The Ninth Circle #22: Dead Trees in the Digital Age


In the last column I spoke about reviews, in this follow-up column I?m going to look at computer magazines. The Internet hasn?t killed off computer magazines, but it has changed them, just like it has changed computer gaming. I?ll talk about a few different aspects of magazines I think should be improved. I?m not saying that all magazines suffer from all of the failings or oversights given below; but I think they are all guilty of some of them.

Games Are Games

The first thing I think computer magazines need to do is stop treating the box on the shelf as the be all and end all of this industry. They aren?t alone; many websites still do this too, for some reason. I expect magazines to cover all computer games, not just ones that I can walk into EB and see on the shelves. Computer magazines almost completely ignored Counterstrike until it was a box on the shelf. By that time, what use was a review? The phenomenon that was the growth of Counterstrike was all but ignored, as coverage of this game as it grew in popularity was limited to non-existent in magazines.

Magazines need to stop treating Mods and other small Internet games (like Crimsonland) as some kind of offshoot, or sub-section of games, and give them at least as much coverage as they give the High Street games. I?ve got no problem with seeing full-blow reviews of Mods, but the best you tend to get is a short paragraph buried somewhere in the mag.

Don?t treat readers as drones who need to be told what to buy the next time they walk slack-jawed into the bright lights of the High Street computer game seller. We gamers find, make and create our own games. If you are gamers (and you should be) you will be doing the same. Tell us about it.

Previews

I don?t want previews to be the focus of a computer magazine. I really don?t want to see rack upon rack on the newsagent?s shelves, full of magazines whose covers display a game that won?t be out for six months, if that. Previews have their place, but it?s not pride of place on every cover of every issue. I want magazine covers to tell me what is going on now. The focus on previews looks to me like a desperate attempt to play catch-up with the net. The lure of the “exclusive” preview also seems to me like a way for magazines to become co-opted by the marketing arms of computer companies- this is not good for the readership.

I?m not that interested in picking up a magazine whose cover story is five pages of glossy photos of a game I might see in a year, with a couple of hundred words saying “it?s great!” This is no use to me. I?m not saying junk previews altogether, but consider whether they merit so much magazine space, and constant cover story status.

Reviews

I won?t revisit this area in too much detail since it was discussed last column. I want a review section I feel is trustworthy. Also, don?t be afraid to look back on what has happened before. The age of the Internet patch is upon us. If a game that was panned on release has been significantly changed and improved through diligent patches, I?d like to know about it. If major, game-stopping bugs have been changed since you reviewed it; tell us. It doesn?t make your original opinion “wrong” but it does make you look more credible if you?re willing to take a second look. A re-review to me is a sign of a magazine that is trying to give an accurate picture to its readership, and also a magazine where the staff who keep up to date on these things. The MMORPG scene also demands different coverage, in my opinion. A once off review is not enough. It would be better to adopt a “watching” brief mode, and give us coverage when some important change comes along. Games like Everquest seem to adopt the regular expansion tactic in part to ensure just this; continuous magazine coverage.

Journalism?

Some journalism would be nice. Like meaningful article on industry developments, past and future. Genre, specific pieces. The only such article I?ve read recently was on a website; [H]ardOCP?s examination of Infinium. Other magazines just blandly reprinted their press releases, the [H]ardOCP guys actually practiced journalism, it was nice to see.

Cover Discs

Whether CDs or DVDs, cover discs can be useful things indeed. Their main use form my point of view is that they allow me to play large demos. My dial up connection can?t cope with downloads over about 20MB. Having said that, discs are of less use if there are fewer programs on them. The more the merrier. As with my notes about games above, I don?t just want to see demos supplied to you by marketing departments; I want to see interesting things your staff have found in their Internet travels; surprise me with the contents.

Summary

Magazines still have their place in the world of Internet gaming, I just don?t think they?ve found it yet. For me, the magazine that comes closest right now is GamesTM, a relative newcomer on the scene. Most magazines are doing at least a few things, right, but none have made themselves a must-have purchase for me. I look forward to the day when one does so.

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