Steve Carey was the editor of Amstrad Action from AA35 (Aug 1988) to AA50 (Nov 1989) - He was preceded by Bob Wade / succeeded by Rod Lawton.
Having spent some time at PC Plus as Production Editor, Steve replaced the departing Bob Wade as Editor on issue 35. He left after issue 50 in November 1989 to edit ST Format. Later went on to become a Publisher overseeing such titles as MEGA, Amiga Power, PC Gamer, .net and the games industries well respected EDGE, among others. In January 1995 he was made Publishing Director for the Consumer Division, before leaving the United Kingdom for Australia to work for ACP magazines (now known as Bauer Media Group) in 1998. These days he is totally out of the magazine publishing scene and runs a training academy teaching clinical hypnotherapy.
Steve co-authored two books in 2008 and 2009 respectively:
How to Get a Job in Publishing: A Really Practical Guide to Careers in Books and Magazines
How to Save Your Life: Sack Your Boss, Start Your Own Business, Find Your Passion
In November 2014 Steve agreed to give us an interview of sorts about his time at AA, Amstrad generally and a few other bits and pieces from those days...
Hi Steve - firstly, thanks for doing this interview!
Of course I'd be happy to do an interview. Let me know when & how. Hey, I remember writing what I think was actually a rather good profile/history of Amstrad and got some good inside info. But I remember it because I made a muck-up and my captions referred to someone by the wrong name - I think I was interviewing Roland Perry and referred to him by another name or vice versa or something else entirely... Does this ring any bells at all?
Onto the questions:
What's it like casting your mind back to those days? I'm sure you probably haven’t thought about the Amstrad for a while now (I could be wrong!)?
It seems like a million years ago! Another lifetime, perhaps – another millennium, certainly.
Where in the UK are you originally from?
How did you end up in Future Publishing/Editor of AA?
I did my Doctorate at Jesus College, Oxford on Comedy in James Joyce’s Ulysses – ideal preparation for a career in magazine publishing! Actually I saw a job ad in PC Plus and Editor Matt Nicholson decided that someone who didn’t know about computers but could spell might make a good copy-editor. And at the time Fewtch was growing so fast I soon got plucked to be an editor.
What was it like generally working there?
Good team, good people, good company? Good times? Stressful? Always a mad rush/panic to get everything ready in time?
It was bloody fantastic, actually. Chris Anderson was a visionary and my boss Greg Ingham was supersmart (and a super smart arse too, just like me). And the people at Fewtch were young and fun. It was the best of times, it was the best of times. As for deadlines? Goes with the territory. Never met a journo yet who wasn’t inspired to do his/her best work by a looming deadline!
What did you think about other CPC magazines? Did you know anyone from the rival mags?
Were there others? I guess there must have been. But we were the best, no doubt. And one thing that Future always used to do was to have audited circulation figures (ABC, they were called, Audit Bureau of Circulation), which meant there was an objective measure of how many copies we sold. So when we said we were number one, we could prove it!
Letters to the editor - fun/annoying? Are there some corkers that you couldn't publish?
We had some terrific letters, some of them even written by readers.
Did you play many games? Favourites?
I wasn’t much of a gamer myself, frankly. No good at them at all.
Did you actually get to use Amstrad's a lot? - What are your general thoughts on the Amstrad CPC range?
I did use an Amstrad for a while and at the time they were terrific, they really were.
When was the last time you saw/used an Amstrad?
Sometime last century.
Did you keep an eye on all things Amstrad and AA after you left - did you read later editions of the magazine? Got any Amstrad magazines/materials from those days?
Did you know other editors?
The Future ones, of course. Ones from other magazines – well everyone knew Gary Penn and Ciaran Brennan. They were far bigger names than I ever was among the gaming/computer community. Gary came to Future a little later, I believe.
Working with Ollie Alderton. He was – and still is – such a great fun bloke to spend time with. Give him my love if you see him. He used to do this thumbs up thing and go, ‘Brilliant!’ with that stupid big grin on his face. God love him to bits.
In touch with anyone from those days?
Saw Ollie and Matt Bielby back in the UK earlier this year. Otherwise a bit of Facebook. Still very fond of Trev Gilham, one of the Future first generation – he did the Future Publishing logo, indeed.
What are you up to now? Why Melbourne, Australia? (btw I was born there!). Return to UK often?
Better weather! It’s funny, as you’d know, if you say you came to Straya for the weather and you’re in Melbourne they think you’re daft – but they never had a few dozen British winters to contend with. I love Melbourne, it’s a fantastic place. I came here to work for Kerry Packer’s ACP originally in 1998, but now I’m well away from the world of magazines. Actually I run a training academy teaching people to become Clinical Hypnotherapists. As you do.
Had a good look around at the CPC Wiki / CPC Wiki forum? Thoughts?
I have to confess I haven’t, yet. You’d better edit this question out! [oops forgot to edit that out, sorry Steve!]
and specific questions from other Forum users:
Was there pressure to give games from certain companies better reviews because of their advertising spend in the magazine? Did any companies kick up a fuss when you gave a bad review and threaten to withdraw advertising?
Great question – and yes! That really was a very live issue. US Gold I remember in particular were shockers, because they spent a lot on advertising and produced some sh*t games. One of the truly great things about Future was that Chris Anderson was absolutely adamant that readers came first and that if you really didn’t rate a game you had to say so and hang the consequences. And that culture permeated the place – it probably reached its apotheosis in the person of Stuart Campbell on Amiga Power, the funniest and most scathing writer I can recall. I loved that. It put readers first, and was actually very smart commercially, because readers can smell bullsh*t and they really don’t like the smell of it. And besides, how can you sing the praises of a great game if you’re nice about everything? Readers need to know they can trust you.
Did you review any titles that didn't get a release?
I wish I could remember, sorry.
Did you have much direct contact with Amstrad themselves and Alan Sugar?
Never met Lord Sugar himself, I have to say. But I did write a pretty good Amstrad history feature for AA actually. I went along to see Roland Perry who was very forthcoming. I was quite proud of that piece, it seemed to have a lot of really good info about Amstrad and the CPC project.
What impression did you get from Amstrad in relation to the CPC? Were they proud of it? Forgotten about it and moving on? Did they really care that much about their user base?
Oh I really do think they were very proud of it at the time. It was a real breakthrough, I think. But Amstrad weren’t like an Apple or a Sega or a Commodore – computers weren’t their reason for existing, they would sell anything that they could. Is that fair?
Who were the best and worst game publishing companies to deal with?
Electronic Arts were pretty switched on and professional. US Gold were big and the quality of their stuff was pretty patchy.
And did any of them deliberately not send you review copies of games?
Well I have to admit that the CPC wasn’t exactly at the forefront of publishers’ minds, so they usually took decisions like that on other platforms and didn’t even do a version for CPC if it wasn’t going to go well. That’s my recollection anyway.
And why did some games from other countries get so few points/poor reviews, even they were awesome? Anything against French, other European games?
Oh God you’ve just reminded me! The Infogrammes PR girl was absolutely gorgeous! Er, what was the question again? No I really don’t think we had it in for the French or the Europeans, I’ve no idea why it would be that we seemed biased. Perhaps for many of them – apart from Infogrammes and their gorgeous PR girl – they didn’t have a big presence in the UK, so they didn’t have anyone going round demoing the games and talking them up.
Did they [AA] use CPCs to write the magazine to begin with I read somewhere years ago that they did.
Yes indeed we did. When I joined in 1987 (is that right?) we were just going over to Macs. But I do recall Pat McDonald in particular, and maybe also Trenton Webb, were real CPC users.
What happened to the games they [AA] reviewed? did they have to give them back, or did they keep them? and did they skip any or take any home?
We kept them in the office as a games library. I guess staff used to take ones they really wanted.
Were the games given to them [AA] in a finished form with boxes and instructions or a disc with the name scribbled on it?
Some and some. Usually as I recall it was the finished product.
How long did it take for a typical review? i.e. how long did they play for before they reviewed it?
As the editor, I used to think they spent far too long playing on them! But I do have to admit they were thorough and actually really and truly honest about wanting to give games a real chance. It’s the flip side of what I said before about reviewers being given the freedom to speak the truth, that actually means you have a real responsibility. From what I recall, if there was going to be a stinking review, the reviewer would often get someone else to play it and see that they were being fair.
Were AA involved in any kind of NDA with some editors while testing some beta games to report feedback before the official review?
Not that I recall, ever. We previewed unfinished games and reviewed finished games. I think getting into NDAs and all that would have been a real conflict of interest, wouldn’t it? No, I don’t think that happened on magazines I edited.
How often would they [AA] get unprotected beta versions of software?
Can’t recall, sorry.
Were there any cases where reviewers would leak games to hacker groups?
I don’t believe so. I really think that would have been an instant sacking offence.
Did they [AA] test all their type-ins?
I recall Pat McDonald worked very hard on them. I may be misremembering, but as I recall it I actually asked him if it would be possible to include some kind of checksum things that would validate the type-ins… and he said yeah, sure! As if this wasn’t something we should already be doing. But do please forgive me if I’ve got that wrong – it was more than a quarter of a century ago, remember!
How often did they [AA] get to the conclusion "this type-in is crap! - Who cares?!"
You gotta fill the mag, you know! I daresay there were type-ins that, how shall we put it, weren’t from the absolute top drawer. But what do you do when that’s all you got?
Does the cover of AA40 still haunt You?
Well I hadn't thought about it in 20 years... but then it was showed it to me (without warning, I have to add), so my answer now would have to be: it does now!!!!
Amstrad Action survived until June 1995, although by the end it was just 24 pages and a shadow of it's former self. As someone who was at Future for a while, any thoughts on what the bosses thinking might have been dragging it out and then dropping it without saying anything rather than letting the mag go out with a big final issue like Your Sinclair, Amiga Power, Amiga Format etc?
Great question. I think by the mid 90s a lot had changed at Future. Chris had sold the business, for starters, and it was getting to be very big and not perhaps quite so personal. AA certainly deserved a decent burial, rather than being allowed to fade away.
What did you think of Amstrad Computer Users rather shabby habit of reviewing non CPC versions of games and not even disguising this in the screenshots just to get an exclusive?
They did that, seriously? That’s f*cked. And so stupid, too – as if you think your readers are dumb or will forgive that kind of rubbish easily! Ha, if I’d known we had such idiots for competitors I mightn’t have tried to hard!
If the CPC Plus range had been 16-bit with a hardware emulator card for backward compatibility (something akin to how the PS3 handled PS2 games), could that have saved the CPC, or was it dead in the water already?
I’m sure that’s a great question, just I’m the wrong guy. I’ve got no idea, I’m afraid! I never claimed to be a techie, that’s for sure.
A couple of AA stories for you.
Anyone remember Emma Broadley? (I think it was Emma.) She had a column for a few months called Broadley Speaking. Well, she didn’t exist – or rather, I nicked the idea from the Broadley Arms I think it was called, a pub in Bath that allowed me to have the Broadley Speaking column name. Actually now I think about it my wife Helen wrote some of it.
And then we started a thing called Absolute Beginners for CPC novices (the David Bowie movie Absolute Beginners was around this time). I remember taking the team to the printers to see the mag being printed… and seeing the column titled Absolute Beginers (with only one N in Beginners) flying through the machine, the same dumb mistake being repeated and repeated. Aargh!
Another time the printer couldn’t find a page, so we ended up with a whole page of type-ins repeated. I was beside myself, but Ollie was just doing his usual two thumbs up routine, shrugging it off, saying ‘It’s not that bad! It’s not that bad!’ That became a bit of a running joke whenever things got really, really terrible… It’s not that bad!