GameFan (originally DieHard GameFan) is a magazine devoted to console games, with an emphasis on RPGs, Japanese imports, and the “hardcore” side of video-game fandom. It boundless enthusiasm and then-extraordinary design made it one of the most famous (and infamous) magazines of the 1990s.
Game Fan has its beginnings in the Diehard Gamers Club, a video-game store founded by Dave Halverson in 1990 and based in the Los Angeles suburb of Tarzana, CA. DieHard was one of the first “game import” shops that specialized in Japanese releases, and it made a name for itself with its flashy advertising in magazines like Electronic Gaming Monthly throughout 1991 and 1992, often publishing screenshots of games that the magazines themselves never mentioned.
DieHard published a handful of small catalogs and other promotional material in 1991 and 1992 that was circulated throughout its stores. In mid-1992, however, Halverson decided to expand these efforts into a monthly magazine, largely due to a falling-out between his stores and EGM. The first issue was completed in October 1992 and was mainly distributed to DieHard customers; the title was picked up for national distribution with the next issue in December.
The original GameFan team was mainly picked from the staff at the Tarzana DieHard store and several other game shops in the Los Angeles area. It included Halverson, editors Greg Off, Tim Lindquist, and Andrew Cockburn, layout artist George Weising, and import-coverage writer Kei Kuboki. Terry Wolfinger, an artist and effects creator who had done work for Heavy Metal magazine, was brought on to draw the magazine’s covers and internal illustrations after Weising met him at another game store.
The magazine quickly made a name for itself with its unique visual style and writing. Although far from professional-looking, GameFan’s layouts bursted with lavish screenshots (easily the clearest of any US magazine of the time) and review text written by hardcore gamers, for hardcore gamers. For game freaks in the 90s, each issue was like an invitation to a secret club where everyone understood your obsession and nobody thought you were strange. While this formula seems impossibly alien now, it served a valuable purpose during its heyday.
GameFan was always published with the spirit of a fanzine, and the magazine was rarely, if ever, profitable. Halverson spun off the magazine in 1996 to Metropolis Media, an outfit owned by wheeler-dealer businessman David Bergstein. The money situation only worsened with this move, and many ex-staffers would later write about Cannonball Run-style races to the bank to get their paychecks cashed before the account was overdrawn. Halverson left in 1997 to start another company (and later found Gamers’ Republic), and Bergstein merged the company in 1998 with online retailer DVD Express to form dot-com media outfit Express.com.
Express.com was less interested in GameFan than the $55 million in investment money Bergstein had just received from Eidos, but the magazine continued on, despite a very rocky 1998 — only five issues were published, and the magazine became subscriber-only in all but name towards the middle of the year. The magazine bounced back into regular operation in 1999, and Express expanded on the brand by creating the GameFan Network, a game-news website and a link-sharing affiliate network that included everything from humor website Something Awful to assorted ROM and abandonware pages.
The company shut down both the magazine and the affiliate network in late 2000 before filing for bankruptcy in early 2001, reportedly owing Something Awful and other affiliate sites large sums of money. A January 2001 issue was reportedly completed but never published.
GameFan’s legacy continues in may different ways, from Halverson’s Gamers’ Republic and Play to GameGO! and Hardcore Gamer, both heavily influenced by GameFan’s design and both including some GameFan veterans on their staff.