March 18, 2007 10:59 AM |
['Game Mag Weaseling' is a weekly column by Kevin Gifford which covers video game magazines from the late '70s all the way up to right now.]
Reports that Computer Games and MASSIVE Magazine (recently rechristened MMO Games due to a legal dispute) have been shut down met with unprecedented furor and wailing across the entire Internet. Just kidding. Actually the response was tepid nearly everywhere it was reported, with these comments posted to Kotaku being pretty representative of prevailing opinion:
"I stopped reading game magazines before I hit high school. Years, and years, and... years ago. I didn't even realize there were still so many around. Waste of paper and money if you ask me. Just my opinion."
"Since magazines by their very nature can only report month old news, as compared to the immediacy that is the internet, they were destined to failure as soon as high speed internet came to be commonplace in most house holds.
They should have just switched to an online company, rivaling IGN or Gamespot."
One could argue that the PC game-mag marketplace is a tad more moribund than its console counterpart since it's shrinking and increasingly moving to online experiences that print mags can't report on fast enough. However, I think the real problem is these commentors' general way of thinking, which is likely far more prevalent among gamers casual and hardcore than most EIC's would like to admit. To sum it up, video game magazines are old, and all they have is old news, and I can get news on the Internet, and therefore magazines are dumb.
Putting this another way (and perhaps in an unfair manner), you could also say this: Magazine publishers are failing to communicate to their potential audience that their magazines just aren't like that anymore. A lot of mags, from EGM and GFW to Tips & Tricks, try to de-emphasize news in favor of longer pieces on the industry and trends in general. But as long as you are EGM or GFW or any other long-standing game publication, you can't get rid of the cookie-cutter news and reviews and previews -- readers will complain about it mightily if you do, no matter how wrong they are on the issue.
With that in mind, I've given some thought to what I'd do if I had the editorship of a brand-new game mag and ten billion dollars to build it with.
To start out, I took a bunch of mags I'd like to borrow stuff from and simmered them all together on my oven range:
- The older-game coverage of the UK's Retro Gamer
- The extremely long features and interviews of Japan's CONTINUE
- The massive variety of regular columns of Tips & Tricks
- The visual design of Make
- And the dogged devotion to product quality seen most recently in political commentary mag The New Republic (which went from publishing weekly to twice a month, expanded the page count and size, and began to feature extensive new art and photography starting this week)
So, throwing all these unrelated traits together, and what kind of game mag do you get? Well, first off, the mag (which I'll call GameStoat for the sake of this article) is a mook, a made-up Japanese word combining "magazine" and "book" that emphasizes high paper quality and extensive visuals at the expense of a high price. (Make and CONTINUE are mooks.)
I'd want each issue to be a constant 150-160 pages each, and I'm not planning on many ad pages (certainly nowhere near as many as traditional game mags), so the price would have to be pretty high -- I'd reckon $15 is about the maximum any sane person will spend on something in a magazine rack. (Sound high? Well, look at any non-game magazine that comes with a DVD or anything extra to it -- almost all of them are at least $10 these days. Instead of DVDs, though, the Stoat will use that price tag to use the best paper and have the most content pages of any game title in the US. A worthy trade-off? Well, if the writing quality's there, yes.)
Why do I like the mook format so much? Well, it's different from the pack, for one. The format looks nice on your coffee table, not disposable and getting all crinkled up on your toilet seat. What's more, a mook-type publication works perfectly for the subject matter GameStoat will cover -- not retro games, not current game news, but just games, in general, and anything else neat about and around games.
Every issue would have:
- Some sort of enormous retrospective on some aspect of video games. An old console, a long-running game series, a certain creator, a certain genre, some kind of trend in video games, video-game TV shows, and so on. The Sega Genesis. Batman games. Treasure. Need for Speed. DOS games from 1994 to 1996, that transitional era between 2D and 3D. Maybe a couple per issue, even.
- A similarly enormous interview with one game dignitary or another -- a creator, the head of the ESA, whomever is interesting past or present. Miyamoto. Will Wright. The guy who makes all the Mario Party games. The guy who designs the cases for game hardware.
- Editor roundtables on one thing or another -- trends, old games, and so on.
- A design that recalls Make and GFW -- extremely clean and straight, but also packed to the gills with original photography and art. That $15 price tag would pay for a ton of custom art for the mag. The art would be more prevalent in the mag than any individual game's screenshots.
- Massive amounts of columns. Anyone involved with games, or anyone who's talented in another field but likes games a lot (Trent Reznor, Penn Jillette, Curt Schilling, that sort of thing), can have a column. The game designer's column on making games, the PR/marketing guy's column on selling games, the degenerate WOW addict's column about the moment his girlfriend gave up on him, Mr. X from a famous Texas game studio exposing life in the trenches of development. Illustrate the columns with art, not game screenshots all the time.
- A regular "how-to" section. How do I set up this stupidly awesome entertainment center? How do I build up a great big collection of game music? I kinda missed out on Amiga games as a kid -- how do I set up and run an emulator? How do I beat the Grim Reaper in the first Castlevania? If there's an interesting way to visually present all this, anything can fit in here -- it doesn't have to even be a practical how-to; it's just gotta be interesting to read. Along with this, a column called "How to Make This Game," a dev diary with lots of Maya screen grabs and pictures of uncomfortable PR parties.
- Interesting giveaways for a change. Giveaways are a deceptively powerful way to build reader loyalty, but pretty much every mag except for Nintendo Power gives them short shrift. I love giveaways, but I hate boring ones like free games. Let's give away concept-art lithos, Master Chief helmets, the inflatable shark from EA Tiburon's cafeteria signed in Marks-A-Lot by everyone on the Madden team, the contents of Hideo Kojima's cube's wastebasket.
- Anything and everything else that makes a neat-looking spread that a fan of video games aged 25-50 might legitimately be interested in. 80s Nickelodeon TV shows. DVD season sets. Simpson T-shirts. Oh God, I'm 30, how do I save money? The New Kids on the Block -- I'd love to know what Jordan is up to these days.
And that's the Stoat in a nutshell. Note the complete lack of news, previews and reviews. I don't want any of those in GameStoat -- not in the traditional way, at least. That's because I honestly don't think readers of print game mags give a crap about reviews and previews anymore. They may think they do, but they don't, and when they encounter a mag filled with nothing but interesting features instead of page-filling previews, they'll realize how much they were missing. (MASSIVE was in the process of proving this before getting closed through no fault of its own.)
The mag would be seasonal, maybe bimonthly if it actually takes off. There would be an online counterpart, of course, with weblogs and podcasts and forums -- but, most importantly, print subscribers would get to access a full digital version of every issue, including extra audio and video wherever possible. I'd consider it an utter success if circulation reaches 100,000 -- GameStoat won't be the flagship title in any publisher's roster, but it will make a profit, and if I do my job right as EIC, its prestige and fan dedication will be the sort of thing money can't buy, either in print or online.
Does that all sound exciting to you? Well, tough. This was just a stimulating exercise in concept design for me. I already got a job -- and besides, to run a game mag I'd pretty much have to be in California, and I like my ferrets more than being a big game-industry star. Hopefully, however, GameStoat has shown that the magazine format can still be made to work for video games -- and, if done right, it can be the exact opposite of Computer Games and prove how relevant print still is in the 21st century.
Categories: Column: Game Mag Weaseling