Covering Covers

I forget how I stumbled across this little nugget during my ‘net travels last week, but nonetheless it’s an interesting, outsiders perspective on the only part of magazines a lot of people see — the covers. While the content inside the magazine requires actually buying a copy (or at least deigning to flip through it at the store), games featured on a cover get exposed to millions of browsers at news stands and games stores across the country.

By the time E3 comes and goes, it’s usually pretty easy to tell what games will be getting cover features in the coming year. Overwhelmingly, these tend to be action or shooter games, as evidenced by the last three issues of EGM linked above, but I think this is more a reflection of the direction of the industry we cover rather than a negative reflection on our cover focus (note: I write for EGM on a freelance basis). Still, it would be nice to occasionally see some lesser-known indie games and genres get some cover love.

Cover games are also disproportionately from the biggest publishers and developers in the industry, often representing well-known franchises. This can be a vicious cycle, as big companies get bigger as their cover-featured games see higher sales while smaller companies struggle to get attention. On the other hand, audiences usually clamor for coverage of their favorite franchises from well-known names, and magazines are in the end looking to serve their audiences.

If a game gets on one cover, it’s a good bet you’ll see it on another, in another cycle of coverage that leads to big games getting bigger. Play and Game Developer are notable exceptions, usually focusing on lesser-publicized games that the editors take a shine too (usually with great original art too).A few magazines, most notably Edge (and Next Generation, previously), will occasionally give covers to a wider feature rather than a specific game or console launch. This is something I’d like to see more of, though I can see why a specific game cover would tend to do better on a news stand.

Sometimes the cover goes only to a company willing to give the magazine an exclusive, as can be seen in Game Informer’s incredible streak of “World Exclusive” cover content. Some magazines tend to focus on a specific type of game for their covers — GamePro had Street Fighter II on the cover seemingly every other week back in 1994, and has recently showed a preference for cartoon properties.

But enough of my rambling… what do you guys think of the state of game magazine covers?

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