gamesradar.jpg So, we first reported on the launch of Future Publishing's massive U.S/European consumer game site GamesRadar back in December, and leading up to its launch in early March, there was a fair bit of online coverage - Mediaweek even weighed in on the "war... [that] pits major online gaming content sites... against each other for gamers' intense attention and the increasing amount of ad dollars aimed at this young male audience."

But wars are rarely played in an entirely gentlemanly fashion, and this week, Future released a press release on GamesRadar's launch which pointedly noted that the site "...debuted as the fifth largest site in the category, measuring 2,602,354 unique visitors strong in the US, according to comScore/Media Metrix’s March 2006 Gaming Information Key Measures report." It also directly referenced its competitors, stating bluntly: "GamesRadar ranked substantially higher than IDG Entertainment, UGO Games and Ziff Davis’ 1UP Network."

Naturally, this seems to have raised the hackles of at least one of the above competitors, whose Marketing Manager emailed a number of people, including us here at the CMP Game Group, accusing them of "deliberate spin on the facts and a bashing of competitors in order to manipulate industry perceptions", partly due to the press release's reprinting on biz site Next-Gen. [Incidentally, if anyone from Future is reading, you should update your press release page, because your competitor's Marketing Manager thought the Next-Gen story was a solely editorial one, when it fact, it was a cut and paste of an existing Future press release.]

However, I think that any condemning of 'skewing of editorial' here isn't really the point - Next-Gen is a Future website, and is simply carrying Future's company line, which is, after all, factually correct - according to Media Metrix, GamesRadar really _did_ outpace 1UP, UGO, and Games.net & friends. It's certainly a little dirtier than normal - a milder version of those Pepsi ads saying Coke sucks, perhaps. (Quick disclaimer here: I also run Game Developer magazine and Gamasutra.com, the latter of which is a partial competitor to Future's Next-Gen biz site. But I have no agenda with Next-Gen, with whom we actually happen to share a number of freelancers.)

But a more interesting story here, one that we've also been following for a little while - how cheats/FAQs site Cheat Planet figures into the GamesRadar story, and how Future has been presenting that. When the site was purchased by Future in mid-2005 for $8.7 million, it was revealed that Cheat Planet was "the fourth largest consumer games information website in the US", and attracts "nearly 3.5 million unique visitors in the US alone [Source: Comscore Media Metrix, January 2005; Gaming Information Key Measures Report.]" This stat in itself is somewhat surprising to many, but given that we can't see where these visitors are coming from as external observers, and that Cheat Planet has had at least 7 years to creep up search engine rankings, it's not quite as crazy as it sounds.

gameplanet.gif So, on GamesRadar's launch in early March, Cheat Planet's traffic was folded into the site - Cheat Planet URLs now redirect to Cheatplanet.gamesradar.com, and thus, all of Cheat Planet's unique visitors are now counted as GamesRadar visitors. Although we don't have access to Media Metrix's stats to look at this further, we do have the ever-controversial, but internally reliable Alexa.com, which uses the Amazon Toolbar to monitor site popularity, and there's a very illuminating graph on there. It shows reasonably clearly that GamesRadar as a whole has now assumed the basic traffic level of Cheat Planet, and that this change occurred concurrently with the switching of the Cheat Planet URL to point to GamesRadar.

In fact, it appears that Cheat Planet's traffic has effectively decreased - in January 2005, it had 'nearly 3.5 million' uniques, in December 2005, it had 3.2 million, according to Future's own website, and now it's been folded into GamesRadar, the two combined apparently have 2.6 million uniques. [Though we did notice that Cheat Planet's highly-trafficked forum is still hosted on Cheatplanet.com, so that may be confusing matters.]

But nonetheless, Future's press release this week had David Cooper, Publisher of GamesRadar commenting triumphantly: "We are thrilled that more than 2.6 million unique visitors appreciated the quality and the passion for PC and videogame information that our editors produce daily on GamesRadar." Is this disingenuous? I would say so. It appears that, since the majority of the site's readers have come across from Cheat Planet, and Cheat Planet is/was particularly well trafficked for user-contributed cheat codes reached through search engines and its forums, and actually contained no internally authored editorial content. GamesRadar's editors (who, incidentally, I have nothing against!) don't wholly figure into this initial first month 'surge' in traffic - which is, of course, not really a surge at all. Which isn't to say that people won't gradually patronize GamesRadar for the editorial content over time, but... there's spin here.

Yet these are the games people play with traffic stats to get notice, and ad dollars. While there's nothing in there explicitly to condemn, it's symptomatic of the fact that Future are struggling hard to come out fighting online in a market that's crucial for the company, given the current problems with print magazines, in which the company is arguably significantly over-leveraged. Given that companies such as Ziff Davis and IDG are coming from essentially the same print-heavy position, and that gains in online earnings need to outpace decreases in print revenues before each company's shareholders are remotely happy, expect the war in the consumer game website biz to get significantly messier from here on out.