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Getting into the game

Step into any GameStop and it’s evident that the video gaming culture is no longer just for the “geek.” Nor will you find only the teenage male perusing the newest launches.

Getting into the game

Getting into the game

“Back in the day, gaming was a niche hobby designed by 18- to 34-year-old males, for 18- to 34-year-old males,” said Scott Steinberg, Digital Trends’ video game analyst, in an e-mail interview. “Suddenly, everyone – young, old, male, female, rich, poor – is rediscovering the simple pleasures of play.” Despite figures that show video game sales have suffered because of the recession, Steinberg said there is more interest in the video game category than ever. “What you’re seeing essentially is a perfect storm. The gaming industry is waking up to the fact that everyone – mom, dad, brother, sister, grandpa, grandma – is a potential gamer in the making.”

As the video game industry continues to grow, gaming publications are gaining popularity. In fact, a recent study reported by GamesBeat noted that even though game sales have been down, “gamers are still consuming an awful lot of news about video games.” At the top 50 gaming sites, traffic increased by 23 percent year-over-year in November. And while online media seems to be the wave of the future, two print magazines are slated to launch in the coming months. Coming “soon” is World of Warcraft Magazine, which will be available only by subscription and feature 148 pages with no advertisements. And in March, Electronic Gaming Monthly is expected to re-launch. Doug Kale, editorial director of Beckett Media, said in an e-mail interview that Beckett print titles such as Massive Online Gamer and Fun! Online Games “have seen a tremendous surge in popularity on the newsstand in the past 12 months. I definitely see gaming magazines doing well over the next few years.” In fact, as video game consoles such as Nintendo DS and Wii continue to break sales records, fans will continue to look for information on these games. “Younger fans of these games still love to read magazines and I think that will help the sales for all publishers,” he said.

John Guilfoil, editor of the Boston-based online entertainment magazine Blast, said that he believes it’s easier for a digital medium to cover digital media as Web sites have the ability to display video and screenshots of video games, as well as report up-to-the-minute news. Nevertheless, gaming topics today are so vast that there is an abundance of news to be covered in all forms of media, he noted. The fact that video game magazines exist dedicated solely to one specific game “speaks volumes about the video game world,” he said. “Although excluding World of Warcraft, I’m not sure about the long-term viability of these publications since the shelf-life of video games is very short.”

When Blast was launched in 2007 as an online entertainment magazine, Guilfoil said that it wouldn’t have been possible to hold the attention of its target audience, the Y Generation, without a section devoted to video games. “This generation was brought up around the availability of video games,” he noted. And there’s no shortage of news to cover, he said. “It’s actually a challenge for us, we have to think of ways to cover all of this as every couple of hours there’s news that comes out of the video gaming world,” he said.

Steinberg credits the Wii with helping bring games to the mainstream. The continued growth in sales of downloadable apps for smartphones, free-to-play games for Web browsers, digitally distributed computer and home console games, titles for social networks like Facebook and Bebo, as well as online virtual playgrounds all pushed the video game culture further into the forefront. “Over the past year, we’ve seen an explosion in the number of Web sites and blogs covering video games in every form or fashion from downloadable expansions to independent and massively multiplayer online outings, including dozens of databases and forums dedicated to single offerings such as World of Warcraft, platforms (iPhone/iPod Touch) or genres (first-person shooter, role-playing, sports), let alone the general spectrum of releases.”

With an abundance of online resources available, it has become fairly easy for publishers to get into the game, especially since interest continues to swell, noted Steinberg. But the upsurge in video game online publications can create its own set of problems. Many times it can be hard to determine the authenticity of the information being reported, while independent blogs may lack the refined look and feel of a more commercial publication. Despite these drawbacks, Steinberg said that players can usually weed out the good from the bad. Guilfoil expressed similar sentiments. “I think in the end, in all segments of news reporting, the chaff gets scraped off, there’s millions of blogs out there and people flock to only a couple dozen of them,” he said. “Readers have a very low BS threshold, and in this day and age, they call you on it.”

New innovations such as Sony’s motion-sensing wand and Microsoft’s Project Natal, a 3D camera that uses your body as a gamepad, serve to make “electronic entertainment cheaper, more intuitive and appealing,” said Steinberg. “It’s inevitable we’ll see more people, and publications, continuing to get in the game.”

— Katrina M. Mendolera

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