Games mags in a coma
I know, I know – it’s serious. You’ll have to forgive a little indulgence on this one, because few people seem to care much about paper-and-ink videogames magazines any more, and I still do. Done halfway-properly (eg Retro Gamer, and NGamer the last time I saw it, which was admittedly quite some time ago), they offer an experience that websites just can’t match, and there ought to still be a place for them.
Unfortunately, games mags have committed a long slow suicide over the last decade, becoming institutionally corrupt and attempting to take websites on at their own game, which is a hopeless battle. What’s more, they’ve focused on gaming platforms which aren’t very well suited to static images – look in a PC games mag or a 360 one and you’ll find it hard to tell one game apart from another in the featureless swamp of grey, green and brown fantasy worlds and bleak future dystopias.
At the same time, how astonishing is it that the most successful games console of all time – the Nintendo DS – has NEVER had a monthly print magazine devoted to it? DS games are a natural fit for print magazines, being largely in 2D and easy to identify at a glance. You’re not going to look at a screenshot of Bangai-O Spirits and mistake it for Mario And Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story any time soon, and with only a very limited range of games available in High Street stores and far less publisher marketing spend devoted to the format, there’s both a need for a magazine which can inform readers about titles they haven’t heard of, and scope for selling lots of ad space to online retailers and importers.
Still, that ship has bolted, and we’re left with a set of numbers that reflect the near-total irrelevance into which games mags have sunk. Brace yourselves.
NGamer (Future) – 12,499 (down 30% on previous figure)
A real shame if it’s even half as good as it was when it started.
PC Gamer (Future) – 26,487 (down almost 20%)
PC Zone (Future) – 11,357 (down over 40%)
I almost fell off my chair at the Zone figure. Gamer and Zone’s sales put together would have been borderline grounds for closure of a single mag when I was a fresh-faced young Deputy Editor in the early 1990s. Imagine have declined to publish figures for Total PC Gaming, so you can only guess at how atrocious they must be.
PC Format (Future) – 11,914 (down 34%)
Custom PC (Dennis) – 20,986 (down 11%)
There was a time when PCF sold over 125,000 copies a month. Now it’s outsold almost 2:1 by a nerdy mechanic mag. Even The Official Windows Magazine sells far more at 19,426.
Official Playstation (Future) – 47,033 (down 12%)
A title that once nudged 500,000 copies a month slides below a tenth of that.
The only signs of flickering life are in the Xbox market, where Uncooked Media’s 360 Gamer creeps marginally upwards to a still-paltry 18,527 and Imagine’s 360 puts on a commendable 9% year-on-year growth spurt, but still only makes it as far as a dismal 14,116. The nation’s best-selling videogames mag is Official Xbox Magazine, down only 3000 at 60,834 – a figure which wouldn’t have gotten it above Amiga Action for most of its life.
And all of these, remember, are the figures for the second half of the year, when mag sales are traditionally better due to the industry being so much bigger in the Christmas season.
I was going to analyse the situation in a bit more depth at this point, but I’m too sad.