Game Informer is a monthly magazine devoted to console video games. Although it began as a house magazine and did not seriously compete with other mags until 2000, today it has the largest circulation of any game magazine in the U.S. and arguably the world.
Game Informer began life as the house magazine of Funco Inc., a mail-order game store that advertised in most game magazines of the day. It was originally only sent to Funco customers, and in fact did not have any newsstand distribution until 1993. It slowly began to mature and build an audience through the 1990s with a design that resembled a more refined version of Game Fan, but even as Funcoland franchises popped up across America, the magazine was always thinner and less noticeable than its competition.
This all changed in 2000 when Funco was bought by Barnes & Noble Inc., who merged the stores with Software Etc. and Babbage’s to form GameStop, a new game retailer chain. GameStop soon instituted a used-game club that gave customers a subscription to Game Informer and a 10-percent discount off used games for a set price.
This caused GI’s circulation to skyrocket, and the magazine was quick to take advantage, redesigning with a new, larger page size in 2001. The magazine’s ballooning readership gave it more clout with advertisers and game developers alike, and GI quickly made it a habit to unveil brand-new games with exclusive cover features, beginning with Sony’s Ratchet & Clank in 2002 and extending almost uninterrupted ever since. This proved to be a shot in the arm for a largely dormant game-magazine marketplace that had just survived a harrowing shakeout, and soon every magazine was competing for similar exclusives.
Game Informer is unique among game magazines in that they are truly free to put whatever they want on the cover — since the vast majority of its circulation is subscription-based (only about 14,000 copies are sold off the newsstand each month, a very low figure among game mags), they are not as dependent on the cover subject to drive sales, meaning they are much freer in their selection of cover topics. This is why their cover subjects vary so widely, from (at the time) previously unheard-of titles like Jade Empire to highly-anticipated sequels like Tony Hawk’s Underground and The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion.
The magazine’s circulation is still rising five years later, and its most recent redesign (dating from 2004) reflects this air of authority, featuring more industry news, developer/executive interviews, and a wider range of game coverage.
Game Informer’s ABC-audited average circulation for the 2005 calendar year was 1,934,859, making it the 30th-highest circulation magazine in the U.S. and putting it ahead of such publications as Martha Stewart Living, U.S. News & World Report, and Entertainment Weekly.
This has made the magazine the subject of controversy, mostly among other members of the game media. Since Game Informer is sold nationwide by GameStop employees who receive a commission with each subscription they sell, some accuse GI of not having a loyal fanbase, pointing at their low newsstand sales as evidence.
While audience loyalty may difficult to quantify, the practice of pushing low-cost subscriptions was hardly invented by GI — it’s done by nearly every large magazine to some extent in the U.S. While it may undoubtedly be true that GI’s unique distribution method has greatly helped increase its circulation, it is also true that GI has striven to leverage the situation to improve its coverage of the industry.