Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Death of Fire & Movement

 This article was originally posted at gamesquad.com

With the arrival of Issue 150, Fire & Movement has ended its 33 year publication run. Those unfamiliar with the history of the magazine can review a brief rundown of that topic at this webpage.

As is well known now, the magazine began life as the brainchild of Rodger MacGowan, who set the tone for the board wargaming industry - that is what it had become - in the mid-1970's through his graphic design and his all-encompassing approach to coverage of topics in his magazine (it was not a "house organ", but devoted itself to covering works by all publishers, large and small).

Since 1991, Decision Games has published Strategy & Tactics, Moves and Fire & Movement (at one time, S&T and Moves were house organs for SPI, and competitors for F&M). The three magazines went hand in glove to provide global coverage of the wargaming scene, as described by the publisher:

Fire & Movement: Helping you decide which wargames to buy

* close-up reviews of new wargames
* profiles and player's notes
*guide to computer wargaming
* annual year in review issue

Strategy & Tactics: Exploring decisions which made history

* wargame in every issue
* game design forum
* articles on historical and current events
* professional wargaming column
* media notes

Moves: Helping you decide which strategies and tactics to use

* analysis, strategy and tactical tips
* variants and new scenarios
* art of computer wargaming
* annual index and mini-game
* previews of upcoming games by their designers

Recent years

Editorship of the magazine most recently passed to J. Bernhard (Jon) Compton. In an interview in 2005, he stated that he had been in the industry for "15 years", citing Miracle on the Marne as his first design. He had previously worked as editor and publisher of Gamefix Magazine and his designs also included Foxhole, a "grand-tactical" (platoon level) game (or microgame) which was originally published in Gamefix. In the Spring 2009 issue (Issue 149), Compton revealed that he planned for Issue 150 to be his last, citing a new job, relocation, family commitments, and recent automobile accident (in which his computer containing his F&M files) as being demands incompatible with delivering a quality product in a timely manner.

By this point, F&M had reached a very erratic publication schedule; what had been published at one time every two months had fallen drastically. There were only two issues in 2007, three in 2008, and one in 2009 (my "Summer 2009" issue actually arrived in January 2010).

Another blog entry of mine discussed some of the challenges F&M was apparently facing in terms of physical quality, with poor black and white imagery and few illustrations to support their articles:

Jon Compton responded to a statement that the magazine's layout was "bush league" at consimworld:

The entire budget for the editing, art, layout, proofing, and contributor issue shipping was all of 550 dollars per issue. I did what I could with what I had. That said, by any real standard the layout was not bush league, although the printing and over-saturation of everything certainly was. I'd dare say that more attention was put into the layout of F&M than any other DG pub. No trapped white space, solid widow and orphan control, even margins, and no broken-up articles in any issue. But the graphics were what they were since we had to take what we got and had no budget to do anything more professional. DG starved F&M of resources until it just wasn't possible to continue. The printer continued to cut the pages wrong until I finally gave up complaining about it.

Mr. Compton makes a valid point about the difference between layout and printing quality. Personally, I feel there is a certain irony in that the last issue made it to press with a proofreading snafu. The masthead contains a call for submissions for future issues. A simple oversight, easily overlooked, but still, I can't help but feel it is somehow emblematic of something. But I digress. It is mostly just too bad that Decision Games starved this magazine of resources.

Isn't this inevitable?

The argument is being made now that the internet is simply replacing magazines and that with so much "free content" available there is no room for magazines. I think this is a ridiculous proposition. I would agree that there is no room for poorly done magazines.

My final word

The notion that the internet is "competition" for magazines is false, and given the proper resources, there are two main reasons that a decent magazine should be able to do well.

a) wargamers are tactile creatures - its one of two reasons that board wargames still continue to sell in the first place (the other being the social dimension). Nothing compares to being able to hold a physical object such as a counter, mapboard, rulebook or yes - glossy magazine - in one's hands, or display it on one's shelf. Tangible products are still sought after and cherished.

b) If someone enjoys or is even passionate about a subject, they will not read just one thing and then stop or find themself sated. They will tend to pursue their interest or passion through multiple media. They will watch movies, television shows, play games, and yes, read books and magazines about their favourite subjects, in addition to surfing the web, talking to friends, and other forms of recreational endeavour.

My question to you

How many times have you heard people complaining about the "noise to signal" ratio on your favourite internet forum? Isn't it true also of most internet sites of any kind? Doesn't the risk inherent in publication require editors and authors and publishers to bring their "A-list" material to any printed endeavour - unlike "free" and unvetted material thrown onto the internet?


  1. This was originally posted at gamesquad.com. The comments there read:

    Scott Tortorice - 05 Jan 10 20:38

    Nooooo! While I haven't read F&M in years, I remain very fond of that magazine. I used to eagerly await its arrival in my mailbox back during the 90s. Unfortunately, I lost interest when F&M paradoxically veered away from wargaming for a while and started covering board games in general. IIRC, that was a short lived experiment.

    I also disagree with the idea that the internet killed this mag. Sure, the internet does chip away at those casual gamers who wouldn't be inclined to pay for a subscription anyway, but I don't think it really has any effect on the target audience.

    Look at Chess. Chess content on the internet is exploding, yet New in Chess is still the premier magazine, one that successfully charges $94 for a single year. Why? Because their reportage (I hate that word) is stellar. You just can't get that type of 'on the scene' news, interviews, photos and analysis from free internet material.

    The internet is just another competitor, one that can be beaten with superior and exclusive offerings. But it seems a lot of magazines/newspapers just don't want to compete. They rather close up shop and blame the all-power internet for their lack of an ability to come up with something unique that people would be willing to pay for.

    Michael Dorosh - 05 Jan 10 20:43

    Exactly. Military History Quarterly is another example of "good" journalistic type writing that you simply can't get anywhere you turn to on the internet. After the Battle is another one. Quality pays for itself.

    Funny you should mention F&M's content struggles. I think Moves also veered away from wargaming too. No doubt in an attempt to pick up sales. I note the guys at BGG talk despairingly about "Euro" games. Moves seems to have a lot of content devoted to them. Of course, even The General made a move to cover more games like Kremlin and Wrasslin' towards the end, also.

    Scott Tortorice - 05 Jan 10 20:53

    The trick with a publication is to come up with that publication's unique voice, something that just isn't available anywhere else. Needless to say, that can be quite difficult to discern, but it is essential.

    Unfortunately, a lot of hobby mags have been content to dish the same content that can be had on the internet for free; they still haven't figured out that the game changed when the internet became the premier free content provider. I think part of the reason is that to kick things up a notch takes money (which is why free internet content is free). That is why a lot of these mags are closing up. To do what they need to do (hire reporters, photographers, artists, etc.) costs way more than many of these guys can afford. To run a hobby mag today you need to be more like GW's White Dwarf (fantastic quality) than a B&W newsletter.

    In short, the internet will only destroy those publications that are of internet quality.

  2. gamesquad comments continued:

    Dr Zaius - 08 Jan 10 00:29

    Quote Originally Posted by Scott Tortorice
    To run a hobby mag today you need to be more like GW's White Dwarf (fantastic quality) than a B&W newsletter.
    White Dwarf is able to do what it does because it has a far larger fan base to work with than a mag like F&M. I've seen some wargame mags that were serviceable, but never anything as professional as White Dwarf. And I doubt I ever will.

    I don't believe there is any such thing as "Internet quality." There is only high and low; the medium matters little.

    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Dorosh
    The notion that the Internet is "competition" for magazines is false...
    Sorry, don't buy a word of that. The digital medium has it's pros and cons, but it is most definitely competition. Just ask all those out of work newspaper editors.

    King Billy - 08 Jan 10 15:52

    I am surprised F&M survived as long as it did. I have purchased it on and off over the years, simply to try and fill the void of board wargames related information before the internet, but it just did not do much for me. Any given edition might have about a third of the articals that were of interest to me, but they never seemed to cover anything in enough depth.

    S&T and Moves did a lot better, as did the General. Still, it is a sad day when yet another wargames publication passes away.

    Michael Dorosh - 08 Jan 10 16:52

    The digital medium has it's pros and cons, but it is most definitely competition. Just ask all those out of work newspaper editors.
    But with respect Don, if you are really "into" a subject, as I said, you will scarf up all the content you can, as long as the content is good, timely, and affordable. Newspapers are - in my opinion, and I suppose I am not alone - garbage writing. They never get their facts straight, as anyone who has had any contact with newspapers knows. It's the nature of that medium. People read newspapers because they are convenient to carry out to lunch; that's the only reason I do. I suppose some people could take them on the morning train - but now with Blackberries, etc., they can get it digitally. But newspapers aren't hobby magazines, and people read them for entirely different reasons, so I don't think you can honestly compare the two.

    There is a radio ad here on the local all-news station - if you are reading about it, it's history; if you're hearing about it, it's news. It's a cute poke at the newspapers, but it's also true when it comes to publishing. A magazine about World War II is also history. And people read history for different reasons than they do the newspaper.

    King Billy - 08 Jan 10 18:36

    I disagree. I used to buy a lot of magazines. Now I buy very few. Any wargame/military history/WWII magazine is only going to have so much content in it that will interest me. At $10 -$15 a pop, it is just not worth the money, no matter how good the presentation is.

    Armchair General certainly has a nice appearance, and is well written, if perhaps a bit jingoistic, but I just do not get bangs for the buck out of it, particularly with the amount of information freely available on the internet.

    You mention that the last edition of F&M had an editorial asking for submissions, which I image every edition had. This is because the magazines rely on submissions by wargaming enthusiasts. Now, if there is something I want to say about a wargame, I can put it on a blog and people can be reading it within minutes (or not read it at all if they are not interested). Not noly that, people can respond immiedately.

    I spend $65.00 a month on the internet, it replaces the money I spent on magazines and newspapers, and I get great value for money from it. Sad to see magazines go, but that is evolution.

  3. gamesquad comments continued:

    Michael Dorosh - 08 Jan 10 19:10

    You're not disagreeing with me though. Armchair General is not good, timely or affordable. Perhaps "value for the money" is a better way to put it. I agree completely on the relative worth of most magazines, and especially the ones you name/describe.

    Let's put it another way. There are many free scenarios for ASL on the internet - and more official scenarios now than anyone can reasonably expect to play in a lifetime, especially if one includes HASL. Yet people keep buying stuff from LFT and BFP. Why? Because they are value for their money. Despite the fact they could easily live to the end of their days and only play official scenarios and stuff for free off the internet, they choose to buy third party stuff.

    Because it is of high value to them.

    If F&M would have been of high value - the way, say, Battles or Against the Odds are - things may have been different. And most successful gaming mags (like S&T) now do so because they offer what the Internet can't (LFT does this as well) - maps and die-cut counters. I don't think that "value added" has to necessarily be a "game in the magazine" format, but it certainly doesn't hurt. c3i is adopting a similar model to LFT in offering die-cut variant pieces/cards/etc. as a "lure" to differentiate it from mere "internet" content. So be it.

    Michael Dorosh - 09 Jan 10 09:27

    Delivery model may be the next big thing with publications - Print on Demand coupled with online delivery is a relatively new way to go as opposed to the rigid "periodical" model; I'm experimenting with that with TWJ, obviously. I think a magazine like Le Franc Tireur can experiment with it successfully also (not saying they are, just as a hypothetical). If they have warehouse space to keep back issues, they can "emulate" a print on demand style by having an online ordering service and provide copies on demand, unlike a "periodical" like F&M. There are other models, such as providing a combination of print and pdf versions, etc. Newspapers are certainly turning to online subscriptions - New York Times, anyone? - to augment their paper sales.

    In other words, the magazine itself may not be the outmoded medium, but perhaps the delivery system. Why print something subpar every two months just to adhere to a schedule, in order to get it into the hands of a dwindling consumer base who doesn't want it? With a print on demand system, or an emulated POD system, you just print as many as you need, in theory, and sell to the people that indicate a desire to own it.

    That's even without touching on the notion of pre-orders.

  4. gamesquad comments continued:

    Dr Zaius - 09 Jan 10 23:06

    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Dorosh
    But with respect Don, if you are really "into" a subject, as I said, you will scarf up all the content you can, as long as the content is good, timely, and affordable. Newspapers are - in my opinion, and I suppose I am not alone - garbage writing. They never get their facts straight, as anyone who has had any contact with newspapers knows.

    Well, I don't really disagree with you. And that's my point. There is good stuff and bad stuff in print, and there is good stuff and bad stuff online.

    I do agree that it is sad to see yet another wargame mag go down for the count. But then I'm unhappy to see any game magazine disappear. In the last two years about half the mainstream gaming magazines have ceased publication as well as several of the smaller mags like F&M. Just as bad, about half the game sites I used to visit have gone under or have been bought and consolidated into other sites. The advertising drought isn't just killing newspapers and big corporate news sites, it's killing game sites and magazines too.

    All of this is bad news from my perspective because I like choice. I didn't buy Dragon magazine regularly, but I did buy it from time to time and it really upsets me that I no longer have the opportunity. I just don't think it's as simple as saying the good stuff will survive and the bad stuff won't. There are a lot of variables in play.

    King Billy - 10 Jan 10 13:15

    You make some very good points. I would buy scenarios over the internet rather than the publications if they were available, but I woiuld not buy maps or counters over the internet if I had to print and mount them myself. This is where the print industry needs to go, to provide what cannot be provided on a computer screen.

    The Swedish Volunteer Pack is a good example. I hear people rave about it, but it just does not push my buttons. I think its popularity has to do with the fact it also provided a set of high quality counters. I have also purchased LFT products because they have counter sets in them, alothugh I have only ever played one scenario with Spanish Blue Division counters and have never used the paratrooper counters!

    The print media needs to adjust to the internet age, some within the industry will, and will survive, others will not, and will fade away.

    HeThinksAgain - 15 Mar 10 15:21

    Has anyone here tried the [URL="http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgamepublisher/9369/battles-magazine"]new Battles magazine[/URL]? I've just ordered a copy. Check out [URL="http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/501939/what-happened-next-when-non-wargamer-ender-got-a-w"]this review[/URL] with lots of pictures on bgg - looks very good.

    I'll post a review when my copies of issues 2 and 3 arrive.

    Cheers, Al.

    Michael Dorosh - 12 Feb 11 17:41

    Do you have a link to your review?