Interview: PC Gamer’s Dan Morris

September 5, 2006

At Showdown LAN this previous weekend I was able to round up PC Gamer’s Dan Morris (former Editor-in-Chief) for an interview. I questioned him on a broad range of topics and here’s what he had to say:


[b]Wytefang:[/b] Since we’re here at Showdown LAN, can you tell us how the seed was planted, so to speak, for PC Gamer to host this event and what the motivation was behind this as well?

[b]Dan Morris:[/b] I thought it was a shame that PC gamer had been around for ten years and had not done some kind of face to face event that really let us interact with readers. Nor had we really done much to get involved really closely with the lan gaming scene. It was something we had kind of neglected, I felt, in recent years. So I wanted to correct that by doing this event and killing two birds with one stone; we simultaneously put our brand back out in the lan community where I think it needs to be and we also get opportunities to bring sponsors together with our readers, to interview our readers up close and find out what they’re thinking about. This has been great market research for us. All that kind of factored into it plus we just kind of wanted to do it. It was a fun idea that we would be the people responsible for the largest lan event in California history so we put all that together and said ‘Sure, let’s figure it out and make it happen’.

[b]Wytefang:[/b] We understand that you’ve recently taken on a new role at PC Gamer. Can you tell us a little bit about your new title?

[b]DM:[/b] I was Editor-in-Chief (EIC) of PC Gamer formerly, now I am Associate Publisher so I’ve moved from the Editorial side of the business to the business side of the business. I’m now responsible for the whole P&L (profit and loss); the business unit is basically mine. I’m the ‘biz guy’ now. I still am basically an editorial director for the magazine; I do a post-mortem with them every issue. I still approve covers and things like that. But really day-to-day I have nothing to do with the editorial anymore that’s entirely Greg’s job (Editor’s note: Greg Vederman, PC Gamer’s current Editor-in-Chief) my job is more about business development, brand champion, it’s more about owning PC Gamer and making it all it can be.

[b]Wytefang:[/b] How did you get your start at PC Gamer?

[b]DM:[/b] I moved there from a competing magazine, PC Games, which had been acquired from our parent company, Future. I began at that magazine as an intern in college when I was twenty years old, so this is really only the second full-time job that I’ve had, PC Gamer that is, I’ve been here almost eight years.

[b]Wytefang:[/b] Why Game Journalism as opposed to, say, Accounting or Medical school?

[b]DM:[/b] I was always interested in journalism but I hadn’t really focused in on what kind of journalism it was going to be but I was very active on the high school paper, I was a journalism major in college, it was something I really wanted to do, it was a passion of mine. My other big passion was computer games, specifically PC games not console. So miraculously one day I just happened to see an internship posting at San Jose State for an editorial intern at the magazine ‘PC Games’ and it didn’t take me long to put two and two together and say, ‘Hey this is something I really would enjoy’, so I applied and was fortunate enough to get the internship and I loved it; haven’t left the business since!

[b]Wytefang:[/b] Can you tell us a little bit about the highs and lows of Game Journalism?

[b]DM:[/b] The highs are many. We’re around the games all the time. We get to play the games. We get to play them first. We get to see them in development. We get to meet game developers. All that stuff is a privilege that we try not to take for granted. I work with amazing, creative, wonderful people all day long every day, which is a dream; they really keep me charged up. All those are the ‘highs’. The only ‘low’ that I can think of, and it’s really not that much of a ‘low’, is that there can be just brutal, brutal schedules for us. This weekend is a perfect example (of that). Even in my case working business deals, or what have you, we give up a lot of weekends, a lot of nights, it’s a very demanding job.

[b]Dan Morris, Associate Publisher of PC Gamer and former Editor-in-Chief[/b]

[b]Wytefang:[/b] Is that due to deadlines mainly?

[b]DM:[/b] All kinds of things, deadlines for sure but just the nature of our business is a very grueling one, I think any journalist would say that publishing is hard. I think every person on my staff could be making more money doing something else but we don’t want to do anything else.

[b]Wytefang:[/b] What has been your favorite moment while working at PC Gamer so far?

[b]DM:[/b] I have a new favorite moment every month to be honest! You know that’s a tough question to answer. That’s what I love about the job, every three or four months I have a new one. I would say that the last, the most recent one was our breaking the Half-Life 2 story, bringing the world exclusive out was just such an honor to do. I mean that was the most anticipated story of that year and we got it, we did it, we did it justice; seeing that issue come to fruition was very rewarding. Actually I’ve got a tie for you, my new best moment is this (event) and I’ve been blown away by what we’ve pulled together here. And the stuff that I’ve been told by our readers who are here has been really energizing. I’m glad we did this if only because we get to be face to face with people who know our product and we get to hear what they think about it and that’s been terrific.

[b]Wytefang:[/b] What piece of PC Gamer work are you most proud of and why?

[b]DM:[/b] I think the thing that we are most proud of collectively is the ‘Game Gods’ feature that we did a number of years back where we gathered the 25 biggest names in the industry in one room and let them all just talk to each other, really, we didn’t do much interviewing we just sort of let them interact and we recorded it all and documented it and that was probably the toughest thing we ever did in terms of logistical challenges but we pulled it off and it was great fun.

[b]Wytefang:[/b] Where do you see the future of PC Gamer heading?

[b]DM:[/b] I would say that we are going to be evolving beyond a magazine. What we are going to be doing is moving aggressively into internet products, moving aggressively into live events, like this one, and some other stuff as well. We are going to try to push the brand into new media, by which I don’t just mean the internet but new formats where we can reach people. The podcast is a great example of that. That’s sort of my mission is to obviously maintain the magazine but push us into new forms that…

[b]Wytefang:[/b] …boldly go where no gamer has gone before? LOL

[b]DM:[/b] [i](laughs)[/i] …exactly! I think that’s going to be the story of any media brand in the 21st century, that sort of evolution and that’s my priority.

[b]Wytefang:[/b] Why is the PC your preferred gaming platform?

[b]DM:[/b] It’s hard to say – it’s what I grew up on, I didn’t really grow up with a lot of consoles in the house, I grew up on an Apple IIe and basic PCs and that Apple IIe is where I started gaming. I just never got out of the habit. It’s just always been the more appealing platform for me. I don’t have a great answer for that other than that’s where I started and I’ve just kind of stuck with my roots.

[b]Wytefang:[/b] Can you tell us what your top five favorite games are, of all time?

[b]DM:[/b] In no particular order I would say they are: X-com UFO Defense, Civilization (series), Battlefield 2, Team Fortress Classic, and Baseball Mogul.

[b]Wytefang:[/b] What are you thoughts about the recent news that Computer Gaming World (CGW) has acquired the title from Microsoft as the ‘official’ magazine for PC gaming or as Microsoft calls it, “Games for Windows”? Where does that leave PC Gamer?

[b]DM:[/b] Right where we have been, (laughs), as the world’s biggest selling computer games magazine. It’s sort of the move that I would’ve made if I were them. I mean they were a magazine on their way out, I mean like financially on their way out, and so they’re sort of rolling the dice and trying something new and that’s what I’d have done too. I don’t think it’s going to change PC Gamer one bit.

[b]Wytefang:[/b] You don’t think that it’s going to affect your basic-level fan who sort of skims the surface and might select CGW (now officially known as ‘Games For Windows’) over PC Gamer due to the ‘official’ designation?

[b]DM:[/b] I don’t believe that we have a ‘basic-level reader’ who just ‘skims the surface’, I mean we’re a hardcore magazine for a hardcore interest and so I’m not worried about losing casual fans to anybody. We’re always going to be there for the hardcore PC gamer and that’s what we do.

[b]Wytefang:[/b] What upcoming games are you most looking forward to?

[b]DM:[/b] A lot of the ones on this show-floor, honestly, like Company of Heroes, Supreme Commander, and BF2142. I’m psyched for all three of those.

[b]Wytefang:[/b] In light of the accessibility and prevalence of online gaming sites, do you think that printed media’s days are numbered?

[b]DM:[/b] I think it’s kind of a semantic question. Yes, I think the magazine business is being put through profound changes by what’s happening online. Do I think we’re going to be ‘extincted’? No. Do I think we’re going to have to change our value proposition? Yes. The reason being, (that) we’re finding out what everyone is finding out which is that there is no more scarcity of information. Information is everywhere now. There was a wonderful time when PC Gamer was one of the only places to get the latest scoop on a new game. Those days are done, however we’re always going to have a lot to offer the hardcore gamer who wants to penetrate PC gaming as deeply as possible and with the funnest possible people to do it with, so yeah, we’re going to rise to the occasion (despite these changes).

[b]Wytefang:[/b] I’ve read allegations from an online site that claims that PC Gamer (among other magazines mentioned) shamelessly hypes games in its previews section instead of maintaining journalistic integrity (i.e. you guys won’t say anything negative about Previewed games). What is your response to this?

[b]DM:[/b]You know, even in previews, that’s one of the canards that drives me crazy – the idea that all previews are positive. We took a lot of flak, I personally took a lot of flak, for a preview of Ghost Recon that I did in which I basically lamented the fact that the new Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter was ‘consolized’, I mean that was the word for it. I didn’t say it was necessarily going to be a bad game, it wasn’t going to be the Ghost Recon that we expected and that, frankly, PC Gamer wanted, and that was all there in the preview. We have a great relationship with the senior execs at Ubisoft and they were sort of dismayed, is probably the word, by saying ‘Hey you’ve judged this game early, you haven’t given it the benefit of the doubt’. I thought that we DID give it the benefit of the doubt; we said what we felt we had to say which was that we were disappointed that this wasn’t going to be the same level of crunchy, granular Ghost Recon play that we had loved and made Game of the Year. So we’ve taken people on at the previews stage, we’ve done it forcefully and we’ve been very pleased with the results that we get, from the one source of feedback that we care about. It’s not self-appointed web watchdogs, it’s our readers. Our readers write to us and let us know how we’re doing and so far we’re doing fine.

[b]Wytefang:[/b] Who is your favorite Game Designer to interview and why?

[b]DM:[/b] I like them all and would hate to hurt feelings but I have personally always have enjoyed interviewing Chris Taylor, I think everyone does. He’s a combination of extremely passionate about what he does and also just extremely sick and hilarious and funny. He’s a riot, if you ever get a chance to talk to him, I encourage you to do it. He’s just the friendliest, most accessible guy, and he’s terrific, I always love the chance to talk to him.

[b]Wytefang:[/b] Any last words for PC Gamer/Gaming fans?

[b]DM:[/b] Thanks for sticking with us. We work ourselves half to death every month to put out the magazine that we do and now we’re working ourselves most of the way to death, adding podcasts and events like this and all that stuff to the table and we do it because every now and then we get a chance to meet readers who absolutely get it and love what we do and they’re the people we’re doing it for so just thanks very much for being with us!

[b]Wytefang:[/b] Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions despite your busy schedule here at Showdown LAN.

[b]DM:[/b] No problem! Check us out online (and our podcast) at: [url][/url]