Sunday, May 06, 2007

"The 'Death' of Game Magazines"?

"The 'Death' of Game Magazines"?

I am going to repeat part of a previous post to provide background for the present observation.

A recent Wired magazine included an article on "crowdsourcing". This is an Internet phenomenon: the Internet provides access to many, many "amateur" practitioners of a skill, such that they now compete with professionals (and lower the prices available to professionals). The first example is stock photography: companies used to pay hundreds or thousands for small numbers of stock photos, but now there are sources of good digital photos available for stock use at $1 a photo. Why pay a hundred times as much when the "amateur" photos are of excellent quality?

To turn to gaming, I believe that a form of "crowdsourcing" has happened to the role playing game industry. Quite apart from the glut of professional products, there are many, many products published by both standard publishers and PDF publishers that are written "by the crowd". And there are many more that are available for free online at a large number of Web sites. To put it another way, there are so many fanboys and fangirls willing to write RPG material for nothing or next to nothing, material easy and cheap to find on the Internet, that traditional publishers cannot charge much for their publications (and cannot pay their authors much, consequently). RPG publishing "collapsed" a couple years ago, as I understand it, and I don't see any indication that it will recover, because of crowdsourcing. (See, the article link at the bottom "Is the RPG Industry Screwed", if you're interested in more about this--and this article doesn't even take into account the large quantity of free material now available.)

My point today: crowdsourcing and podcasting have largely "done in" games magazines as a category, though there are still a few. I think magazines (game magazines, at any rate) are facing a form of crowdsourcing. Before the Web, if you wanted to read good quality (usually) writing about games, you had to read gaming magazines. Now there are so many free Web sites and communities such as BoardGameGeek (BGG) that readers feel little need to subscribe to expensive magazines. People write their stuff and put it on BGG and Web sites, or they put it in podcasts. At a minimum, the result is fragmentation of interests. And the more fragmentation we have, the harder it is for a commercial magazine to exist, because costs-per-copy go up as circulation decreases. At a "maximum", people are unwilling to pay for any commercial magazine because there is sufficient free material available

I understand that recently Game Quarterly ceased publication. However, this could be because the parent company's Game Expo 2007 failed rather than for for lack of readers. Further, WOTC recently decided not to renew the license to Paizo Publishing for Dungeon and Dragon magazines, which will cease publication. WOTC evidently intends to publish material on their Web site. Again, it may be that Paizo wanted to continue publishing, but WOTC preferred to stop a forf of competition.

This ties in with the newspaper industry. Newspaper readership is going down. Newspaper people know it, but it's hard for them to do something about it. Gannett started USA Today as an entertainment newspaper rather than a news newspaper, and that has worked for them. Local newspaper readership is (I'm told) generally people 35-50, then people older than that, and lastly people younger than that. Among other things, newspapers are too "staid" for modern tastes, but the main problem is that many younger people get their news online, either by word or by video, or from the television. Why read a newspaper unless you're really interested in local community content?

Early in the history of the Web, newspapers tried to charge for access to their online material. Readers then switched to free newspapers such as the San Jose Mercury, and soon the "pay" newspapers disappeared. Since newspapers depend heavily on advertising revenue in any case, the "newspaper business model" can be adjusted to take advantage of online opportunities.

To go back to the magazines, it's unlikely that Dungeon and Dragon could have been successfully started today. I was told the readership averaged mid-30s in age, IIRC. Young people as a group simply don't read newspapers or magazines--they read online or don't read much at all, preferring to watch or listen.

Some time ago I tried to find some figures for magazines to see if circulation was trending downward, as it is for newspapers. My quest was inconclusive. I suspect numbers may be buoyed by many "niche" magazines doing a reasonable business for people who are not, by and large, denizens of the Internet. Since boardgame playing is often associated with computer game playing, and computer gamers are usually quite comfortable with the Internet, I'd guess that gamers, as a category, are more Internet-oriented than many other groups of enthusiasts.

Dungeon and Dragon magazines paid five cents a word last I knew, a good rate compared to nothing. They also had the peculiar policy, required by WOTC, that they bought all rights to articles: that is, once they published your article, you no longer had any right to publish (including on the Web) or resell it. This is not customary in magazine publishing although it is now common in RPG publishing--another result of "crowdsourcing".

Game magazines still exist, such as Knucklebones . From my limited reading of the magazine I suspect it can continue to prosper because it depends for broad distribution on readers who are unlikely to be denizens of online communities such as BGG. This is not to say BGGers don't read it as well; but "regular" BGGers are a small group compared to the total of boardgame fans, and a slick magazine must rely on a higher circulation to prosper. (I know the editor of a scholarly numismatic journal which is published in the US, but printed in Asia. IIRC, he said as long as he could produce enough to fill half a container, it was more economical to print there, and ship by sea, than to print in the US. But game magazines with decreasing circulations may be unable to print in such quantities.)

ATO and S&T magazines maintain a presence based primarily on their "complete wargame each issue" philosophy. I don't know of a magazine that provides a complete non-wargame each issue, though there may be one that is touting a complete "expansion" each issue.

I was surprised when Games Journal ended publication, since as an online magazine it had virtually no expenses. It seems that even online magazines suffer from lack of contributions, when they cannot afford to pay contributors. It's easier to write an informal piece in a blog, or on BGG, than a formal pieces for something like Games Journal.

The trend can be seen elsewhere. InfoWorld, a venerable computer industry magazine that was free to qualifying individuals, recently ceased publication of a paper version. Other industry magazines such as InfoWorld and Business Week are much smaller than they used to be.

The Web is more suited than magazines to short attention spans common amongst the digital/playstation generation. I have been struck by the number of commenters on BGG who say "your post [not actually mine, in these cases] was so long I didn't read all of it but I'd like to say . . ." though the post in question was much shorter than a typical magazine article. It doesn't seem likely that such folks would read much of a magazine, but who knows.

There is a lot more material about games to read these days, but many fewer game magazines, than I recall from the 1970s and 1980s.


Anonymous said...

I regretably agree with your analysis.

even magazine's like PC Gamer seem to be getting slimmer.

AS a gamer over 50 I still miss the General and morn the loss of Games Quarterly

At least the games are surviving

Anyone got a pair of dice
of do I need a random number generator?

Play ON!

The Croquet Guy

Unknown said...

A depressing post that doesn't seem to bode well for the board game industry either.

Is Generation X (like me), the last generation of readers, because we didn't grow up with the world wide web?