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I haven't been trying all that hard lately for the simple fact that I'm running out of sensible shelf space, but my mag collection continues to grow -- numbering 6671 individual volumes, if my Excel files are to be believed. A lot of this is explained by the fact that I get everything released in the US regardless of how silly it is, but I am also rapidly approaching completion on a lot of titles...the most recent of which being Play. The US one.

You wouldn't think it'd be so hard to get all the Play issues, but I had trouble with it for some reason. I'm sure it has to do with the fact that Dave Halverson's mags never have astronomical circulation figures, but at the same time, it's not like Play is ancient history -- it only started in 2001, after all. Yet, to get the very last issue I needed (February 2002), I wound up having to beg Play staff 'cos I just couldn't track down a copy anywhere else.

(It doesn't help that Play's numbering is a little confusing at the start. The first issue in 2001 is the "Premiere Issue"; Feb '02 is then "Issue 1", and so forth. The staff must've realized this was a little odd, because the May '02 edition is "Issue 5", skipping the number 4 entirely and more accurately representing the actual number of issues released.)

Play is the sort of magazine that quite literally no other publisher could release right now. That's because big-time publishers, like Ziff or Future, have higher standards for what they consider a "successful" magazine -- to a large company that publishes multiple mags, a title merely being profitable isn't enough. Let's say that Magazine X makes around $500,000 in profit per year after everything's accounted for.

To a large magazine publisher, one whose revenue goes into the tens of millions, that may not be enough to make it worth their time to continue the title. (Ziff, at its height, was infamous for cancelling magazines that still had positive cash flow, including the still-missed Creative Computing in 1985.)

But to a more small-time, private operation -- such as Halverson's Fusion Publishing -- any mag that pays the salaries, covers costs, and earns a bit of extra on the top is worth keeping in circulation. I'm not going to start spouting nonsense like "Play has passion, the big publishers don't" because that's oversimplifying things to the extreme, but it's a fact that small publishers have different priorities from the big fish in the mag biz.

And certainly, I'm glad that Play is still going strong after 70 issues. The first year or so frankly wasn't all that good, but once Halverson and crew got into the groove, the mag really began to succeed covering the "hardcore" angle of GameFan and Gamer's Republic while actually looking like something you'd want to read.

I've talked in the past about how I consistently love their cover design, and their internals are always nice and subdued, too, letting the pictures do the talking. They'll undoubtedly face continuing challenges in the future -- the rapidly-contracting anime marketplace, for example, which provides a fair chunk of their ad pages -- but I hope they'll be around for a long time to come.

(PS. Did anyone keep their copy of GameGO! or Stuff Gamer? I'm looking for both, so email me if you have 'em.)

[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.]