What's the role of the games media? - PC Retail

What's the role of the games media?

Greg Lockley examines the gaming media and if it’s actually meeting the needs of its audience
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Videogames media has gone through a transition in the last few years. Where previously authority and mass reach was the premise of a few concentrated print magazines, the web has brought new challenges for traditional media owners.

As recently as a decade ago, a few games and technology magazines dominated. Titles like PC Plus and PC Magazine that covered the PC market have gone and many games magazines, including the likes of PC Zone have also closed.

They used to offer the PC and games market an easy way to talk to and reach a large audience. Now that audience is splintered across thousands of smaller, more focussed niche blogs and forums. There are bright spots however. Take Future Publishing for example. It’s one of the world’s leading publishers of consumer publications with a multi-platform portfolio.

Over 14 million global users visit Future’s games websites per month and it is a figure that continues to grow. This is in addition to a host of games print publications, with individual titles covering all aspects of gaming on PC, consoles and hand-helds. But despite some print closures, Future’s TechRadar.com and T3.com both seem to be doing well.

But this is a small piece of the pie. Future is just one of the UK’s games media publishers, with others including Imagine Publishing and PCR’s parent company Intent Media. These publish a variety of games print publications, in addition to a variety of high-profile websites such as IGN, Gamespot and Eurogamer.

Factor in international markets and their games publications too and you have a huge market with a rapidly growing audience.

So as the games media becomes increasingly digital, and print takes a back seat in a much diminished role – with the web offering faster, more focussed and richer content than print ever could – the greater question is; is the games media still important?

Of course it is. For as long as there’s a games industry there will be, and should be, a games media to report on, discuss and commentate. But, more importantly, is it doing enough?

Take a look at a selection of the games released in 2012, starting with 2K Games’ XCOM.

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Upon release, the game received universal praise from the games media, racking up a score of 89 on Metacritic, the review aggregation site, which tallies up scores from the worldwide games press. 2K celebrated the title as a commercial success, as sales figures revealed the title exceeded expectations and sold relatively well.

However, whilst sales figures showed the game to be a success, they masked the fact that many of these sales came as a result of digital distribution service Steam rather than boxed sales at retail.

Our sister brand MCV recently published the 2012 PC games chart and many of the PC smashes failed to make the list. Huge titles such as Minecraft and League of Legends failed to appear despite their enormous followings. This is because these titles aren’t stocked at retail. Even titles such as Football Manager, which continues to dominate the retail charts week after week, delivered many of its sales through digital channels.

So rather than ask if it’s doing enough, perhaps we should ask if the games media is doing enough of the right thing?

“Media really struggles to keep up with the big PC games. At PCGamesN we made a decision... to focus on the games consumers are actually playing rather than what is simply selling this week."

James Binns, PCGamesN

After initially receiving limited coverage, the sheer popularity of games such as Minecraft and League of Legends forced the hand of major publications to meet the increasing demand for content from gamers.

If hugely popular titles such as these are able to slip through the net and miss out on the coverage that smash titles at retail are garnering, then it seems evident that the games media isn’t meeting the demands of the audience it is there to serve.

Still, it’s not just the choice of content that is putting pressure on the games media.

In today’s market, the charts are littered with a number of high profile franchises and their expansions. Given the probability of a gamer buying the newest addition to one of these franchises based on its previous titles, it begs the questions, does the games media still have an influence?

The numbers listed at the beginning of this feature would certainly indicate gamers are listening. Perhaps selective hearing is a more appropriate term. Just take a look at the Call of Duty franchise. Last year saw the release of Call of Duty: Black Ops II, which subsequently became the highest selling game of the year and the fourth highest selling Call of Duty title of all time, whilst managing a score of just 74 on Metacritic.

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PCR talked to James Binns, a former Publishing Director at Future and now running a new UK business called Network N – which runs the aptly named PCGamesN.com.

“Media really struggles to keep up with the big PC games. At PCGamesN we made a decision... to focus on the games consumers are actually playing rather than what is simply selling this week. We built channels around big franchises like Minecraft and League of Legends and keep gamers up to date with the games they love,” said Binns.

A quick glance at the Steam charts reveals a number of titles that are immensely popular amongst gamers; games which are practically invisible within the major gaming press.

But it’s not just about the certain games that the games press seem to be neglecting, as Binns also highlights that games media outlets might not be doing enough to cover PC gaming comprehensively. Choosing to strictly cover games and not the systems that gamers need in order to play them.

“We thread hardware coverage through our games editorial, describing what systems our audience need to get the best out of their games,” says Binns.

There’s no denying the importance and influence of the games media. But if the mainstream press continues to neglect the games that gamers are actually playing – particularly in the PC space – we’re going to continue to see the rise of the blog, as gamers move away from the major gaming outfits.

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