Everyone's into gaming, but for how long?

By Alex Kierkegaard / November 22, 2005

Microsoft's release of its Xbox 360 console has attracted a lot of attention from the mainstream press in recent days; both on- and offline. Everyone's jumping in and headlines are coming from the most unlikely places: business and technology publications, lifestyle magazines and every single major newspaper across America.

The attention is most certainly welcome, and will be good for the games industry in many ways. But will this increased level of interest continue, or will it simply go back to pre-Xbox 360 levels in the weeks and months after launch?

Well, for one thing, when Sony's PlayStation 3 and Nintendo's Revolution arrive they are bound to attract at least as much attention as Microsoft's console. Staggered regional launches, delays and inevitable shortages will give magazines and newspapers enough material to report on and analyze over the course of 2006. But what about the longer term? When the dust settles and all three consoles are out in all three major regions, will the mainstream press go back to largely ignoring and looking down on the youngest and most promising entertainment medium?

The answer to this is a definite 'no,' but let me break down the blanket term 'mainstream press' to more manageable sections and discuss each one of these in turn.

Business publications (CNN/Money, The Wall Street Journal, Business Week, Business 2.0, The Economist, and others) are naturally mainly concerned with the economics of the games industry: sales numbers, revenue, market share, etc. The games industry already comprises a large slice of the entertainment industry as a whole, and that slice is only going to get larger. So we can expect regular and slightly more frequent coverage for the foreseeable future. If you are interested in the business side of the industry, then I would advise you to start checking one of these publications. Their analysis will be more authoritative and thorough than anything you are likely to read in the specialist gaming press.

Tech publications and computing magazines (Wired, CNET, PC Magazine and a host of gadget-related magazines and websites), on the other hand, have an even greater interest in this new round of hardware. Since all next-gen consoles will be online-enabled out of the box, and since at least some of them will interact with PCs and various consumer electronics devices, it is only natural for tech publications to start devoting more attention to them. Sony and Microsoft are about to commence the battle of the living room, and these magazines and websites will be there to cover it, as well as guide their readers through the maze of competing products and technologies that will be introduced. Game consoles will soon become the most important piece of consumer electronics and there will be no turning back. It is a development that technology publications cannot afford to ignore.

Lifestyle magazines (GQ, FHM, and others) and newspapers have traditionally been the least interested in the games industry, mainly because of gaming's image as an anti-social minority activity. Right now they are running stories just to make sure they are covered in case all the hype surrounding the next generation of consoles turns out to be true. In the longer term, their coverage is certain to dwindle except if developers manage to come up with new kinds of games that will attract a larger audience, outside the traditional gamer male 18-30 demographic. Whether that happens any time soon is anyone's guess at this point.