The Year in Print

2009 will forever be known to me as “The Year that My Childhood Died.”

This is not because of some unsuccessful remake of a cherished childhood series or because of the staggering loss of celebrity life during the preceding 365 days. Not even the gradual, slinking spread of white strands among the brunette tones of my facial hair was cause enough to abandon the graces of my youth. No, the culprit was “the times,” and its crime was proving that the media of today and yesteryear must unavoidably walk down a trail of tears towards irrelevance.

I’m no stranger to the upward climb of life. I’ve discarded many a portable radio, cassette-based Walkman and portable CD player in my time. Along with them have gone numerous plastic-shelled consoles and dozens of cold PC components. But while these items may have been lost to me, I still felt that they retained a kind of silent relevance to life. They were breadcrumbs on a cultural landscape that was rich with relics and stories. Though tossed aside, these little gems held meaning.

2009 changed that. (On my birthday, no less). In January, at the start of what should have been a promising year, I heard about the death of Electronic Gaming Monthly.

The news was oddly shocking and completely unexpected. While conventional wisdom told everyone who would listen that the print model of gaming news was unsustainable, altogether archaic, and destined for a quiet, suffocated death, it seemed to me that certain brands were just too big to forget. EGM was surely one of those brands.

For most of my life, the magazine and its editors were my gatekeepers to the New. They were at the forefront of a vast network of publishers, writers, editors – all gamers – who sought to spread information about their hobby across the reaches of print media. Magazines like EGM formed a necessary ritual for my pre-internet self. I would scour my magazines, rereading articles, reviews and ads, leaving them drained of information just at the time when the next fix would drop into newsstands. On long trips, I could always be seen with dog-eared copies of my gamer magazines. The personalities that voiced approval, criticism or scorn would later help me take a critical eye to my entertainment experiences.

But just like that, it felt as if an integral part of my history was deemed inconsequential. There would be no future for EGM, no importance placed on the journalistic identity it had built for itself, no need for the brand at all.

In a sad kind of way, the judgment was correct. When I asked my peers if they had heard about the shuttering, most of them were surprised to hear that the magazine was still being published. When I asked my students, many of whom could be seen carrying around battered PSPs, if they had read the magazine, I was hard pressed to find one who even knew what I was talking about. If teenagers weren’t interested in the magazine, then who was?

Even I, who praised the medium and collected their works, hadn’t actually paid for a magazine subscription in many, many years. Thanks to the wonders of internet promotions, I was able to read Computer Gaming World, Games for Windows and EGM on a semi-dependable basis without having to shell out the cash for a subscription. It wasn’t that I devalued the magazine experience, it was that my relationship to the delivery system had changed.

Shoved unceremoniously in the corner of a closet, broken up among 4 cardboard pyxes, a glossy catalog of gamerdom lay dusty and dormant. This chaotic collection of Nintendo Power, Game Pro, Game Players, Sega VISIONS and other minor paperback players served as my window to the past. This was hardly fitting for the tomes that had illuminated my adolescent years. But their modern contemporaries weren’t faring any better. A small pile of EGMs and GFWs were stacked on my living room end-table. Skimmed once or twice, they remained as reading material for when the internet went out, or for guests to peruse. With the wonders of internet forums, fan sites and continuous RSS-liveblog feeds of industry news, there just wasn’t a good way for a printed magazine to provide tantalizing game coverage.

I spent most of the year in a pissy fugue, lamenting the loss of a format that could, at the very least, provide informative looks into the culture and habits of gamers. (If magazines couldn’t compete with the constant flood of e-news, they could certainly excel in the realm of features and opinion pieces). Moreso, I saw the closing as a further restriction on the ability of young gamers to dream about the industry. The amount of encouragement or inspiration someone can gain from watching a person passionately discuss their hobby is incalculable to the young mind. At the very least “writing about games” provided an aspiration, a hope to enter an industry whose barriers to entry were myriad and labyrinthine. The wonderful little stories these magazine entities represented were just a bit tarnished after the perceived fall of print.

But like all things, at the end of this trip around the celestial firmament, I turn once again to optimism. If the year started out with a shot to the chin, why, I’ve found a reason to poke my head out for another round or two.

It seems that print isn’t quite dead. Not yet, at least.

EGM’s founder, Steve Harris, reacquired the rights to the magazine at about mid-year. Just recently, former EGM writer/editor Dan “Shoe” Hsu revealed that he would return to the magazine . In other words, EGM is being handled by long-time contributors and supporters of the brand. That alone would be enough to improve the perception of games print media in 2010, but there’s more.

John Davison, formerly of What They Play has been tapped to enact an aggressive relaunch of the GamePro brand. Though long in the tooth, the GamePro brand never really carried the same weight as EGM did for me. The legacy of the writer avatars – whimsical nom de plumes like “Scary Larry”, “Lawrence of Arcadia”, and “Abby Normal” – made it so that GamePro seemed to be primarily a whacky review venue aimed at the younger sect. Davison’s shown a keen eye for tapping underutilized gaming niches, so his involvement with the magazine is bringing new relevance to the name.

Even healthy magazines are getting into the experimental mood. GameInformer, considered to be the most stable of today’s print offerings, recently implemented design changes which have modestly altered the magazine’s presentation and content. Writer bios and identities have been pushed to the wayside. Sections have been modified to rotate content to keep things fresh. Cover art wraps-around to the book’s back, and is placed at the forefront thanks to a minimal aesthetic. Epic images, not blurbs about exclusives or massive reviews, seem to be what GI is promoting. Their cover philosophy presents the magazine as an artpiece, something to be admired and talked about. It's a welcome change from the idea that the front page is there only to entice and tantalize though a deluge of blurbs and snippets.

I don’t know how it worked out this way, but 2010 is bringing us the rebirth of two of games media’s oldest names. There’s a lot of bright-eyed goodwill being doused upon both camps, but I’m not sure that either will find that magic formula that will keep it resonating with big audiences. Can GamePro survive when the buzzword of the day is “casual gamer”? Can EGM recapture some of the editorial magic that made CGW and GFW such solid reads? Or is this really the last hurrah for the names that I’ve grown up with?

Whatever the case, it looks like 2010 will contribute a number of great stories to my cultural cobblestone. If one of them happens to be a variation on “the death of print (for real this time!)”, then I think I’ve made my peace with it. Or, at least, I’ve made my peace with the idea that my preferred cultural signposts may fall to the wayside. The old guard had a great run, introduced me to wonderfully talented people, and even garnered minor controversy along the way. If the magazines of yesterday can inspire new growth, then I think they’ve accomplished something noble.

If there’s one good thing that I’ve taken away from 2009, it’s that change isn’t always welcome or easy, but it sure can be exciting.

Comments

cmitts wrote:

As I hear it, Its all rabbit's fault.

If he wrote for it, it was destined for a shuttering of the doors.

Good, good. Rabbit takes all the blame, and my real role as Typhoid Writer remains a secret. Excellent.

I still miss CGM.

I used to read and reread copies of Nintendo Power that I stole from friends' houses, because I wasn't allowed to have an NES of my own.

It was my rather pathetic way of gaming by proxy.

I have heard ALWW, and love every aching minute of it. He is but one man though, and frankly he sounds like he is running out of steam. He needs help.

rabbit wrote:

John, as far as I can tell, pretty much WROTE the December issue that's on newstands still, and my sense is he probably did it under the gun. The January issue was a "normal" editorial experience, where people made pitches, they assigned stuff, etc. etc. So I think Jan/Feb is when things really change. I'll likely be taking the March issue off (I can't get a story done by Jan 15th for them with all the other crap going on in my life), but am hoping to do a pretty big story for them for April. Move all that ahead a month for street dates.

Is the December issue the one with BioShock 2?

I haven't seen any other issues on news stands. I was at Borders today, and they didn't even have a spot for Game Pro.

It's transition week. I think the Bioshock issue is the December issue, which holds on newstands until Jan 2-4 I think. Subscribers should be getting the Jan copy basically now.

It'll be good to see you in print again Rabbit. I went back and re-read a few GFW issues a few months ago and it was fun to see your articles again, especially after listening to you on the podcast(s) for the last year.

I loved EGM and still own hundreds of copies of their mags. I had a subscription for about 7 years. I stopped in 2008, though. I knew that they would eventually go under and my economy no longer warranted my myriad magazine subscriptions, which included Wired and Scientific American as my two other prized subs. Play magazine I enjoyed greatly as well, mainly because of how it was designed.

As much as I would love to see EGM back in print I have to wonder just how relevant they are in said medium when most of the stuff gamers expect from a magazine they can get from online publications. Something like The Escapist's style, in the sense that it focuses on editorial commentary rather than reviews/previews, might make it relevant, offering particular views on the industry's many aspects. I, for one, miss Dan "Shoe" Hsu's editorials and general writing style. I do, however, subscribe to his blog so I do get a fix of that now and then.

Sometimes I go back every few months to re-read some of the older issues as they make a nice nostalgic trip to take as well as lending one some objective context in which to compare today's gaming industry with that of yesteryear.

I buy the occasional copy of edge if I know I am traveling for a bit without internet, but I kinda realize its a bit of a stop gap for myself. I assume some medium will eventually come along that will take print out of the equation (its not e ink).

heres a couple things I have been looking at that kinda shed light on what tomorrows print replacement might look like.

http://www.fastcompany.com/blog/adam...

that is an interesting article on the evolution of the book. I agree with his prediction of what this future device might be (in his case a glorified netbook), but the article raises some interesting ideas.

http://vimeo.com/8217311

that is a really interesting r edition of what a magazine might become.

It'll be a sad day for me if that book technology ever really takes off, especially for fiction. I'm all for integrating text, audio and video together, but there's something that takes the luster off of a fiction world the minute you add photos or video to the equation. I want to imagine the characters of a good novel in a world where I can fill in the details that the author doesn't think is important. I don't want them filled in for me.

Out of a misguided desire to help keep gaming magazines alive, I subscribed this year to Nintendo Power. Yes, I did. While it isn't as bad as I remembered it, I wish I'd known EGM was coming back. Or that GamePro was out.

Add my voice to the chorus of wanting analysis over facts. News in gaming magazines should be limited to three or four pages, I feel, since the majority of readers will already know about it. The tone of 'A Life Well Wasted' translated into articles is something I want to read, with writers showing their own personalities in the work they create. I also would like to see gaming articles that look at non-current games, but not necessarily 'retro'. Not everyone has played Mass Effect, and it would be fun to read about someone cracking that open for the first time, for example.

While Kill Screen sounds promising, my only fear about a more 'intellectual' gaming magazine is that it will crawl so far up its own ass that they'll forget that games are fun, and that reading about games should be fun. Let's hope that fear is unfounded.

KidDork wrote:

While Kill Screen sounds promising, my only fear about a more 'intellectual' gaming magazine is that it will crawl so far up its own ass that they'll forget that games are fun, and that reading about games should be fun. Let's hope that fear is unfounded.

As a dedicated ass-crawler, I feel I should remind you that different things are fun for different people. Some of us, for example, really enjoy "over-thinking" about games.

wordsmythe wrote:
KidDork wrote:

While Kill Screen sounds promising, my only fear about a more 'intellectual' gaming magazine is that it will crawl so far up its own ass that they'll forget that games are fun, and that reading about games should be fun. Let's hope that fear is unfounded.

As a dedicated ass-crawler, I feel I should remind you that different things are fun for different people. Some of us, for example, really enjoy "over-thinking" about games.

I'd also like to take a giant sh*t all over the "games must only be fun" and "let's not think too hard about things" arguments (and putting "intellectual" in scare quotes). Fun is worthwhile, but it's also the low hanging fruit. If the games themselves won't reach higher than that, then at least I will.

EGM was just another one of those magazines I saw on the shelf. I found out about GFW from some Sims 3 coverage that got hosted there on the podcast. Back when EA had that VIP thing going that would mainly be a newsletter telling you where they got press coverage. Anyway after listening to GFW and falling in love with the podcast I found out about EGM,1UP, and later on GWJ when Jeff came on here. I really think I am going to subscribe to the new EGM just because it is a revival and just because I know I do like the writers and some of the people who are working on it.

I was wondering just a few minutes ago if you asked the corporates who made the decision to cut EGM. If it was really worth it because of the aftermath and all that came from it.

Gravey, don't misquote me. I said 'reading about games should be fun'. And I didn't say we shouldn't think too hard about things, either. But I did write that post in a hurry, so I'll clarify.

The sort of game writing I was thinking of--and I admit using the word 'intellectual' was a mistake--was the sort written by people who are trying to justify their reasons for playing video games with overwrought, impenetrable articles that they hope to use to impress their professors and/or significant others who feel they are wasting their lives on the aforementioned games. Overwrought articles with a lot of overwrought sentences like the one I just wrote. Articles written by people terrified of saying they enjoy Mario games because they're fun, but because they represent the struggle of the common man against an uncaring world, and here's some references to their first year philosophy texts to prove it. No love shines through that text, just a burning need for justification.

If you love that sort of thing, then rock on. And I will not take a giant sh*t on your decision to support it, either.

KidDork wrote:

The sort of game writing I was thinking of--and I admit using the word 'intellectual' was a mistake--was the sort written by people who are trying to justify their reasons for playing video games with overwrought, impenetrable articles that they hope to use to impress their professors and/or significant others who feel they are wasting their lives on the aforementioned games. Overwrought articles with a lot of overwrought sentences like the one I just wrote. Articles written by people terrified of saying they enjoy Mario games because they're fun, but because they represent the struggle of the common man against an uncaring world, and here's some references to their first year philosophy texts to prove it. No love shines through that text, just a burning need for justification.

Well I agree with the idea in there, but I think that's a straw man. Can you give any examples of that kind of overwrought writing, and where it's published?

Sorry for jumping on you, but the "fun" argument in any form makes me Hulk-smash. This baseline expectation that anything we partake in, especially video games, must be fun is so ambiguous as to be useless. I guess if I had to clarify I would say that games should be enjoyable if not enriching in and of themselves, and writing about them should most definitely be enriching, otherwise there was no damn point to the writing if the writer didn't have something new for the reader to think about. Ultimately, what I hate is the idea that we should be content with amusement, as if utilizing our critical faculties was some sort of faux pas. I'm not arguing with you here—hopefully you're agreeing with me—but this is what makes me have to take giant sh*ts, metaphorically speaking.

If the writing is overwrought and pretentious, trying to read too much into Mario for instance, then that's equally useless. But why that should be a fear for anything with intellectual aspirations, rather than hope for the great conversations it could ignite, I don't know. Anyway, with as smart a writer as Chris Dahlen as an editor of Kill Screen, I'm really not worried that that mag is going to go in that direction (i.e. up its ass).

I think we're more in agreement than we are in dissension, Gravey. In future, I will not post in haste. I'm with you--we should never be content with 'amusement'. I'm all for people who love games to talk them to death. I feel you and I could very probably murder three bottles of wine and endure mutual hangovers discussing the Zelda franchise. My slight argument--again, the victim of posting in haste over a lifelong irritation--was with the handful of articles I've read over thirty five years of gaming that have set my teeth to maximum levels of gnashing. That's all.

Simply put, if you love gaming as much as I do, as much as you do, then write whatever you want. Keep the love in it. But if you feel embarrassed by gaming, if you feel this need to justify it, then please--go elsewhere. That's all I was saying.

I will end by saying that I spent this New Year's Eve by drinking far too much wine and trying to win new medals on Advance Wars: Days of Ruin. Yep, that's how I roll.

KidDork wrote:

I think we're more in agreement than we are in dissension, Gravey. In future, I will not post in haste. I'm with you--we should never be content with 'amusement'. I'm all for people who love games to talk them to death. I feel you and I could very probably murder three bottles of wine and endure mutual hangovers discussing the Zelda franchise. My slight argument--again, the victim of posting in haste over a lifelong irritation--was with the handful of articles I've read over thirty five years of gaming that have set my teeth to maximum levels of gnashing. That's all.

Simply put, if you love gaming as much as I do, as much as you do, then write whatever you want. Keep the love in it. But if you feel embarrassed by gaming, if you feel this need to justify it, then please--go elsewhere. That's all I was saying.

I will end by saying that I spent this New Year's Eve by drinking far too much wine and trying to win new medals on Advance Wars: Days of Ruin. Yep, that's how I roll.

Hugs! Just exchange my bottle of wine for a pitcher of beer.

TheCounselor wrote:

Now that you mention The Escapist, I also subscribe to that on my Kindle.

Anyone have any thoughts on how e-books and tablets might change the landscape for magazines here in the states? I'd subscribe to almost any video game related content on my Kindle. The distribution costs are fairly low, I'd imagine, even with Amazon taking their cut. As the screens get better, they can even show off the artwork better, as well.

I also get The Escapist on my Kindle. I have both the Kindle 2 and Kindle DX (the larger screen model of the Kindle). I get "magazines" such as The Escapist on the DX. With the larger screen real estate, I can easily read an 8." x 11" PDF with no problems. Images come through well as 16 shades of gray is adequate for most things other than fine gradations of color. However, PDF files on the Kindle are not reflowable and I can't resize the text, search, etc. the way I can with other file formats. I think that if Amazon fixes those limitations in their currently minimal PDF support, it will be an excellent platform for magazines.

For example, I get both the print and electronic versions of Play Magazine. Since Play is a larger format than 8.5 x 11, the print is too small to read comfortably on the Kindle. If I could resize text and reflow it, then I could read with no problem on the Kindle DX and possibly even Kindle 2.

This leads to my real criticism of the e-readers as a magazine platform. The problem isn't just the readers. It is the content as well. Magazine and newspaper publishers evidently don't see the real value in publishing on e-readers or are lazy/cheap about doing so. Many magazines routinely leave out images. I get Time magazine as well and many images and tables are left out. This doesn't really make much sense to me. Why should I be missing content when I'm paying a subscription fee?

Also, unless the e-reader manufacturers work more closely with the publishers to provide good formatting options and features, the publishers are limited in what they can do. I spent a couple of months corresponding with an electronic comic book publisher who wants to release their materials on the Kindle. Each Kindle model handles images differently. On one the images were resizable and margins could be eliminated. On another, they couldn't. On one model it automatically scaled images well and on another they scaled terribly and were very blocky. The problems continue from there. Amazon was not at all helpful in resolving these issues. We finally figured out that a highly optimized image for the Kindle 1 & 2 was best and that a non-optimized PDF worked best on the Kindle DX.

So, I don't really think the screens need to improve much more (though color would be very nice). Instead, we need to see a focus on device manufacturers providing good tools for publishers and for publishers to take the time to optimize their publications. Amazon, in particular, needs to provide much better support for their publishers.

I have no idea how well Barnes & Noble and Sony support their publishers, if at all. Amazon needs more work internally on their software and the Nook (from Barnes & Noble) needs a good bit more work on the user interface, though.

Gravey wrote:
KidDork wrote:

The sort of game writing I was thinking of--and I admit using the word 'intellectual' was a mistake--was the sort written by people who are trying to justify their reasons for playing video games with overwrought, impenetrable articles that they hope to use to impress their professors and/or significant others who feel they are wasting their lives on the aforementioned games. Overwrought articles with a lot of overwrought sentences like the one I just wrote. Articles written by people terrified of saying they enjoy Mario games because they're fun, but because they represent the struggle of the common man against an uncaring world, and here's some references to their first year philosophy texts to prove it. No love shines through that text, just a burning need for justification.

Well I agree with the idea in there, but I think that's a straw man. Can you give any examples of that kind of overwrought writing, and where it's published?

Sorry for jumping on you, but the "fun" argument in any form makes me Hulk-smash. This baseline expectation that anything we partake in, especially video games, must be fun is so ambiguous as to be useless. I guess if I had to clarify I would say that games should be enjoyable if not enriching in and of themselves, and writing about them should most definitely be enriching, otherwise there was no damn point to the writing if the writer didn't have something new for the reader to think about. Ultimately, what I hate is the idea that we should be content with amusement, as if utilizing our critical faculties was some sort of faux pas. I'm not arguing with you here—hopefully you're agreeing with me—but this is what makes me have to take giant sh*ts, metaphorically speaking.

This was an article I can relate to very much. Thank you Spaz.
This is the first time I have read every single comment on an article, even on GWJ.
Gravey and KidDork , I will remember having read this the next time someone asks me about my Hobby.
Finandir and TheCounselor, I was on the fence about getting the kindle, now I'm getting one for sure, wasn't sure how well the handle RSS feeds. This was the best(or at least my favorite) reading I've done in some time now.

As a nearly total PC gamer after suddenly receiving EGM instead of GFWL mag and then finding out that's what I would be getting for the rest of my paid in full subscription I was quite reasonably (I think) PtFO'd.
After reading it and a few other issues I decided it wasn't all so bad. It was news I mostly didn't care about but it was well written news I didn't care about. That turned my seething rage into a mild grumbling.

Until my favorite magazines offer eMagazine versions, I see no need for an eReader or tablet. Once I can get eMagazine versions of EGM, PC Gamer, CPU, Maximum PC and Hustler (ok, not Hustler), then I am all in.