Tester Cover

As some of you may remember, I published a test issue of a free magazine called Re-Play over three years ago to coincide with a yearly videogames consumer event called Eurogamer Expo. Since the test issue’s launch, I’ve had the honour of dealing with some spectacular highs, as well as some distressingly pitiful lows. Par for the course, I’m not really sure as to why it’s taken this long for me to acknowledge that something was amiss, although part of me was also hopeful that maybe my own expectations for the magazine (together with market conditions) would change.

I’m not really sure as to why Re-Play never took off, although I do have some ideas as to why it failed. To be fair, the test issue did generate a lot of pre-orders (25,000 from 40 independent retailers across UK – including Grainger Games), and also secured a distribution deal with the same company that deals with freemium titles (such as Metro, Shortlist and City AM). This obviously proved to me that sufficient demand, and a large enough market, did exist for the magazine. Re-Play even managed to secure valuable column inch space in the respectable weekly trade magazine MCV.

So why did Re-Play fail to materialise as a viable mainstream concern, even though the magazine had so much going for it, with success practically guaranteed? In short, and with no other (free gaming magazine) competitor on the market, why was Re-Play stillborn?

I think the single biggest reason for why demand curtailed for the magazine was because of the growing prominence of smart-phones and mobile-ready (internet) devices. Android and IOS really did change everything, with their subsequent mainstream adoption helping to fragment a market, in which the viability of a “catch all” style magazine became more and more unlikely. Three years ago, one could have argued that a free videogames magazine was not only “cool”, but was also vital, and symptomatic of media trends in the market. Now, and in an information saturated market, not only are consumers constantly bombarded with the same information from multiple sources, but consumers can also access individually tailored social news media (that is more in tandem with their own interests) from their digital devices. So whilst people do still buy print publications, many people however are switching over, and it could be argued that the importance of print has vastly diminished over the last few years, as other more viable media access channels have emerged to replace print’s once dominant position.

In short, no-one cares about print anymore. Even I don’t read magazines that are given to me for free (and that includes paid-for magazines). To convince others of the viability of one’s business idea, you need to have conviction, and I certainly have no intention of swallowing my own poison now. This is a shame, as for the longest time, I was a really big advocator of print. But about a year ago, I woke up and realised that my reading habits had changed, and that I no longer read print anymore. I had moved on.

Another problem that Re-Play faced was that most magazine revenue comes from advertising (even for a paid-for magazine title). While a paid for magazine can compensate for a shortfall in advertising revenue by adopting different income streams (subscriptions, cover price), a free magazine however relies entirely upon its advertising revenue in order to stay afloat.

The reason as to why I opted to make Re-Play a free magazine (although I did toy with the idea of making it a paid-for magazine at one point) was because I wanted to ensure that the information contained within the magazine reached as wide an audience as possible. With some of the best-selling magazines on the market (such as Edge) having a circulation of around 30,000 copies, it can be argued however that their sell-through is only around 20%. And if a (sold) paid-for magazine has an estimated readership of about 4 people, then it can be argued that even the best-selling magazines on the market only have a readership of about (20% of 30,000 multiplied by 4) 24,000. That’s a pitiful amount, in comparison to the sheer potential of what a free magazine (like Re-Play) offers. Not only is the circulation of a free magazine capable of going into the 100,000s, but the readership for one single copy of a free magazine can also reach 10-12 people (assuming that the issue manages to find its way on to the tube network). That’s a huge amount of people, and a vastly increased readership for a well positioned free magazine that has key distribution deals in place.

Another problem that I faced, like many other startups, was a lack of capital. To establish Re-Play as a mainstream concern, I needed 6 months (minimum) worth of operating capital (as the production costs alone during this time period would have been around £20k). While I did endeavour to make the magazine’s editorial remit be a mixture of user-generated content, as well as offering content from award-winning freelance writers, I was aware that the magazine’s inability to source 100% “premium” content was not only its weakness, but also its biggest strength – as websites like Bitmob have shown that sometimes the best and most original content can oftentimes come from the most unlikeliest of sources. However, it all comes down to the bottom line eventually, and I would have had to haemorrhage money for 6 months before I’d have been able to convince anyone to come on board and advertise in the magazine. There’s a reason as to why most businesses close within the first year, and that’s because (in most cases) the owners underestimate the amount of capital needed to sustain their running costs in order to establish their business during this time. For print especially, the startup (and 1 year running) costs for Re-Play were ridiculous, and with no angel investor stepping forward, far exceed the amount of money my day job provided at the time.

However, and as everyone knows, advertising revenue is also in steep decline. Not only has the decline in revenue ensured the closure of respectable print magazines (both free and paid-for), but as evidenced by the closure of 1UP last month, even long-standing respectable websites aren’t immune from feeling the pinch. In short, and with advertising revenue in steep decline, the business model for print (and the internet to a large extent) is becoming more and more unsustainable.

With every creative business endeavour, there is a balancing act, and you have to think of the idea’s long-term commercial potential. Even before the first issue came out, a potential advertiser was urging me to include more mainstream content (Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto etc). It was never my intention to have another “Me-Too” style magazine on the market, which is why I opted to have massive features on ‘The Bitmap Brothers’ and Kenta Cho, with an added emphasis on shooters (Radiant Silvergun etc). Maybe this was my mistake, as the first issue clearly outlined my determination to only seriously cover niche subjects (much like ‘Maximum’ and ‘Super Play’ did before Re-Play). But after speaking to a number of people in the press, alongside readers of magazine media, I quickly discovered that most people have very little inclination in wanting to read niche articles – duh.

Because of the steep decline in advertising revenue, I believe the magazine would have eventually have become more and more mainstream in order to seek ad revenue so as to ensure its survival. Eventually, Re-Play would have turned into another “Me-Too” style magazine, and as someone who has never really cared for ‘Official (insert console) Magazine’ publications appealing to the lowest possible common denominator, and considering the pressure which (long established) magazines are now under in order to stay afloat today, I think it would only have been a matter of time before the magazine had its editorial integrity compromised.

Lastly, I never received the necessary support from the mainstream gaming community in order to take the magazine to the next level. In all avenues of life, and in business and employment especially, people only really tend to associate themselves with like-minded people. And when someone hires you for a job, or funds your (next) “crazy” idea, they usually have to like you. In my case, and if one is attempting to carry the hopes and dreams of mainstream gamers everywhere, these decisions are often made via committee, where winning over one’s audience is often down to baseless popularity contests – regardless of merit or credentials.

Considering my run-ins with established members on mainstream gaming communities (like ‘Rllmukforum’ and ‘Bear And Badger’) in the past, it quickly became apparent once the test issue of Re-Play launched, that I would be fighting a popularity contest, where I’d have to pay lip-service and play the diplomat in order to get ahead. While others are comfortable with the idea of compromising their ideas and actions in order to get ahead, that’s not really my style. And towards the end, it just got really political. And while I am not a rude person (with many of my close work associates having stated that I am an extremely bright, polite, and friendly individual – if a little zany at times), I just found it depressing in having to resort to the same level of rudeness on those gaming forums in order to get myself heard.

With an unwillingness to $uck the dick$ of gaming communities that largely celebrate mediocrity, it quickly became apparent that I’d be the only person doing the bulk of the work for Re-Play. And whilst I did have a crack editorial team in place, until sufficient finances materialised and things perked up however, I’d be the only one putting in the work and burning the midnight oil.

As a business, you have to respect your customers, and they have to have the same level of respect for you. There has to be a mutual level of camaraderie, when even during moments of one’s darkest depths of despair, it must feel as if there is something worth fighting for. The reward has to justify the cost. However, and I’m not sure about you, but I certainly don’t consider “success” to mean being accepted by freeloading nobodies who haven’t done anything to warrant their stature within the games community. In life, you reap what you sow. And how many of my detractors are prepared to reap all the rewards, yet aren’t prepared to put their money where their mouths are, or shoulder any of the risks?

With so little support forthcoming from a community (of self-seeking nobodies) who I eventually came to despise towards the end, the enormous task of keeping Re-Play going became increasingly over-whelming, and I burnt out. I craved for a new challenge. Something that would allow me to move on, and surround myself with those who shared a more positive mindset – who supported growth, and who didn’t necessarily resort to putting others down when they bettered themselves.

Alas, Re-Play was the casualty of an indifferent market that was more concerned with stroking its own ego, as opposed to creating the necessary conditions for positive change and progress. As a “videogame culture”, I believe the games community, for all its (lack of) “achievements”, is nothing more than a hive mind that punishes individuality, and inhibits individuals desire to grow and better themselves. One either puts up with it, or chooses to leave – like I did. What is sad however, is that during its brief life-span, Re-Play truly had the potential to be so much more than it could have been – a true “next-gen” games magazine by the community, for the community. But alas, not everyone wants to play ball, and not all utopian ideals come to fruition. And in the end however, my thankless task in wanting to serve an ungrateful market just wasn’t fun anymore.

Re-Play is dead. Long live Re-Play.

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