Who's Got Your Back?

Ask a publisher the most desirable place for their game to be placed in a magazine and they’ll probably say the front cover. Ask them the most desirable place they can buy placement and they’ll likely say the back cover. Who’s buying this space and what they’re doing with it can tell you a lot about who’s trying to peddle influence with both gamers and the game press.

I did an informal survey of 16 recent game magazines I had lying around my apartment and flipped them on their backs. The publication split, which isn’t representative of anything but my apartment, was:

  • Game Informer – 5
  • GMR – 5
  • Electronic Gaming Monthly – 4
  • GamePro – 1
  • Play – 1
  • 1up Holiday Buying Guide – 1

The publisher buying split is interesting if only for the lack of variety.

  • Capcom – 10
    • Viewtiful Joe – 6
    • Monster Hunter – 3
    • Street Fighter Anniversary Collection
  • THQ – 3
    • Full Spectrum Warrior
    • Punisher
    • Dawn of War
  • Eidos – Get on Da Mic
  • Vivendi Universal – Men of Valor
  • Jamdat Mobile – NFL 2005

The more observant of your might notice 10 Ziff Davis Publications (EGM, GMR and 1up) and 10 Capcom ads and think you see a pattern, but you’d be wrong. Only six of the Capcom ads come from Ziff Davis mags, the others are from the four consecutive issues of Game Informer (137-140). The six Ziff Davis Capcom ads are from the October and December issues of EGM and GMR, and the Holiday issues of EGM and the 1up gift guide. The specific games don’t match up to any one mag either — both Viewtiful Joe 2 and Monster Hunter appear on the back of at least one GI, EGM and GMR each.

For the non-Capcom ads, THQ’s all come from GMR (the September, November and January ’05 issues). The Jamdat ad in November’s EGM — the only cell phone ad — breaks a string of Capcom ads in EGM. The other two publishers split the other two magazines, but one data point for each doesn’t allow any conlusions to be drawn.

So why is this at all interesting? Well, the large Capcom buys for two largely niche games (Viewtiful Joe 2 and Monster Hunter) across a few magazines and publishers shows a concerted effort to target these games to a large segment of the hardcore gamer demographic. I seem to remember a similarly large buy for the original Viewtiful Joe when it came out, but my old magazines are in storage so I can’t confirm at the moment. How effective that first campaign was is debatable, given the game’s middling GameCube sales.

THQ’s three distinct games in three distinct ads might show a desire to highlight the variety of their line-up, as compared to Capcom’s more focused effort (more data points might dispute this though). The non-consecutive nature of the Capcom and THQ buys shows that the back cover space doesn’t tend to be a long-term purchase (can anyone involved in magazine ad sales clarify the process?).

To be fair, this is all some top-of-my-head, pretty much uniformed analysis. Consider this a pilot investigation into a potentially interesting subject that just popped into my head a few hours ago. Expect a more concerted look at game mag advertising sometime in the future. What have you noticed about video game advertising patterns, both recently and historically? Hit the comments link below to share.

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