Thursday, November 25, 2004

Game Magazine Cover For Sale!

I received the latest issue of a popular game magazine in the mail yesterday. Out of respect for the remaining good people on the magazine's editorial staff, I won't divulge the publication's name (let's call it "GameCool"), but those who read this blog (all three of you) know what I'm talking about.

When I got the magazine, I glanced at the cover, and I was confused, because the issue seemed to not have a cover. I flipped it over and over, looking for the bright colors and hyperbole that usually mark a game magazine's cover, but I couldn't find it. The issue was in a polybag, even though it was a subscription issue, and I could see the onsert, the booklet often included to add extra value to the newsstand editions. I figured that maybe there were two onserts, and one was mistakenly packed in front of the cover.

When I opened the polybag, I was wrong. The "second onsert" was not mistakenly packed over the cover. It was deliberately GLUED in front of the issue's cover. And it wasn't an onsert. It was a four-page advertising booklet for Call of Duty for Xbox.

What's wrong with that, you ask? Well, not much, except that the ad bypasses long-held industry concerns about magazines "selling" their cover to advertisers (A company pays $X,000 dollars for ads in the issue and the magazine obligingly sticks that company's game on the cover, complete with a shill of a cover feature). I know for a fact that this particular magazine never sold its cover, but this issue is a gray area. The cover is left intact, but this shameless ad is glued over it. In effect, the reader sees a "cover" for Call of Duty and a "cover feature" which is an ad for the game, even before he sees the carefully selected cover image for the actual magazine. This magazine has, essentially, whored out its cover for advertising dollars.

With all due respect to the good people who still work there, especially in the Editorial department, that is complete crap.

Sure, this only seems to occur in the subscription copies, which are already sold no matter what the cover is, but it's not the actual thing that really bothers me. It's that as a game journalist in a former life I fought against this type of corporate prostitution (by "fought against," I mean, "complained about loudly"), and here it is. As sales and marketing creep over the Ad/Edit line in game magazines, these magazines become more and more like advertorial.

The cover of the magazine was superceded with a four-page ad. I had to tear the add off of the issue to get rid of it. I hope whoever sold that ad can retire off that money, because they just sold off one more bit of the integrity of that magazine.

Under this magazine's new management (a CEO change a few months ago), the magazine has gotten thinner. A sister publication (let's call it "GameSlice") that showed great promise months ago has, to no fault of its fantastic editorial staff, become far thinner and with a much greater ad-to-edit ratio. A friend who knows nothing about the inside world of game magazines pointed out that the latest issue of that magazine seemed like it was all ads. That issue is so thin it seems like a brochure. Also, since the change in management, GameSlice has grown in boobie-to-content ratio, which is sad, because the magazine has fantastic editors who write great articles that really comment on gaming in a way that other magazines don't. When you're reading an insightful article about gaming on one page, and on the other page there's a woman in her underwear rubbing an Xbox controller on her ass, it's distracting. And here, the boobies mandate had been silenced in the making of the premiere issue of GameSlice, but now the boobies are back.

Despite the work of some great editors, marketing is taking over the game magazines. Yeah, GameCool can say they didn't sell their cover, but they did. I had to flip through four pages of ads to even get to the damn cover. It's pretty nearly disgusting, and I feel bad for the people who have to work in edit and design for the company that did this. Because you can only fight a bull-headed publisher for so long before you can't fight any more. I know.

I feel your pain, guys, I really do.