Decay of a Page: The State of Video Game Magazines – Think Piece

You know, for all the changes that America and the world as a whole have undergone in the past 30 years, the video game industry has made it out alright, hasn’t it? The technology boom obviously benefited everyone with cutting-edge trinkets often using some sort of gaming device to showcase its capabilities first. There still hasn’t really been any regulation of loot boxes or monetization caps placed on a very tax-light industry. Sure, individual companies can go down in an instant of public realization, but as a whole, the video game industry has been on a stable path since rebounding in the 90s.

One of the biggest constants that follows alongside technological progress is obsolescence. Every announcement, press conference, update, and indeed new game release brings about another effort to stave off that foreboding term that has claimed so many. This is a word that can swing its sickle through your neck before you ever even hit the market – hello, OUYA, half the consoles of the 1990s, Steam Machines etc.

With the internet taking footholds no one quite predicted, one of the largest, deepest, and more gruesome losses the industry has had to suffer over the last few decades is in the journalism sector. Specifically, video game magazines.

I’ll just come right out and say it, every single solo, mass-production magazine following video games published in America is gone. Game Informer, under the umbrella of Gamestop, is tied to their parent subscription service and is the last large-scale magazine standing in the US. They’re alone. Across the pond come a few more such as Retro, PlayStation Magazine, games, and PC Gamer (which is partially US based) to still allow for a decent selection overall, thankfully.

video game magazines
Here’s a picture of a newsstand from a few weeks ago, showing some of the last players standing.

But a time existed when dozens of publications came and went month-after-month, bringing video game fever to mailboxes and newsstands. In my world, the biggest loses were Gamepro and Electronic Gaming Monthly, meeting their ends in 2011 and 2009, respectively. I enjoyed comparing reviews more than many of their articles because I was always interested in the end result, not so much how the team pulled everything together. Their opinions held a lot of entertaining sway over which direction my dollar would travel.

And I’d now be remiss if I didn’t mention not only Gamestm but Game Master have joined the list of those lost. The hits just keep coming.

I don’t necessarily miss those video game magazines because of that same vacancy of opinion (the internet has overfilled that void) but more so because of the varied styles. Of course, you’d be totally justified in missing those reviews because only Game Informer maintains an all-systems review approach. The few others that do maintain a pulse on reviews are system-locked, specialized content that usually only deals with the peaks of the popularity spectrum.

Video game magazines have been harbingers of an overall withering of some fairly large branches in the same journalism sphere. Joystiq, Game Trailers, and Gamespy have all gone under, and those that are left have had to revamp in the face of rising financial waters. EGM, who now has a digital magazine with EGMNow, has this as a homepage:

video game magazines
Visual nonsense of adverts and words.

This visual insanity is looked upon as the new norm, a new standard to have just enough money to scrape by in a digital world that seems to value the written word less and less every day. This is how you’re supposed to deliver news, opinions, features, or anything you can conceivably make your living on according to the traditional online model. This is how video game magazines have been replaced in a timeline somehow worse than the worst when it comes to just finding simple information: Ads that cover more space than the articles.

As far as smaller video game magazines go, new, targeted approaches have thankfully found their way into viable territory. Nintendo Force was started by an IGN alumni as a print-on-demand resource for, you guessed it, Nintendo-focused content. After multiple successful Kickstarters, Patreon became an ongoing option that has them, at the time of writing, with 4,626 patrons. That’s almost 5 thousand people willing to pay for a magazine syndication, or at the very least believe in what is considered to be obsolete enough to stamp their name in the credits. People know what they want and select it with their money – the most powerful of corporate messages even for an individual publication.

With much of that same mindset, Game Informer’s seat at the top is not only unchallenged by gaming publications but by pretty much any monthly magazine. Since 2013, GI has lead the way in print publications steadily more and more and absolutely dominated the digital space, apparently on a global scale. Over 2 million digital subscribers take in the previews, reviews, and write-ups of their current and past issues on top of over 3 million physical subscribers. Their readership was so strong in 2013 that their single readership base outnumbered the digital circulations of the next 24 magazines combined”.

For comparison, GamePro hovered around 100,000 and EGM 500,000 circulation when their respective doors shuttered.

What the fourth-largest magazine in the world and a Patreon-funded Nintendo Power spiritual successor show us is that video game magazines, and content in general, seem to work best behind a gate. Game Informer has Gamestop’s tiered subscription service which offers a $19.99 price tag for a year’s worth of benefits, and Nintendo Force begins offering United States digital issues at $2.99. Their commonality is the doorman at their gates, asking very clearly if these readers want this content or not.

video game magazines
Remember this wonderful visual send-off a few years ago?

There has to be a sense of self-advertisement with either approach i.e. letting the product’s audience speak for itself. Now that there’s a sturdy gate and a dedicated base, the perpetual motion machine of old video game magazines can work as it was intended to.

This business sense has spread to websites of medium-size up to some of the heavy hitters as well. Gates are appearing everywhere to make sure no one gets in without meaning to through subscription, Patreon, or otherwise. Holdouts, such as Kotaku, IGN or Gamespot, are owned by larger companies that drive such traffic and value that they can assuage the gate fee and, in fact, welcome all traffic.

Their approach is decidedly more EGM than Game Informer as a result, looking for any and all eyes in the hopes of making fans of their content, if not the games. In that way, the flame of video game magazines lives on in digital form, just with an infrastructure more suited to the minutiae of a second-by-second video game industry.

video game magazines
Game Informer provides an insane amount of eye-candy for a magazine almost never seen on a shelf.

Then you have the United Kingdom magazines that, as previously stated, already deal with some decidedly niche approach of the industry. This build in a natural gate from the get-go, whether that’s retro love or PlayStation or PC. The days of broad strokes in physical form are gone from video game magazines except in one over-powering outlier of an example.

Video game magazines are likely in a more healthy state now, much as the collapse of the newspaper industry left those that could adapt behind with scars. I can buy that. There’s more structure and paved pathways where you’re very likely to find what you’re looking for with full directions on how to get there. I get that too.

I just…

It’s like remembering the best time of your life at this perfect location, so you go back to the place looking for some more memory flashes, and it’s been built-up. Sure, it looks great and serves a much more specific purpose. But there was a space for everyone that’s been lost, something intangibly between imagination and opinion.

Well, okay, it’s just video game magazines, so maybe this isn’t THAT big of a deal. In the end, maybe I just love it when life finds a way to stave off obsoletion.

Leave a Reply