EVERY six months, games magazine publishers get the chance to peer over at their rivals to see exactly how they're doing. And maybe gloat a little bit.
And from this year's crop, the rises and falls inherent in the industry have clrearly had quite an affect on circulation. While every publisher tends to go through the same peaks and troughs, it is a real test of a magazine's popularity to defy the declines and capitalise on increasing popularity.
Take the difference between the PlayStation magazines and their Xbox counterparts. Microsoft's strength in the core gamer market, combined with a consistently rich seam of big name releases, have contributed to by far the heathiest set of figures – while for the market-leading PlayStation brand, the opposite is true.
Although PS2 continues to perform well with mass-market titles like SingStar and Buzz, releases for enthusiasts have been a little thin on the ground, giving core gamers fewer reasons to pick up a specialist magazine from the newstands. Add to this a recently-launched PS3, which has yet to truly hit top gear, and it paints a heavily contrasting set of fortunes.
Alongside 360, the other main beneficiary this time around has been Nintendo, with DS stilll selling by the bucketload and Wii still in high demand. Given such mixed fortunes, Future managing director Robert Price offers a pragmatic view of the current magazine market:
First there is obviously a maturing in the market for Nintendo and 360, and we've seen the benefit of that. It's really pleasing to see,” he tells MCV. The games market is hard to predict, but the momentum that DS and Wii are getting will continue to grow those Nintendo titles, and with Xbox 360 we still have good times ahead of us, so I feel pretty confident. In the medium term, it depends on the software flow which does looks good.”
And it is that tricky end-of-lifecycle effect, rather than the quality of Future's magazines, that Price insists is the over-riding trend causing a drop in the PlayStation market.
You've clearly got a major transition affect with the PlayStation magazines, but I think you'll start to see PS3 really motor on into the Autumn season now. I don't think it would have been fair to ABC the new PlayStation 3 mag given that we haven't got a settled product, but on PlayStation in general there's nothing surprising there. If you look at the release schedule for Autumn there's a lot to look forward to. We can be confident of a good performance in that market going forward.”
While consoles are clearly prone to peaks and troughs, the ever-popular PC market cannot claim the same kind of turbulence – yet both PC Zone and PC Gamer are down in the latest figures. Price cites a different reason for this decline: I think on our PC titles the digital affect is more profound – I think PC gamers naturally tend to adopt online media quicker than other markets,” he adds.
One publisher reaping the rewards this time around is Uncooked Media. Its tri-weekly title 360 Gamer is currently riding high on the crest of an ever-increasing 360 user base, and the firm's sales and marketing manager Tarik Alozdi is confident of more expansion ahead.
You can understand why we're pleased with this ABC; yet again we have seen another rise in the ABC figure, this time by 18 per cent, bringing it to 12,586. And you have to remember that we're putting away that amount of sales every three weeks – in monthly terms that's over 18,000.”
While it seems the 360 market is ripe for the taking, Uncooked is keen to pick and choose its battles carefully – hence a clear sense of caution when it comes to launching more magazines.
Whilst we feel we could publish great print magazines for the PS3 and Wii sectors, overcrowding keeps us sceptical,” adds Alozdi. We have seen print magazines in both PlayStation 3 and Wii markets struggle with sub-10,000 sales.”
It's a similar story over at Imagine Publishing, which has seen a rise on X360 and a small decline on 360, while the overall decline continues on PlayStation.
At the moment clearly the Xbox market is the star,” says Imagine managing director Damien Butt. All the games and excitement is there and the hardware's flying. We're really pleased with X360 – we've invested a lot in that magazine and the market is going the right way as well.
It's no surprise that we've seen drops on the PlayStation mags – the price of the hardware and the amount of software out there on PS3 at the moment isn't quite there yet. I don't think it has truly captured the public's imagination.”
And while there's a long way to go with PS3, Butt cannot see the market ever returning to the huge successes of a few years ago.
PS3 so far has failed to bring back the good times. We're confident that the market will come back, but I don't think it'll ever get those glory days back. It will come back in time, but will never reach the same levels of success we saw when PS2 was at its peak.”
Despite some struggles, it seems that the industry's more recent successes will be revealed through the ABCs in six months' time, when a market boasting a storming DS and all three next-gen consoles can reap the rewards.
If you take the total package, with the transition coming to an end and including online, this set of ABCs has been very positive,” adds Future's Robert Price. We can all be happy that we've got more gamers' attention now than at any point in our history.”