Games Magazine Suspends Publication. Again.

Maybe the most shocking thing about Kappa Publishing suspending Games Magazine is the fact that no one the tabletop gaming community seems to know about it. It’s like the old adage, If a journalist reports from a forest, and no one is listening, is it even news?

Not for the first time, the industry’s leading independent periodical has been forced to suspend publication due to lackluster circulation and revenues. And this time, no one is mourning.

Kappa Publishing, having built their empire on puzzles, will likely be reformatting the magazine for 2015, with even more of an emphasis on the paper-and-pencil side of gaming. So, rather than a shrinking glossy magazine with an ever-expanding paper insert, Games will just be a paper magazine, possibly with a glossy insert. It’s uncertain how much coverage there will be of table-top games, but it will be less than there is now.

With this year’s December issue (and Buyer’s Guide) cancelled, there’s no indication whether the editorial board (now minus the laid-off R. Wayne Schmittberger) will hand out end-of-year awards. Again, it wouldn’t be the first time there was such a gap.

Games was founded in 1977 by a Playboy Enterprises that was at the height of its publishing power. Will Shortz joined the magazine a year later, eventually becoming its editor in 1989. Having a gaming superstar at the top of the masthead didn’t keep the magazine from going out of business in 1990, just 3 years after Playboy sold it to PSC Limited.

With the brand languishing in limbo, mail order company Bits & Pieces (now put it back on newsstands in 1991, with Shortz still at the helm. While Bits & Pieces may not have a large footprint in the tabletop world, they’re to be recognized for bringing Games back from the dead. In 1996, Kappa Publishing, a more natural fit, purchased the magazine and held on to it longer than any other publisher in Games’ 37-year history.

Throughout that time, the table-top gaming community never fully embraced Games, even though the Games 100 seal and its Game of the Year award were proudly displayed on game boxes. It seems that Games tried to cover too many formats for it to be considered an industry leader in any one category. Electronic, Video and Computer games all got their due attention. Increasingly, much of each issue was devoted to puzzles and their passionate solvers.

As the reading world in general shifted from paper to ether, and online magazines gained precedence over print, Kappa Publishing failed to keep up. Even now their website is static and two-dimensional. The September issue of Games – the last under the current format – proclaims the presence of an online version, but it was far too late to be making an entry into the digital world.

Nowhere was this seen more clearly than in the game reviews. As long-time reviewer John McCallion continued turning in tightly-written pieces of wit, conciseness and enthusiasm, he was still weeks behind blogs and podcasts rushing to post unedited reviews within days of a game’s release.

Indications are that Kappa will likely continue publishing game reviews in the revamped Games. But the only thing that’s certain is that McCallion won’t be writing them, having stepped down just weeks before the magazine’s suspension.

It’s a sad commentary on the state of game journalism that periodicals like Casual Game Revolution (which just secured a distribution deal that will put it on the magazine racks at Barnes & Noble), Meeple Monthly, and Game Trade Magazine are thriving because their content is mostly sponsored by game publishers, while a high-quality and editorially independent beacon of the tabletop world languishes.

Do you think Games magazine still has a place in the tabletop gaming world? What articles have you enjoyed in the past? What would you like to see Games magazine become? Let us know your thoughts in the Comments section!

  • Anthony lives and plays games in Philadelphia, PA. A lover of complex strategy, two-player war games, and area control, Anthony is always eager to try a new game, even if he's on rule-reading duty.

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