Electronic Games (1981)

Electronic Games is a magazine devoted to all realms of the video-game spectrum as it existed in the early 1980s, from cartridge systems and arcade games to computers and standalone electronic games. It was the first magazine in the US exclusively devoted to video games (the second one in the world after Computer & Video Games).

History

The magazine got its start with Arcade Alley, a column that Bill Kunkel and Arnie Katz had been writing for Video magazine (a monthly distributed by Reese Publishing and devoted to TVs and home-video electronics) since 1979. Kunkel and Katz (aided by Katz’s wife Joyce Worley) had trouble filling the column at first, but once Activision was founded and video games showed their first sign of becoming a national sensation, Kunkel convinced the higher-ups at Reese Publishing to produce a one-off magazine devoted entirely to video games. That became Electronic Games, and sales were hot enough to make it a regular bimonthly, then monthly magazine.

Just like Computer & Video Games irrevocably defined British game mags, Electronic Games’ basic style became the prototype for nearly every US magazine that followed it. Terms like “easter egg,” “scrolling,” and “screenshot” were originally coined by Kunkel for the editorial (yes, someone had to invent these terms), and the magazine became both a vital gamer resource and something of a trade mag for the home video-game industry. The result made Reese Publishing a rich company — and as Kunkel writes in his book Confessions of the Game Doctor, it couldn’t have happened to a less deserving publisher:

“Just think of the range of magazines that Reese was publishing in those days. They were probably the last company on Earth still doing those sleazy detective magazines that were already becoming retro-chic in 1981 […] Beaver, however, gets its own paragraph, at the very least. Beaver was a men’s magazine that occupied the absolute bottom of the porno ladder. The head photographer, a charming and gifted gentleman named Tony Curran, got many of his models straight off the bus at the Port Authority. Sometimes he got them right off the street. He would bring them up to the office and let me tell you, these were some of the skankiest-looking women I saw until crack came along.”

The success of Electronic Games allowed Reese to move operations to downtown New York and its employees to consume the best cocaine that the early 1980s could produce. The editors also supplemented the magazine with Arcade Express, a biweekly subscriber-only newsletter that covered up-to-date game news and was something like a trade publication for the then-burgeoning industry.

By the fall of 1984, though, the party was over — ad sales had fallen to miniscule levels, and Katz and Kunkel both left the magazine as the publisher hired new staff that didn’t know anything about games to put it in a new direction. That direction was computers, and productivity, and Sharper Image-style electronic toys, and in 1985, the magazine (under new management) changed names to Computer Entertainment to reflect this change in direction.

“I’ve often thought in the ensuing years about what might have been if Electronic Games had simply gone quarterly and ridden out the crash,” Kunkel later wrote. “We would have come out the other side in 1986 when the NES hit and we would have had the kind of credibility that money couldn’t buy. But that didn’t happen.”

Legacy

Electronic Games was the most popular magazine during the era of “classic” gaming. Although most computer magazines of the time offered game coverage to some extent, EG was the first games-only mag, and as such it was followed by a great deal of rival game magazines. (The first and arguably most successful rival was Electronic Fun with Computers and Games, whose extremely similar name and editorial content rankled EG’s editorial team throughout its history.)

Being the most well-known magazine of the classic era, issues of Electronic Games tend to be among the most sought-after by game collectors. A copy of the first issue in good condition can easily cost over $100 on eBay, and even the most common issues frequently go for over $10.

Electronic Games was relaunched in 1992 by Katz and Kunkel with a different publisher, enjoying a decent three-and-a-half year run before once again falling out of the control of its creators.