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Market Analysis: Are Gamers Moving from Print to Web?

Hear ye games marketers. Ignore the numbers at your peril. Even as more publishers come to feel that expensive TV ad spots are necessary in launching AAA game titles (didn't do Prince of Persia or Ratchet and Clank a lot of good, eh?), the evidence shows that eyeballs are moving away from offline media, especially TV and print, and moving online in droves. As the Harris Interactive Youth 360 survey recently found (see Market Research), the Internet is far and away the chief medium when it comes to finding out about games. Indeed, print may have hit its peak as a critical part of the games marketing system.

Except for the two biggest print books in the category, Game Informer and Electronic Gaming Monthly, all of the games-related magazines covered by the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) reported circulation fall-offs in the last half of 2004. The contraction of interest in PC gaming continues as both PC Gamer and Computer Gaming World lose incremental ground in H2.

Fueled by its apparently brilliant marketing model, selling subs via GameStop stores, Game Informer rose more than 40% in the second half. Ziff Davis followed suit last year by introducing GMR, which sells subs through EB. ZD declined to comment on declining circulation figures for its other magazine and the current sales of it Xbox Nation and GMR. According to their own media kits for the pubs, however, GMR had an average rate base of 425,000 in 2003, and XBN stood at 200,000.

Follow the Eyeballs

While it may be too early to tell whether the general circulation losses in print will continue, it seems clear that audiences are relying much more heavily on the Web as sources for timely games information and tips.

Magazines clearly are struggling to keep pace and offer exclusive preview material before it lands online let alone reviews that don't lag months behind release dates. CGW recently ran a preview of Mythica, an online RPG from Microsoft that was canceled as the issue was hitting the stands. Editor-in-chief Jeff Green excuses the error in the current issue by re-explaining the problem of lead times to readers and saying in a tongue-in-cheek headline "why you should just stick to the Internet."

No joke. According to traffic analytics firm Hitwise, the games category has increased substantially in online popularity in the past year. In February 2003, game traffic accounted for a 2.0% share of Web activity, but by February of this year, it had escalated to a 2.32% share.

When it comes to games advertising, "We've seen a major shift to online," says Vince Broady, general manager, GameSpot. "Last year we had 75% more campaigns and spending was up 45% per campaign over 2002." Broady sees more advance planning going into online campaigns, which traditionally tend to be afterthoughts in the ad game. The big mover among online ad formats is streaming video, which Broady says is "really emerging as the hot creative unit as marketers have a harder and harder time getting their ads seen on TV."

For the gaming content category overall online, gender breaks down 55.31% male and 44.69% female. The demos are radically different between games info sites and game playing sites, however. For instance, at Electronic Arts' #1 ranked Pogo.com, 65.32% of the audience last week was female, according to Hitwise, with (are you ready for this?) 37.46% of the traffic coming from users age 55 or older.

Game information sites clearly skew more male than game play sites, but not by as much as one would suppose and nothing like the print media, where typically upwards of 80% of subscribers are male. At GameSpot.com, for instance, 40.7% of visitors are female, certainly a substantial target for marketing casual and non-traditional titles. Even at the leading game hints destination, GameFaqs, which along with GameSpot is owned by CNet, has a 43.51% female audience.

The numbers don't lie. If game companies want to market to a broader, deeper demographic, then ad budgets probably should be headed online.

Contact: Vince Broady, vince.broady@cnet.com

Gaming Magazine Circulation
Magazine                   Paid Circ. 12/03*  Paid Circ. 6/03**
Computer Gaming World      270,014            260,012
Electronic Gaming Monthly  570,309            505,569
Game Informer Magazine     1,425,683          1,098,539
GamePro                    509,943            554,335
Official U.S. PS2 Mag.     301,024            283,827
Official Xbox Mag.         403,222            344,731
PC Gamer                   307,691            300,271
PSM                        401,890            305,252
Tips and Tricks            132,701            145,925
Source: Audit Bureau of Circulation
*Average monthly paid circulation for the six months ending 12/31/03
**Average monthly paid circulation for the six months ending 6/30/03*

Top Game Information Sites (February 2004)

Rank numbers reflect the site's placement within the larger universe of game sites, including online arcade venues such as Pogo.com and Yahoo Games (ranked #1 and #2 respectively in February). Market Share represents the share of traffic the site enjoys within the games category.

                           Market  Jan   Dec   Nov
Rank  Title                Share   Rank  Rank  Rank
6     GameFaqs             2.47%   6     9     8
10    Cheat Planet         1.02%   9     13    17
11    GameSpot             1.01%   10    12    12
13    Gamewinners.com      0.90%   11    14    16
23    Cheat Code Central   0.72%   15    19    21
30    IGN*                 0.48%   29    27    34
43    CheatCodes.com       0.31%   40    41    48
51    Game Revolution.com  0.27%   43    45    52
100   Yahoo Games Doman    0.14%   -     -     -
101   Microsoft Xbox       0.14%   83    69    60
101   GamePro.com          0.13%   111   99    82
107   GameSpy              0.12%   98    89    92
116   1up                  0.11%   99    86    86
121   GameRankings         0.11%   122   103   88
Source: Hitwise
IGN.com represents a number of sites, many of which are measured individually
by Hitwise, and so cumulatively the IGN brand should be ranked higher.

[Copyright 2004 PBI Media, LLC. All rights reserved.]

COPYRIGHT 2004 PBI Media, LLC
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group





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