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.


25 Responses to “Games mags in a coma”

  1. Interesting article. I wonder what proportion of these numbers can be chalked up to ‘economic downturn’ (are we allowed to call it a recession yet?), and how much is a genuine trend away from printed media.

    To be honest, very few of the magazines on the newsagent’s shelf offer something you can’t get for free on-line.

    Ironically, these days I find the only relevant printed gaming magazine to be Retro Gamer. It is somehow ‘right’ to be thumbing through actual pages while reading about Ultimate’s Sabreman, just like back in the day.

  2. The lack of a regular DS astonished me too at the time, but I was repeatedly told by publishers that there was “no market” for such a thing. The same’s now true for iPod gaming, as we both know. The only mags are hastily written ‘bookazines’, which don’t do the platform justice at all.

  3. Still, at least Amiga Power’s sales are up, eh?

  4. I don’t know if you have them in the UK, but here in Australia we have small A5-sized kids mags that are sold near the cash registers in Supermarkets. Surely such a thing would be spot-on for a DS mag?

    There used to be another mag in that small format (aimed at families, about using the net, best websites, etc) but that died after a few years. I wonder if an iPhone games mag might do better.

    At least in that environment (at the register) with a low price point & ‘fun’ content (rather than ‘useful websites’) it might work?

    Grab a Mars Bar, grab your iGames mag…

  5. @Stickhead: Anything under 15% can probably be put down to the economic climate. Anything above that is getting screwed for other reasons. The real standout in Stu’s article is NGamer, which is a really good read, but has never found a market. People would rather buy a rubbish Nintendo mag than one that evokes the gaming mags of old and actually has decent writing in it.

  6. That really is a crying shame about NGamer. It’s significantly better than when it started.

  7. Still no clue wat rg’s figures are.

    do they sell in engkland that many (model) train enthousiasts magazines as well, here they sell 3 or 4, of which 3 in german at many newsstands, and since german isn’t read by that many people for fun here, that must be a very loyal audience

  8. The emergence of cheap broadband has really hammered the PC mags, because I think a lot of the reason people used to buy them was for huge game demos and other content you couldn’t get easily on dial-up. Shame about PC Zone, that used to be a great paper – I still have most of the cover CDs up to around 2001.

  9. @romanista: Imagine doesn’t release ABCs, and so the only figures for Retro Gamer that are out there are wildly inaccurate. Ultimately, though, my understanding is the magazine’s readership is somewhat low but that it’s still profitable, with a reasonable subscriber base. I’m hoping it’ll stick around purely on the basis of loyal readership, its uniqueness and the fact about half the mag is features (as opposed to every other gaming magazine mostly being news/previews/reviews).

  10. Well, they release *some* ABCs. Just not for RG, which is slightly odd as I’m sure nobody expects it to be over 10K anyway. Maybe it’s doing 90K and they just don’t want the freelancers to know.

  11. TigerTiger Says:

    Total PC Gaming is dead, next issue is the last, Imagine just hasn’t announced it yet.

  12. @TigerTiger: Where did you find that out? Can’t say I’m surprised. They had an interesting mag and then turned it into the same thing as all the other PC mags.

    @RevStu: Didn’t realise. I figured since even many of their tech mags hold back ABCs it was the case publisher-wide.

  13. Can’t you just get someone to contact Imagine, suggesting they want to advertise in RetroGamer? Surely the advertisers pack they send would tell you the approx circulation?

  14. Shame about Total PC Gaming. I bought most of the early issues and was thinking about moving over to it from pc gamer full time.

    Then the silly sausages added a ‘free’ coverdisk/book and put up the price….

  15. I bought a copy of PCG the other month, saw the tiny circulation figure and almost cried. I decided to subscribe to them, just to help ‘n’ that.

    Still, at least I now know why it seems like the podcast/magazine is only written by about 5 people — it most probably is. 😥

  16. As well as being a result of declining interest in the print media, the decline in ngamer’s figures might be attributable to an increased dissatisfaction with Nintendo as a whole within the core gaming community. Nintendo’s primary demographic don’t want to read specialist games media anymore than I’m going to buy Empire regularly. Many longtime Nintendo fans have just stopped to be such and aren’t interested in the platforms any more (it’s trivial to cite sales of titles such as Dead Space: Extraction here).

    Have the figures for Edge/gamesTM been released?

  17. Nevermind, dug them up myself:

    Edge – 29007 (flat) (compares second half 2008 with 2009 average)
    GamesTM – 20013 (down 8%) (full year numbers)

  18. Shame about the magazines, but considering I've not felt the need to buy one in such a long time I suppose it's not too surprising. Most of them were crap and overpriced anyway. If a lot of old geeks are doing the same it was bound to have its impact (but still hits home when the 125,000 to 11,914 drop is pointed out).
    Reminds me of the same sort of dismay, shock and surprise people have when the old shops and town centres all die off after ASDAs/Walmarts (and other similar massive suppliers) open up outside of town, but then continue to ignore that town centre anyway. As if someone else is supposed to take up the responsibility and cost of keeping these things alive for nostalgia's (or some kind of guilty conscience?) sake so they can carry on with their more convenient and cheaper way. Like a museum.
    Those circulation figures would have been certain death for many of the old magazines I used to read (I'm sure some of the old Amiga ones were closed with less than that). It is a wonder that they are still going with those numbers. Perhaps many of those old magazines were closed prematurely if they can somehow squeeze profit out of those ones with lower numbers? Still, I can't think of much I will miss that was not already long gone before I gave up on them, so I'm happy enough if they free up WHSmith shelf space for the hobby and wank mags. Boring and/or untrustworthy reviews (when you can see the YouTube videos and get opinions first hand from thousands it seems pointless to take the risk on being misled by a reviewer again), old news, old demos and bland articles…eventually there doesn't seem any point paying six quid or so for something old or uninteresting when there's so much out there I've not read or seen yet.

  19. […] WoSblog: Weird or Standard? » Blog Archive » Games mags in a coma Presumably to be sung to Morrissey/Smiths? But sad […]

  20. Magazines now are completely devoid of character and personality. Not to put too fine a point on it, they are almost entirely half-arsed, featuring boring reviews, boring features and ill-informed opinion.
    I blame Edge and the Internet. But mostly Edge. Edge was always up it's own arse when it came to games, treating the subject not as an instrument of fun but one of tedious discussion about "art". Sadly everybody else in the games magazine business thought the po-faced, egg sucking was a good thing and got "serious".
    Without much doubt the internet has been a game changer in publishing, especially in terms of information delivery – I remember buying Mean Machines expressly to read the preview of SoR2 and devour the screen grabs, that couldn't possibly happen now – but that's no excuse for the "vanilla", offend no-one, say nothing controversial, boring as piety tripe that gets printed now.

  21. Shapey Fiend Says:

    Edge sales being (mostly) flat is kind of crazy. I never understood the point of the massively expensive demo disk magazines in the first place but even then the drop-off in sales is kind of mind boggling. They probably have more editorial (as opposed to news and copy-paste press releases) than any other magazine though so maybe the publishers will tune into that side of things from now on. 

  22. Funnily enough, I am making a game about the rise and fall of print games journalism at the moment, and then I stumble on this.
    Taken from an email I sent to another games journo, asking for advice –
    It's going to tell the history of the rise and fall of print games journalism. Every decade will have a game for the player to play and review, a pisstake of a major game of the time.

    Between these things the game will play more like an RPG, where your character has to try and cope with increasingly worse working conditions and prospects whilst witnessing the birth of 'new games journalism'

    Currently the plan is for the game to end with a Seaside Special-easque level where the main character snaps and collects up radioactive dogshit and then throws it at Kieron Gillen's house.

    I was getting advice as I intend to fully lampoon the Driv3rgate scandal but don't really wish to get sued. Oh, and the mag in question takes most of its influence from CVG.
    A very early screenshot is here –

  23. Sadly the screenshot doesn't seem to work, but the game sounds fantastic. Keep me updated and I'll be sure to give it some coverage.

  24. Cheers!
    I will keep you informed. 🙂

  25. Hi Stuart. The game is finally done. Some coverage would be nice – you can get the game here –

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