by Aurelia Brandenburg
Gaming magazines are certainly an important part of the emergence of gaming culture(s) since the 1980s. There is, however, a difference between the importance ascribed by expert or fan circles and the actual distribution and, thus, the potential impact of a magazine. “Retro culture” tends to have a nostalgic bias. This means that it is useful to re-examine the basis on which significance is attributed to certain magazines. For this, I created a dataset consisting of sales and distribution data of nearly twenty German gaming magazines between 1980 and 2000. The dataset in full is available online through Zenodo (DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.10009428) and a Google Sheet, and this blog post serves as an accompanying documentation of its sources and my own reasoning behind the magazines included and the table structure, same as some rough findings and visualizations based on the data collected.
Data source and structure
The collected data is based on the print run lists (“Auflagelisten”) published by the Informationsgemeinschaft zur Feststellung der Verbreitung von Werbeträgern (Information Community for the Assessment of the Circulation of Media – IVW), a German industry association that aims to certify and publish run data of a variety of publications as an act of inner-industry control and transparency. The data is publicly available, and any data published before 2002 can be downloaded as PDFs from their website.1 Reporting sales data per quarter is voluntary and connected to membership in the IVW, but from the chosen sample of gaming-related magazines, most chose to report their data between 1980 and 2000. Starting 1994, the IVW even added an own category for “EDV-Zeitschriften” (EDP Magazines) to their reports, which also included many gaming magazines.
The data collected and published by the IVW in their lists itself is relatively consistent in its structure, with little variations in the information collected per quarter. Furthermore, this data always applies to the distribution of a magazine in total, regardless of country. In later reports, some magazines offer insight into how many units of an issue were distributed outside of Germany. That data is however not consistently available; which is why my dataset only includes the general count. Furthermore, the countries concerned can vary widely depending on the magazine and the time, making it difficult to compare these values between magazines, and there is no data available on how many copies were shipped to which country.2
The final table consists of close to 400 records which each contain data for one magazine in one quarter structured by the following attributes. The wording (in German) here is the same as used by the IVW who defines each attribute at the beginning of their reports, resulting in the following explanations for each column:
- Distribution (Verbreitung): Actually distributed copies, including sold and free copies, but not file or specimen copies.
- Sales (Verkauf): Sold copies, including subscriptions and copies provided for retail, minus returns by retailers.
- Subscription (Abo): Copies sold through subscriptions.
- Retail (Einzelverkauf): Copies provided to retailers in total, including unsold copies.
- Returns (Remittenden): Unsold copies returned by retailers.
- Percentage of Returns (Remittenden %): Percentage of returned copies in relation to an issue’s run in total. In their early lists, the IVW used to provide this value, but later cut it from their data, probably to save space. Since the percentage of returns is a useful value to judge how well a magazine was doing, I kept the column anyway but, for the sake of consistency, I decided to have it automatically calculated with the data entered in my table.
- Run in total (Druckauflage): Full run per issue without waste paper such as misprints.
The value noted in each of these fields contains the average of copies per issue per quarter. Since gaming magazines were often only distributed every other month or once per month at best, these values are relatively close to the actual counts compared to, for example, weekly or daily distributed newspapers. Collecting the data per quarter meant that gaming magazines normally only reported data for one to three issues per quarter. Meanwhile, the average run of more frequently published papers had to be calculated from more data points, possibly evening out irregularities between the sales data of individual issues.
For my sample, I decided on a list of seventeen different magazines.3 The reasoning behind this was originally to pick some of the more influential magazines as a test and create a mix between magazines focused only/mostly on games and magazines which focused on computers in general but also covered games. Thanks to the boom of print magazines in general, but especially those related to computer cultures in particular over the course of the 1980s, the IVW started structuring their reports differently and included an own section for EDP magazines which featured a mix of magazines related to any digital topic from computers and games to early internet magazines. After the first few pioneer projects since 1983, the number of German-speaking gaming magazines in general increased greatly with the 1990s. From that period, there stemmed a couple of less famous magazines recorded by the IVW which I decided to add in the process to broaden the scope of my dataset beyond the first few relevant magazines like TeleMatch, ASM, Power Play, 64er Magazin, and Happy Computer.
This results in the following list of magazines for which I attempted to collect data:
- 64er Magazin (04/1984 – 01/1999): Computer magazine by Markt+Technik Verlag on the Commodore 64 that also featured a games section. – Data available from report 4/84 to 1/94.
- Amiga Games (10/1992 – 09/1997): Gaming magazine focused on Amiga games by Computec Verlag. The last few issues in 1997 were only published as an addition to Amiga Magazin. – Data available from report 2/93 to 2/96.
- Amiga Joker (11/1989 – 11/1996): Gaming magazine about Amiga games by Joker Verlag known for its supposedly youthful style. – Data available from report 2/93 to 2/96.
- Amiga Magazin (06/1987 – 07/2009): Computer magazine focused on Amiga and sister magazine to 64er Magazin by Markt+Technik. – Data available from report 1/88 to 2/97.
- ASM (Aktueller Software Markt, 03/1986 – 02/1995): First successful gaming magazine in German after the end of TeleMatch, published by Tronic Verlag. While ASM became especially popular for its reporting on computer games, it also featured software in general for a large part of each issue. – Data available from report 3/86 to 3/94.
- Bravo Screenfun (4/1997 – 4/2009): Gaming magazine, published by Heinrich Bauer Zeitschriften under the umbrella of BRAVO magazines, a well-known German brand of magazines for teenagers and young adults. – Data available from report 1/98 to 4/00.
- Computer Live (01/1990 – 11/1992): Short-lived computer magazine published by Markt+Technik as a successor to Happy Computer after its end due to the founding of Power Play. Data available from report 4/84 to 1/94.
- GameStar (10/1997 – today): Gaming magazine published by IDG Deutschland with the early staff mostly consisting of journalists formerly working for PC Player. – Data available from report 1/98 to 4/00.
- Happy Computer (11/1983 – 02/1990): Computer magazine by Markt+Technik which also featured a gaming section that grew over time. In 1987, the publisher split Happy Computer and its gaming section and created Power Play as a standalone gaming magazine. – Data available from report 2/84 to 4/89.
- Man!ac (11/1993 – today): Gaming magazine published by Cybermedia Verlag and created by former editors of Video Games and Power Play. – Data available from report 4/98 to 4/00.
- PC Action (2/1996 – 1/2013): Gaming magazine focused on PC games by Computec. – Data available from report 2/96 to 4/00.
- PC Games (10/1992 – today): Gaming magazine focused on PC games by Computec. – Data available from report 2/93 to 4/00.
- PC Joker (06/1991 – 01/2001): Gaming magazine focused on PC games, published by Joker Verlag as a sister magazine to Amiga Joker with wide overlaps regarding the staff of both magazines. – Data available from report 4/93 to 4/00.
- PC Player (01/1993 – 06/2001): Gaming magazine focused on PC games, founded by Power Play-journalists and published by Future Verlag. The idea behind the magazine was to attempt to reach an older audience than comparable magazines. – Data available from report 4/93 to 4/00.
- PC Spiel (03/1995 – 12/1996): Gaming magazine focused on computer games by Tronic and short-lived successor to ASM. – No data.
- Play Time (01/1991 – 09/1995): Gaming magazine focused both on computer games and consoles, published by Computec. – Data available from report 2/93 to 2/95.
- Power Play (11/1987 – 04/2000): One of the first German gaming magazines, first published by Markt+Technik and later by Future. Began as a games section of Happy Computer, but became popular enough for the publisher to create a standalone magazine, which then became one of the most competitors to ASM. – Data available from report 2/90 to 4/99.
- TeleMatch (12/1982 – 02/1985): First German gaming magazine ever, published by TeleMatch Verlag as a licensed German version of the American Electronic Games. – No data.
- Video Games (01/1991 – 03/2001): Gaming magazine focused on console games, published by Markt+Technik and later by Future. Began as a special issue of Power Play, but became a standalone magazine after. – Data available from report 2/93 to 4/00.
Out of this list, there was data available for all magazines except for the PC Spiel and the TeleMatch. (The former being a short-lived successor to the more famous ASM and the latter being the first German gaming magazine ever and a German version of the American Electronic Games.) All magazines were published by (Western) German publishers, which partly is due to the data source but also aligns with the market of German-speaking gaming magazines in general. Most (wider known) magazines in German were created in Germany by German publishers but distributed not only in Germany but also in Austria, and Switzerland at least.
The following diagram aims to visualize the runtime of each magazine together with the period of time for which data was available.
While the aim of the dataset was to simply gather and structure already available information on the sales of gaming magazines and, thus, make them more accessible (and citable) for research, the data in total offers some interesting – although not always surprising – insight in the market of German-speaking gaming magazines.
First, there is the obvious: Generally speaking, the number of sold copies of gaming magazines went up from 1984 on. When ASM, the first successful German magazine about games, started in 1986, they started with a run of about 76.000 copies and by 1991, at the height of their success, they were at around 194.000 copies. Around the same time, the number of returns of unsold copies by retailers peaked at about 63% as well and a few years later, in 1994, the magazine got shelved altogether, but that was no general trend, but rather one regarding the ASM which had outlived itself.
Second: While in the beginning of the 1980s, successful magazines generally covered not only, but also games, successful magazines of the 1990s covered mostly or only games. For most of the 1980s, the most widely distributed magazines were 64er Magazin and Happy Computer, both Computer magazines that also covered games. Even the ASM covered not only games, but also software in general. Meanwhile, the TeleMatch, the only magazine covering nothing but games, was very short-lived. With the 1990s, sales and distribution of these mixed-topic magazines decreased. ASM got cancelled, Happy Computer as well after their games section got turned into an own magazine, the Power Play. The 64er Magazin only managed to save itself for a few years because it became solely subscription based (and thus, stopped reporting its sales and distribution data). From this moment on almost all magazines solely focused on games, like Power Play, PC Player, PC Joker. Unsurprisingly, the top three magazines with the highest sales and runs of my dataset were the GameStar, PC Games and Bravo Screenfun, all magazines which were established in the 1990s and ran long after 2000. (In fact, GameStar and PC Games exist until today and Bravo Screenfun only got cancelled in 2009.)
To put the complete data more into perspective: In report 1/98, the GameStar’s total run is listed at 345.227 copies which means that the magazine’s numbers could compete for example with those of the computer magazine CHIP (393.363) although the number of copies of both magazines was still significantly lower than even tech magazines from big brands like Computer BILD which is listed with a run of 1.238.213 copies. This can also be observed when comparing different niches of one brand. In the report after that (2/98), Bravo Screenfun which was a subsidiary magazine to the German youth magazine BRAVO is listed with a run of 370.277 copies. BRAVO on the other hand had an average run of 1.645.918 copies, Bravo Girl one of 914.319 and Bravo Sport one of 586.606. This made Bravo Screenfun as a gaming magazine the smallest of the four, but given that gaming magazines covered a very small hobby section of the German-speaking magazine market, the difference is not as high as it could be.
Third: The data allows a glimpse into the development of the market of gaming magazines in the timeframe from 1984 to 2000. Not only did the general number of sales increase, but magazines that were established later tended to have a relatively lower percentage of returns per issue. This could be due to a professionalization of magazines in general, with better calculated runs of copies per issues and fewer returns.
This dataset is an attempt to create somewhat of a more data-driven basis for me when discussing the reach and importance of individual (gaming) magazines on the German-speaking market between 1980 and 2000. Some magazines like the ASM were (culturally) very influential, especially in the long run, despite their relatively low number of copies (compared to later magazines like Bravo Screenfun), but this assessment can only be made if the necessary data is available. And this in turn only enables any follow-up questions of why which magazines were – and often are! – influential, same as possible comparisons with data that might or might not be available for other countries and types of magazines.
Either way, the dataset demonstrates already how gaming slowly began to outgrow itself as a small niche interest and into a popular hobby. In the 80s, gaming magazines were an obscure fraction of the German-speaking magazine market; by 2000, they had established their own market with numbers of sales per issue that reached hundreds of thousands of copies. In less than 20 years, gaming magazines appeared and, against all odds, managed to establish themselves as something that was there to stay on the German market.
Recommended citation: Aurelia Brandenburg, “Print runs of German Gaming Magazines 1980-2000”, in: Confoederatio Ludens, https://chludens.hypotheses.org/1228, 23.10.23.
Header Image: Upper part of the cover of issue 07/90 of Aktueller Software Markt (ASM).
- See: https://www.ivw.de/print/archivbest%c3%a4nde-zur-ivw-auflagenliste. – The data after that is also publicly available but through a database instead of scanned reports.
- Generally speaking, most magazines were distributed in Germany, Austria and Switzerland at least and those countries probably were the biggest relevant market, but the selection of additional countries (for example Italy, Greece, Spain, Luxembourg, Denmark, Finland, and more) differs from magazine to magazine.
- The full list as included in this post consists of nineteen magazines in total, but the mentioned seventeen ones are the ones that reported their data to the IVW between 1980 and 2000. The difference stems from a couple of magazines I knew existed and for which I verified that there is no data on them in the IVW’s lists. Generally speaking, it is not entirely clear how many magazines appeared in the IVW’s lists. I added gaming magazines that I spotted while looking up other titles to my list, which means that at least regarding EDP magazines, my list of gaming magazines should roughly cover most of the magazines that reported their data to the IVW in total. Still, the way magazines were categorized seems to be not always entirely consistent. For example, MAN!AC, which was published since 1993, first appeared in the IVW’s reports as a specialist journal (“Fachzeitschrift”) from report 4/98 on and only was moved to the magazine (“Publikumszeitschriften”) section in 1999. It is unclear why the IVW regarded MAN!AC as specialist journal in the beginning, but the example demonstrates some of the problems with their reports as a source. Furthermore, some magazines, like Das offizielle Playstation Magazin, were only published for a relatively short time in the late 1990s with a relatively small run which made them less interesting for my goals. Thus, my dataset does not include all, but most gaming magazines reported to the IVW until 2000.