IT: LET THE GAMES BEGIN - Will the heat of the computer titles market be cooled by the emerging wave of gaming websites? Robert Gray reports
By ROBERT GRAY, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 01 September 2000 12:00AM
New computer games magazines are hitting the shelves faster than Sonic the Hedgehog on rocket fuel. At the last count there were more than 50 titles, most of them with fairly modest circulation figures. By the end of the year there will be at least five more. It’s enough to make even Tomb Raider’s all-action hero Lara Croft pause for thought.
New computer games magazines are hitting the shelves faster than
Sonic the Hedgehog on rocket fuel. At the last count there were more
than 50 titles, most of them with fairly modest circulation figures. By
the end of the year there will be at least five more. It’s enough to
make even Tomb Raider’s all-action hero Lara Croft pause for
More than half a dozen UK publishers - including Future, Paragon, Emap
Active, Dennis, Quay and Ziff Davis - are slugging it out for readers,
with titles devoted to one or several formats of computer game-playing:
Sony PlayStation, Sega Dreamcast, Nintendo, PC games or a multi-format
melange of all of these hardware platforms.
At the beginning of this year competition intensified further with the
arrival in the UK market of the publisher Computec, which has a strong
presence in its domestic market in Germany as well as producing titles
for the American, French and Scandinavian markets. Computec aims to cut
costs by sharing some of its content across countries and has been
aggressive in its entry to the UK, launching three magazines in the
first eight months of operation: PSW, PC Gameplay and PlayZone.
’We believe the market has been poorly served by the fanzine mentality,’
Marc Swallow, the managing director of Computec Media UK, says.
Swallow intends to make Computec the clear number two in the market.
The number one player, Future, is at present unassailable in that it
holds the contract from Sony to publish the monthly Official PlayStation
Magazine, which has an ABC of more than 350,000. PlayStation is the
dominant hardware format - out of the ten million or so games consoles
in the UK, 5.6 million are PlayStations - and Sony supports its official
title and keeps it a best-seller by allowing it to offer much
sought-after games demos that are unavailable to other titles.
Many of the other magazines in the market have responded by offering
cover-mounts of their own in a bid to stand out. ’Rarely these days can
you judge a magazine’s sales by the quality of its editorial,’ Damian
Butt, the editorial director for Paragon Publishing, laments.
’It’s simply a question of how big your book is and how big the plastic
gizmo is on the cover.’
Paragon publishes four PlayStation titles - Play, PS Pro, Planet and
PowerStation - as well as magazines aimed at Dreamcast, Nintendo and PC
games players. Like its competitors, it is gearing up for Sony’s eagerly
awaited UK launch on 26 October of its PlayStation 2 console. When the
machine was launched in Japan last spring, 980,000 units were sold in
the first two days alone.
With PlayStation 2 almost certain to be a huge success, all the games
publishers will be looking to cash in.
’Even though everyone has already got a PlayStation magazine, you will
see a series of new publications dedicated to PlayStation 2. The
marketplace is going to get even more crowded,’ Butt says.
Future has landed the contract to publish the official PlayStation 2
title. But it fully expects there to be competitors.
Although Sony PlayStation’s UK marketing director, Alan Welsman, says
the official magazine will be ’vitally important’, he concedes that the
company is ’just as excited’ by the prospect of a series of unofficial
Robert Price, Future’s group publisher within the computer and video
games division, says: ’The market is always changing. It’s had major
changes four or five times and minor ones maybe 20 times. There are
always different things to write about. And every time there’s a new
sort of technology it gives other publishers a chance to come into the
That pattern will continue next year when two other major console
launches are expected. Nintendo will bring out a product provisionally
referred to as StarCube and the PC software behemoth Microsoft will make
its debut in the games market with its long-awaited X-Box. Both of these
will spawn further rafts of print titles.
Another significant issue in the marketplace is the growth of game play
on the internet. Two years ago Paragon launched a title called Net Gamer
aimed at this sector but withdrew it because of lack of demand. Earlier
this year, Future experimented with a one-shot called Online Gamer but
also reached the conclusion that it was too premature for a monthly
publication in the field.
Some industry observers think that print publications may have trouble
in the future. Simon Jobling, the marketing director of the games
developer Take 2 Interactive, believes that the emergence of stronger
websites will be a threat.
’You will see a time when people like playstation.com have such a
powerful database that you wonder whether they need to franchise out
their name,’ Jobling says. ’For now they are keen to give the magazines
tips and facts to pass on to players but in the future they may want to
keep that on their websites to help them with data capture and direct
marketing. You start to wonder how the games magazine sector will fit in
in three or four years time.’
Future appeared to follow this prediction recently when it launched a
website called dailyradar.co.uk, which provides up-to-date gaming
But Price argues that this is complementary to its print titles. ’We see
the way we treat news in print titles changing. But they won’t ever
become redundant,’ he says.
According to Stuart Dimsey, the managing director of the games
industry’s trade publication MCV, the UK marketplace for games equipment
and software is worth pounds 1.5 billion a year, and is likely to be
significantly higher in 2001 because of all the new products
Yet despite the fact that they are targeting a young and largely
affluent audience, games magazines have been singularly unsuccessful at
attracting much in the way of lifestyle advertising.
For many titles it is simply the case that their readership is not large
enough to justify lifestyle advertising - for the bigger titles, it is
probably more a perception problem. Many consumer advertisers still
regard computer games as a childrens’ market, yet with many serious game
players now in their 20s and 30s, publishers are arguing that the
marketplace deserves greater attention. And it’s hoped that the launch
of Playstation 2 in October will prove to be the lure needed to hook the
LEADING COMPUTER GAMES MAGAZINES
Title Publisher Total ABC Period on Year on
period % year %
Official PlayStation Future 300,459 -14.6 -22.1
PlayStationWorld Computec Media UK 100,374 n/a n/a
PC Gamer Future 84,060 0.5 8.9
Play Paragon 76,535 -14.6 0.0
PlayStation Power Future 76,048 -6.2 -19.3
PC Zone Dennis 73,446 -6.1 3.2
Nintendo Official Emap Active 71,310 -9.4 -20.9
N64 Future 61,687 -8.0 -25.6
Official Dreamcast Dennis 51,805 2.3 n/a
Powerstation Paragon 50,761 8.4 3.0
PlayStation Max Future 50,723 0.6 -18.6
Games Master Future 50,722 -17.0 -25.2
Computer & Video Games Emap Active 43,509 -27.6 -38.2
PC Gaming World Ziff Davis UK 40,330 -10.5 -4.2
Source: Audit Bureau of Circulations (January-June 2000)
This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk
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