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

thought.



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

titles.



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

market.’



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

news.



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

available.



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

lifestyle clients.



LEADING COMPUTER GAMES MAGAZINES


Title                   Publisher         Total ABC   Period on  Year on

                                                       period %   year %


Official PlayStation    Future              300,459       -14.6    -22.1

Magazine

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

Magazine

N64                     Future               61,687        -8.0    -25.6

Official Dreamcast      Dennis               51,805         2.3      n/a

Magazine

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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