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Counting Rupees: Oh, magazine


Each week Jeff Engel and Geoff Brooks contribute Counting Rupees, a column on the business behind gaming:

With the end of the holidays came the news that EGM is being shuttered. These are disappointing days for many people, not least the hard-working staff that contributed to the respected magazine. I think that the occasion probably merits a mention as much for its inevitability as its sadness.

In days in which even large, mainstream print publications are facing severe financial difficulties, it seems all too obvious that smaller, niche publications are going to face similar pressures. And gaming magazines seem to me to be among the most vulnerable, for several reasons.

First, such publications have a small audience to begin with. The industry may be fairly large in dollar terms, and it's growing, but you can't really compare the audience of an EGM with that of the New York Times. Unlike many general interest publications (such as, say, fashion), games are predicated largely around news rather than casual absorption - gamers want to know what's happening with current and future titles. Other distribution channels, such as online, are always going to be a superior format for such things -- online publication is instantaneous, sharable, and interactive in a way that print can never be.

"... online publication is instantaneous, sharable, and interactive in a way that print can never be."

More to the point, the Internet has in many ways superseded print, because we can free-ride off of print publications' own work: if a magazine comes out with an exclusive story, you can bet that the details and screenshots will have found their way online shortly after it's released, reaching mostly people who have never paid a dime to the publication. When you combine similar cost structures with a limited audience and better alternatives for distribution channels, it seems clear that you're going to run into problems.

What, then, does the future hold? It would be presumptuous of me to speak in definite terms, but it seems likely to me that the remaining gaming-oriented print magazines are likely to face a similar fate over the next 3-5 years. I just can't see a significant advantage that most have over the Internet. The most likely to survive, if they play their hands well, are probably those owned or supported by specific hardware manufacturers – think Nintendo Power. This isn't a reflection of their inherent quality; it just reflects the fact that each of these companies are trying to do something slightly different with their magazines than, say, an EGM.

These companies aren't primarily media companies. Rather, they're attempting to use publications as an easy means of advertising their products and building additional support for their platforms. As a result, they're less likely to be concerned about the pure financial return associated with each, preferring to look at their impact in conjunction with broader market trends. They also have a readily available supply of proprietary information, which companies can provide to in-house or second-party magazines at will. Sure, a lot of this information will leak out anyways, but it's an edge that many other companies have to exert a lot of effort to find. Finally, each manufacturer is already financially secure. Keeping a magazine afloat is probably never going to be a huge drain on its resources.

So that's my prediction for the future: a handful of smaller, platform-specific publications are likely to survive into the future. The last magazine standing may be able to consolidate demand enough to support a niche group of gamers who really do like to feel paper under their hands once a month, but I can't imagine it will end up being a big business. I'll miss the past, but I don't see it making a comeback.

As co-editors of A Link To The Future, Geoff and Jeff like to discuss, among many other topics, the business aspects of gaming. Game companies often make decisions that on their face appear baffling, or even infuriating, to many gamers. Yet when you think hard about them from the company's perspective, many other decisions are eminently sensible, or at least appeared to be so based on the conditions at the time those choices were made. Our goal with this column is to start a conversation about just those topics. While neither Geoff nor Jeff are employed in the game industry, they do have professional backgrounds that are relevant to the discussion. More to the point, they don't claim to have all the answers -- but this is a conversation worth having. You can reach them at

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