Is Video Game Print Media Dying or Evolving?

gameinformer11This week I came across a short article titled, “The Fallacy of the ‘Print is Dead’ Meme”, by Michael Josefowicz. Josefowicz, a veteran of the print media industry, explains that the ‘Print is Dead’ is a meme that is generally perpetuated on a basis of anecdotal generalization by a small but very vocal group of ‘info-junkies,’ who constantly scour the web for up-to-the-minute news and obscure information. Being an ‘info-junkie’ myself, I’m intrigued but skeptical of any argument favoring print media and wonder what it means for video game media.

One of Josefowicz’ most telling arguments is that the “Print is Dead” meme grew prevalent during a “disruptive change in the communication ecology.” In other words, due to the rapid change in how information is exchanged, certain individuals benefitted by garnering a larger audience while others gradually lost their audience. Assuming the shift in audience size is not a result of better or worse content, this is an effect of certain people manipulating the digital pathways of information better than others. New media evangelists benefit from this and defend their newfound digital pathways in any way they can… hence their argument that digital media is putting all other forms of communication to bed.

In the gaming industry, for example, this argument is apparent in the discussion around the closing of Electronic Gaming Magazine, or EGM. A lot of people project the fate of EGM onto other magazines and take it as a clear indication of the future (or lack thereof) of print media, without taking into consideration the financial issues EGM’s parent company had. To me, EGM’s fallout is a clear example, not of the future of print media, but of the influence the vocal minority can have in conjuring zealous over-speculation. It’s true that more people are looking to the Internet for information, but not much speculating is occurring regarding the floundering value of online ads – the lifeblood of the blogosphere. There is a place for speculation, but it begs to be checked by thoughtful criticism – an element of the gaming industry that is seldom turned inward.

In 2005, Greg Costikyan wrote an article titled, “Death to the Games Industry Part 1 & Part 2”, in which he argued that the gaming industry needed a revolution in business models, retail models and the audience aesthetic in order to push innovation and remain relevant. Arguably, many of the notions that Costikyan posited back then are beginning to come to fruition now. Whether the change was caused by a conscious effort or the slowed economy, the industry is going through a transitional period where top-heavy publishing companies are relinquishing their stranglehold and innovative titles are emerging to incredible critical acclaim – from mainstream and enthusiast critics alike. Independent developers are slowly finding ways to bring innovative titles to market through digital distribution. The independent aesthetic is also becoming more fashionable and the cult meme where individual innovation is valued over production values is gaining prominence, especially in the more hardcore enthusiast communities. And the general appeal of casual titles available on the Wii, iPhone and online is exploding.

What’s interesting is that in the past, the vocal, conclusion-establishing minority was an impediment to change within the industry. Several years ago, in an era when magazines held the most up-to-date information, gamers would log onto forums and message boards to discuss upcoming titles and hardware. That desire to share ideas and speculate upcoming games helped the small community grow to a burgeoning online presence, collectively capable of challenging lawyers and senators on issues of violence, censorship and copyright. This community continues to grow to this day and, as we find new pathways to disseminate news instantly, the reciprocal dialogue will accelerate continually. In this regard, what sets the gaming industry apart from other entertainment industries is its audience’s tireless participation in the media. This dynamic fosters a robust communication ecology, one that grows ever deeper as games accrue a larger audience.

As Costikyan’s vision materializes and games become increasingly varied in their content and audience, the media surrounding those games will also become increasingly segmented. That means the demand for video game coverage will grow, and the means to satisfy that demand game coverage might take any shape, whether it’s a blog, message board, magazine or newspaper. The vocal minority that, in the past, hampered a constructive dialogue about the changing shape of the industry is now a proponent of change.

As PR professionals, perhaps the most useful paradigm is view print as evolving, not dying. If we anticipate the changing shape of print media, by taking into account the emerging needs of new gamers being brought into the community by the Wii and other casual fare, we’ll be better prepared for the new landscape years down the road. Gaming magazines may be losing readers, but, like other forms of print media, there will undoubtedly be a special role for them in the coming years.