If you’re the type to follow a blog like this one, you’ve no doubt heard the news of UGO Entertainment’s purchase of the 1Up network and all of the properties underneath it, followed closely by the news of game rag stalwart EGM’s sudden (not to mention unfortunately timed, at one month before its 20th anniversary) cancellation. The entire fiasco has resulted in a confirmed list of at least 30 staffers suddenly finding themselves having to check the “unemployed” box on every form they fill out for at least the near-term future.
Thus far, UGO’s been saying lots of nice things about letting 1up remain its own brand while simultaneously getting rid of a whole bunch of the people that made that site stand out (that is, the podcasters) among the major game sites, but I’m not going to be too hard on UGO here, because when you get down to it, it’s just business, as much as we’d prefer to think of it as more than that. That’s small comfort to those who were just pink slipped, but turnover always happens in these situations, and we’re just not in the sort of economy that welcomes exceptions to that rule.
Gamers of a certain age will never forget the Sheng Long hoax.
For many older gamers such as myself, the disappearance of EGM is really hitting home. This is the magazine that gave us the infamous secret of Sheng Long, the magazine that started the “Lair is crap” wave of anti-publicity, the only magazine that most of us would ever have thought to have bought despite the presence of Fabio on the cover. Heck, I remember the first one, which I bought shortly after spending way too much time with an Issue of Nintendo Power trying to figure out whether those Mega Man 2 screens were too spectacular to be real.
Still, the departure of EGM is just another domino to drop in the course of print media’s apparent march to extinction.
One could argue that print is already flirting with complete irrelevance as far as gaming goes, given that the only major American gaming rags left are Play (whose primary claim to fame is its “girls of gaming” feature), Game Informer (whose circulation will continue to thrive due to its status as a “free” bonus for signing up for GameStop’s membership card), GamePro (I’m sorry, I just never much cared for GamePro) and the official platform-specific magazines. Europe still has a couple of solid mags in the form of Eurogamer and Edge, and Japan’s Famitsu continues to be a nationwide tastemaker (nothing solidifies the hype of a Japanese release like a 39 or 40 out of 40 from a Famitsu review). Even so, with the ease of internet access still exponentially increasing and the shrinking window that separates “breaking” with “outdated”, it’s hard to see much of a future for print. On an online source, you can see video previews of upcoming games; in print, you need to look at pictures. Online sources can publish instantly, leaving print sources at least two weeks in the dust when it comes to news.
Maybe if they put Fabio on every cover…
If a print publication is to succeed, it is going to need to a) appeal to the nostalgia of an audience that grew up with print, and b) provide a service that online outlets can’t. In the case of Famitsu, for example, that service is in the presentation of scored reviews by a core set of reviewers which still garners as much or more respect than any of the current online crop of reviewers. For English-language audiences, however, this approach is more difficult because any of the writers who could pull this sort of clout are already gainfully employed online.
Perhaps if there were a print mag that was structured more like an academic journal, in which experts, scholars, and the rest of us were encouraged to submit essays to a prestigious editorial board, the best of which would be published, we would want to subscribe to it. Of course, The Escapist already does this online, so it’s difficult to see it succeeding in a subscription-centered arena. Gonzo game journalism already has its place online, as does some surprisingly well-constructed fan-fiction.
The truth is, there really isn’t anything that print magazines can offer that online outlets can’t, and even the most nostalgically-minded reader is going to favor something free, current, and dynamic. Even I’ll admit that despite my own subscription to EGM, I wasn’t really reading it anymore; maybe I maintained it for the fresh-ink smell that a just-delivered magazine has. Still, EGM was something of an institution in its own right, a holdover from the Nintendo age that managed to hold on longer than it could have thanks to some sharp editorial minds and solid writing. Inevitable as EGM’s demise may have been, January 6, 2009 was still a sad day for gaming as we knew it.