Rising Tides Sink Islands

It’s getting awful lonely out here. With the demise of Games For Windows magazine and the uncertain question of how their editorial voice will hold a beachhead against the churning swells of click counters and ad mongers, there aren’t many safe harbors left for our freelancers. As Gamers With Jobs plugs along, Julian Murdoch and Lara Crigger have both seen the passing of three magazines that featured a lot of their best work. Great articles - the kind of writing that didn’t join the water striders skimming across the surface, but dove deep and wrestled giant squids.

Over and over, industry publishers are passing along the same message. Your time has come, the sea levels are rising and your little island has little left to offer passing ships. We hear Cat Fancy is hiring.

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to reconcile the growth of the gaming industry at large with the decline of gaming magazines. Obviously the Internet plays a big role in gobbling up exclusives and providing timely content, but recognizing that and reacting to it doesn’t seem to be paying off. Games For Windows in particular responded to the call after the untimely end of Computer Games Magazine by beefing up their editorial content and shooting for broader themes rather than rote previews and reviews. Their reward was the sudden, screeching end to an institution that started in 1981.

“Gut shot” was how Julian Murdoch described the feeling upon learning that Games For Windows magazine was done. Not just because it’s one less platform to peddle his literary wares, but that it may be the last one. Wired, Edge and Game Informer are some of the few left that might take an interest in the kind of articles he writes. That’s a small pond to swim in and there are dozens of good writers vying for those coveted spots. Why are they so prized when it’s much easier to write online? Because they pay more, and dammit, print is print. People still settle down and read those things, don’t they?

The assumption that the online audience wants fundamentally different things from their magazine reading compatriots is flawed. If they aren’t buying the magazines that take the time to dig deep, I can assure you they aren’t flocking in droves to fill the need on the Internet either. As much success as we’ve had here at Gamers With Jobs, it pales in comparison even to the most rudimentary gaming news and commentary blog. The difference between us and most media publishers is that we’re not really all that worried about making money. We count our success in audience participation rather than page views. A whopping 60% of our traffic comes from Google searches, after all. I doubt many of the people looking for “Lara Croft Yak Boobs” stick around long enough to see what else we have to offer.

For every Best Buy Bodhisattva we have dozens of excellent pieces that barely register as more than a blip on the radar. I’m not going to fault the readers; it would be disingenuous to suggest that the hard bitten Halo fan really cares about our thoughts on the social dynamics of online gaming groups. In fact, there’s no blame to be laid at all. We can’t turn those baseball caps forward and smooth down those polo shirt collars. People are who they are and like it or not, most of them are just fine with playing games with their friends and making buying decisions based on TV commercials. Even gamers who do join message boards and look at pictures of Mario cakes shouldn’t be expected to sip tea and read about how gaming is similar to meditation.

There’s still a healthy number of potential readers out there who want more from their gaming coverage. The problem right now is that publishers, the people who pay writers real money and put food on their tables, aren’t making the publishing platforms for them. Stardock’s Brad Wardell said it best when he talked about why his company makes games for customers, not pirates or mythical user bases. “When you develop for a market, you don't go by the user base. You go by the potential customer base. That's what most software companies do. They base what they want to create on the size of the market they're developing for.” In other words, you deliver what your target customers want, not what you think everybody wants.

We’re getting good content, but the budgets are still weighed down under the load of paying for fluff reviews, news and previews before we get to the good stuff. If you’re going to differentiate and try for more than the status quo, the expectation for audience size and budget needs to be adjusted. The problem isn’t that PC gaming is dying or that blogs rule the world - most publishers are just stuck screaming at a massive, uncaring reader base. Less bloat and a laser focus on who you’re writing for would be a good start.

Gamers With Jobs was formed because we wanted more content written for us. Its continued success is largely thanks to sticking to our guns and taking the time to go above and beyond what even the most professional of commercial sites do for quality control. By design, we’re not in a position to bring this special sauce to the masses. Well established retail channels need to be used to leverage something like what we do onto the market. This isn’t just because we’re selfish and we want more of what we like. There’s also a real danger of brain drain if there isn’t enough money in the system to support the kind of writers that elevate the discussion of the medium. What a shame it would be if the Lara Crigger’s of the world were forced to write for Washing Machines Weekly because we couldn’t change course and see what’s right under our noses.

As one of the few platforms left standing on the island, I hope someone sends a raft soon. It’s cold. It’s lonely and I don’t like the hungry gleam in Julian’s eye. No sir, I don’t like it one bit.

- Shawn Andrich

Comments

Great article and I agree wholeheartedly. This evening, I actually sent an e-mail to Jeff Green to offer my sympathies to him and his team at GFW and also to offer my congratulations on the great work they had done. Listening to their latest podcast was pretty sad, not so much because of what happened but because none of them really seemed that shocked that it happened. Judging from some of the nonsense they had to deal with from the suits in New York (likely the same people responsible for Ziff-Davis being in Chapter 11 right now), it really seems as though what they were trying to do just wasn't appreciated and that's a damn shame. Their magazine was the only one I subscribed to and after glancing at an EGM and PC Gamer in the book store recently, it will probably be the last as well (at least until I'm working again and can afford a subscription to Edge.)

I think you're right in that there's tons of great content out there, it's just a question of focusing it down and really writing what people want, not what you want them to want. I don't know if the games journalism industry has it in itself to learn this lesson but I suppose only time will tell. I have to say, much as I like 1UP's podcasts, I can't stand their site whether it be aesthetically, functionally or in the general quality of writing there. I really hope the insightful gems produced by the GFW team (and the army of Goodjer freelancers) doesn't get drowned out.

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to reconcile the growth of the gaming industry at large with the decline of gaming magazines.

Having looked at a recent list of the top 100 games of last year (which I know doesn't show online sales), I think the demise of a established magazine like GFW doesn't seem that surprising. The sales numbers of movie and tv licenses, as well as casual Wii games, were astounding to me. The people buying these games are not the people looking for editorial content quality writing.

Excellent article. I must say that I have problems finding thorough, factual articles on gaming aside from the endless (and useless) stream of hands on gaming exclusives, previews and general hype that most gaming publications issue these days. I bought an issue of Play magazine (UK based playstation mag), and editorially it wasn't all that. Gonna have to check out edge, tho.

On the other hand, Gamers With Jobs Magazine, there's something I'd subscribe to

Nice article. It really makes me appreciate the few islands that remain.

One thing bothers me though:

Elysium wrote:

What is the secret sauce, the eleven herbs and spices if you will, that makes it work in some games and not in others?

Certis wrote:

By design, we’re not in a position to bring this special sauce to the masses.

Did someone declare it "Sauce Analogy Day" when I wasn't looking?

[edited for improved sauciness]

How much of an impact has the evaporation of shelf space for PC games affected the subscriptions of PC game magazines?

If we don;t get games on the shelves, we stop going to the store. If we stop going to the store, we don't buy the magazines.

Barnes and Nobles and Borders have a pathetic selection of games magazines. We can't buy what we can't see.

I used to buy the Power Unlimited here in Holland. But I outgrew the tone of the magazine, it was all too adolescent. The I sometimes bought the PC-zone. Which was pretty good, and had some nice articles. But I got totally frustrated with the developer interviews/previews. They would talk about all the 10.000 features that would be in the game, and in the end there would be only 100 of them. I got sick of that quickly. Also, when I really discovered internet, I noticed how old the information was they gave me. So I quit reading them.

But GamersWithJobs magazine would be very interesting indeed.

fangblackbone wrote:

Barnes and Nobles and Borders have a pathetic selection of games magazines. We can't buy what we can't see.

We can't buy what doesn't exist. Are there really that many gaming magazines that are being left off the shelves of B&N and Borders (other than international ones)?

I used to subscribe to Nintendo Power back in the day but around the 8th grade I realized that the crayon drawn pictures sent in by 6 year olds wasn't quite the gaming news I was interested in.

I subscribed to CGW just before the switch over to GFW and enjoyed it while it lasted. Some of the writing was pretty meh, but I really, really, really liked Jeff Green's article at the end and I would pay good money just for Tom vs. Bruce. It had a little too much of a "ZOMG! HARCORZ TO TEH EXTREMEZ!!1!!one!" feel to it at times but I've been bombarded with that enough to be able to fairly effectively filter it out.

I'm glad that GWJ is here. I'm equally glad that your (our?) end all, be all focus is not making money. I'm glad it's not part of some media conglomerate ready to mismanage their assets and make unreasonable demands. It is our Rapture.

EDGE is definitely worth a look (although I've cancelled my subscription). My problem with it was that the writing was often pretentious, like they were trying to make their articles seem more intelligent by wrapping them up in overly complex language.

I've had the "print is print" argument with my father (freelance journalist). I don't see why writing for a web page should be any different from writing for a magazine, but nothing I said would convince him.

Blame the consoles.

We had literate, intelligent print media when we had literate, intelligent gamers playing literate, intelligent games.

You wouldn't expect serious literary criticism of the latest dean koontz, would you?

A tangentially related post script: We may well be entering another golden age of PC gaming as Stardock's realization dawns on a greater portion of game studios/publishers. Well-written niche publications would then presumably follow.

Did someone declare it "Sauce Analogy Day" when I wasn't looking?

That's hilarious! Fun fact: I haven't even read Sean's article yet. I've been way too busy to do more than work and write since that went up. Sauce.

Blame the consoles.

We had literate, intelligent print media when we had literate, intelligent gamers playing literate, intelligent games.

Those games still exist and so do the players. I dismiss out of hand any suggestion that consoles, which have existed since the PC got started, have anything to do with this. Games For Windows is the latest, but this article isn't about PC gaming.

You know, I'm getting more than a little tired of the idea that somehow consoles have lowered the amount of intelligent players out there.

We're seeing a strong demographic of young adults and early 30's playing games.

I'm also sick and tired of people acting like console games are just dumbed down games. That may have been true 10 years ago, but what is coming out for consoles today has been every bit as good as stuff I used to play on the PC.

PC snobbery isn't exactly going to help win people over. Kind of reminds me of when everyone said Linux was going to dominate Windows and then I tried to get some help on an install and I was met with a bunch of elitist pretentious pricks. It's never been a mystery to me why Linux never caught on or why they could never make it user friendly.

PC snobbery is going to hurt, not help the hobby.

Speaking from the perspective of having a spouse who was the editor of a recently-folded arts and culture magazine, magazines and all other forms of print journalism, not just gaming magazines, are under siege right now. Publishers are reducing the number of print platforms because the vast majority of them hemmorhage money. The reason for that is that advertisers are moving on-line in droves, where they get much cheaper advertising rates and a potential audience that is more narrowly focused on what the advertisers are selling. Advertising rates are cheaper online for the obvious technical reasons and because sites like this one aren't limited by the need for a profit margin. In general, people don't care enough about the quality of the content to justify investing in the considerable resources necessary to generate the better content. I think there's probably an exception to that rule at the very highest end of the spectrum: magazines like The New Yorker are doing fine as far as I know.

Well put, Certis. What used to be the gaming community is now the Enthusiast Gaming Community. Like GBell said earlier, just one look at the Top 100 selling games in Europe & NA for the past twelve months illustrates the point. Nearly everything that we've salivated over as a community in that time failed to break the top 25. Mediocre movie tie-ins, sports and racing franchises, and casual games are the money makers, for the most part. I still can't get over The Orange Box quoting 1.1m in sales to Halo 3's 8m or COD4's 8.3m. I don't think even online sales figures could make up that deficit.

I'm not surprised about the GFW announcement. The complete and utter lack of backing from Microsoft on the "initiative" sort of doomed the enterprise from the start. It's hard to be branded an Official magazine when what you're officially representing isn't in the forefront of your potential audience (PC gamers). Steam Press would have been a better choice, in hindsight.

I enjoyed seeing articles from people I've played with. It really felt like a big brother or sister had "made it." I'm sure the talent you guys possess will enable you to keep on going. You really are a great bunch of writers.

Not directed at aynone who has written in the mag, but the magazine had good articles and bad (like any other periodical). I definitely started getting turned off from the mag because of the podcast. I recently stopped listening to GFW Radio in hopes that it would stop tainting my view of the magazine. I guess that test isn't going to work. I doubt I'll be following it online, as I read a magazine because I like holding it in my hand.

RIP CGW/GFW

What a shame it would be if the Lara Crigger’s of the world were forced to write for Washing Machines Weekly

Actually i'd quite like to read about how washing machines and increased automation in the home in general affected the 'second wave of feminism' (there probably was only one constant wave but it seems like two in my mind).

As for the demise of the 'higher brow' content surrounding video games? I think we're just too early in the medium's uptake into the mainstream. Look at movies, books and theatre. There was a period where, shortly after gaining mass market acceptance, there was very little demand from those people consuming the products for anything beyond the pulp.

We can see this in gaming itself. The Dreamcast had innovative features such as online play but the market just wasn't ready for it and the interactions allowed by that. At the time, the Dreamcast's online features were irrelevant, ten years down the line the Wii is constantly reprimanded for forgetting to bring its online homework in for marking...

I think that post 2010 (maybe 2015 ) there will be a resurgence of demand for higher brow material and sites like GWJ will lead the fold for this content. Once these online sites reach a certain amount of user base only then will there be an expansion into print space.

In my opinion.

GWJ is like the tangy BBQ sauce I pour on my bacon cheeseburger and then lick from my fingers.

Print magazines are dinosaurs and not just the gaming ones.

How many people really give a toss about articles that noodle over gaming concepts, trends, psychobabble, etc? Now how many just want a decent review/preview? People who are interested in articles about gaming and not just a particular game might wait for a magazine, but the review/preview seekers certainly won't.

How many magazines are sold that discuss movies? television shows? books? theater? Why would the market size for magazines that discuss gaming be any different?

locdog wrote:

We had literate, intelligent print media when we had literate, intelligent gamers playing literate, intelligent games.

I'll agree a little bit in the sense that the gaming demographic has changed. No longer are gamers just intelligent/literate nerds/geeks who enjoy devouring gaming information, it's spread out to the masses who will never go beyond reading a game review not because they are dumb or illiterate, but simply because they just don't have any interest beyond playing the games.

Print magazines are dinosaurs and not just the gaming ones.

Correct.

I got turned on to GFW because of the crossover with Jeff on your podcast and after flipping through the Demigod issue and seeing Julian and Sean's names all over everything. That was the first I bought, I bought last month's as well as was starting to consider a subscription to a gaming magazine for the first time since the Nintendo Power subscription I'd get as birthday presents in the late eighties.

I'll buy the Sim's issue next time I'm in a store, and I'm definitely sad to have missed the boat.

How many magazines are sold that discuss movies? television shows? books? theater? Why would the market size for magazines that discuss gaming be any different?

Quite a few actually. Although theater, a lot less. But then, I seriously doubt live-theater participation is anywhere NEAR the size of the market for video games. But there are dozens of film magazines. There are four healthy RC magazines.

I think in large part the issue is that publishers have treated gaming magazines incorrectly - trying to have them be all things to all people. That GFW closed has much less to do with the content, I believe, and far more to do with the state of Ziff Davis at the moment. CGM, i know for a fact, was not shut down for reasons of ad-pages, but because of the MySpace lawsuit.

Magazines don't need to have 500,000 subsribers to be succesful. Many - probably most - get by with 25,000 - 50,000.

Quintin_Stone wrote:

GWJ is like the tangy BBQ sauce I pour on my bacon cheeseburger and then lick from my fingers.

Now I want a burger.

IMAGE(http://i2.photobucket.com/albums/y48/Poppinfresh2k5/hungry.bmp)

The demise of the magazine is sad, but it's hard to fight the economics. Apparently there aren't currently enough paying subscribers to make it economical. That's unfortunate, but it's pretty hard to fight that fact. As was already mentioned, print in general is having a hard time of things. Newspapers, for instance, are generally getting killed. If we want to point fingers, the internet is as good a direction to point in as any.

Let us not besmirch a quality publication like Cat Fancy, even in jest.

A quality piece, even with it's saucy interludes. I feel that a majority of the people that purchased print magazines on the topic of gaming did so to read the gaming reviews, previews, and speculation and rumors. As had been pointed out by others, those intellectual spaces are better serviced by the timeliness of online publication. Print media just cannot compete with online media in the review/preview market. People of the gaming generation are now conditioned to retrieve their news, gaming and otherwise, from the mighty intertubes.

This is not to say there is not room for a quality gaming enthusiast print publication. I think the the time might be right for a periodical that takes a more serious and in-depth look at gaming issues. It would never have the subscription numbers and therefore ad revenue of a Game Informer, but that money could be made up in a higher subscription cost. I think this would have to be a new magazine with a new focus. I don't think you would be able to take and existing publication and change directions. I think it's an idea worth exploring.

How many of this site's readers would subscribe to a serious gaming publication? Say 8 or 10 issues a year, packed full of serious, researched articles by the top free lance writers in the field, a few "celebrity editorial" pieces, edited by a who's who of gaming journalism (Mr. Green and company come to mind). I envision a lean, graphics light presentation to keep the costs down and a high news stand and subscription price to pay the talent. As the gaming market matures and playing games becomes a more "serious" hobby I think there would be room for my "Gaming Atlantic".

What do you think?

You'd need more data on how much revenue even a high subscription price magazine gets from advertising.

I am not saying the magazine that I am proposing would be ad free. However, it wouldn't be able to pull in the $10 million dollar Burger King account. I think there are plenty of people that would want to target the magazine's audience. They wouldn't necessarily have the deepest pockets and the numbers wouldn't be there for more mainstream, big dollar advertisers.

JimmDogg wrote:

I am not saying the magazine that I am proposing would be ad free. However, it wouldn't be able to pull in the $10 million dollar Burger King account. I think there are plenty of people that would want to target the magazine's audience. They wouldn't necessarily have the deepest pockets and the numbers wouldn't be there for more mainstream, big dollar advertisers.

Wouldn't such a magazine have to compete with the on-line Escapist?

Is there really any advantage to print media at all anymore?

I don't think a high dollar, high quality magazine would make it. People are used to getting the content for free on the internet.

Unfortunately for writers, few people assign a dollar value to their work. "Give it to me free and without all those annoying ads!"

Wouldn't such a magazine have to compete with the on-line Escapist?

Is there really any advantage to print media at all anymore?

Just a personal preference, but I've had a hard time with the Escapist ever since they changed their layout.

I got burned one too many times by magazines off the shelf.

"100 ways to increase your Vista performance" = defrag and clean your startup
"Unbeatable Strategies for Team Fortress 2" = Here's how you build a sentry or activate your spy cloak
"Ultimate PC Buyers Guide" = We reviewed six overpriced computers and here's the results we got

I just don't do it anymore. The covers are false advertising for what is within. The requirement to mine information from the interior of a magazine defeats the entire purpose of purchasing the magazine! If I have to read the article to find out if it is the article that I want, there is no further motivation for me to purchase the product. ESPECIALLY now that rack magazines go for six bucks.

The superlatives killed their business for me.

buzzvang wrote:
Wouldn't such a magazine have to compete with the on-line Escapist?

Is there really any advantage to print media at all anymore?

Just a personal preference, but I've had a hard time with the Escapist ever since they changed their layout.

I agree. I find it much easier to read an actual print spread than a cluttered page spread on a website using my monitor (LCD and CRT). If the page is clean or the post short (i.e. blogs) then i find it very easy and this is perhaps why blogs are such a success... along with emotional connection of course.