May 1, 2010

HOW TO BECOME AN EDITOR-IN-CHIEF WITHOUT REALLY WANTING TO, A MEMORY

After I had quit NBC Giga in 1999, I had reached at a point where I didn't want to take on responsibilities anymore. I was tired. I was worn down. What I really wanted was a cabin somewhere in Canada, with a frozen lake next to it... and simply not be bothered by people, their demands, their wishes and their expectations.

Yeah... well, you need to have a bit of money for that, and I didn't have it. But maybe I could get the next best thing. A writing job where I didn't have to lead. Just sit there and do my thing. And then I saw that Future Publishing was looking for games editors and writers to launch new magazines in Germany.

Happy! Happy!

Not only did I know Future Publishing's magazines, I had bought a great many of them while living in the UK. They did slick magazines for a speciality market, their headlines had a great sense of humour, their writing style was irreverent and "laddish" (so the term at the time), and their designs were miles above what was on the German market at the time.

Happy! Happy!

I applied, and within 48 hours I was in my car to Hamburg, to meet Future Publishing's German MD, Stefan Moosleitner (yes, I am going to name this one, he deserves to be named). Moosleitner? Oh! My! God! He was related to Peter Moosleitner! And for those who don't know Germany, Peter Moosleitner had invented a German popular science magazine called P.M., which I had read religiously in my hometown's library when I had been growing up. It explained stuff like tornadoes, tsunamis and technical stuff as well. For a boy growing up, it was perfect reading material. It taught you, but didn't bore you.

And the guy running this thing was... the nephew of that man!

Happy! Happy!

This could not possibly go wrong!

Arrived in Hamburg, still thinking that Future Germany would be situated there. Hamburg! Beautiful city! The Alster! Old houses! Classy people! I had about two hours to my meeting. Walked around. Had coffee. It was a beautiful day. The sun was out. And the beautiful people were out with it. Hamburg. Maybe the closest thing to the UK you can be in Germany, when it comes to how people act, how the general atmosphere is.

Hell, I could live here.

Met with Moosleitner at an ad agency. He was a tall, tanned man with impossibly bright eyes. Charming. Good smile. He gave me his pitch. I was here because I had been on television. No other reason. I was... a good catch. I knew it. He knew that I knew it. He didn't need to pitch me hard. Like I said, I loved those Future magazines. The money he offered for me being a games editor was a bit low, but I didn't mind it all that much. I wanted to see this as a bit of a paid vacation. Playing games all day long? Then writing about them? To me that was heaven. I knew I could write very fast, so... more games playing for me!

First magazine out of the gate, he told me, would be the Official Dreamcast Magazine. Future UK had won the pitch for the German market, so that's where they would need people, like, right now. I looked at the pitch. I liked the pitch. It looked like a Future magazine. Okay, I'm willing to play ball.

Would I be willing to relocate...

Hamburg! Hamburg! My heart skipped a beat.

... to Munich?

Shit. Munich. Shit. I hate Munich. I hate it with a passion. It's a mundane city without class, but filled with people who think they have class. Munich? Munich. Shit. But it would still be for a company whose products I liked, and did I mention he was the fucking nephew of Peter Moosleitner?

Kids, never let yourself blinded by those things.

But I did let myself be blinded.

"I hate Munich," I told him. "So here's where I have to make my one and only demand, because if I have to haul my ass down there, then I want you to promise me this: we are going all in. We are not going to do anything half-arsed. We go in to become the number one games magazine publisher in Germany."

He promised me. I said yes.

And two weeks later I had packed my little belongings and was on my way to Munich. Since this had to be done all, like, yesterday, they had found me a furnished apartment to stay in, until I could find my own place. First disappointment? The furnished apartment was a rathole. And no, I am not joking. It consisted of a bedroom marginally larger than my old bedroom I grew up in at my parents', it stank like dead things, the bed had been manufactored some time in the 1950s and had apparently had the same mattress from way back when. The bathroom was a hole in the wall, and it smelled like the only thing they had tried to clean off those dead things. Lysol and dead things. Awesome combination.

But still, I thought, this is just temporary. Two weeks or so. Then I'll have my own little place. A studio, maybe, because on that salary... in Munich... that would be the only thing I could afford.

Next morning I walked into Future Germany's offices.

What the fuck?

There was one desk there. My desk. No computer. No phone line. No internet. And there was Moosleitner and his personal assistant, in an office separate from the main open-plan one (remember? One desk there. Mine). I said my hellos. Laughed. Joked. God, I must be early, then, right?

"You're the first we hired."

Oh... shit.

Where's the Editor-in-Chief for the Official Dreamcast Magazine?

I got told that they were still looking, but things had to move fast, the console would be launched at the IFA fair in Berlin at the end of August. It was Mid-June at this point.

One desk. No computer. No console. No art department. No editorial department. Just me. You wouldn't believe how things looked at the office. There was literally nothing and nobody there. And less than seven weeks to publication of a mini-version of the magazine that would be inserted into the boxes of the first 40,000 Dreamcast units.

And that's something that they needed to discuss with Sega Germany. So Moosleitner and me got booked on a flight that took me back to Düsseldorf the next day for that first meeting with Sega Germany.

Seven weeks. Impossible. Oh, but how exciting! I love doing impossible things.

The meeting in Düsseldorf went well. At least for me. The Sega people were nice. A bit unorganised. But nice. Moosleitner didn't like them. Well, probably some kind of corporate bullshit with contracts, I thought. Not my problem. I would have to work with their PR departments. And the lady there, Tina Sakowsky, was nice. And immediately helpful. I needed a console. hell, I needed more than one, but one would suffice for now. So I could start working, uh, playing, uh, working. Not a problem. I'd have one at Future the next day.

Great.

We discussed the pitch that would become the blueprint for the magazine later. I felt a bit uncomfortable. I wasn't the Editor-in-Chief. I shouldn't make these calls. I told them my opinions, secure in the fact that it was all this was, them asking me for my opinions.

Back in Munich. A computer! Awesome! Still no phone. But at least something to work with. The console arrived. So did Martina Vrenegor, who had been hired at what we in Germany call CvD. Chefin vom Dienst. It's essentially a position that combines the production and copy editor position. Funny woman. Smart as a whip. And with a knowledge of the German language that far exceeded my own. Loved her! Another games editor arrived. Markus Hermannsdorfer. No background in games, but okay, we could handle that. He was willing to go all in, too.

Two folks from the Bath main house arrived. One of them was an art director. Ian Miller. Awesome! Never seen a more talented man when it comes to magazine design before or since. Loved him!

Six weeks to go.

We started to discuss things. Section headers. Market positioning. We started to work on the first cover. Martina – to her credit – came up with the most brilliant idea during one of these discussions. Her exact words were, "what if we discard the typical section headers like Reviews and Previews and stuff... and replace them with funny German-isms?" Loved it! More discussions. A lot of laughter! We came up with section headers like "Bald Da" (Coming Soon) and "Jetzt Da" (Here Now) and a whole lot of other things.

Still, I felt uncomfortable. We were making decisions here. Big decisions. We needed to make them. Five and a half weeks to go.

But there was no editor-in-chief.

The really big decisions couldn't be made. And we were starting to bleed time. The computers were still not connected to each other. We had no way of capturing game images from the console. Too may things that went off track, that were not within our realm of responsibility.

I had not played a single game yet.

I did my best to keep things together, to get a sense of production into the whole enterprise. I did what the editor-in-chief was supposed to do. Moosleitner was barely there. He was off doing important corporate things. And doing vacations. That's right. Mini vacations. And buying shit. Shit like expensive trash cans. And forbidding to buy things. Things like a fucking colour printer.

Five weeks to go.

We were drowning. There came rumblings from Sega, little things, but still... the enormity of the issues would only become apparent to me later. I went to meetings with the other games publishers, with the sales rep on loan from Future UK, Anne. Nice woman. Didn't speak a word of German. Very competent, though. Still, me feeling uncomfortable.

We had no editor-in-chief. All of this was not my responsibility!

But there was nobody else.

Somebody had to do something. And by that I mean, that something had to be done, but it better not be me having to do it. Moosleitner came back from one of his trips. I asked to see him.

"Is it all working okay?" he asked me.

"No," I said. "No, it isn't. We are understaffed. We don't have the right equipment. You put us on a deadline that is virtually impossible to do, even if we weren't understaffed. And I have a Managing Director who doesn't appear to give a shit. Do you remember what I told you in Hamburg? I told you that I'd only come here if we didn't do anything half-arsed. Well, guess what? We are not doing it half-arsed, no, we have gone full asshole on this. And there is nobody here who takes the responsibility."

"I don't have time to deal with these little things," he told me.

"Little things?" I exploded. "This is the first fucking product Future will put out in Germany! You don't think people will be watching? You don't think that the competition will be watching? I didn't come here to become a laughing stock!"

"I don't have time to deal with these little things," he repeated. And all the charm had disappeared from his face. The smile was now a thin line in his tanned face. "Is this all?"

"That is all," I said. And walked out of his office.

"Do we have an editor-in-chief?" asked Martina when I came back to my work place.

I closed my eyes. Don't do this, I screamed at myself inside. You don't want to do this. This was supposed to be your vacation job. Remember? Play games! Write a little! Have a life outside the office! When was the last time you had a life outside the office? Have you even been in Munich and gone out? Don't do this! Don't you fucking dare!

"Yes, we do," I said to her. "Me."

"He made you EIC?" Markus asked.

"No," I said. "But somebody needs to take responsibility, and we have less than five weeks to deadline. And if you guys have no problems with it, I'll take the reigns. We'll be a team. We will discuss everything. But somebody needs to make the hard choices now, our Managing Director is a no-show, he doesn't give a fuck, and somebody needs to make the hard choices and stand up for them, not only inside this company, but also legally, we need somebody who is responsible."

"I have no problem with that," said Markus.

"Me neither," said Martina.

"Been wondering when you'd start to put your foot down," said Ian.

"Less than five weeks, people," I said. "Anybody fancy going out for a drink for lunch? Considering that I just put my neck into the noose and will very likely hang in a month or so, I think we all deserve an hour to celebrate that. And then we'll try to do the impossible."

And we did.

We did do the impossible.

And then some.