Monday, November 19, 2007

Game News in a Duel of Print and Online

Game News in a Duel of Print and Online

Noel Goodman subscribes to three video game magazines, but he wants information faster than the magazines can reach his mailbox.

"I can find out on the Internet information that won't be in magazines for another month," said Mr. Goodman, a 30-year-old electrician in Newport News, Va., who took Halloween off to play video games. The magazines, he said, are "always going to lose when it comes down to content. I can get everything online."

While video game magazine publishers beg to differ, that is precisely their challenge - retaining readers as the Internet grabs their audience and advertisers. Why wait for a monthly mailing when the Web has fresh game reviews, articles and tips on how to beat the games?

In the last few months, the two biggest publishers - Ziff Davis Media and Future US, which control most of the major game magazines in the United States - have been trying to tip the balance back in their favor.

The two companies have been bulking up their online content, trying to develop a symbiotic relationship. Their magazines offer portability and visual power, and their Web sites provide interactive features and nonstop information flow.

"If information is all that we require, the Web wins. Game over," said Simon Cox, the vice president for content at Ziff Davis Media's game group, which includes Electronic Gaming Monthly, a print magazine, and the 1UP Network, an online gaming portal. "But people want content and perspective."

To keep print subscribers, Ziff Davis aims to offer better writing and reporting than is available from competitors' Web sites, as well as striking visuals. Ziff Davis is also embracing the financial power of the special issue: a September issue that came out before the release of the blockbuster game Halo 3 for the Xbox 360 from Microsoft included a 19-page feature section.

"We've integrated our organization, and print is an important part of the proposition," said Jason Young, the chief executive of Ziff Davis. He added that despite the problems in the business, the company plans to keep its game titles. "Certainly, peeling off individual pieces is not part of our strategy at this time," he said.

Mr. Cox said Ziff Davis is continuing a strategy that tries to bounce the reader back and forth between its magazines and its Web sites. "Users can't get enough information about some of these games," Mr. Cox said. "You're just providing different ways of getting into the game."

According to company reports, Ziff Davis's digital revenue increased by 14 percent in the second quarter over the same period last year, but revenue for the game group fell by more than $3 million.

And though the 1UP Network was the ninth most-visited gaming Web site in September, with nearly 3.1 million unique visitors, it drew less than half of the 8.1 million people who went to, a game site owned by News Corporation, according to ComScore, a company that measures Web traffic. The main online site of Future US,, had 4.9 million unique visitors.

Jonathan Simpson-Bint, the publisher of Future US, said that his company also focuses on special issues for releases of new game systems like Wii, which come with high-quality visuals and a high newsstand price.

Given the competition from the Internet, "we've had to be more ingenious about the way we've approached it," Mr. Simpson-Bint said.

Future US's game magazines earned $46 million in 2006, a $4.8 million drop from 2005, according to company reports. The circulation for PC Gamer, a leading magazine from Future US, shrank to 210,369 this year from 300,271 in 2003, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

Magazine publishers say that readers want longer features and in-depth articles as a counterpoint to the short, bloglike pieces they find online. But Kyle Orland, a freelance journalist who writes a media coverage column for, wondered if that strategy was working, saying that when a large feature is published, it doesn't get read.

"Attention spans are just getting so small that readers don't know what they want," Mr. Orland said.

But game players are also suspicious of publications' ties to the game publishers they write about, said David Gornoski, the editor of a Web site called "We're seeing situations where publishers are dangling exclusive stories in front of publications in exchange for scores for their products," Mr. Gornoski wrote in an e-mail message.

Still, some longtime players still find the magazines useful. "I like reading in print because I can carry it around with me if I don't have Internet access," said Alexandria Velez, 31, a student in information technology from Staten Island. "Wherever I go, I can carry a magazine."

Mr. Simpson-Bint of Future US said that the Internet was not the only drag on the revenues of game magazines. Another factor, he said, was the mercurial nature of the games market itself, where a slowdown automatically means a drop in advertising.

"It's a really tightly linked ecosystem," he said. "The fortunes of the magazines are very profoundly linked to the fortunes of the hardware platforms."

No comments: