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First Impressions: FirstPlay
by Linford Butler
The argument that traditional print-based press is dying is a difficult one to bring to a distinct conclusion. Though I know plenty of my friends and professional colleagues who still spend a regular amount on print mags such as Official PlayStation Magazine, EDGE and GamesTM, there’s definitely been a slow and gradual shift away from print media.

The launch of America’s PlayStation-exclusive in June 2008, Qore, seemed to start the revolution, at least from the perspective of the general public. It was the first time which, for many gamers, the term ‘interactive magazine’ had been heard. Then, with the launch of the iPod Touch and other handheld gadgets, magazine publishers began to move into the realms of on-the-fly apps. Steve Jobs’ announcement of the iPad at the beginning of this year further catapulted what was previously a largely print-based media into dynamic interactive media, with the Wall Street Journal announcing their iPad launch app and various other prolific media sources showing interest in following the WSJ’s lead. When FirstPlay – the UK’s PlayStation ‘interactive magazine’, from Future Publishing (the guys behind OPM) – was announced, it seemed like just another to put onto the ever deepening pile.

However, the analogy of ‘throwing it onto the pile’ was quickly dismissed. Originally called ‘OPMHD’, but soon renamed, excitement was building over the UK’s, independent answer to Qore. Whether it was the idea of full, high-definition video previews and reviews; the thought of journalistic independence from the various Sony HQ’s (meaning better rounded and more honest opinions); or even, for many, the notion that the UK would finally be on par with our cultured friends ‘over the pond’, FirstPlay – as the service came to be known – was inspiring all the right kinds of attention.

The very first thing you’ll notice when you load up FirstPlay is the advertising. It isn’t the best first impression, particularly not considering this is a product which is expecting users to pay a subscription charge. The adverts are distinctly un-skip-able, and the amount of advertising throughout is bound to irritate even the most unruffled of users. The adverts aren’t hugely focused, either – though most are advertising video games, they’re games which have already been on store shelves for a while. Okay, so Assassin’s Creed II has jumping across rooftops, stabbing people and running very quick? Already knew that, FirstPlay – I bought the game on release last year.

However, things look incontestably uphill after that. As soon as you’re past the advert, the swish aesthetics of FirstPlay’s clean-cut, pleasing user interface immediately tell the user what they’re dealing with; FirstPlay is something truly groundbreaking. The various categories are acutely and intuitively split up, and the content is easy-to-find and play. There’s no difficulty in using the FirstPlay interface – the entire experience with the menus is a pleasant, simple and good-looking one.

When venturing into the content, there’s a variety to choose from. Each different feature on FirstPlay is narrated by the lovely comedienne, Lucy Porter, in a style which regular viewers of Bravo TV’s former magazine show,, will find reassuringly familiar. Though the narration is, on the whole, impressive and immersive, some of the jokes fall a little flat. It’s easy to see – or rather, see – that Porter has at least some background knowledge on the gaming industry. Her narration is too fluid; too natural for someone with no ‘previous’ in the industry. Whether that’s through good rehearsal or through a personal interest, I don’t know, but her apparent personal interest certainly appeals to the viewer and puts Porter and the viewer on a level plain: unlike other shows which are similar, the narration is direct to the viewer, friendly and, above all, not patronising.

The features range in traditionalism, but all are enjoyable and polished. They range from the live-blood of games journo, reviews – which are comprehensive and justified in terms of opinion – to more original slots. All of them are filled with one-liners and quick quips, which never fail to get the viewer at least smiling.

However, the real strength of FirstPlay is in its writing. It is absolutely unfaultable. The jokes are funny and seamlessly thrown into the script, and the writing and general vernacular used throughout the features are representative of normal written games journalism, albeit fantastic writing. Per contra, the quality of the writing is unsurprising considering the feature is from the legendary Tim Clark and the Official PlayStation Magazine team, who consistently pump out some of the best journalistic content on the market.

FirstPlay is certainly an impressive venture into the world of interactive magazines. The content is amazingly well done, with almost everything feeling perfect but the large amount of advertising. If the FirstPlay beta is something to go by, the future editions of the magazine are certainly an exciting prospect to look forward to. I think that public support for interactive magazines really is taking a boom at the moment, and FirstPlay is a perfect example of the format done well.


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- Linford Butler
via source

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