Interview: Lock On, the independent gaming journal that’s revitalising print

Editor-in-chief Andrew J. Dickinson chats about his vision for the future of print
Credit: Lock On, Issue 1

Gaming magazines are a relic of a bygone era. Before the age of the internet and the mass dissemination of information via gaming websites, the printed word was king. While in 2021, some magazines remain, the legendary, and consistently excellent EDGE remains a bastion of some of the best writing in games, many of them have closed. 

Recently, a fan-funded effort to resurrect the games magazine space has yielded some fruitful results. The Nintendo Switch in particular has had several magazines, such as Ninty Fresh, that focus exclusively on the platform, find an audience. These magazines are primarily funded via platforms like KickStarter, with the days of big publishers and platforming holders themselves backing magazines a thing of the past. In fact, the last publication standing, Official PlayStation Magazine, lost its title only earlier this year, rebranding as PLAY, a sign of where platform holders value print. 

Within this movement to bring about a new age of gaming magazines, a new publication has risen.  Lock On describes itself as “A premium gaming journal delivering thought-provoking stories, insightful features and carefully curated art from industry talent.” Having read through the first issue, it’s impossible not to be incredibly impressed. The design work is immaculate, bettering many of the other “prestige” gaming titles, and the content within is varied and enthralling. I wanted to know what it was like to put together something like this in 2021, so I sat down with Andrew J Dickinson, the book’s Editor-in-Chief, to discuss the process.

Credit: Lock On, Issue 1

How did you get involved with Lock On? 

I’ve known Jon Doyle, the creator and creative director of [lock-on], for a couple of years now, and he’s been talking about a project like this since then. When he finally decided to take the plunge I was initially involved as a writer and sort of a consultant, as I have run Kickstarter projects before. However, as time went on I became more and more involved. I was asked to be a staff writer, and then the technical director before Jon and his partner Eliza decided to ask me to be editor-in-chief! It was sort of a bolt out of the blue, but a very welcome one.

What is your role in the project? 

As editor-in-chief my role is sort of a little bit of everything! I still write at least one piece per volume, I help to decide what articles we feature and the themes of the volumes we produce, I work on the business side of things with Jon as well as the technical side of things like Kickstarter. I also try to ensure that all the different people and aspects of the project come together as they should, and that everyone is working well together!

What are you looking to achieve with Lock On? 

We’re all about premium. We use that word a lot, and it’s at the heart of what we do. We want to provide a premium product to people that includes premium art and premium writing. I feel we are already achieving that, but we’re also hoping to fill that gap in the market for such a premium product which is released regularly.

There are already high-end gaming publications out there in the indie/boutique side of things, but the problem is that their issues release a year or more apart. We will be releasing a new volume every quarter, meaning that you’ll get that premium experience on a regular basis.

On top of this, we want to be somewhat of a beacon to writers, artists and consumers. Our ethos is to do the right thing, and to us that means nurturing up-and-coming talent, giving people a place to express their creativity and ideas where they might not ordinarily be able to, as well as paying them fairly. For the consumer this means they are buying into something that matters, that stands for something, and that is much more interesting than the magazine you can pick up from a supermarket shelf.

Credit: Lock On, Issue 1

What makes Lock On a unique offering in 2021?

It’s pretty much the above. A design-led gaming publication focused on premium quality, releasing on a regular basis with bespoke art and thoughtful features, while at the same time being fair, inclusive and standing up for what is right.

On top of this, we treat every single feature as unique, commissioning accompanying artwork and laying out the pages accordingly. I think that is very unique, even in the indie gaming publication scene.

What’s your opinion on the state of print games media in 2021? 

It’s certainly not anywhere near where it was 25 years ago! The big publishers have amalgamated, and even the biggest of them all seems to be clinging on in recent years. The magazines that still exist in the mainstream space are excellent, but there are just a whole lot less of them.

Meanwhile, the indie space is exploding, because there is still that demand there! There are niches to be explored in gaming print media, and a lot of people are currently doing that. It’s unfortunately just no longer profitable for larger publishers. That does mean, though, that publications like ours can be free of the need for ads within its pages, or influence from game publishers who need to be kept happy to maintain a relationship. We’re free to explore what we would like, and I think that appeals to a lot of people because it means much more variety.

What have you learned from creating the first issue of Lock On?

The true value of hard work, to expect the unexpected, to try not to stress out too much, and to treasure the community! Without them publications like ours just wouldn’t exist.

Credit: Lock On Issue 1

What has the reception been like? 

Absolutely incredible. We had obviously hoped that people would see the hard work and passion that went into our first volume, but that recognition has been way beyond what we could have ever dreamed. It’s really spurring us on to continue to produce the best gaming journal we possibly can!

What do you look to achieve with issue 2 that you’ve learned from issue 1?

We learned a lot from the last Kickstarter, so we’re taking that experience and changing things up for the Volume 002 crowdfunding campaign. We have some amazing surprises in store. 

For the actual journal itself, we’ve learned a lot about the process, and so the biggest lesson we’ll take into this next volume is scheduling. As we got towards our print deadline in Volume 001 it felt like we were all over the place, trying to ensure everything was right and the best it could be. This time, we’re starting that process early so that we can cause ourselves less stress down the line! That will hopefully result in an even better finished product… but you’ll all be the judges of that!

The crowd funding campaign for the second issue of Lock On has begun, you can check it out here

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