What's Next, Men's Health? A Shoot-Me-If-I-Get-Fat Game?

Rodale Editors Create Branded Workout Routines Featured in Kinect Fitness Video Games

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Plenty of products have carried magazines' brand names, from Real Simple brooms to Maxim hair dye to Elle wedge sandals, but video games for the Xbox, PlayStation and Wii have never figured very large in magazines' licensing.

BUSTING OUT: Rodale's David Zinczenko calls gaming 'huge new space for us.'
BUSTING OUT: Rodale's David Zinczenko calls gaming 'huge new space for us.'
Now Rodale siblings Men's Health and Women's Health have teamed up with Ubisoft on a fitness game called "Your Shape: Fitness Evolved," due this November for Microsoft's Xbox and its Kinect motion-detection system. The game's cover advertises "Workouts Created by Men's Health and Women's Health." Signs in the game's virtual gym say things like "Men's Health Sleeve-Busting Arms Workout." The magazines' fitness director designed the game's workouts.

Although magazines' editorial missions rarely lend themselves to, say, first-person shooters, Rodale is betting that the success of motion-detecting fitness games such as "Jillian Michaels' Fitness Ultimatum" for the Nintendo Wii has opened a new avenue.

"It's a huge new space for us," said David Zinczenko, editor in chief of Men's Health and editorial director of Women's Health, both of which are published by Rodale. "Maybe it leads to our own game in the next 12 to 14 months. This is a massive untapped target audience that both Men's Health and Women's Health would benefit from reaching."

You can see why magazines might like to get into console gaming, even if game sales cooled in 2009 and 2010. Gaming boomed earlier in the past five years, a period when magazines' ad page sales suffered badly from the recession and competition from other media. But don't expect the shelves at your local GameStop store to start looking like a newsstand any time soon. Finding the right editorial fit, not to mention acceptance from gamers, is still no sure thing.

"Remember back when our parents looked for things with the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval?" said Michael Pachter, a managing director in equity research at Wedbush Securities, whose focuses include the gaming industry. "That's what we're looking for in a magazine-branded video game. ... If you have the Men's Health brand on a game, the connotation is that the editorial staff have reviewed it. But there aren't that many games that fit."

Ubisoft's "Your Shape" game isn't the first to invoke a magazine brand. In June Field & Stream magazine and 505 Games U.S. released "Field & Stream: Total Outdoorsman Challenge," a hunting simulation game for the Xbox. Field & Stream, part of Bonnier, is encouraged by the early sales, said Eric Zinczenko, VP-group publisher at Bonnier's Outdoor Group, and brother of Rodale's David Zinczenko. "It's been selling well enough to this point that we know we are going to release a Wii version of this game in the fall, in time for the holidays, and we've begun work on the second generation of this game for next year," he said.

But at least one game reviewer wasn't impressed. "The 360 has a handful of half-decent hunting options, but this isn't one of them," Official Xbox Magazine wrote.

BONNIER ATTACKS: Field & Stream's simulation game for Xbox.
BONNIER ATTACKS: Field & Stream's simulation game for Xbox.
Back in 2005 Playboy lent its name to "Playboy: The Mansion," a Sims-esque PlayStation 2 game in which players take on the role of Hugh Hefner as he throws parties and tries to build a publishing empire. "It bombed," Mr. Pachter recalled.

"Life, for Hugh, is good," a review on the gaming site IGN said. "Too bad it's just not very fun. For all that real Hugh has going for him, virtual Hugh can't seem to escape the pedestrian lifestyle of your average Sim."

Most magazines may still do better finding other ways to benefit from game consoles. Sports Illustrated is offering a free EA Sports game as an incentive to some new subscribers and has made content from its Swimsuit Issue franchise available on the Xbox and PlayStation online stores. Magazines also sometimes appear as props inside games.

"Many magazines, particularly those that have been around for a while, are iconic properties that represent a readership and lifestyle people can associate with," said Corey Cohen, executive editor at Official Xbox Magazine. "That's why you'll see a fitness game leveraging well-known fitness magazine brands, or recent action games like 'Dead Rising 2' and 'Mafia II' featuring covers of actual Playboy issues."

"Because magazines are a tangible product," Mr. Cohen added, "they do have the obvious benefit of being something you could potentially pick up and hold, or even read, in a video game, which would be cool for game, gamer and magazine publisher."

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