Game magazine veteran Kevin Gifford has been looking back on the year in video game magazines, discussing 2007's best and worst new trends, covers, launches, and more for the still-kicking game mag market.
Best New Trend in Game Mags: A serious effort -- particularly in Game Informer's part -- to bring serious industry news back into print media, after several years of aping Maxim. Edge is no longer the only place in print for intelligent trend coverage.
Worst New Trend in Game Mags: Your choice: the endurance of boring preview features, or 100 pages becoming the new standard size for mags outside of Christmas -- at least until "88 pages" replaces it.
Biggest Surprise: Official Xbox Magazine bustin' out some really informative and funny features, the best of which remains Dan Amrich's quest to get kicked off Xbox Live as quickly as possible (without busting out the obvious racial slurs and potty-mouth antics).
Biggest Disappointment: Strategy Plus -- and, to be more exact, MASSIVE/MMO Games -- closing. The MMORPG-specific spinoff of Computer Games was exploring a beat uncovered by nearly all professional media and successfully made MMO's seem fascinating to everyone without assuming a raft of jargon knowledge on the part of its readers. MASSIVE is a classic example of how launching a mag is like opening up a new restaurant -- you can do everything absolutely right, from the location to the decor to the food itself, and still fail through no fault of your own.
Most Improved Magazine: GamePro. Sure, its new design (introduced with the February 2007 issue) hasn't been perfect -- the magazine still has a tendency for standard, easily overlooked covers, and its page count is still down from the rest of the game mag crowd. However, thanks to trashing all vestiges of the old GamePro and aggressively expanding the range of its coverage, GP has succeeded in not only being relevant to its target audience again, but actually being readable (and enjoyable) by gamers of any age.
Least Improved Magazine: PlayStation: The Official Magazine when compared to PSM, its predecessor. The late era of PSM always seemed short on content compared to its multiplatform rivals, and P:TOM has inherited the gestalt fully. Hopefully 2008 will see the mag settle down, find its voice, and start really rockin'. (I still wonder what happened to that Blu-ray demo disc, though.)
Best Cover: Probably Play Magazine's June 2007 cover, the one with Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles on it. Although Game Informer's GTA4 cover (May 2007) comes close.
Worst Cover: Game Informer's September 2007 issue, featuring some blurry guys in black and some really cheesy PR-speak coverlines to advertise Borderlands.
Cover The Editors Probably Regret The Most Now: Play's Bullet Witch cover (March 2007), a title later heralded as "worst of 2007" by GamePro.
Best One-Off Special: Edge's The 100 Best Videogames, which is bigger, cheaper, looks fancier, and reads more engagingly than most real video-game books.
Best Launch: Future's Nintendo Power. They changed nothing, which means they retained all the benefits of the world's most underrated game magazine without so much as breaking a sweat.
Best Thing About 2008: There probably won't be quite as many game magazines closing this year. Maybe.
[Kevin Gifford breeds ferrets and runs Magweasel, a site for collectors and fans of old video-game and computer magazines. He's also an editor at Newtype USA magazine.]