The game magazine that spent two years taunting a Final Fantasy VIII hater

I’m unsure how popular GameNOW magazine was, but over the course of two years, they pulled off one of the weirdest running gags I’ve seen in a game magazine, just to have fun at the expense of an irate reader who didn’t like Final Fantasy VIII.

A little background: even though there were only 27 issues of GameNOW, the magazine ran for almost twenty years. It started out as EGM2, a spinoff of Electronic Gaming Monthly that acted as a second edition of the magazine, focusing more on strategies, cheats, import games, late-breaking news that didn’t make it into EGM1, and other specialty subjects. As time went on, the magazine refocused on the cheat and strategy guide content and dropped the EGM banner altogether, rebranding as Expert Gamer.

Then the powers that be at publishing conglomerate Ziff Davis decided to scrap Expert Gamer and relaunch it with an entirely new concept: a youth-oriented magazine that covered games with a snappy attitude. Enter GameNOW (pronounced, I assume, as “game NOOOWWW”).

They wasted no time establishing the new tone for the magazine. In the first issue, the editors of GameNOW answered a bit of fanmail addressed to Expert Gamer from a reader who did not care for Final Fantasy VIII. Specifically, he did not like that whenever Expert Gamer talked about Final Fantasy, they kept running the same screenshot from Ultimecia’s throne room at the end of FFVIII, and he would like to see the other games in the series represented, thank you very much.

Dear GameNOW,

I have to tell you there is something that has been bothering me. In what seems like every issue of Expert Gamer, in your letter section, you have had the same screenshot of Final Fantasy VIII. Let me express my feelings: Final Fantasy VIII sucked compared with Final Fantasies 7 and 9. If you are going to put the same screen shot up again and again, at least put up a good one. Still, I know you will probably put it up again just to tick me off.

Tim Spollen

GameNOW obliged.

The party from Final Fantasy VIII standing in front of Ultimecia's throne. "The great debate: Even though the games have been out for many years, avid Final Fantasy fans are still arguing about which game in the series is the best. Is it part VIII (as shown above) or one of the other terrific Final Fantasy games?"
GameNOW Issue 1, November 2001, p.111

Well, Tim, we certainly do agree with you that Final Fantasy IX is better than Final Fantasy VIII. However, we do believe that FF8 was far superior than FF7. Of course, that’s just our opinion. If you really loved FF8, then more power to you. Regarding the repeated picture; we honestly don’t know what you’re talking about. We haven’t noticed any such thing. Still, we will certainly not print anything in our magazine that is deliberately trying to upset our readers.

Over the next two years, GameNOW would sneak the same screenshot into nearly every single issue of the magazine. A few highlights:

"HIRE THIS GUY. Dear GameNOW, I’m surprised that you guys haven't tried to do something to stop the complaining about that FF8 screen shot. If I were you, I'd insert a foldout poster of that very shot and put all the complaint letters that you've ever gotten about it on the back. I mean, come on! If they don't like the shot, they should just ignore it. You put up with too much ignorant crap, anyway. Shawn Wear, Beverly, MA"

"Shawn, that is, without question, the best idea that we’ve ever heard. Seriously, you should be running this magazine. We’re not sure if we'll ever see the FF8 picture poster, but rest assured that we are going to do everything that we can to make that a reality."
GameNOW Issue 8, June 2002, p.103

GameNOW was not long for this world, and in January 2004, Ziff Davis finally killed off their long-running second game magazine. In the final issue, the editors made good on their promise from Issue 8 and ran a full page of the Final Fantasy VIII screenshot for readers to tear out and frame for posterity.

The party from Final Fantasy VIII standing in front of Ultimecia's throne. It's the same screenshot, again, but much larger.
GameNOW Issue 27, January 2004, p.103

It’s a silly, silly running joke that’s now 20 years old, and one that everyone probably forgot about after GameNOW went out of print. But there was still one more joke up its sleeve.

At my day job as a video game history librarian, we’ve been trying to assemble a complete set of American video game magazines, including a full run of GameNOW. While I was shelving the last missing issues, I noticed something.

The same screenshot from Final Fantasy VIII stretched across the spines of 13 issues of GameNOW. It's a little imperfect because mass printing isn't an exact science.