World of Warcraft jumps into print

Five years after the massively popular online game came out, its 11.5 million users will get a new view into its lore, its artwork and its processes with World of Warcraft: The Magazine. But will anyone buy it?

You might think that starting a brand-new, high-quality, full-glossy magazine in one of the worst publishing environments in years would be a suicidal business idea. After all, take a look at just about any magazine you can think of, and, thanks to the veritable collapse of advertising, odds are it's about as thin as can be.

But to the folks at Future--a leading games media publisher--the time couldn't be better to launch World of Warcraft: The Magazine, a new quarterly title that is expected to be unveiled at this weekend's BlizzCon event--the world's biggest World of Warcraft fanfest--in Anaheim, Calif. The magazine will be the "official" WoW magazine, and is both endorsed by and produced with the editorial cooperation of WoW publisher Activision Blizzard.

And, indeed, the timing for the forthcoming magazine is clever: The first issue is planned for sometime this fall, just as WoW celebrates its fifth anniversary. And with an astounding 11.5 million players of the game now spread out around the world, Future is hoping that by promising potential readers stunning artwork, behind-the-scenes looks at ongoing development, deep dives into the game's lore, and perhaps even occasional scoops about new features or other WoW elements, it will offer fans an invaluable experience. In fact, Future sees this magazine as something along the lines of a collectible coffee table book.

Still, Future has chosen a difficult business model for the new publication. Each issue is expected to be 148 pages long, with precisely zero ads, which means that the title is shut off from traditional magazine revenues, and therefore will rely entirely on subscription fees. On the other hand, that same dynamic also means that it should be shielded from the vagaries of the advertising market, something that is currently taking down one magazine after another.

According to Future, World of Warcraft: The magazine will be offered for subscription only--no single copy sales--with U.S. readers paying $40 annually, those in continental Europe 35 euros and the British 30 pounds. The magazine will be published in English, French, German, and Spanish.

"The magazine market is suffering a rough time," said John Gower, the international director of FuturePlus, the title's publisher, "but only those magazines that are based on advertising models. We've seen our magazines increasing across the board, especially the hobbyist" titles.

That may be true, but in order to support what the publishers say will be a costly blend of commissioned art, in-depth articles written by veteran journalists and behind-the-scenes access, Future will have to convince a great deal of its players that it's worth their while to pony up $40 on top of their $15 monthly game subscription fees, even as those same players can find an enormous amount of WoW-related information online.

And that proposition is clearly not for everyone, even some of the most passionate WoW players.

"It's not for me," said Katrina Glerum, a former game company executive and a longtime WoW fan. "I don't feel like I'm starved for external WoW information...I can't get out of the game as it is because I'm playing. I get in trouble with my guild mates for not (reading enough information about the game)."

But for some players, the promise of beautiful game-related art is clearly a lure. One of the most compelling features of WoW, to many players, is its "fantastic" art, said Ron Meiners, a social media expert and WoW devotee. And that's especially true, he added, "in the context of a heroic role-playing game (where) the visuals really make the experience come alive for the player (and) make the fantasy that much more tangible."

For his part, Meiners said he would most likely not subscribe to the magazine, but that he expected that if it turns out to be as beautiful and well-produced as Future is claiming it will be, and has some of the behind-the-scenes information about WoW that Blizzard often keeps very much under wraps, it "will be well received, I should think."

The first issue
According to Dan Amrich, the new magazine's editor-in-chief, finding a stable of polished writers who are also passionate about WoW hasn't been a problem. And many of the title's staff are also WoW players.

"It would be foolish not to have people on staff who understand" the game's lore, Amrich said. One writer, based in England, is a leader of an 800-person WoW guild, he added.

Because the first issue will coincide with the game's fifth anniversary, Amrich said that it will feature a retrospective of the previous five years in the game's development and growth, with a special focus on some of the more famous events in WoW's lore, as well as recaps of how fans reacted to those events.

The issue will be looking at "how the game has evolved socially and culturally, as well as technically," he said.

And Gower said that Future has worked with Blizzard and commissioned one of the best-known WoW artists "for a piece of art never seen before."

Added Gower, "I think WoW enthusiasts are going to go crazy for this."

Ultimately, Future clearly sees the magazine as both a regular source of information and lore, as well as high-quality artwork, and as a long-term collector's piece.

And it's that last element, the fact that there are countless WoW players that are addicted to the many game forums, blogs and other sources of information, that may well lead to the title's success, suggested Glerum.

"I think there's an audience," Glerum said. "It's the collectors--the people who have to know everything."

 

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