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Substance TV, Ten Years Later April 20, 2010

Posted by Maniac in Histories.

Ten years ago, a company called Gathering of Developers (GOD) had everything, just about everything. Max Payne, Serious Sam, and Grand Theft Auto 3, were all set to be published by them. They truly had a golden ticket, and unfortunately they had to sell it. The company was completely in the red, deeply in debt and needed to sell or fold.

Probably seeing no other options, GOD sold the rights to publishing for all of their games to Take 2 Interactive, which with the release of Grand Theft Auto 3, immediately turned it into a powerhouse publisher. The leaders of GOD took the money from the sale of the properties and put it into a whole new venture that nobody but me seems to remember, Substance TV.

DVD was taking off. It had surpassed the install rate of VHS in its heyday and offered twice the picture quality of VHS, and looked better than cable and broadcast TV. This was the best technology for displaying an image in standard definition seen to that point, and unlike laserdisc it was becoming more and more affordable to consumers every day. However, it was only being used as a platform for movie display. But with the install base growing, an opportunity for a whole new format, the DVD magazine, was widening, and these developers could smell it.

For a group whose expertise was in games, they really knew a lot about alternative culture. The spirit of Generation X was alive and well in these people. Alternative music, films, and underground culture was slowly gaining a momentum of interest among people. Previously unknown events like Burning Man were being openly discussed by people who had never been there. Independently run record stores were slowly being driven out of business by conglomerates and lack of music interest, and were being held up strictly by their loyal customers.

The field was set for something truly groundbreaking to be done. A DVD magazine, released monthly, with differing documentaries on a variety of alternative topics. For five dollars, you could pick up a DVD at your local GameStop in a paper sleeve, or pay thirty a year for a ten issue subscription.

The world was also changing. Issue 01 was released following the events of September 11th, giving them one hell of a charged topic to kick their magazine off. They also had a fantastic documentary, entitled “The Last Record Store” as the first issue’s featured item chronicling Bill’s Records in Dallas, TX and the people in it.

Unfortunately the system was far too ahead of its time. Being a close follower of GOD, I was aware of the Substance DVD before release, but not many others were. When the first issue was on sale at my local GameStop, I’m pretty certain I was the only person who actually bought a copy. When I inquired later on about it, the clerks openly admitted to tossing out the issues they couldn’t sell. I specifically do not remember them selling later issues, although I read on their site that the magazine was changing retailers to Suncoast. By changing retailers, having a regular purchase base, something essential for the continued support of the platform, was very difficult. Only dedicated subscribers, which I was not one of, were certain to get their monthly issues.

The company announced it’s shut down in December 2002. Only seven issues were ever released. According to the farewell message I pulled from Google’s cache, the economic downturn caused by the Sept 11 attacks greatly impacted sales, and people did not have the disposable income to buy monthly DVDs. One of the heads of the business, Mike Wilson, later went on to repeatedly run for President of the ESA, something he has not gotten. Mike, if you ever check out this site, and you have some back issues of the DVD hanging around, please send them to me.

We live in a world where digital magazines are available to PS3 owners, with no physical content at all. Sony hailed it as completely ground breaking, but they were eight years late to the party. Substance TV did it first, they had amazing content, but unfortunately, it just didn’t work out.