This week we heard the disappointing news that EON, the official print magazine for MMO EVE Online, has officially closed down. The quarterly magazine first launched back in 2005 and may have been the first official magazine dedicated to a single MMO. The first edition was packed full of current news, sneak peeks, coverage on major events, fan-written fiction, features, and guides. The experimental magazine was produced by MMM Publishing under official license from CCP Games and proved to be a big hit, going on to publish 30 editions over the next seven and a half years.
Though EON has had a much longer run than most official MMO print magazines (the World of Warcraft magazine lasted all of five issues), it's still disappointing to see it go. The closure has a special significance for me because it was at EON that I and many other players started out as writers and editors. It's thanks to the work of the mag's editor Richie "Zapatero" Shoemaker that I went on to get this job at Massively, where I've written the weekly EVE Evolved column for almost five years now. EON Magazine was a real gem that will be sorely missed by dedicated fans, but the biggest shame is that those who might support the mag didn't know it was having financial difficulties until it was too late.
In this week's EVE Evolved, I look back at what made EON great, ask why it failed, and interview editor Richie Shoemaker on his thoughts behind the closure.
What made EON so special?
I was excited to get the first issue of EON Magazine back in 2005 but was absolutely unprepared for the sheer level of quality and professionalism it had. The layout and design team did a fantastic job breaking lengthy articles up into digestible chunks, with plenty of images, graphs, and clear sub-headings. The fan-written fiction was better than most of the official EVE chronicles, the guides were always interesting reads, and the developer interviews put a real face and personality on the names we knew only from devblogs and the forum. Simply put, EON was just a plain good read.
What really made EON special to me was the fact that it was a print magazine in an era of growing digital dominance. Every form of media is now moving to digital platforms, and even back in 2005 it was becoming hard for a magazine to compete with the instant accessibility of blogs and news sites. The news in a magazine is old by the time it gets to the printers, so EON was naturally challenged to feature articles that would stand the test of time. Each edition acts as a snapshot of EVE at the time of printing and a nostalgic window into the past for those who were around at the time.
Why did EON Magazine fail?
The real question isn't why EON failed now but why it didn't fail back in 2005. E VE itself only had around 75,000 subscribers at the time. Restricting a gaming mag to MMOs would have been a tall order back then, and many attempts to start print magazines for specific MMOs have fallen flat on their faces. EVE is a bit different to most MMOs though, as some players invest a lot of time into the game and it becomes a big part of their everyday lives. EVE is less of a game and more of a hobby, and every hobby deserves to have its own magazine that fans can flip through between play sessions.
I've been saying for years that CCP needed to make EON available for PLEX if it wanted to see boosted sales, and the company finally did it as an experiment in November of last year. There wasn't much of a marketing push to announce the change, and it now looks as if PLEX sales weren't enough to save the magazine. The official reason for EON's retirement is that it's no longer commercially viable as it just wasn't selling enough copies to stay in profit. Today's players get news of in-game events from online sources like EVE News 24 and the EVE blogging community, and the closure of the official EVE store probably didn't help sales either.
EON had the interesting distinction of being one of the only gaming magazines with no paid-for advertising. Instead, promotional pages were rented out to EVE players for ISK and limited to exclusively in-game services and organisations. Each issue had several corporate recruitment posters, adverts for in-game industrial manufacturers, and posters for games and events like poker leagues. The editors then paid this ISK to a number of volunteer writers to help compensate for their time spent writing articles. While this ensured that every edition of the magazine was pure EVE from cover to cover, I have to wonder if the additional revenue from advertising might potentially have been enough to save the magazine.
Massively: When EON first started, people were predicting the doom of print media. Why did you decide make EON a physical print magazine instead of an e-zine?
Richie "Zapatero" Shoemaker: When it comes to the process of combining words and pictures, the printed page has a singular aesthetic that the screen can't capture. That was the case then, and I'd argue it is still the case today, although since the tablet entered our lives things have changed quite quickly. Whether such devices will be the saviour of print, as some predict, I'm not so sure.
While we could have produced EON as a digital item, our thinking was that a printed product had too many benefits. With EVE itself having no physical form, the idea of a magazine somehow gave the game a tangible, permanent quality. And by championing certain characters, corporations, and events, we gave them a certain permanence too.
In all of your time working on EON, what was your favourite article to write or edit?
The Postcards from the Edge pages were always my favourite to write. All I asked for was a vaguely attractive or interesting screenshot, the name of the pilot who took it, and the system it was taken in, and from that I would try and write just a little bit of history or insight.
As for the work of others, I could list dozens of pieces. Winterblink's first Fanfest report was a real affirmation of what it meant to make the pilgrimage to Reykjavik, but I think the best work has been the fiction. There was one piece that CCP said was the best EVE chronicle that had ever been written. You can't get much better praise than that.
In your devblog, you said that the magazine thrived for a few years and then survived for a few more. At what point did sales begin to drop dangerously low, and what do you think contributed to that trend?
I'd say it was around the time of global financial Armageddon that the sales curve started to go the wrong way. Hard to tell when EON began turning a consistent loss as relatively strong sales of ISK and EVE Strategic Maps were hiding the problem a bit. It's tricky to pin down exactly why sales slumped. There was a perception among players throughout EON's lifetime that EON's editorial was immediately outdated upon publication, which was valid given the long lead times, although the magazine was intended to be not a news source but rather a kind of souvenir.
Obviously price was big factor. Over the last few years we've all become increasingly used to spending less on things like games and almost nothing on magazines, so to have to spend $15 on EON, plus postage, probably became increasingly difficult for people to justify. Toward the end we started running sales that sometimes did quite well, but they got so regular that the magazine wouldn't sell at all unless it was heavily discounted.
Perhaps even worse, we were pushing sales and discounts so hard that we weren't highlighting some of the good stuff in the magazine, which didn't help perception about what the magazine was all about. A last point is that efforts with blogging, Facebook, and Twitter were very inconsistent, all which I was mostly responsible for. I could have done a lot better in that regard.
Do you think CCP could have done more to help the magazine survive?
I'm not sure. Format and price weren't CCP's concern, and while perhaps the company could have pushed the magazine a bit more, we were rather small fry, given the scale of EON's readership compared to other commercial partners CCP had to work with. From an editorial standpoint, I do believe CCP could have been more involved. For the first couple of years there were actually a lot of ideas going back and forth, but as time went on it became a bit depressing that it would take weeks just to get a response to a simple email.
Readers might be interested to know that in 2009 there was an issue of EON whose main feature talked about the death of EVE Online; some people at CCP were very pissed about it. That arose after my trying to get six or seven of what I thought were good feature ideas approved, yet each one was shot down with little or no explanation. With deadline approaching, I thought I'd go with something that didn't require CCP input, which was to talk about the end of the game from a player perspective. It actually ended up a very good feature (written by RPS's Jim Rossignol) and wasn't intended to be dour at all, but there was an understanding that it was commissioned a little out of frustration and the fact CCP let us run with it was essentially an admission that it'd forced us down that path.
Now it should be pointed out that there's no way another developer would have allowed me to get away with a feature about the demise of its pride and joy. Not a chance. As frustrating as CCP often was, I was given a hell of a lot of editorial freedom, and our writers, some of them highly critical of CCP at times, were never censored. Had I been under the same restrictions as I'm sure the guys working on the World of Warcraft magazine were, I'd likely have given up on EON long ago -- as in fact the WoW mag guys did.
Last November CCP made EON available for purchase with PLEX as an experiment. How well did that do, and were there any problems?
On some level, offering the magazine for PLEX showed that CCP often did go above and beyond the call of duty to help us. There was no contractual obligation to do it, just as there wasn't for CCP to do a lot of things behind the scenes that I'll probably never know about, so it was wonderful from that angle. But offering the magazine for PLEX was something that CCP itself suggested in 2008, which shows the frustrating side of the process in that it took four years to implement.
Although I didn't know it at the time, I think for the guys running MMM, PLEX for EON was the last throw of the dice. I gather only 200 or so magazines were sold for PLEX when it needed to be a lot more than that, so when it didn't work out, I suppose the end was inevitable. I'm not suggesting that had the scheme been running in 2008, EON would have been saved; the problems ran deeper. EON for PLEX was simply a case of too little, too late.
Could EON ever be resurrected, or has that door now shut?
I can't imagine EON ever coming back in the same quarterly print format, but it could work some other way I'm sure. Personally I think a print publication could work as a yearbook, which is something I pitched independently to CCP long before I was approached to work on a magazine. Once it gets to the stage that we've all got cheap tablets, maybe EON could return as a weekly digital product, but I'm not sure it should come back. I'd rather it inspire something new than be flogged like the proverbial dead horse.
Do you have any new projects planned now that you've left MMM Publishing?
EVE-wise, I plan to return to the shadows and enjoy the life of quiet miner with my old main character, who will turn 10 on May 6th. Work-wise, I guess I need to find a job, hopefully writing about more games than one. As much as I've enjoyed writing about EVE for the last eight years -- and it's been more fun than frustration -- I have it on good authority that it's not the only game in existence. I hear there's even been a sequel to Morrowind, which I'm keen to try out.
Brendan "Nyphur" Drain is an early veteran of EVE Online and writer of the weekly EVE Evolved column here at Massively. The column covers anything and everything relating to EVE Online, from in-depth guides to speculative opinion pieces. If you have an idea for a column or guide, or you just want to message him, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.