rignall as its managing editor - along with a clutch of staffers with plenty of exposure thanks to regular appearances on Channel 4's GamesMaster. As far as these things went in the early '90s, MMS and its writers were the rock stars of the scene, and were revered by the teenage boys that made up the magazine's readership.
So, to purposely pick a fight with the lauded cool kids of Farringdon would probably be a bad idea, wouldn't it? Probably. But for Digi, the fight would come to them - and, like the mischievous scamps they were, they wouldn't be dissuaded from full-on kissing it with tongues.
As Paul Rose (Mr Biffo) told the Maximum PowerUp podcast:
All the EMAP journalists seemed to hate Digitiser. I've never really worked out why that was!
"When we were doing Digi, that was the rule, really – Future – loved Digitiser; everyone else – well, certainly EMAP – hated us.
"They had some letters about Digi, kind of moaning about us, and I think they sort of just played along with that, and we played along with it in the sense of taking the piss out of them in return."
Mean Machines Sega number 5 - January 1993 (published December 1992)
Like Sega Pro, when word reached MMS in late 1992 of the imminent launch of a brand new, daily games magazine, this seemed to be more evidence of momentum building around console gaming. In the days following the release of Sonic 2 that November, there was a newfound confidence and swagger to the scene, making this a development that was worth reporting on:
DO IT WITH DIGITISER!!
Console mania hits teletext this year when Teletext Ltd take over from Oracle on ITV and Channel 4 and launch their daily games programme – Digitiser.
January 1 is D-Day for Digitiser and will include review [sic], news/previews and Q & A pages and a heap of compos and tips. At weekends they're even piling readers' letters and a Console Game of the Week Review. What is the world coming to eh?
All we can say is they must get their dictation sorted out because we're sure their press release headline should read “JAN 1 IS D-DAY!!” rather than “JAN 1 IS D-DAY DOUBLE EXCLAMATION MARK” – whoops-a-daisy!
Steve Merrett, MMS editor during the majority of the handbags with Digi, doesn't recall any real animosity towards them on his part, and felt that their arrival on the scene was only a good thing:
I certainly knew of Digitiser, but thought that any kind of gaming content was welcome. Things were actually starting to peak in terms of the buzz around gaming, with GamesMaster still going great guns, and Sky getting involved with their Hewland show – Games World – so a teletext page covering games was just another good string to its bow."
Whatever the case, it didn't take long for Digi's contrary, outré nature, to ruffle the feathers of the MMS readership, thanks to the heinous crime of not agreeing with absolutely everything MMS said.
What began with a few readers mentioning in passing something they'd read on Digi, soon became entire letters dedicated to how offended the pubescent boys had been by Jurassic Park for the Mega Drive getting a lower graphics score from Digi than in MMS (not an exaggeration).
For their part, Digi were more than happy to get stuck into the verbal fisticuffs. It's unclear who started the feud exactly; everyone involved seems to remember it slightly differently. Biffo and Steve Merrett had appeared as reviewers on the same edition of GamesMaster before hostilities really kicked off, and there's some debate around how standoffish Steve was towards the young Biffo during that meeting.
It's entirely likely, though, that Digi's confrontational attitude towards the games mag establishment, and refusal to give glowing reviews to mediocre but heavily-promoted games, was the spark that set it off.
Paul Rose (Mr Biffo) remembers Digi's side of the rivalry as being a way to emphasise their anti-establishment, independent nature:
It was entirely trolling. I'd read CVG and Mean Machines for years, so had absolutely nothing against those mags really. A lot of it was posturing – and slightly borne out of EMAP publishing official mags for Sega and Nintendo. Slagging them off made us appear cooler and more independent! We were pretty rude to other publishers too, apart from Maverick and Future, who went out of their way to be nice to us. Future we had a tie-in with to give away subscriptions in return for star Hot Topic letters, so we weren’t going to bite that hand."
Mean Machines Sega number 15 - January 1994
The MMS letters page was where much of the EMAP side of the feud played out. It was hosted by their cartoon mascot, the bilious mohicaned firebrand with 'attitude', Mean Yob, in the same way that many of the mags of the time had their figureheads (Biffo has even stated that The Man answering Digi letters in the early days was an attempt to emulate the way things were done in the world of games journalism). 'Yob' was an agitator and insulter of all who wrote to him; indeed this became the point of many letters, with readers goading him with their childishly-composed mudslinging, just to see how creative the caustic insults that would be spluttered back at them would be. It became a sense of pride to either be insulted by Yob in the most extreme way, or to say something that he would agree with. As a result, the MMS letters page became a curious mix of poking at Yob with epithets straight out of a Newman & Baddiel 'History Today' sketch, and the fawning over him and MMS with the minimum of critical thinking.
Yob's tenure of the letters page was longstanding, and he would outlast numerous MMS editors, but as Steve Merrett tells us, the approach to the page changed from editor to editor:
Mean Yob used to be the work of Jaz when Mean Machines started, but by the time I had the mag it was done by whichever staff writer was free. On any monthly mag, it makes sense to bank a load of easy design pages in order to stop the deadline being quite so bad. As such, all the regulars such as tips and letters would be the first thing we did each month. Mean Yob pages were just something that had to be done and I had little involvement.
"Nothing we did was taken entirely seriously. A lot of work goes into a 'fun' mag and you take your laughs where you can find them! Letters pages were just staple fodder. Most of our ire and frustrations manifested in giving kickings to poor games in the reviews section. Most of our office talk was of our low pay, the publishers putting continuous pressure on us, and the hours we worked."
It's important to note at this point, that the only MMS writers to have been on staff for its entire lifespan were Radion Automatic (real name Edward Laurence) and Gus Swan, who as Steve says, would sometimes take on the mantle of Mean Yob. More about Gus later...
Mean Yob - first reference to Digitiser on the letters page
After reading the review of Street Fighter II SCE in the last issue, I couldn't wait to buy it. A few days later on Digitiser I read that the release date was to be put back again. The excuse was that the release of the Turbo Edition for the SNES would detract from its publicity. That's b*ll*cks.
Street Fighter II has such a massive reputation that it would sell by the bucketful without a single penny being spent on publicity, this is another example of Sega p*ss*ng around with the release dates at the expense of us gamers. Another example if the Mega-CD, the release of which was delayed many times and when it was finally released the only game worth buying was Jaguar XJ220. Six months later and little has been done to improve the situation, with only Final Fight worth having. This just isn't good enough by Sega, and I hope that the release of Amiga's CD32 and the 3DO might give Sega a well needed kick up the backside, because I'm sure that with more choice for games players they won't find it easy to continue their present success with their current attitude.
Chris Hanson, Cheadle, Cheshire
YOB: So you're not a happy bunny, then. Lepus miserablus would be the correct phrase to sum up your current disposition. Why not strip naked, cover your rude bits with a variety of different cheeses and walk up and down outside the Sega offices with a placard saying 'I'm a bit cheesed with Sega's release policy'. It might not do any good, but at least when you get released from your public indecency charge, there might be a great range of new Mega-CD games.
Mean Machines Sega number 16 - February 1994
Ostensibly still boasting Jaz Rignall and Richard Leadbetter at the MMS helm - though possibly in name only, with the official Sega Magazine launching at this time - early '94 seemed to be when the phoney war ended, and things started to heat up. It wasn't anything that either Digi or MMS printed about the other that seemed to do it; instead, it was down to the fanboy element.
Gaming was a highly tribal affair in the '90s, enjoyed as it was largely by teenage boys who were fervent defenders of their system of choice. The zealotry that would raise its head on Digi's letters page was not unusual - Sega and Nintendo owners hated each other, and the console owners hated the Amiga owners, while the Amiga owners hated everyone (but especially Digi). In hindsight this was most likely down to not only the immaturity of the young owners of each system, but the fact that gaming of any stripe was an expensive hobby for this group, and by and large you had to pick one system and stick with it. Owning multiple formats was rare for many, so there was a sense of pride at stake - as well as financial investment, in a classic display of sunk cost fallacy - in standing up for your system. Nobody wanted to believe they bought the wrong format. Everyone else must have done, and they would repeatedly explain why - at length.
This mindset extended to the choice of reading material. Younger readers were limited to following one magazine only - they would get multiple titles only if they were unusually flush with cash. Again, this lead to a rabid defensiveness about choosing the 'right' one, and, when combined with MMS' cool-kids image, when Digi dared to diverge from received wisdom, the ire of the fanboys was raised. Digi being free and accessible via a TV, there was a not insignificant crossover between readerships, so it wasn't long before MMS loyalists took umbrage at what they saw, and the letters to Mean Yob began to flow:
Mean Yob - letters page
I'm writing about something which has annoyed me quite a bit, the Channel 4 Teletext programme Digitiser. I buy Mean Machines every month, and trust the reviews inside. Because of this, I never buy a game that gets a low rating in Mean Machines. But then, along comes Digitiser, disagreeing with every review I have seen this year in MMS. I mean, it's as if they read a Mean Machines review, then when they get round to reviewing it (years later) they say the opposite to every point in the review. Graphics, Sound, Gameplay – everything unfairly under-rated, at least half the percentage it got in Mean Machines. Take Jurassic Park for the Mega Drive as an example. Now, I haven't played it, but the marks it got in that brilliant review book seemed just about right. The graphics looked bleedin' great from the screenshots I saw, easily deserving the 88% they got. But on Digitiser they said the graphics were crap, the sound absolutely terrible with a mark in the 40s as opposes [sic] to the 90s in Mean Machines, and that the whole game was rushed and not worth buying. What's wrong with these people? Who us going to believe a crap teletext thing with no screenshots and pitifully short reviews. Also annoying is Digitiser's snide comments about Mean Yob, when it comes to their very own 'Man with a long chin' they say there's no competition and that Yob is no match for 'The Man'. Sorry about the excessive length of this letter, but as long as you get to read it, that's what it is meant for.
YOB: I must say, I occasionally tune into Digitiser to laugh at what I reckon is sub-standard tripe that the finite amount of monkeys bash out each week. I've seen better quality stuff swimming about in the sewers underneath the Clinic For People With Exceptionally Smelly Bottom Disorders. As for the man with the long chin, well, it's a well-knock fact that a large facial protuberance usually means a small-sized lunchbox.
Sega Magazine number 2 - February 1994
Meanwhile, change and upheaval was afoot at EMAP. Sega had long been admirers of EMAP's officially-licensed Nintendo Magazine System title, and wanted to go the same way. Having been on Mean Machines since it was merely a column in CVG, Jaz Rignall left MMS to head up the new official Sega Magazine, taking MMS editor Richard Leadbetter with him. It was marketed as a more sober, serious affair than the chaotic, insult-slanging MMS (likely to please their corporate patrons), and promoted to MMS readers on the basis that it was published mid-month, two weeks after MMS. "Now you don't have to wait a whole month for your Sega fix!", as the marketing strapline went.
Rich's position as editor would soon be filled by Steve Merrett, while staffers like writer Radion Automatic and graphic designer Oz Browne would work across both titles.
EMAP's newly-minted flagship official title would debut in January 1994. Of course, being the first edition, there was no letters page in that issue. That feature began with issue 2, and the very first letter to be printed was on a familiar topic (and make a note of the reader's name)...
I DON'T LIKE DIGITISER MUCH
Dear SEGA MAG,
As a regular reader of MEAN MACHINES, I thought if they recommend it, it's bound to be good. And it is. In case you're wondering, I'm on about SEGA MAGAZINE. Imagine my delight when I found that the same people who write MEAN MACHINES (completely brilliant) were also writing SEGA MAGAZINE (also completely brilliant). I was getting really sick of every mag coming out at the same time of the month so bringing SEGA MAGAZINE out two weeks after MMS is a great idea as it keeps me occupied all month.
Anyway, the point of this letter is that sad teletext channel called Digitiser. I find it very unfair that they were slagging off SEGA MAGAZINE before it was even released, saying that people shouldn't believe anything they read in so-called 'Official' magazines. Also I loved your Sonic 3 feature, so I was particularly offended by their comments on Sonic 3, saying that it is absolutely nothing new and no-one should fall for Sega's hype this time, like Sonic 2. I mean, Sonic 3 is only 40% complete for crying out loud! How can you pass judgement on a game that's not even half-made yet?!
It makes me think that Nintendo pay Digitiser's wages, and as for teaching you a thing or two, I'm sure they could. They could teach you all about pitiful, two-page text reviews with no screenshots. They could teach you all about crap, five-year old insults towards magazines that weren't even out when they insulted them, and most of all, they could teach you how to take bribes from Nintendo to under-rate Sega games.
I now bring forward a few Digitiser quotes from this past year: 'Sell your Mega Drives', 'Burn those Sonic cartridges', 'Sonic has had his day…', 'The Super NES walks all over the Mega Drive', etc, etc. No bull, these things were all actually said by the cackulas themselves. And they say they're a multi-format 'computer magazine', not biased towards anyone. Sounds like it, eh?
And as for you lot, keep up the good work. Count me as a regular reader from now on!
Paul Johnson, Skegness
SM: If Digitiser want to lower themselves to such petty behaviour as having a pop at a gestating magazine, they can go ahead. We wouldn't stoop to that sort of level to reply – it would be completely unfair. After all, if any of them knew their anatomies from their elbows they'd have a proper job instead of working on that ill-informed, outdated squandering of the cathode ray tube.
Coming from his first editorship on Megatech, EMAP's slightly older-skewing Mega Drive/Mega-CD magazine, the arrival of Steve Merrett as MMS editor was significant in two respects. Firstly, it was the signalling of the end of an era, with the recognisable face of cult hero Jaz Rignall no longer a part of the day to day running of the magazine, and that MMS' glory days were arguably behind it. Secondly, with Steve's editorship came - for whatever reason - a noticeable escalation in hostilities with Digitiser.
This coincided with tough times at EMAP, however, as Steve tells us:
Working on Mean Machines could be such a grind. As Editor, I was in numerous meetings, meeting publishers to get content in, not to mention the daily need to churn out copy, add captions, edit text, check pages, and all the mundane crap that came with the role. While I was aware of Digitiser, I never really gave it much thought.
"I had a publisher who was being kicked from above to find ways of making Mean Machines reach the dizzying heights of its heyday, while also saying the same to the guys up at Nintendo Magazine System, and Rich’s new official Sega title. There were less games, the 32X was shite, and the Saturn was hardly looking promising.
"Sales were dropping, it was apparent that fewer games were on the horizon, and we were being told we were also going to go the official licence route, which would be a stake through the 'anarchic' heart of Mean Machines."
Joining MMS from Megatech, a magazine that was aimed at a slightly older audience, there was a markedly different sort of correspondence sent to the MMS letters page than what Steve had been used to. Instead of the mewling whines of outraged 13 year-olds, and badly drawn pictures of games characters that he now found himself surrounded by at MMS, the world he'd been used to was much more of a legal minefield:
Most of the letters in Megatech tended to be 'cease and desist' legal ones after Tom Guise would have offended the likes of KFC or Portaloo. I recall when I took over the mag being given a legal letter from KFC after Tom had captioned a screenshot of an exploding monster in one of the Splatterhouse games with 'so that’s how they make Popcorn Chicken…'"
Steve may have been a seasoned veteran of the trouble that could be caused by printing something in a video games magazine, but MMS would soon receive a piece of correspondence that would kick the simmering Digi/MMS feud into high gear...
Mean Machines Sega number 24 - October 1994
The rivalry between Digitiser and MMS had been bubbling for some time at this point. Digi would print something slagging off the papery mag, and MMS would publish a reader's letter reciprocating in kind.
"I can't recall precisely, but I'm sure we'd already started laying into their mags by this point", says Paul Rose, Digi's Mr Biffo. "Technically, I'm sure we started it. We had an occasional weekend feature called Mag Monkey, where 'Smokin’ Glenn Miller – the Mag Monkey' would review rival games mags."
This light ribbing, along with Digi's irreverent, surreal nature - where humour came before serious games reportage - would prompt the single most significant intervention in the feud. A regular reader of both MMS and Digi by the name of Dan Tootill, going by the nom de guerre 'Captain Jupiter', had enough of all the silliness, and set out to create a piece of artwork that would mercilessly satirise Digitiser and its writers, as he tells me:
Back then MMS would always come out on top as far as I was concerned. It kept true to its original format and the content was always top notch.
"I had always admired the readers' artwork. I'd been drawing comics from a young age and had recently discovered Viz, so my sense of humour was turning a little off-colour. Having something of mine printed (by anyone) was a dream, but I knew my artwork wasn't all that good and neither were the jokes.
"I knew I had to make something topical that would end on a joke that the guys at MMS would appreciate. Inspiration didn't strike until Digi made some remark about using MMS as toilet paper, or something to that effect. I can't remember exactly what it was, but then the page flicked over to a typical Man's Daddy or Fat Sow page and I just snapped. At the time I had no idea who actually wrote Digi, but the randomness of it all led me to conclude that they must be a bunch of loons.
"I was annoyed to see these guys – whose time would be much better spent writing about games than writing nonsense for their crazy characters, at least in my mind – slagging off my favourite magazine.
"Art, comedy and video games were my favourite things back then and I was looking for an opportunity to combine them all.
"[The cartoon] took a lot of visual cues from Viz. When I first saw it printed in the editorial rather than the letters page, I did get the feeling it was a bold move by MMS. Obviously I was thrilled but also a little shocked."
Dan wasn't the only one who was shocked - it made an impression on many readers, and crucially on Digi themselves, as we'll come to see.
But enough with the build-up - let's enjoy Dan's near-mythical cartoon; the episode of the feud that transformed it into an all-out war...
It's very rare that a work of genius enters the office, but the adventures of X-head could hardly be called anything else. Mercilessly lampooning a certain 'on-line' games 'information' service, Captain Jupiter's work demands to be seen in all its glory. Keep 'em coming, cap'n!
This sad individual is Nobby O'Brien. The only work he can ever get is at a Dominik Diamond look-alike agency in Clacton On Sea…
Then, he bought a MEGADRIVE 32X Which made him the most powerful man in the universe!
And now, he's off to solve the world's mysteries…
X-HEAD: I'm at your local TOXICO filling station to find out what happened to all the lead they used to put in petrol!
X-HEAD: With me is Harold P. Bulbous, Head of Disposal. Mr Bulbous, where the lead gone, eh?
BULBOUS: Well. Our company filters out all the lead and puts it into large drums. They are then shipped to the stores on the Shetland Islands.
CAPTION: Off to Shetland
X-HEAD: That's where the lead's stored!
X-HEAD: They're EMPTY!
CAPTION: But what is this?
X-HEAD: There's an invoice from a teletext firm.
CAPTION: X-Head flies to south London! Film at 11!
CAPTION: At last!
X-HEAD: Now I'll get some answers!
X-HEAD: The lead detector points me towards these offices!
X-HEAD: Progress at last!
X-HEAD: Aha! They're spoonfeeding it to the guys who write Digitiser!
DIGITISER WRITER: Whee! Gibber! Tarquin Squeaky's monkey blocks! Onion Owl Trout Kettle!
X-HEAD: That would explain why they keep talking crap!
SIGN: CASE SOLVED
That was certainly the point where we thought 'Right – time to step this up'. I'm not sure how we first decided to strike back, but strike back we did - and were treated the following month to a needlessly barbed diatribe, calling into question our readership figures."
I bought every issue of the original Mean Machines. I'd been a proper Sega fanboy for years, bought my UK Mega Drive on launch day and stuck with it through the SNES era. I was super-excited about the 32X; having next-gen hardware while still getting to keep my old console really appealed to me. I had just left school and my time was all my own, so I indulged in a lot of video games and drawing.
"I discovered Digitiser not long after it first appeared and used to read it daily. Before Digi, our only source of gaming news had been the monthly magazines, so it was wonderful to have something new to read every day. It used to frustrate me at times, though - I took the rather naive view that too many of its pages were off-topic. I didn't care at all for the surreal humour woven into most of the pages, I just didn't get it. I almost resented having to wade through excerpts from the diary of a Man With A Long Chin or words of wisdom from the Onion Owl to get to the gaming content.
This was a reference to a character that had appeared on Digitiser; Onion Owl - who worked at the zoo feeding onions to the owls, of course.
For the few weeks after the strip was printed, I made sure I read [Digitiser] through every day to keep an eye out for any backlash. I only saw one mention of it on the letters page, where a reader took a swipe at MMS and sarcastically pointed out that there was a 'really funny' reader's cartoon about them in that month's issue.
"Digi's response was something along the lines of 'We've seen it, we laughed so hard we nearly wet our Onion Owls'. This extremely restrained reply is all I remember, so I got off pretty lightly. Digitiser gave me no other reason to lash out at them. It really was nothing personal."
Letters pages are notoriously hard to gauge. If you print too many praising you, readers feel it is a big suck up, but if you print too many slagging you off people think there must be something wrong with the mag. Mean Yob had certainly peaked and lost its edge, and also the variety of pictures and letters were not as good as they used to be. As such, when someone like Dan sent in a comic strip it made for an easy inclusion into a tricky section.
"As such, the infamous comic strip was printed as it made a change from yet another picture of Bubsy, M. Bison or Sub-Zero. I would have checked the page and will hold my hands up that I approved it for publishing, but it was not done maliciously.
"That caption’s a bit harsh, mind. So I am guessing they could have riled Gus Swan or Paul Bufton!"
I don't remember much about the feud itself. When I read the Digitiser 2000 blog citing my cartoon as the beginning of it, I was quite taken aback. I still don't really know how much the feud escalated, but in my defence the tit-for-tat between Digi and MMS was ramping up before I sent the strip in. I still don't think I'm guilty of starting the fire, just pouring petrol on it (unleaded, as it were).
It was all meant in good humour, but it's clear to me now that it wasn't as tongue-in-cheek as I intended. There was a measure of what we now call trolling, but it wasn't done maliciously at all. Had I realised how much of a storm I had actually kicked up, I probably would have at least written in to apologise!"
Sega Magazine number 11 - November 1994
Meanwhile, over at the official Sega Magazine, things had been proceeding in a similarly Digi-baiting manner, albeit without anything like the blockbuster up-yours of the X-Head comic strip. Curiously, when the November 1994 issue came around, a sort of détente was evident, as a reader wrote in to praise and defend Digi, and the magazine's reply struck a surprisingly conciliatory tone (as far as these things went). On this occasion at least, the Sega Magazine letters page was being handled by Radion Automatic, who Biffo remembers as being one of the EMAP staffers that they always had time for:
I chatted to Radion Automatic a few times, who seemed to see the funny side of the feud. He was always pleasant to us. I remember chatting to him at some games launch, and he said he always looked forward to us slagging them off. He took it in the spirit it was intended!"
ARE YOU ALL BLINDED?
DEAR SEGA MAGAZINE.
What is wrong with you and your readers? Do you slag off Digitiser because you have an inferiority complex? Are you all blinded by Sega's marketing hype, or scared that you'll be shunned if you give one of their big titles a score below 90%? Digitiser is the most refreshing computer read since Big K in the Eighties and always good fun, which is what computer games are all about isn't it? I agree that Sonic 3 was way too easy, therefore poor value for money. I'm not saying it wasn't fun while it lasted though. Digitiser is something precious. It's multi-format, so it's unbiased, it doesn't have to pander to the whims of hardware and software companies, as it has no vested interest ie selling ad space to survive. This allows Digitiser to tell it like it is, and lastly it's free. Zippo, zilch, nothing. Available to all for nowt. Treasure it – don't destroy it.
Mark Shaw, Cannock, Staffs.
SM: Good grief, have we ever had enough of hearing about Digitiser. Look, we haven't got anything against Digitiser. They're probably all kind to their mothers and give all their pocket change to charity. They do, however, have a noticeable Nintendo bias. As for your comment concerning the sale of ad space – we have an advertising department to deal with that side of the operation. Sega advertising and marketing considerations have no effect whatsoever on the editorial content of this magazine. And if anyone wants a fight they can call Jeff.
Mean Machines Sega number 26 - December 1994
If you thought there may be a kind of glasnost on the cards after the response to the letter in Sega Magazine, then you would be very wrong. Back at Mean Machines, the battle was being joined like never before, with late '94 / early '95 arguably being the peak of hostilities. Not only were there two anti-Digi letters this month (including a 'poem' threatening the Digi writers with violence), but MMS also printed a board game on the back page of the magazine - one of the 'bad luck' squares of which punished you for having read Digi.
This was a sensitive time for MMS, with readerships across all the printed magazines falling, and EMAP putting the staff under pressure to turn things around. Not ones to miss an opportunity for a good bit of schadenfreude, Digi rubbed it in on their news pages, trolling MMS by reporting on their circulation travails with no small amount of glee.
We were having a horrible time at that point as sales were down across the board and, while Mean Machines was still market leader, the pressure from our bosses was huge. They didn't want to invest in the titles, the official Sega mag was not going great guns, and the Saturn looked unlikely to change that. Basically, EMAP management had enjoyed the best of the Mean Machines golden goose, and had no idea how to take it forward.
"EMAP started turning the screw on the games mags. Our figures dropped horribly, and mag figures plummeted across the board – with loads of mags closing in the process. I felt directly responsible for the loss of sales but Digitiser’s glee passed me by – I was too busy copping the flak from the powers-that-be, and orchestrating my exit into PlayStation Plus."
Mean Yob - letters page
I have been a proud reader of MEAN MACHINES for two years now, and during those two years, few magazines have come close to your witty, colourful, and informative magazine. Out of the magazines I read, you keep the price as low as possible and maintain an average of 100 pages per issue. It's a pity some people don't appreciate this, namely Digitiser. And before you say, “Oh no, not another Digitiser letter”, bear in mind this letter involves your very own magazine. On Wednesday 21st September, not fit to go to school, and generally lounging around the house, I happened to tune into Digitiser on Teletext. “Mean Machines Dying” read the headline for their 'news' section. Curious, I read on. The article was based on sales figures for the last six months. Sarcastically it read, “Biggest loser, we're horrified to report, is Mean Machines Sega who has lost over a third of its readers in the past 6 months.” I found it most sickening that Digitiser gleaned some pleasure from it all. They just happened to forget you were still the best-selling Sega mag. Rather than a damning reflection on Mean Machines, I thought it most degrading on the part of Digitiser. It only served to assert the quality of your magazine, which despite a loss in readership, still managed to whip the baboon-like asses of every Future magazine. Digitiser backed a real loser when they teamed up with Future publishing. From now on, when you review a disastrous game, instead of saying “this game is crap”, make your point crystal clear and state “This game is complete Digitiser!”
Christopher Quigley, Co. Armagh, N. Ireland
YOB: But how can we compete against something as influential as Digitiser? Blimey, it would be like taking on Stevie Wonder in a timed 'Join-The-Dots' contest. Yes, they did conveniently neglect to mention that we're still the biggest-selling mag, didn't they. Perhaps it was because they thought it would mess up their story. And we can't have that getting in the way of their 'scoops' can we…
So you didn't find my Captain Picard joke funny, eh? Well, try this poem I wrote about Digitiser.
The fools who work at Digitiser
Were trying to act hard,
Their 'programme' was Bab
So they travelled by cab
To Mean Machines' backyard,
The man with a long chin insulted Yob.
He called him a hairy baboon,
So Yob came out,
And gave him a clout,
Then licked his ass over the moon.
The rest of the morons from Digitiser
Just stood in a trance.
Then Steve joined in,
He kicked them all in,
And they ran home cacking their pants!
A bit of an improvement over the Picard thing, don't you think? Well, until next time… Oh, by the way, I know this bloke in the United States Colonial Marine Corps, who can get you an M41A Pulse Rifle and 30mm pump action grenade launcher for a very reasonable price. I imagine it fell of the back of a PowerLoader or something.
Paul Johnson, Skegness
YOB: We were planning to run a series of Digitiser-style lo-res illustrations and screenshots in this very issue, but sadly someone nicked our crayons.
Next Month page
EXCLUSIVE – A GAME YOU'LL LOVE
MEAN MACHNES SEGA presents another first, the Next Month board game. It's all about getting exclusives and being the best – our forté, natch.
TOP LEFT SQUARE: Fall asleep reading Teletext. Miss a turn.
Mean Machines Sega number 27 - January 1995
It was the dawn of a new year, but an increasingly dark time for Mean Machines. Publishers EMAP continually reprimanded their editors over falling sales, with Steve Merrett feeling the hot breath of scrutiny making his collar all clammy. Digitiser's report on the latest circulation figures had clearly riled the MMS faithful, and saw staff on the once-supreme mag become ever-more paranoid. Even so, that Merrett's first editorial column of 1995 was entirely dedicated to settling scores with Digitiser was quite remarkable. Amid the pressure cooker environment of the time, Digi's jibes had seemingly touched a nerve.
Steve Merrett's editorial column
I'm feeling a bit ticked off this month, and the thorn in my side is that fountain of knowledge. Digitiser. Over the last couple of weeks they really seem to have had it in for the good ship MEAN MACHINES, and I really can't see what their problem is. We readily accept that you'll always get sniping between mags — I mean, we're always quick to have a dig at anyone if they make us laugh, as they do unto us. But for some reason we've really got on Digitiser's nerves. It was brought to my attention when a few readers informed me of their 'MEAN MACHINES IS DYING' shock horror headline, but since then they've had another pop.
According to them, MEAN MACHINES is dying because our sales have gone from 100,000 to the 70,000 mark. What they forget to say is that other mags have fallen by a similar amount too, but — hey! — why get in the way of their story by burying it in facts! According to the people writing this, we're on our way out whilst they have over a million readers a week. Yes, but a number of people within the industry have pointed out that their million figure is accumulated over seven days and caters for owners of every format: Super NES, Megadrive, PC — even the C64 and Spectrum, judging by their recent features.
By my reckoning, that leaves them with just over 142,000 people a day — less than the number of people who buy, say, MEAN MACHINES, Nintendo Magazine System, and CVG every month — dedicated readers who actually pay for their product, not channel surfers with a passing interest. After all, if we came out every two weeks, we'd probably sell as many on our own. If they have such a problem with us, I just wish they'd call me up and tell me what it is.
After all, as they give away subscriptions to mags from a rival publishing company, it seems they could be just acting as a mouthpiece in some sort of pointless slanging match. I'll keep you posted if they do bother contacting me (but don't hold your breath, they'll probably just do me down within their six or seven pages), but until then I just wish they'd continue with their cutting edge articles on 'which is better: C64 and Spectrum', and stop their childish bickering, whilst we promise to carry on with more exclusives and in-depth reviews than ever before.
Oh well, enjoy the issue, it's a bit of o goodie...
Mean Machines Sega number 28 - February 1995
Mean Machines had really done it now. By calling into question Digitiser's readership (which would peak at around 1.6 million per week by the late '90s, according to industry figures), they had seemingly indicated that they wanted a proper scrap, and things started to get a bit silly. Digi took to corresponding directly with the MMS office, sending them at least two faxes calling their rivals out, and insulting them in the most Digi idiom possible.
The only time we ever got genuinely pissed off was when they cast doubt on our readership figures. That's when we sent the fax! I wish we could've risen above it but, well, that wasn’t who we were back then…"
I vaguely recall that teletext audiences were always bandied in the millions, but that could be wrong. But, as they weren't in print, it was neither here nor there."
We wrote him a personal letter, in the most childish language imaginable. The main thing I remember is calling Steve "Fish-back" and "Biscuit-Skin", which are obviously nonsensical, and weren’t any reflection of him having a fish's back, or biscuity skin!
"We did, nevertheless, present him with solid proof of our audience data. The letter was never printed, but he did publish a begrudging acknowledgement of our viewership in response to another reader."
To me there was no feud, and Paul and Tim [Moore - Mr Hairs] were not people I knew, nor had they created media personas like Dave Perry and made themselves a target. I don’t even remember their faxes, but it could be they are still on my old desk under a pile of invoices and pictures of M. Bison..."
I can’t say there was any strategy, or ever much thought, put into anything we did on Digi. We were just being pricks, really, because it made us laugh in the office for about five minutes."
Mean Yob - letters page
First of all congratulations on your utterly brilliant mag. It is 100% pure excellence. Anyway to the point, I tuned into Digitiser the other day because I was off school and had nothing better to do. After reading the letters page I was totally flabbergasted because one of the dorks, who probably tunes in everyday, had written in slagging off MEAN MACHINES. It was about the 'We were planning to run a series of Digitiser-style losers illustrations' reply you gave in issue 26. He even had the cheek to call MEAN MACHINES a sad magazine. This was Digitiser's reply to his letter and I quote: “If MEAN MACHINES want to start a slanging match with us, then that's fine. They earn far less money than we do”. They also said something about the readership figures: MEAN MACHINES 68,454 a month, Digitiser 1.34 million a week. I don't know whether they are correct, I certainly don't believe a word they say. I think they are crud. Long live MEAN MACHINES!
Michael Thompson, Chester
YOB: Well, they're sort of right, because they count every unfortunate TV surfer who accidentally flips past one page of their oracle (teletext joke) in their ratings. The sad thing is, even though their “service” is free they still can't muster a decent regular following who actually cares what they say. And we know for a fact they're on crap wages. A penny a page, that's what they get. Actually, we're bringing this Digitiser stuff to a halt now because they're horrid and call Steve a 'Fish Back'. Little do they know that next time he sees them he's going to break their button noses.
Mean Machines Sega number 29 - March 1995
By this time the feud was well into its stride, with Digi taking regular swipes at MMS on their pages, and MMS acting in kind for a number of months running. As Steve Merrett has said, the pressure from above at EMAP was intense, and there didn't seem to be any shortage of irate letters from MMS readers about the latest Digitiser transgression, which made choosing the ones to publish an easy call:
It would have been merely because they made for interesting letters. People like to take sides, and that makes for something a bit more passionate than 'who would win in a fight: Aero the Acrobat or Toejam?' Any chosen letters would get in just if they were vaguely interesting. I'd love to say it was calculated and I wanted a flame war, but can’t!"
Mean Yob - letters page
You've been getting a lot of crap in your letters page of late, so I think it's time for a serious slagging letter. First, I agree with Steve's comments last month regarding the snivelling slobs at Digitiser. If they've got a problem with your esteemed mag, then they should ring up and state it, instead of making untrue and fabricated comments on their few pages of daily drivel. I mean, saying that you only get 70,000 readers compared to their million, is absolutely ludicrous, and a pitiful statement that only sadcases would accept. So what if they do get a million readers - we all know precisely why, don't we? It's because Digitiser is FREE! It doesn't cost anything at all! So before the fools boast, they should start charging £2.25 a month to subscribe to Digitiser, and THEN see exactly how many readers they get! Let me tell you this, it would a [sic] much smaller figure than MEAN MACHINES! Personally I wish the ass-faced baboons at the Digitiser hovel would shut their pus-filled festering gobs, insert their heads up their rectums, and inhale deeply. It would do them, and us, the world of good!
Paul Johnson, Shadow Dweller of Skegness
YOB: Actually the Digitiser guys did reply to Steve's letter but all they did was call him a few names and say that if we wanted a fight they were ready. Needless to say, having seen the plankton that writes for their hallowed pages, I'm off to William Hill's to put some money on the lad Merrett. He could have Violet Berlin any day, too. But enough of that.
Mean Machines Sega number 30 - April 1995
At some point, Digi seemed to realise that things had been taken too far, and that what they had intended as good-natured ribbing, had been taken quite seriously by some elements of the MMS staff. Not wanting things to escalate any further, they took their foot off the pedal and tried to calm things down before any real harm was done.
I think the point at which we felt they weren't seeing the funny side was the response to the reader on their letters page which called into question our viewing figures. Although that was probably only in response to something we'd said about them – so I'm sure they thought we were a right bunch of arseholes. I hardly blame them for getting pissed off!"
For his part, Steve Merrett insists that he wasn't among the MMS team members that took against Digi to such eyebrow-raising levels, having far too much else to deal with from his EMAP publishers:
I knew of Digitiser, just as I knew of the teams down at Future, Paragon, and Maverick, etc., but didn't read it if I am honest. Our office TVs pre-dated time, let along the teletext service, so couldn't be used to access it, and the last thing I wanted to do when I got home after another long day was read even more about games.
"My main aims were to make sure we sold more than Sega Power and Rich's [official Sega] mag. I didn't have the energy to go around picking fights!
"I was quite shocked when I read that the 'spat' had been so sizeable to Paul. I felt horrendous if I am honest, as I genuinely had no idea about it. I also spoke to Rich Leadbetter, my predecessor who also denies it [that Digi were regarded as 'the enemy'].
"This all comes as a complete surprise to me. It was either so searingly horrific my mind has blanked it out, or just another bit of EMAP shit I have mentally discarded!"
For reasons that will become clear later, the anti-Digi missive that was printed in the April 1995 edition of MMS should most likely be regarded as the last one to be published directly on Steve's watch...
Mean Yob - letters page
First of all congratulations on the best mag going. I read it every month and think it's top. When you want to look at a review or info on a game, MEAN MACHINES is probably the most reliable in the shop, unlike the other crud magazines – especially the nerds at Digitiser. One day when I came home from school, I had nothing to do but switch the TV on. I decided to watch Digitiser to see what they'd got, and was shocked to see such sad rubbish. It takes up too much space for what decent things could have been there. Anyway keep up the good work.
Michael Hilton, Manchester
YOB: Of course, you realise by mocking Digitiser, they'll cop a mooey and send Steve a snotty fax calling him something food-related. Honestly, considering they keep sending faxes with such an obvious sense of wit, you'd think they'd be able to take a joke or knock or two…
Mean Machines Sega number 32 - June 1995
The feud had peaked, and Digi had stepped back from the brink like with Nigel Kennedy's sputum sniffle crisis (and that was real bad crisis, man). And yet, there was still more controversy to come, as a familiar, mushroom-headed face graced the pages of MMS once more. Yes, Captain Jupiter - AKA Dan Tootill - was back, and this time he was mad. Specifically, at Sega, and the very Mega Drive add-on that he'd previously drawn a whole comic strip championing:
Now, I've never had a great head for business, but even at that age I couldn't see how Sega could push the 32X and the Saturn at the same time without one of them falling by the wayside. When the 32X hit the shops, I wasn't exactly falling over myself to go into town to see it running, but I still had high hopes for it. When I saw it for myself it just seemed like the Mega-CD all over again; not quite enough extra hardware and only a handful of games on the horizon. I genuinely feared that our beloved Sega were about to lose a big chunk of their market share, it just seemed inevitable."
Mean Yob - letters page
In my opinion Sega have messed up big. They promised arcade-perfect versions of Virtua Racing and Virtua Star Wars on their much-hyped 32X. They had the chance to release a machine with enough beef to blow the competition completely out of the water but what they've created is something else for SNES owners to laugh at. It was receiving bad press even before it was in the shops. Are there any excuses other than a lack of hardware capabilities that can explain the massive border around the play area in Doom? The clamp-like hands on the steering wheel in Virtua Racing Deluxe?
I had so much hope for the 32X that I created a cartoon character around it. I'm sticking to the normal Mega Drive until all of the new consoles come out, then buying the most powerful one of the lot. I'm not quite sure which one it will be, but I know the man who has the last laugh will not be a Sega owner. And the answer to why the Saturn has a cartridge port? Well you've got to have somewhere to stick your 64X!
Captain Jupiter, Asteroid Crashsite
YOB: Since when were you promoted from Space Cadet to Captain? Do you really think that SNES owners are laughing at Virtua Racing Deluxe, when they have Stunt Race FX? Since when did a SNES owner get to play Doom? Perhaps you think Vortex is superior to Metal Head. No, Never and No are the answers, I think you'll find. Bear some facts in mind, faeces brain: the first games were only in development a short time; teams like Scavenger and Core are doing some amazing 32X development and we've Virtua Fighter amongst others to look forward to. The 32X might not be the Saturn, but its technology gives the SNES a bloody good hiding.
True to form, I was ripped to shreds by Yob and fell from 'genius' to 'faeces brain' in the space of eight months. If you can forgive the snarky tone though, what I wrote was about right. Also, a perfectly decent port of Doom appeared for the unexpanded SNES the following year, and 'I bought a 32X just to play Metal Head' said no one ever.
"In fact, the letter to Mean Yob accompanied a second X-Head strip that made no reference to Digi whatsoever. This was never printed, with good reason. It symbolised the demise of the 32X in a space battle against an invading Nintendo ship, culminating in X-Head's fiery death in a futile kamikaze attack! I still have copies of both strips. It was just a middle finger to Sega and an unprovoked slap in the face to anyone who was anyone in video games journalism."
Mean Machines Sega number 35 - September 1995
Sega's next-generation console, the Saturn, was decidedly not the hit the company had hoped for, and expected. Even with Nintendo's N64 still a long way off, it never gained a significant foothold thanks to its rushed release, mediocre launch titles, and ridiculous £400 RRP. The fact that Sega had burnt much of the goodwill it had built up during the 16-BIT Sonic heyday, thanks to misguided stopgap add-ons in the form of the Mega-CD and 32X, meant that it already cut a diminished figure when Sony entered the market with its era-defining PlayStation.
By the middle of 1995 it was already clear how this round of the console war would play out, and it would spell the beginning of the end for Sega as a hardware manufacturer altogether.
Sega's largely self-inflicted travails had the unsurprising effect of bringing about a nadir in circulation for Sega magazines in general. Mean Machines, which had been riding high for years, was still the market leader, but with a fraction of the sales. The official Sega Magazine wasn't exactly flying off shelves either.
EMAP panicked, made a series of dubious decisions around their stable of titles, and gradually the staffers would jump ship to more welcoming climes.
Steve Merrett saw which way the wind was blowing and instigated a move to the publisher's new PlayStation Plus magazine.
Steve Merrett's final editorial column
IT'S GOODNIGHT FROM HIM…
Hello and goodbye. Yep, after two years at the helm of MEAN MACHINES, I'm buggering off to the world of the Sony PlayStation to launch a new magazine. I've really enjoyed my time at MMS, and have had the pleasure of breaking stories like MKII, the 32X, the Saturn, and more exclusives than any other Sega mag – but now the heady heights of 32bitdom await. I leave the mag in the completely capable hands of Gus who you all know as the miserable sod with the shaved head (sorry, that's how we know him), and who has some neat ideas lined up for the future. I'll still be here in a nebulous form as the mag's Managing Editor, but basically it is adieu, ta-ra, ciao, bub-bye, and see you later. It's been fun.
PS: Actually, before I go I'd like to deliver a big V-sign to the turds at Sega Power for giving covers to games which they have no Sega screenshots for and Digitiser for being the unfunniest sods in the world with no sense of humour and even less editorial direction. That's that off me chest then…
I never wrote that! I was long gone by then. I got married during my last few months on Mean Machines, and handed the reins to Gus and, I think, Marcus Hearn. When I came back from honeymoon, it was to go into a tiny meeting room with Oz to put together a dummy issue for what would become PlayStation Plus! I think, for continuity, they used my caricature as they had yet to appoint the new Editor."
Mean Machines Sega number 36 - October 1995
And so, with Steve Merrett departing the editor's chair, Gus Swan would join him, Jaz Rignall, and Richard Leadbetter in the ranks of those who had helmed Mean Machines. Coming to the magazine fully one issue before it split off into its Sega incarnation, Gus was now among the longest-serving staffers on the MMS team.
His dislike of Digi - and the medium of teletext on the whole - was evident from the get go, as can be seen from his first editorial column and its reference to the 'troll-like creators' of another unnamed mag. U ok hun?
Gus was a fiery character but normally about personal injustices as opposed to inter-publication rivalries. He was a really acerbic character, though, so it could have been him that lead the charge."
Gus Swan's first editorial column
THREE GO MENTAL AT EMAP TOWERS
Forgive me if I sound like a zombie, but we did put in some serious hours to get this issue of MEAN MACHINES together. We may seem a little early this month, but that's another story, specifically for the suckas that think they can pull stunts on us…
Now you're here, I can't recall an issue that's had quite so many excellent scoops. Getting the only shots of MK3 Saturn is the cream in the bun too. And this is only the beginning, with some exciting changes due for the mag, including promotions to blow you away over the next few months. Stick with us, as I'd rather be part of a mag that sets out to inform and entertain than one whose sole purpose is to amuse its troll-like creators.
Mean Machines Sega number 41 - March 1996
If 1996 was the year that the Saturn would become largely irrelevant, then it was also the year that saw the once-imperious MMS go into fatal decline as well. Sega's misfortunes were having a knock-on effect across the Sega magazine landscape, and, increasingly desperate, EMAP would tie MMS up in another official deal with the ailing games firm, being the second mag in its stable to be licensed by Sega.
The need for two such publications was clearly questionable, especially seeing as going the official route would gut much of the anti-establishment attitude that MMS had always been known for. The magazine would be redesigned and have its page count reduced - with fewer in colour - in an attempt to cut costs.
Steve Merrett wasn't impressed by EMAP's handling of the change in fortunes:
Their only decision was to make us an official mag, which none of us really wanted. EMAP management had enjoyed the best of the Mean Machines golden goose, and had no idea how to take it forward. We offered suggestions and did well with supplements, but the 32X had tainted Sega's reputation and people were getting bored with the current generation of hardware."
Most people had moved on from the feud by now, with Digi themselves even referring to it like a chapter from the history books. Yet, with Gus Swan in charge of things at MMS, that didn't stop the fading embers of the war from continuing to be stoked every so often...
Gus Swan's Q&A
7. Will you keep up the slagging fights with Digitiser that Steve did? I reckon you should, they were cool.
10. Finally, what do you think of the Hyper Score thing? Doesn't it seem a bit sad to you? It does to me.
Chris Biggar, Accrington, Lancs
GUS: 7. We never slagged Digitiser because it was cool, we did it because they were crap.
10. Being totally (and brutally) honest, my personal opinion was that Hyperscore was a bit of a poxy idea. Teletext has never been my favourite 'electronic medium' and I really couldn't bear being immortalised between the recipe pages and today's horoscopes.
Mean Machines Sega number 48 - October 1996
After ruling the printed roost for so long, Mean Machines' days as the UK's top games mag were now over. It limped on for another few months, with its run ending with issue 53 in March of 1997, with its twitching remains being augmented into EMAP's now renamed official Sega Saturn Magazine. A strange and ignoble end for a culturally significant publication, it seems strange to think that despite the ferocity of the war of words at their height, Digi's legend would only grow further and it would outlive MMS by more than half a decade.
A victory for the underdog? Not really - as satisfying as it may have felt to the increasing number of Digi devotees at the time, Biffo himself never saw things in such tribal terms.
Of course, looking back, it all seems very silly. We honestly had nothing against any other magazine, and I wish we'd been a bit more mature about it… though that wouldn't have been Digi. That said, there were a few proper arseholes in the industry… and they might've occasionally coloured our impression of their publications.
"There was no real malice intended on our part – we just thought that making fun of the competition was part of Digi's irreverent, albeit self-imposed, remit. None of it was personal. Really, there was part of me who looked up at proper magazine journalists. I was starstruck the first time I ever saw Julian Rignall. I'd grown up reading his writing.
"Speaking for myself, I always felt we were pretenders, being on Teletext, so we never felt like we were punching across at peers, but punching up at those bigger than us. Certainly, few games companies treated us with the same respect as most other journos, which just reinforced that feeling that magazine journos were the elite, popular kids, and we were the weirdos who hung out by the bins."
Mean Yob - letters page
I am just writing to inform you (if you don't already know) that in the first week of the PlayStation and Saturn price cuts to £199, the PlayStation sold a mega 7,000 units while the Saturn only sold 850 (which is a rise of 72% on Saturn sales the previous week). I got this info on Channel 4 teletext page 471. I doubt you will have the guts to print this but you did say we can not ignore the fact that the PlayStation exists. Captain Sega said we will win the next generation battle by Christmas. Well Sega, you've quite a bit of catching up to do in Britain, where the PlayStation has well outsold the Saturn. But anyway, I'm not bothered. I don't have one regret in buying a Saturn. But here are a few tips for Sega: 1) Try a massive television advertising campaign; 2) Cut the price of your games to the price of PC games. This would be a killer, especially to Nintendo who are going to sell games from £50-£80. Anyway, what a waste of time this is as you will never have the guts to print this. Wimps. But I shouldn't complain, it's not your fault. So, as Steve would say, 'ta da'.
YOB: I had the 'guts' to print your letter 'Scotland' (pity you didn't have the guts to address it). I hardly think guts are required to reply to snivelling nonces from Balaclava-land. As for your letter 1) the 'figures' are indications made by one retail chain. 2) Sony spent close to a million quid on ads in that period and the brief advantage in sales they made has now evaporated almost down to a one-to-one selling ratio (according to latest 'sources'). Anyway, PlayStation is around, there may even always be more sold than Saturns. The point is, who has the better library of classic and new titles? Answer: Saturn. PS. Big ads for Saturn soon.
We may never get to know the full truth behind the epoch-making feud of the mid-90s. Or at least not from the MMS side of things, unless Gus Swan - who is now a senior executive at a world-renowned book publisher - ever surfaces to tell his story.
What we do know, is how much it influenced the identity of Digitiser, to its fans if not its creators, reinforcing its independent, anti-establishment reputation and nature as a hidden treasure of UK media.
To fans, in retrospect, the tussle with the big boys of the scene felt like a defining moment in Digi's history - even if its principal creator is quite bemused by all the fuss today. Biffo certainly wasn't aware of how things were being perceived by fans, and how much this tale would still be talked about 20+ years later.
He emphasised this in a 2018 conversation with Maximum PowerUp podcast:
But god, it's so long ago! There's no feud there, and it was always from our part, always fairly tongue in cheek anyway.”
In many ways, the whole episode was fundamental to galvanising Digi's readership thanks to the us-and-them mentality it created. It affirmed Digi's cult hero status, and started it off towards becoming the strangely formidable beast that it is today.
We were such bloody snides back then!
"Weirdly, though, the two people who we were most sort of arsey about – Steve Merrett and Dave Perry – I’m now on friendly terms with. Steve, especially, has been very generous and forthcoming on Twitter, and Dave was gracious enough to appear in Found Footage."
My appreciation of Digitiser and indeed Paul came after the event. I didn't read it at the time, but when Paul started doing his Mr Biffo blog it made for fantastic reading. He's an incredibly good writer and I envy him the trajectory his career took, moving into TV and the like.
"I started reading Digitiser 2000 and he did a series on his career and his ups and downs. It was such a personal journey and when I saw his memories of the whole spat thing, I was mortified. His memories were so vivid I knew they were probably true from his perspective, but it was as if I had started a world war by accident.
"I then made a point of getting in touch to apologise. He responded and we had a series of conversations where he admitted he was surprised I wrote to him. He seemed certain there was a rift and I think he may have been surprised when I said I remembered nothing of it!"
We’re all middle-aged men now. We all shared an experience of the games industry at a time when it was really starting to explode, and we’ve all retrospectively admired what each of us have done. I sort of love it that we all get on now. It feels very grown-up!
"It's too late to really regret how we behaved, or want to change anything. If I'm going to regret anything, there are far more important things to spend my energy on!"
I can be a dick, I know that, but didn't realise the divisions that were created. Back then, it was just a grind to get stuff done and the time pressures were constant. That doesn't excuse rudeness, but it was never my intention to cause any kind of stand-off.
"When I wrote to Paul to praise his columns, I was taken aback by the warmth of his reply and we have stayed in touch as, basically, we are both old farts now."
It's good to know that they're all friends now at least."
If I was in the same position now I'd like to think I'd consider the feelings of other people a bit more. I know I wouldn't feel so threatened by the big boys of games journalism. But that said… who knows what I'd do to try to get a laugh?"
If he wants a war, I have his Pudsey movie in my arsenal these days…"
Obscene thanks to everyone who has contributed to this feature: Steve Merrett for his open and magnanimous answers, Paul Rose for always being willing to shed light on Digi's history, and to Dan Tootill for being a good sport and providing the view from the MMS fans' camp. This piece wouldn't have been so illuminating - or lengthy! - without their help.
It's worth pointing out at the end, that there were even more letters with an anti-Digi tone in the pages of MMS - though the ones that weren't included only referred to Digi in passing ("PS Digitiser are poo", etc.), so it didn't seem worth including them as well.
Finally, if anyone has any Digi screenshots that are related to the feud, or if Gus Swan is reading this (or you know how to reach him) and would like to put his side of the story, then please do mail me (email@example.com) right now, man.