Dave Halverson would leave GameFan to start Gamers' Republic - was the offer made for GameFan staff to join him?
Mollie L Patterson: Even before I got to GameFan, there were issues with the overall company structure. I can’t say I know all of the details to exacts, but GameFan had been purchased by Metropolis Media, which was headed up (owned?) by a man named David Bergstein. (Who, if you Google him, you’ll see quite an… interesting history.) I think my understanding of the situation was probably skewed since I heard everything from the GameFan side, but the ongoing story was the profits from GameFan were being funnelled away to fuel other less-successful projects. (In actuality, I think the truth is probably some of that mixed in with GameFan potentially always having had money problems.) I do for sure know that it often felt like we were sort of a stepchild in the company, as a host of other money-making ventures – some ridiculous, like the idea of buying thousands of animation cels from random anime thinking they’d bring in good money when resold – and attempted magazine launches happened around us.
Being honest, it didn’t always seem to phase the higher-ups inside GameFan that the staff were constantly not having money, which may or may not be fair. Either way, I think the situation started to deteriorate more, to the point that even Dave and the others at the top were looking for exit strategies. Dave has never shown hesitation in dropping everything and starting a whole new magazine, which I see both as a credit and a fault.
The big split happened before GameFan itself died – two years or so before, in the first half of 1998. There started to be feelings around the office of something going down, and then a lot of us on staff were invited over to Dave’s house to discuss his idea for leaving GameFan and starting a new publication. I don’t know that everyone was offered a place over there, but a lot of the people I worked directly with were, as well as myself.
I can’t remember the exact timing compared to the bigger staff exodus – it was a chaotic period atop an already crazy situation, so being exact on some of this stuff is hard – but one day, Dave was just gone. It was almost as if he’d vanished, as I remember his office sitting there with a lot of his personal stuff and game collection still sitting there, and his door locked shut. Then, a good chunk of the staff was also gone. It felt like half of the office left, but I don’t know the exact numbers at this point. It was definitely a weird situation, compounded by the fact that you now had close friends split between the two outlets. For example, I was sharing an apartment with Mike Griffin at the time, and he went to Gamers' Republic while I stayed at GameFan.
I distinctly remember walking into Dave’s office near the end, and he’d been crying – I think the realization of everything hit him, and he knew the only way out was leaving this amazing thing he built
I wasn’t sure that staying at GameFan was the best answer, but it also seemed to promise some potential that I’d never have otherwise. I’d long wished to do more for the magazine – and less for online, which is where a lot of my focuses ended up going – but I had trouble really breaking out compared to some of the other staff members (part of which I totally admit was my fault). With big names like Dave, Nick Des Barres, Casey Loe, and Ryan Lockhart gone, though, it meant that suddenly, a lot of the other people at GameFan who focused on Japanese gaming and anime were now gone. That meant that, basically overnight, I was now fully in charge of the AnimeFan section, something I’d longed to have more involvement with. I also now had the chance to not only preview/review more games in the mag, but also have more say over which ones I covered, and also do the layouts for a lot of those games I was assigned to (another thing I’d been longing to do).
So, for some of us, the split meant that we now had the chance to be more important to and visible in GameFan, whereas before we’d existed more in the background as so many bigger-name legacy editors kept the spotlight. (I know that may sound a bit harsh to the older guard, but I don’t mean for it to.) And, honestly, things felt better at GameFan at that point. Be it due to suddenly having far less staff to pay for, Metropolis Media finally realizing it needed to take us more seriously, or maybe a mixture of those and other factors, but it seemed like there was then more stability and professionalism on the business side of things. However, shortly after the big split, I ended up moving back home to Nebraska and working remotely from there until GameFan’s death, with only a few visits back out to the SoCal office – so maybe I wasn’t around to see more of the day-to-day reality.
Ryan Lockhart: Dave was so down near the end of GameFan, and when this idea of a new magazine started to take shape, it was an amazing and exciting idea. I think the reason Dave left was because he was no longer having fun – this magazine he created used to be his passion, and now it was a business with a shady partner that only cared about making money. I distinctly remember walking into Dave’s office near the end, and he’d been crying – I think the realization of everything hit him, and he knew the only way out was leaving this amazing thing he built. And then he was gone, and the “outside” meetings began.
I still remember quitting in the middle of an all-hands GameFan meeting regarding the exodus, exactly when David Bergstein told me what my new role would be – there’s some sort of irony there, I guess – but I was on the fence until then. I loved GameFan and the idea of leaving it, even without Dave running the show, seemed wrong somehow. But hearing Bergstein at that exact moment made up my mind, and I distinctly recall Greg Rau (my direct boss) whispering some choice words behind me after I said I couldn’t do this anymore. Hah.
What was your opinion of Gamers' Republic? It felt like something of a spiritual successor to GameFan, despite GameFan still being in print?
Mollie L Patterson: Mixed. Obviously, I wanted the magazine to succeed, as people I cared about and were friends with were over there working hard to hopefully still have a career. But, at the same time, they were a rival. Also – as evident from the name – there was a much larger British influence, which could be seen in ways from the writing style to the overall visual design. There had been a “British Invasion” as we called it at GameFan, where a number of people from the English gaming mag scene had come over to join GameFan, and some of them played a big part in getting Gamers' Republic off the ground.
I actually liked what they were doing in terms of their layouts and designs, as I’d always kind of felt like GameFan could be really messy and cluttered – though, of course, that was also part of our appeal. For the most part, though, I avoided the magazine completely, in part because it felt kind of weird to read it given everything that had gone down. I mostly focused on my work at GameFan, and let them do their thing.
Ryan Lockhart: Working at Gamers' Republic was much different than GameFan; Dave gave more of the reins to David Hodgson and Gary Harrod for editorial and art direction, and they tightened everything up. We had way less “super late nights,” and the magazine published on time (for the most part). I would argue it wasn’t quite as much fun as GameFan, but the industry had also moved on, and Gamers' Republic still made its mark in other ways.
When the end finally came for GameFan, what was it like?
Mollie L Patterson: It’s kind of hard to answer that, because it was almost as if one day GameFan existed, and the next it was gone. Not being in the office, if there were any signs on the wall, I wasn’t there to see them. So, I was basically just doing my everyday job of working on stuff for the next issue and handling the day-to-day for AnimeFan Online, and then I was told – I think by ECM, aka Eric Mylonas – that GameFan was dead.
It totally hit me from out of the blue. (Which, funny enough, would then later be repeated at Play magazine, another Dave venture.) Of course, I was freaking out about not having a job, but way more than that, it was crushing to know that GameFan was gone. I loved the magazine – and still do to this day – and more than just a job, it was a family, a project I deeply believed in and cared about, and something I’d been a fan of long before I was an employee.
Working at GameFan had been a dream, one that I could never have imagined would come true. And now, that dream was dead.
What was it like working with Dave Halverson?
Mollie L Patterson: Dave and I didn’t get off to the best start at GameFan. When I came in, I definitely wasn’t what he was expecting in person, and I never put in the effort to be “pals” with him like some other staff did (or, alternately, like he did with other staff who were way more knowledgable and skilled at games than he was). And then, sometime after the fall of GameFan (I think it was), a lot of dirt started coming out about the magazine and Dave himself, especially on a gaming rumour site that existed at the time called Fatbabies. There ended up being a very public and personal clash between Dave and I that played out through that site, and I swore I’d never, ever work for the man again.
Time, and age, change people, of course. My initial conversations in re-connecting with Dave came while I was going to school in Japan years later, and we were very friendly. Those conversations were pretty casual, and we’d talk a bit about his new project, Play, or he’d ask me for suggestions of cool imports to keep an eye out for. It then ended up that Play would be undergoing some staff changes. He wanted someone new to come in and take over control for Play’s website, and asked me to be that person.
When Play died, it really hurt. I’d come to legitimately care about the magazine, and knew that something like it might never exist again
Very different to how things were at GameFan, Dave and I got along great during our time together at Play. There were still things about him that would bother me, or drive me crazy, but he actually respected my work and voice at that point, and that helped me have more drive to put a deeper level of effort into what I was doing.
In a few ways, I actually came to love Play more than GameFan, though of course, it’d never be on the same level as its legendary predecessor. In fact, I think Play is the closest we’ve ever gotten to a true successor to GameFan. It was the biggest concentration of ex-GF staff that’s ever happened after the death of GameFan, with it having Dave, myself, Nick Des Barres, Casey Loe, Mike Griffin, and Michael Hobbs. It also had a few other staffers who absolutely had that old GameFan spirit to them, like Heather Anne Campbell.
When Play died, it really hurt. I’d come to legitimately care about the magazine, and knew that something like it might never exist again. It, like GameFan, was a sudden, unexpected death, and I think the way it was handled was awful. I was incredibly bitter about what had happened and how it’d happened, and had also been put into some unfair situations in those final days, so I aired some of my grievances publicly in a way that put Dave and I back on bad terms. I absolutely think my feelings at the time were legitimate, but I do now kind of regret the way I handled things in that moment.
I know people who have personal issues with Dave that I absolutely don’t want to discount, so I want to be clear that what I’m about to say is simply my take on my relationship with him. There’s a lot of opinions out there in the world about Dave, and a lot of them are totally legit. He way overhyped some terrible games, he’s had some totally ludicrous opinions on things, he isn’t the best at running a business, and some of his actions can definitely be considered shady. But – there’s also something about Dave that I totally respect. When he, for example, had me post a long diatribe against the rest of gaming media for their negativity against Golden Axe: Beast Rider, as insane as it came off, it was because he genuinely believed the things he was saying. I don’t know enough to swear that he never took money or felt pressure to give games good reviews, but I can absolutely tell you that he loves video games, even horrible, broken ones, and that some of his most outrageous opinions were also completely genuine.
All other things about the man aside, Dave has a passion for video games that is beyond belief at times, and that translated into a passion for trying to share said passion with others. No matter our history or personal spats over time, working at Play was an incredibly special time for me that I now miss, and it meant a lot that he gave me the room I needed to show my own passion in every issue. After his attempt to bring back GameFan in 2010 failed – which, really, it was a bad idea from the start – he kind of vanished, given he was never a fan of the internet and social media. Honestly, things are just a little less interesting without his craziness out there.
Just as a used-car dealer isn’t going to mention that the car you want had fallen into a lake, Dave’s never going to tell you directly that the magazine’s struggling
Casey Loe: I loved working for Play, and I learned a lot from GameFan about how to approach working on a Dave Halverson magazine. GameFan wasn’t a place where you tried to make deals with publicists to get the scoop on some hot upcoming game, or where you pitched articles to blow the lid off how some game sucks, or how some platform isn’t living up to its promises. Like GameFan, the trick to writing for Play was to find something in gaming you loved, research it yourself, take some beautiful pictures, and write an article about it. And Dave was always down for that, even if it wasn’t something he cared about or had even heard of himself.
I’ll always be grateful to Dave for giving me my start in the industry. Towards the end, there was a lot of resentment from the staff about him not living up to various promises he made, and cheques that were never sent, and that’s fair. The trick with Dave was to remember you were dealing with someone who had literally been a used-car salesman. Just as a used-car dealer isn’t going to mention that the car you want had fallen into a lake, Dave’s never going to tell you directly that the magazine’s struggling, you’re not getting that raise you wanted, or that he’s sending someone else to the Tokyo Game Show instead of you, despite what he told you last week. But he gave his staff a lot of editorial freedom, encouraged positivity in a cynical age, and encouraged everyone to write about what they loved in whatever way they wanted. I imagine that whatever’s become of him, he’s still loving games in a way my cynical self can only dream of.
Sadly, some of the key GameFan staff have passed on since the magazine closed. What are you memories of staffers like ECM, who did so much to shape the magazine?
Mollie L Patterson: It’s definitely been heartbreaking to hear about ex-GameFan folks passing away, especially the two most recent examples in Eric Mylonas and Jody Seltzer.
ECM was an interesting guy. I know the era of GameFan after he took over can be kind of controversial with some people, and I’ll be honest in that I didn’t always love how edgy and bitter the mag felt at times at that point. And yet, he also helped push a deeper sense of community in the issue, in ways such as editors referring to one another in articles, such as specifically mention their play sessions with X or Y other staffer in the process of doing their review. That was a level of personality that often didn’t exist in other magazines, and it was a tradition I carried on with me to later outlets like Play and EGM.
As a person, ECM and I would often argue over if this game sucked or that game was good, and he loved teasing me about my love of Japanese games, anime, and cutesy stuff. At the end of the day, however, he always showed me and my opinions a level of respect that I really appreciated, and when GameFan died and he made a push to help launch the ill-fated GameGO with Thomas Keller, he was very adamant about wanting me to be part of the staff, which really meant a lot to me.
Casey Loe: My era didn’t overlap with ECM’s, but Jody Seltzer was the one who showed me the ropes in my first month at GameFan, and taught me how to use all the magazine’s software. He was a talented designer who did a lot to develop and maintain the signature look at GameFan. Since he was a very nice man who stayed above the LSD-in-the-coffee style drama, I don’t have any particularly colourful memories to relay. But he did chew tobacco and littered the office with cans full of tobacco spit. The risk of picking up one of his cans by mistake made bringing a can of Pepsi to the office an exciting but very dangerous game.
Ryan Lockhart: Yeah, also didn’t work with ECM, but Jody was absolutely wonderful and played zero politics. He and Greg Rau were examples of how to act like an adult in the playground that was GameFan sometimes. And to match what Casey said, more than once I’d pick up (what I thought was my) can of Pepsi, and realize it was warm and heavy and "OMG that’s not my Pepsi".
If you'd like to read more about the history of GameFan, this thread is utterly essential.
This article was originally published by nintendolife.com on Sat 15th August, 2020.