March 9, 2008 12:00 AM |
I sometimes feel a little embarrassed writing this column because although I'm arguably one of the most vocal cheerleaders for print game magazines, my actual information consumption habits couldn't contradict that more. Most all of my buying decisions on games are driven by what I read on forums.
If I want to cheat in a game, learn more about an upcoming game, or bitch about a game because I can't cheat in it, then the Internet is right there. (I also subscribe to the local Houston paper mainly because they had a good deal for a year's delivery a while back, newsprint is great for lining ferret litter boxes with, and I just can't get enough of that Family Circus.)
Eagle-eyed readers may have noted by now that I almost never talk about reviews in video-game magazines. That's because, in my opinion, traditional reviews in game magazines should go to the same place that cheat and strategy-guide pages went -- i.e., somewhere where I don't have to pay money for them.
That's something I've found doubly true for EGM's reviews section. A three-reviewer system had its advantages back in an age when there was no other way to find out how good a game was before or at the time of its release. Nowadays, when this isn't the case at all, the flaws of the system are getting obvious. Putting three reviews on a single page gives less space for each review to discuss the game, which in turn makes the review both less useful and less interesting to read.
It's especially painful when the three reviewers share the same general opinion on the game, as was the case with the April '08 issue that just came out. What's so exciting about reading three different truncated takes on why Destroy All Humans! Big Willy Unleashed is average? I can frankly get that on Amazon if I wanted it. And when I say that, I don't mean EGM's editorial staff is just as good at game criticism as Amazon customer reviewers. Not at all.
What I do mean, though, is that while EGM's reviews can help readers make a buying decision, I'm not sure readers are willing to pay money for the privilege of access any longer when the net's full of reviews already. And that's where a lot of print mags still let readers down, I think -- just like how their cheat sections didn't really do anything that GameFAQs couldn't, their reviews often don't really achieve anything that isn't done on some Web forum. Or, in EGM's case, on 1UP.com.
We've seen a lot of game-mag evolution in the past two years along, as editors deal with shrinking ad buys and smaller books. I wouldn't be surprised if the next major evolution is doing away with traditional reviews and trying something else instead. I don't know what that "something else" could be -- maybe more critical postmortems with developers, maybe more longform Tom & Bruce-style gameplay diaries, maybe "Great Moments" screenshot montages, who knows -- but to me, a new approach would be both more interesting and give the mag more of a chance to differentiate itself from both the net and the print competition...something I worry about a great deal with EGM, given how intertwined it is with 1UP these days.
(On an unrelated note, the announcement earlier this week that Ziff Davis Media was finally filing for Chapter 11 was very dramatic, but not at all unexpected by anyone in the magazine industry. The filing has little to nothing to do with the performance or profitability of EGM, 1UP or GFW; it's all about the hundreds of millions of dollars in debt they took on when Willis Stein bought them in 2000. Ghosts from the dot-com mania period, in other words.
It's nothing short of a miracle ZD didn't go Chapter 11 until now, in fact -- as you'll read in the article linked to above, it's the worst-kept secret in the industry that ZD's debt has outpaced its net worth for years now and it never had even half a chance of paying it off any other way. That's why the upshot of this announcement is so positive; it means Ziff finally has a chance to be run like a normal publishing company and its employees hopefully won't have to worry about the future of their jobs for much longer. I've got a lot of optimism and look forward to a healthier '08 and '09 for all their mags and sites.)
Categories: Column: Game Mag Weaseling