MEDIA SPECIAL: Independents’ day

We all know the future of the games media is online. Print is in decline, video is on the rise and the overwhelming majority of all news, screenshots and game information is delivered via an internet connection – regardless of which device it goes to.

There is a new generation of sites trying to shape that future.

Independent blogs and networks of websites that focus on specific games, and downloadable ezines that you can’t find at WH Smith – these outlets are producing content that is just as likely to be shared via Facebook and Twitter as the traditional market leaders. And they all share a common focus: content that’s relevant to what gamers want, not what is new.

The coverage that’s growing is the stuff people care about – relevant, social and fast-moving,” says James Binns, MD of Network N, a collection of sites that each focus on a specific game or platform.

The games media needs to deliver content that reflects the passions of audiences. That means covering games people are actually playing, rather than allowing press releases and asset drops to define the agenda.”

Former Future exec Binns is one example of how the next generation is being defined by old dogs with new tricks.

Another is former PC?Zone writer Paul Pressley, now editorial director of quarterly ezine Continue Magazine, who claims many forms of traditional games coverage are almost irrelevant today.

Reviews are still held as some sort of sacred media cows, but the new FIFA, COD, Battlefield, Assassin’s Creed and so on are going to sell in the millions regardless of what a professional critic has to say,” he says.

The communities around each game are going to be much better served by having interesting things to read about their favourite titles – rather than just being told why they should buy the game they’ve already gone out and bought.”

Magazines like the dedicated Moshi Monsters magazine are the sort of thing I’d like to see more of. They recognise that individual games and their communities themselves are things to be celebrated and explored.”

Even if magazines were to abandon the news/reviews/previews formula, Binns argues they would never be able to offer the same narrow but deep coverage” sites like PCGamesN can because of their broader audience.

Taking on established behemoths isn’t so scary if you pick the right ground to fight them on.”

TheSixthAxis editor Peter Chapman: When every magazine has the same cover game and often the same key art, it’s fairly obvious that they’re not doing enough to differentiate between themselves, never mind compete with digital media.

We can stand out by simply stepping away from the mainstream: smaller games, digital releases, independently-developed games or even just a different way of covering the mainstream triple-A darlings that are plastered all over the news stands. It can make a small outlet stand out.”

And many readers are relishing this fresh take on content, bored of the stale conventions ‘legacy media’ is bound by.

We don’t carry reviews or straight previews,” explains Presley. Continue is much more interested in looking at what it means to be a gamer today, to bring our readers interesting, and well researched articles about gaming as a cultural movement.

We’re trying to steer towards what might be termed ‘proper’ journalism in the old school sense. Reporting. Creating pieces exploring a topic by talking to experts in that field.

We try to use the games that people are currently playing as springboards to explore greater topics. Assassin’s Creed III is giving us a chance to look at the benefits and pitfalls of using of real-life history and historical figures in gaming as a whole. Double Fine’s Kickstarter success let us look at the entire world of alternative funding in games.”

Chapman adds that, while indie sites should relish this freedom, it’s unwise to fly in the face of public opinion simply to differentiate yourself.

It would be very easy to go with a more sensational spin on news or be more controversial with editorial content,” he says. It’s quite apparent that these methods are very successful for other outlets.

But, as enthusiasts and volunteers, we can cover the subjects we want however we want – and we don’t have to bend to the pressures of keeping traffic figures or page views up by resorting to what some might see as cheap tricks.”

Ventures like Continue and Network N are just the beginning. New ones are trying to find their own niche all the time. They range from budget downloadable games blog Hookshot Inc to an upcoming video show staffed by former Inside Xbox staff.

Only time will tell who will become major players, but you can guarantee it will be those that successfully target, appeal to and regularly cater for their chosen audience.

People are always looking out for new experiences to supplement their daily visits to IGN, GameSpot et al,” says Presley. If you’ve got a different take to the others, you’ll have an audience, as long as you’ve ideas or money to throw at the marketing.

The demand for new ideas and alternative coverage will always be there. The challenge is to let gamers know you exist in the first place.”

About MCV Staff

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