['Game Mag Weaseling' is a weekly column by Kevin Gifford which covers video game magazines from the late '70s all the way up to right now.]

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From the best to the worst, this week's GMW is all about the game mag scene in the United Kingdom, which has taken a beating in recent years but still outclasses the US in terms of sheer quantity. Read on and discover what's worth throwing out the big bucks for and what's got to be avoided at all costs...

Future Publishing

Still the largest game mag publisher in the UK, Future has a zilion titles that cover every possible game platform. In many cases, thanks to assorted buyouts and audience retainment, they have more than one mag for some platforms -- one "official" title, and another unofficial one. In the past, the main difference between official and unofficial was a game demo disc, but with the PlayStation and Nintendo "official" titles now lacking a regular disc, the main demarcation now seems to be style and design. The "official" mags have a clean, adult-oriented, Edge-type design, while the unofficial ones are more hardcore-oriented and packed with info, humorous writing, and flashy extras like strategy guides and game trailer DVDs. And candy. Yes, candy.

Most Future UK titles are unavailable in US bookstores, with a couple exceptions:

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Edge is certainly the most prestigious title coming from the UK right now, and a good 22% of its circulation (7638 out of 35,145 copies in the second half of 2006) is sold outside of Britain. It's also an anomaly in that, given current exchange rates, it's actually cheaper to buy (either off the newsstand or via the new US subscription offer) in America than Britain by a good buck or two per issue.

In the modern marketplace, Edge's position has shifted subtly from "magazine written for adults" to "magazine written for gamers who like to sit down and really read something". In that mission they succeed fabulously, with even the most mundane previews and reviews written with immaculate detail and engaging copy. There's nothing lazy about any aspect of its creation, and if you have $75, then a subscription is a very, very hot idea. (Edge also generates a great deal of Internet talk for its more controversial reviews -- they're never going to live down their 6/10 rating for Gunstar Heroes where they complained about the lack of "hidden levels".)

Edge has published three FILE compilations of past content; special issues like that come out around once every two or three months.

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PC Gamer is much, much different from its US counterpart, and I'd buy it more often if it weren't so expensive. The difference can be described thus: PC Gamer US is about itself, but PC Gamer UK is about its readers. Packed with a double-sided DVD full of game crap, PC Gamer is packed with the sort of industry features and just-screwing-around articles you're more likely to see in Games For Windows here, and both the design and writing is much friendlier to people who don't eat, sleep and breathe PC games. It's little wonder that PCGUS has been cribbing one or two filler pieces from PCGUK in recent issues. Can we trade mags, guys?

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PSW's main draw is its DVD (lots and lots of game trailers) and an allegedly "independent" approach to PS3 games, but really, this is the archetype of the modern Britmag: previews that try to be opinionated but aren't; reviews that ramble on for way too long; and not much else. It's not a bad read, but it's also not much of an improvement over any online site.

Other Future titles: (takes deep breath) CheatStation, GamesMaster, N Gamer, Nintendo The Official Magazine, PlayStation 2 Official Magazine UK, PlayStation Official Magazine UK, Xbox 360: The Official Xbox Magazine, PC Zone, PSM3, Xbox World 360.

Similar to the situation of Official PlayStation [One] Magazine in the UK, Future published both an official Xbox and and official 360 magazine for a while; the original-Xbox title folded in late '06 (I think). PlayStation Official Magazine UK is also a different mag from PS2:OMUK; the former concentrates on PS3 news and does not include any disc, while PS2:OMUK will presumably include a disc filled with old demos until it winds down.

They say N:TOM and PC Zone are good, but I haven't seen a recent copy. GamesMaster is the only aggressively young-targeted game mag left in the UK, unless you count the strategy rags.

Imagine Publishing

Imagine's the 2nd-biggest game mag publisher in the UK almost by default. It got started in '05, formed by two ex-executives of defunct rival Paragon Publishing, and got a boost the following year when it bought up the assets of similarly defunct publisher Highbury Entertainment. It now publishes 18 mags, 8 of which are games related, and nearly all of them make apperances on US shelves.

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Arguably, Retro Gamer is Imagine's most visible title in the US, since it fulfills a niche that doesn't have anything covering it here. The content is heavily UK-oriented and occasionally marred by lazy copy-editing and boring news articles, but it's still a great read, especially the far-reaching historical overviews written by Britmag-veteran Stuart Campbell, a man who knows his stuff.

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GamesTM is Edge's top rival (some would say ripoff); its basic gimmick is its 160 pages of editorial copy a month, as well as an extensive monthly retro-gaming section of its own. The review/preview bits aren't as interesting as Edge, however, although a promised redesign may change things in the future. Worth a browse through, at least.

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n-Revolution is Imagine's Nintendo mag, and it's surprisingly good. Packed with two mini-mags every month (one devoted to the DS, the other devoted yet again to retro coverage -- Imagine loves writing about old games), the contents are surprisingly close to Nintendo Power in style -- long previews, surprising amounts of inside access, and a generally fun feel throughout.

X360 is one Imagine's Highbury purchases; they also publish a separate mag called just 360, which must be endlessly confusing to consumers. 360 is positioned as the "hardcore coverage" mag, while X360 is "written for the more serious gamer who will appreciate the Xbox 360's digital hub and multimedia status," according to Imagine's webpage. In practice, this seems to mean DVD reviews and a pack-in disc with game trailers and the occasional humorous game voiceover. I wonder how different from 360 it really is?

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Finally, some quick history. Next 3 has just been redesigned and renamed to PSU3: PlayStation 3 Unlimited; it's Imagine's PS mag and one that's highly tech and nerd-oriented. Go>Play is a PSP mag, and this is the last issue, although it allegedly lives on as a website. The most noteworthy thing about it is arguably is exhaustive coverage of homebrew stuff, including reviews of old pirated games running on emulators.

Other mags

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Unlike the olden days of...uh...2004, there are very few game mag publishers left in the UK besides the "big two" of Future and Imagine. In fact, these two titles are the only ones I'm aware of.

PURE (the sole product of Evolve Publishing) used to be a PSP mag, but they've expanded to the PS3. This hasn't done much to separate it from the pack yet, though, since I have trouble telling the difference between this mag and PSW.

Finally, 360 Gamer (the sole product of Uncooked Media, although there's an ad for PURE in here so I think the two outfits are related somehow) is the worst game mag in the Commonwealth. Seriously, the design's nice, but the content gives the Beckett titles a run for their money in their race for the bottom of the barrel. Released every three weeks in the UK, the mag's text reads almost exactly like IGN's, right down to the shameless story padding and nonexistent copy editing ("collide" is misspelled as "collie" at one point in the cover feature to highly humorous effect). I feel like a total idiot for buying it, and I hope you don't make the same mistake.

Conclusion

Subscribe to Edge. Buy Retro Gamer. If you're rich, buy PC Gamer UK. Maybe take a glance or two at n-Revolution and GamesTM. Don't worry much about the others.

[Kevin Gifford breeds ferrets and runs Magweasel, a site for collectors and fans of old video-game and computer magazines. He's also an editor at Newtype USA magazine.]