Tribute to a Games Journalism Loss - Nikolas Davidoff Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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Tribute to a Games Journalism Loss

Transitional phases are always the most bewildering.  Here in the video game industry developers are caught between an oversaturated console generation and its fashionably late successor, unsure of whether they should hold their investments for later or throw all their cards down early and risk losing the pot in the process.  The digital age has seen heralds come and go for years now, all proclaiming that our physical media shall fade into the records of history e-books while we still await the launch of the hottest Blu-ray.  And while books continue to ambiguously teeter on the border of extinction and prosperity, one 21st Century 'relic' that is undoubtedly slipping is the magazine.  Some continue to thrive, such as Game Informer, who according to the Wall Street Journal's "Magazine Newsstand Sales Drop Further" (by Keach Hagey) witnessed a wallet warming 37.2% increase in circulation during the first 6 months of the year.  However this is but a rare exception, for The Guardian's report "US magazine sales dip even further" (by Roy Greenslade) tells that overall magazine sales has tumbled down a 10% slope in the same period.  And since we're gamers, why not pull at the heartstrings?  Both Playstation: The Official Magazine US and Nintendo Power are closing down after their final issues this December (from pcmag.com's "Official Playstation Magazine to Shut Down" by Stephanie Mlot, funny that) and this leads me to the 'tribute' part of the title.

These two magazines are, or were, published by the American branch of Future Publishing, while in a country far, far away Future UK has shoveled out the resting places for two more mags, Xbox World and PSM3, both unofficial watchdogs over Microsoft and Sony's crown jewels.  You can stop snickering now.  The publication I shall personally address is the later, not because of some petty console fanboyism, but because my experience lies with them.  To put some wind back in the Xbox standards around here, I assure you my heart goes out to the fine chaps readying the final issue of Xbox World.  Phew.  But I'm  getting ahead of myself, for international magazine purchases are not exactly on most wishlists, so I doubt many of you would be unfamiliar with PSM3.  And with the latest hubbub circling around Grand Theft Auto V, there is no better time to familiarise you with their journalistic tact.   

PSM3's September 2011 issue housed a most startling surprise in the form of an opinion piece from Editor Daniel Dawkins titled "What Rockstar should do next with GTA... And why it isn't what you think."  That title should give you an indication of its overlying point, but an opinion from PSM3 is like no other, for each of them is either an amalgam of expertly informed intuition or a dissection of cold facts, rumours and errant leaks nobody wants them to catch. (or do they?!)  In this case it was a mix of both, as Daniel took the original 'Project Rush' casting calls, (the ones listing a trio of cops, people 'in the sticks' and 18-year old troublemaker Kevin De Silva) the individual casting for father Albert and his scary brother Simon De Silva, Rockstar's registration of web domains like CashForDeadDreams.com and LifeInvader.net and their complete mapping of Los Angeles for L.A. Noire, stacked it on top of his storied knowledge of recent pop culture phenomena like crime drama The Wire and facebook, and fed it through a comprehension of Rockstar's history, reputation and trends to create a prediction that read like this - 

"Grand Theft Auto V will be set in Hollywood; [and] use recession-hit LA as a backdrop to critique capitalism, celebrity, social networking, corruption, family and society."  Further in the feature he added that it will most likely achieve this through a split viewpoint story with father Albert De Silva as one of at least 2 protagonists, and release in late 2012/early 2013 to line up with their publisher's financial year.  Sound familiar?  All this was conceived and printed a full 3 months prior to the debut trailer on November 2nd, and while there are expected imperfections, such as a call for real-world LA and a huge movie star cast, the framework Daniel constructed is undeniably accurate, and unprecedented.

This is the kind of pleasure one had when browsing the pages of PSM3, discovering unique articles that tickled the brain and funny bone in equally strong measure while bound to pages bearing the most beautiful art direction a publication could ask for.  Heck, even the font was eye-pleasing.  Each magazine felt like a journey because of it, a journey into the industry rather than a mere check-up on the latest releases, but even they were aware of their format's growing disadvantages.  In their podcasts Daniel and the other regulars of the team would frequently discuss how the growth of quality news websites presents a tough adversary for the magazine community, as they provide the instant news reel that a monthly cannot hope to compete with.  Therefore, as of that September 2011 issue, they honed in on the qualities that makes a magazine special.  A strong visual style that is not possible on a scrolling computer screen but transforms the ordinary paper product into an enjoyable piece to behold.  Limiting the space occupied by game previews since websites can update such binary reports so simply, and instead focusing on over 100 pages of intelligent, researched features that could not exist anywhere else.  These two elements were married together in the September redesign to give birth to a product that felt too precious and lovingly crafted to be tossed away at the month's end, and could easily be used as a compliment to one's daily dose of rabid Googling because it possessed limited overlap with the internet's specialty of instant information.

However it has fallen anyway, with a reader's tweet revealing the culprit.  After asking on the official PSM3 Twitter if the digital version of the magazine will continue after the printers retire, an answer read: "No sadly.  We have a really solid iPad subs [Twitter talk for subscriptions] base, but it won't live without the print edition."  This verifies that its not the digital age that has fossilized the mag, but the internet age, since the digital version is also departing.  It is the websites that are striking the massive blow to this business, as the same The Guardian story once again affirms that digital mags comprise only 1.7% of the market.  In an intriguing insight into the preferences of the consumer, the competition PSM3 strove to repel got the last laugh in the end, spelling the end for the finest journalistic fort in the industry with much sadness. Forever denying the seduction of cliches and immaturity, they were an avenue for an adult to indulge in the games industry with pride and enjoyment, and hold that standard to this very day.

In spite of this bitter grief, the future must also colour one's neurons.  Over Twitter Daniel has reassured that the team is alright, with many playing musical chairs around various Future Publishing positions, from other mags to their primary website, computerandvideogames.com. (or CVG)  What we are witnessing here is the early seeds of the end of a generation- no!  Not the consoles!  These are signs that magazines will fade away in time, probably a long time yet, but when gamers, typically young(ish), forward thinking and technologically savvy people decide that the wide ranges of the internet is their preferred information source, you must know that that is the pattern for which the broader future will adopt.  And what is a forward thinking individual without adaptability?  The PSM3 team will find new homes and stride onward, learning from this shift in the times and continue to administer their tact on this, or another, industry merely from a differently styled chair.  So to Daniel Dawkins, Michael Gapper, Andy Hartup, Andrew Kelly, Steven Williams, Milford Coppock, Richard Broughton and all the others who laboured away on those glossy covers who I simply can't name, thank you proudly for the invaluable experiences thus far.  I eagerly await what's next for all of you.  And, y'know, those Xbox World people too.

By the way, you all can read Daniel's original GTA V predictions here, as CVG later published it online, but of course, without the sexy looks of the print version. ;)                           

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