Videogame Magazines: Not Dead Yet

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Published by Jim Sterling 8 years ago , last updated 11 months ago

When Electronic Gaming Monthly ceased publication in January 2009, it appeared to justify a long-standing belief held by online writers and readers alike — that print was dead. The glory days of the gaming magazine were coming to a close, and while some lamented the sad ending of an era, others celebrated, or at the very least felt somewhat smug and superior about their secure online professions. However, as EGM currently enjoys its second chance at life courtesy of founder Steve Harris, and magazines around the world continuing to sell, I have to say that print looks to be alive and kicking from where I’m standing.

For evidence of this, we need look no further than Game Informer. Just this week, the publication was outed as the fifth largest magazine in the United States, with a 33% rise in circulation over the course of 2010. The magazine ended the year above both Time and Sports Illustrated. Of course, one reason for this is its close relationship with GameStop. You’re bound to see quite a bit of success if membership to the largest game retailer in the US also nets customers a subscription. However, whether you regard this as an unfair leg up or not, that doesn’t change the fact that Game Informer is a damn successful magazine.

It’s not hard, however, to see the many advantages that the Internet has over those stuffy, archaic, rustic collections of paper. The Internet is instantaneous, digital print is preserved forever, articles are spread around the world within moments of publication. Online writers get their content up faster, with a huge reach potential. A magazine cannot react to a news story within minutes of it breaking. And you can’t Tweet a page from a print review to your friends … unless you have a scanner and more time on your hands than you should.

However, despite the advantages the Internet has, print media is not dead. It’s not even close yet. Game Informer isn’t the only successful magazine knocking about. GamePro has been enjoying both profit and an increase in quality since its 2007 revamp, and has partnered with The Escapist to increase its advertising revenue. The magazines of Future Publishing are in nearly every store, and each one has a strong audience. In the UK, magazines are still very well respected, with Edge and GAMEStm providing some of the best videogame-related content in the world. There is a reason why magazines still get major exclusives on some of the hottest videogame announcements — the Internet still cannot quite compare. This is why Game Informer maintains an absolute stranglehold on The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and we humble bloggers are feeding off the dry, chewy scraps Bethesda throws our way.

All these magazines seem, at least to me, in little danger of disappearing any time soon. Several of them I actively read and enjoy myself — GAMEStm has especially been one of my favorite magazines, and I’ve always held a firm admiration for Edge’s reviews.

Magazines have retained a sense of pedigree that you just don’t get in the digital sphere. As proud as I’ve been of my own online career, there was something special about my first magazine gig. Speaking purely as a writer, there is still  this sense of accomplishment in having written something for print media. Perhaps its because the Internet wasn’t around when I was a kid, so I still maintain an old-fashioned respect for an ancient medium, but I don’t think that’s entirely the case and I believe the youth of today appreciate a good magazine. I know my stepchild will still eagerly grab at my Game Informer whenever the latest issue arrives. As quick and efficient as the Internet is, there is still something special about a game magazine.

Despite the fact that we can access the Internet 24/7 through increasingly capable smartphones, I much prefer to read something physical if I’m not in my office. Sitting reading at a PC all day is aggravating anyway, and I’d rather not squint at my phone or have an iPad glaring at me if I just want to kick back and read about some games. The Internet carries with it an impersonal touch, an endless stream of data that explodes every day and overwhelms the reader before the morning’s even over. A magazine collects the best stuff and feeds its audience at a leisurely pace. It’s more grounded and, dare I say, more intimate. This leads into perhaps the biggest advantage a magazine still has, and the reason why I still love them — the features.

The problem with the Internet gaming community is that it does not breed patience. We want stuff now, and we want it digested swiftly before the next burst of raw information hits us in the face. This is all well and good, but the culture of impatience that blogs perpetuate doesn’t lend itself well to in-depth, interesting, long-form content. Anything over 2,000 words is likely to get slapped with a “TL;DR” comment or some other infuriating expression of boredom and indifference from the average online reader. With a magazine, however, it has remained quite acceptable for features to run across three, maybe even four pages, complete with diagrams, interviews, and extra background information. Because the reading of a magazine is so much more laid back, you’re guaranteed a lot more attention and time being taken to read. As certain blogs attempt to get away with articles that can barely stretch out two sentences, let alone several paragraphs, magazines may be the last bastion of full-length editorial writing.

Of course, we have long-form writing online on our game sites, but not a huge amount of it, and it’s often passed over in favor of a picture of a cat with bacon taped to it. I have no problem with the shorter, snappier stuff — I write most of it. However, it’s a warming thought to know that you can get something incredibly meaty from a magazine, and you can feel laid back enough to sit and read it without getting distracted by that link somebody emailed you with a video of a guy shattering a mason jar in his arse. The fact is, I don’t want to sit at my computer to read some massive expose on the inner workings of Insomniac Games. I want to sit on my couch with some glossy paper in my hands.

One day, magazines will be phased out, I’m sure. I think that future is a long away off, though, and I’m glad of it. I like videogame magazines. I have fond memories of PSM2, GamesMaster, Edge and GAMES, and I still enjoy GamePro and Game Informer today. The world of videogames is a world of constantly emerging technology and shifting mediums, and so it’s easy for us battery-operated nerds to look down upon “obsolete” formats. I don’t think our iPhones or our netbooks can quite replace the simple, humble, intelligent charm of a magazine though.

According to the sales figures, I’m not alone.

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