Gamehackery: Magazines, Apps, and Getting Your Gaming Content

We've seen a few changes in the TRPG magazine market lately. A few months back, Dragon and Dungeon switched from their daily publication schedule to publishing the entire bundle of content once a month.

Then Kobold Quarterly decided to end their long run.

Then Gygax magazine kicked off with an excellent premiere issue.

Meanwhile, in the broader magazine industry, Time Warner is spinning off it's magazines -- including Time. Newsweek has been digital only for a while.

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Print has widely been understood to be in trouble, but as Barbara Rowlands posted in her Guardian article "The fall and rise of magazines from print to digital," magazines have an edge over their sister print engines, newspapers. "all magazines are built around the twin pillars that have always eluded newspapers – passion and community. The most successful ones are returning to their roots."

Passion and Community

So, if there's one thing we've got around here, it's passion. And Community. Two things we've got. At the same time, these "successful" digital offerings are successful because they understand themselves very differently from a digital facsimile of a print magazine.

Rowlands' piece is excellent, and well worth a read if you have a chance. She looks back to the ancestor of our word "magazine", the "Arabic term makzin or makzan, which means storehouse." She argues that the digital magazines that succeed are the ones that embrace that sort of vision for their product -- they provide their passionate community a multimedia storehouse of content that suits their interests.

But Wait, What About Words

Hey, words aren't dead -- the New Yorker has proven that when the community is a community of readers, text can still work just fine. Of course, the New Yorker has added some digital features that go well with the new format -- like poetry read by the poet, and hyperlinks to the resources cited in an article. You know, like the New York Times article where I read this stuff.

Even better, words (in the form of Blogs, at any rate) continue to be very high on the list of influencers -- rating higher than any social media outlet, including Facebook (though just barely). Facebook is (theoretically) getting too cluttered with fishing posted and corporate marketing messages, but blogs remain a strong source of opinion, ideas, and connection to the audience.

What This Means For Us

It's no secret that we're swimming in a sort of protoplasmic stew of potential energy right now. With D&D going through extended playtesting, Pathfinder growing and other game systems stretching on the margins, the future is there to be made right now.

I've said before that one of the key differentiators for games and game companies in the future will be how they embrace the digital world -- and their regular magazine content will be one of those differentiators.

It's going to be a big advantage for whomever comes up with a dedicated magazine app for the gaming industry -- either a house engine like Dragon or a community-based effort -- that has the look and feel of the more successful magazine apps.

Until The Future Gets Here

There are a couple of terrific apps that do an excellent job of presenting a magazine-style experience on a tablet. I'm a big fan of Flipboard and Newsify.

Flipboard is my favorite (available for iOS and Android devices). Early on, it mostly fed off twitter and it's own pre-fab content streams, which works pretty well, but these days it will connect to a wide variety of content outlets (including Facebook, Google+, Linkedin), and best of all, Google reader, my RSS reader of choice.

The user interface (UI) in Flipboard is the key -- and the app is free, so there's no harm giving it a try. But, with the feeds from feeds you manage (like your own collection of RSS feeds, Twitter contacts, or Facebook friends) you have what amounts to a news rack of digital magazines full of content that is custom tailored to your individual interests.

Essentially this is what I have now -- a digital magazine about gaming topics, customized to me. Gaming blogs from all corners of the interwebs combined into an attractive, very usable package. Where it breaks down is sites that have paywalls, and that are posting their key content as PDFs, not as html. Both force me out of the flipboard experience to get my content. A new gaming magazine app solution would have to navigate those challenges carefully.

So, tablet users -- what are the UI features that are most important to you? How would you like to get your magazine content in the future? And, what's a fair price for that app and/or content?

(Photo by Monica's Dad on Flickr)

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First Post
Flipboard is great, thought I wish it would support multiple Twitter accounts and integrate a little better with Google+.

I would really like to see is publishers offering an ebook for free to those who purchase the physical copy (I'm sure there's some logistical issues with this one, but I still want it). RPGs are one of the few things I'll still buy a hard copy of - less so when it comes to the magazines, so I'd prefer to be able to get those from something like the Google Play Magazine store or be able to get it delivered via my Kindle app. I think I'd read a lot more of the gaming magazines if they were easier to get my digital mitts on.

Radiating Gnome

I like flipboard for making your own digital magazine, but you're right, it's not perfect. But, really, just about any format other than PDF on a tablet would be an improvement.

The challenge is trying to break down our expectations of the highly styled pages. The nice thing about a dedicated app would be that a lot of the page design that we get in print books could reside in the app -- it wouldn't have to be clean and generic like flipbook, but have a very D&D look and feel.


First Post
Honestly I really love the shift to digital. When available I always pick up books in the digital format. Right now I am carrying around a ridiculous amount of gaming goodness on my iPad. Pathfinder, Mutants & Masterminds, D&D 3.5, Spirit of the Century, Stuff by John Harper and Vincent Baker and on and on and on. All right there at my fingertips, all the time. It's just pure heaven.


First Post
Honestly I really love the shift to digital. When available I always pick up books in the digital format. Right now I am carrying around a ridiculous amount of gaming goodness on my iPad. Pathfinder, Mutants & Masterminds, D&D 3.5, Spirit of the Century, Stuff by John Harper and Vincent Baker and on and on and on. All right there at my fingertips, all the time. It's just pure heaven.
I'm all for the digital shift, but I usually need to have multiple books open. When I'm doing my planning, it helps to have the hard copies, but I do use digital for reference during sessions. My only real issue with the shift to digital is that publishers don't give you a digital copy if you purchase the hard copy (and I would really like to see that change). There is one thing that can be more of an irritant than a real problem and that is that the PDFs aren't always linked - so if I go to the table of contents, I can't just tap/click on the entry to jump to that position in the PDF. Some companies are doing those right, but not all of them.

Personally, I bring my tablet (with my GM Toolkit app installed and all my notes), a hard copy of the rulebook, and PDF copies of the rulebook and the source books that I need (via Google Drive). It's served me well lately, but I do still like to have the hardcopy of the sourcebooks on hand so I can reference and cross-reference more easily between books.


First Post
What GM Toolkit app do you use? And is it available on the iPad?
I use the one I wrote. :) It's not currently available on iOS. I'm considering porting it, but I have a few more features I want to add before I go that route. It's called "GM Toolkit" and I've only got it on Google Play right now. I'd post a link, but I don't have enough posts here to let me.


I fear that a digital magazine, at least as a standalone product, may be a losing proposition. (And a new print magazine is almost certainly a good way to lose lots of money.) The problem is that the magazine either needs to charge for copies and try to attract subscribers, or it has to be free-to-view, and try to sustain itself on advertising revenue.

The problem with going pay-to-view is that there is a vast array of free material already being produced out there, a significant slice of which is probably as good as you can manage on a consistent basis, and much more of which is at least good enough. Absent some very potent name recognition, I don't see how you could attract enough subscribers to make a go of it.

The problem with going free-to-view is that revenues are tied to advertising, which means you'll constantly be driven by the need to chase page-views. The way to do that reliably is to hire outspoken people to post inflammatory opinion pieces and kick off flame wars. The problem with that is that constant Edition Wars or Alignment Threads will tear apart your community - short term it's good, but in the longer term it's probably not a stable way forward.

There are a very small number of exceptions to this. Paizo got a leg up because they inherited a large number of the Dragon/Dungeon subscribers (and, yes, I know that Pathfinder is technically not a magazine). Gygax Magazine might do well, but by any other name wouldn't smell as sweet.

But I think WotC may have hit on the correct solution with their e-magazines - which is to not sell an e-magazine. Instead, offer a package deal of electronic stuff, and treat the magazines as a value-add to that. That way, people (mostly) subscribe for the electronic tools, and in doing so they subsidise the magazines.

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