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Postmortem: Game Developer magazine


July 5, 2013 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next
 

4. Professional, Hardcore Staff

This is tooting our own horn a bit, sure, and we've edited a whole lot of horn-tooting out of postmortems in the past—but it's our last issue, so begrudge us this. Our editors were pretty hardcore. We stuck to a style guide, did multiple edits and multiple art passes of every article, and generally tried to make the best magazine possible. One doesn't think a lot about the layout of printed words on a page and how they're juxtaposed to images until one has to lay out a feature with more than 30 figures and code listings.

The magazine is currently done in large part by two people: editor Patrick Miller and production manager Dan Mallory. We have a part-time art director in Joe Mitch, a part-time sales lead in Jennifer Sulik, and up until very recently, we had Pete Scibilia in New York to interface with the printers.

That's it. We have contributors, sure, but it's a really lean operation. Only two people are working on the magazine full-time, and that's how it's been since around 2005. I sometimes think it's a miracle that a 52- to 96-page issue of any quality gets pumped out every month, but there it is.

We've had many editors over the years, but most of them didn't work together. Through hard work and a dedication to the craft, we managed to create a magazine that people liked, with what amounts to a skeleton crew.

5. Frank, Honest Tone

Many, many folks out there were more than happy to write a postmortem for the magazine ("That means we're on the cover, right?") -- until it came to the What Went Wrong portion. But we took it as a point of pride that we were able to offer developers a chance to be frank and honest about their work and the industry, even if it meant that every so often we'd fi nd out that we couldn't publish a postmortem we had spent weeks editing and revising with the writer because "crucial stakeholders still needed buy-in."

The game industry has precious few places where developers are encouraged to be honest with each other, and Game Developer was one of them. We truly believe that this is one of the best ways to help fellow devs make better games and advance the medium overall, and we wish Gamasutra the best of luck in carrying this tradition in the future.

To be sure, it's one thing to expect our contributors to write frankly about their professional shortcomings, and another to do it yourself. We fully acknowledge that Game Developer stood as strong as it did due only to the brave devs who were willing to bare their souls in print for the sake of helping others learn from their mistakes. After all, we couldn't have done anything without the hard work of 19 years of contributors and columnists, so ultimately, anything we've accomplished over the magazine's run is your accomplishment as well. Thanks, everyone.

What Went Wrong

1. Industry Contraction Means Fewer Ads

Game Developer magazine was (mostly) free to qualifying customers, and like most business-to-business magazines, we relied on advertisers for revenue. Because of this, industry contraction hit us hard, throughout my tenure at the magazine.

First, we saw consolidation in the game software space. There used to be a whole slew of tools that advertised with us -- then, one by one, they started to get swallowed up by one company or another. This turned a hydra of advertisers into just a few sales points. They could advertise one product or another in a different issue, but since they were no longer competing, they didn't advertise in the same issue. This drastically reduced the number of advertisers in our pages.

Next to go was recruitment. Advertisers found it more valuable to advertise in Gamasutra, which had a wider reach and could be shared via the internet. They have moved even further into direct recruitment through Twitter and the like.

Couple this with the fact that from at least 2004 through much of 2011, we had nobody specifically assigned to do sales for the magazine. The emphasis was on GDC, which is obviously much bigger than the mag, and package deals. At one point some sales staff were making package deals with GDC and Gamasutra, getting multiple pages in the magazine as part of the deal. Digging hard through the corporate structure, I found that in one instance we actually sold magazine ads for less than it cost to print the pages they were on. Suffice it to say, that never happened again, but these deals weren't exactly giving us blockbuster profits.

Just as I was leaving, we got Jennifer Sulik in sales, who did a great job of bringing in new advertisers (from smartphone makers to auto companies), and getting our numbers stable. In fact, the magazine was on target to meet its profi t estimations for this year. If we had gotten a dedicated salesperson earlier in our life cycle, I can't help but wonder where we'd be now.

This may surprise people to hear about a magazine that's closing down, but Game Developer was always profitable. Maybe not every month, but it was profi table every year of operation (so far as I know). To be certain, our contribution to our parent company (that is to say, our profit) was declining, but it was still profit! We kept lean, kept regular advertisers, and managed to squeak through a bit of digital revenue. You couldn't really do much better as a small-circulation magazine, but it wasn't good enough to keep our parent company's skin in the game.

2. Digital: Too Little, Too Late

We rolled out our digital edition last year, and it was quite successful. But we should've done it years ago. Frankly, our infrastructure was so scattered, and our crew so small, that nobody had time to make it happen. We were too busy trying to get through the next day.

Many magazines were switching to a more digital-oriented model and trying to get actual paying subscribers, but we began the transition too late, and our digital model was imperfect at best. Many subscribers mentioned that they had a better experience by downloading PDFs of the magazines and reading it in a PDF viewer than they did with our actual app.

3. Lack of Internal Support

As has been hinted a few times in this postmortem, we were a bit starved for support. The magazine was chugging along at an even pace, which was great in some ways, because we didn't get a lot of scrutiny from the higher-ups. They were content to just let us do our thing. But at the same time, we also didn't have much support when we wanted to do something new -- like launch a mobile edition, get new advertisers, reach new markets, and so on.

In early 2012, we finally got someone on staff -- Pearl Verzosa -- to tackle this sort of thing, but at this point in the magazine's life cycle, it was viewed as extra overhead, rather than an overhaul of a valuable piece of the business.

I mentioned that we had to share sales staff for many years, but sharing art staff was difficult as well. I went through a few art directors in my time, and Joe Mitch has been a great one -- but he was often pressed for time, and had to squeeze the entire look and feel of the magazine into four or five days' work. In fact, that's all he was budgeted for. This could lead to bottlenecks that would have a ripple effect through production.

But through hiring a professional production editor (instead of simply training one, as we'd done for years), and having a decent support team, the operation was finally running smoothly -- just as it all came to a close.


Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

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