['What the (Game) Papers Say' is a weekly column by Kevin Gifford that documents the history of video game magazines, from their birth in the early '80s to the current day. This time -- an analytical look at the latest video game magazines released in the last couple of weeks, alongside a tribute to closing UK magazine PC Zone.]
It was with a sad heart that I learned recently that PC Zone
, the oldest English-language PC game mag still in operation (predating PC Gamer by seven months), is closing up shop with Issue 225 in September. The news was hardly unexpected, given that PC Zone has one of the lowest ABC-rated circulations of any game magazine in the UK at the moment, but it's sad nonetheless.
Will Porter, who wrote for PC Zone for a long time and edited it for a run in 2008, wrote a memorial
for Rock, Paper, Shotgun that both explains why the mag is worth remembering and offers a few examples of its greatest moments. If I could summarize my opinion more succinctly, I'd say that PC Zone was a great example of a mag you bought not because of what's on the cover, but because you genuinely dig the folks who wrote it and wanted to get their unique take on video games. There were mags like that in the '80s and '90s, but more recently they've been a dying breed.
Porter blames the Internet in general for PCZ's demise, of course, but I think the real culprit is the rise of gaming podcasts, the best of which are addictive fun for the exact same reason I gave above. Like those podcasts, PCZ wasn't trying to be the ultimate final source for all things games, a trap that lots of mags fell into and keep falling into.
It was just trying to have some fun and maybe attract a few readers along the way, and the fact it lasted over 200 issues indicates that they were doing something
right, at least. (On that note, I think an official PCZ podcast would be a great way to keep the "spirit" going. Not as lucrative, perhaps, but UK game-writer salaries aren't exactly first-class to start with, so...)
Let's move on to my coverage of the game mags that crossed my desk in the past little while, a somewhat boring post-E3 period despite the launch of a brand-new mag in the US:
@GAMER July/August 2010
Medal of Honor
@GAMER kicks off its first issue with a small Q&A section that includes this very apt question: "I can get gaming information for free on the Internet. Why should I buy a magazine?" Their answer: "First and foremost, @GAMER's staff has more than 40 years combined experience working in the gaming industry. We know games. And most importantly, because every issue of @GAMER comes with coupons for the games you're gonna buy anyway, the subscription pretty much pays for itself ;-)". (Their emoticon, not mine.)
The coupons are pretty valuable, sure, more so than when Best Buy last distributed a game magazine -- $20 off ODST, Skate 3, and that sort of thing. But I'm more interested in content, of course, and in that respect I'm maybe not the best critic for something like @GAMER 'cos the magazine isn't meant for someone like me; it's meant for people who shop at Best Buy a lot.
The bent of @GAMER is certainly casual in nature, no doubt a departure for EIC William O'Neal compared to his days at Computer Gaming World. Even multipage previews and features (including the cover article on MOH) feature very short maintext sections, the rest of the space instead used for screenshots, sidebars, and/or mini-commentaries from the editors. It makes the mag a very quick read or thumb overall -- much more of an efficient "bathroom read" than most of the other game mags that a lot of people accuse of being bathroom reads.
There isn't much point in analyzing @GAMER's writing too in-depth. As the editors state right up front, they're aiming to "try to focus on games that are worth your time and money" while attempting to remain "a credible source for honest gaming information." In that respect, it's perhaps closer to a buyer's-guide type thing than, say, GMR or Game Informer is. That shouldn't be interpreted to mean I don't find it entertaining, however -- like I said, it's meant to be a fun, fast-paced read, and it succeeds pretty well at that.
I wish O'Neal and the rest of the gang great luck with the mag. The ad department, no doubt, probably wished they launched at a slightly less dead time for new releases -- the 100-page @GAMER has a fair amount of ad pages, but the great majority either tout other Future mags or are free PSA-type ads from the ESRB or ECA.
Game Informer August 2010
Dragon Age 2
This issue is nearly all E3 content, from the news pages up front to the "E3 Hot 50" preview feature in the middle to the four pages of GameStop house ads encouraging you to pre-order all the E3 games you're reading about in said preview feature. Even the back page is an E3 quiz, and the Retro section seems to have taken a vacation to pack all this coverage of a month-old event into the pages.
The cover feature is a nice one if you played the original, but otherwise may be a bit tough for readers to follow. I certainly didn't mind, of course.
PC Gamer September 2010
Not a lot of flashiness to this month's issue; the cover piece is a pretty straightforward hands-on story that, if you care about Cataclysm, you probably have all the details from already.
Much more interesting to me: A full-size article about the making of Torchlight and all the behind-the-scenes Blizzard and Flagship Studios drama that went into it. The game's been out for a while, yeah, but it's still a hell of an article. I also dug Andy Schatz's column discussing what "The First Great Game," the one that will serve as the so-called "Citizen Kane moment" for the medium, could be like.
If you hadn't noticed, PCG's website
has been expanded into a full-on site...well, game blog, anyway, but that's still a lot more than it was before. Not as ambitious as GI's online home, no, but it's been worth a look to me now and then.
Official Xbox Magazine September 2010
Dead Space 2
Another issue that mainly involves E3 stuff, with lots of pages on the Kinect and the redesigned 360. There's some spice -- one postmorem on Alan Wake, plus an article on cool things to do in Red Dead Redemption you might've missed.
Beckett Massive Online Gamer September/October 2010
World Of Warcraft
It may be my imagination, but the WoW beatures in BMOG seem a lot more engaging and neatly designed than the stuff in the rest of the mag. I think I'm beginning to see where the editor team's personal loyalties might lie.
Game Developer Presents Game Career Guide 2010
It's time once again for GD's annual game-career issue, chiefly distributed for free at GDC conventions and other places like that. For the most part it's a catalog of game schools coupled with accounts of what to expect once you join one, from game-engine design tips to an article on what to do if your student project crashes and burns. Man, there are a ton
of game schools these days. I'm not sure how I'm going to have the time to play all the games made by the designers these joints are pumping out. [EDITOR'S NOTE
: the Game Career Guide issue is also now available for free online
in online readable/PDF form]
[Kevin Gifford used to breed ferrets, but now he's busy running Magweasel, a really cool weblog about games and Japan and "the industry" and things. In his spare time he does writing and translation for lots of publishers and game companies.]