['Game Mag Weaseling' is a weekly column by Kevin Gifford which documents the history of video game magazines, from their birth in the early '80s to the current day.]

One thing you should be aware of as you read this column is that the United Kingdom loves its magazines. Loves them. Especially computer and/or game mags. Pretty much every major PC or game system over the years enjoyed at least two or three monthly mags dedicated exlcusively to it in the UK, with more popular platforms like the Amiga or PlayStation getting a good six or seven at once. Even systems you never imagined anyone could write 70 or 80 pages of editorial a month on, like Philips' CD-i and Commodore's last-ditch CD32 console, got magazines in Britain. In fact, at one point in the mid-1980s, there were three consumer-targeted computer mags in the UK that published weekly -- Home Computing Weekly, Personal Computer News, and Popular Computing Weekly -- each one with its own reviews, news coverage, and type-in programs for every 8-bit computer under the sun.

The Internet's slowed down this torrent of print media down over the years, but there are still far more mags in the UK than in America -- and while the idea of any new game mag launching in the US is pretty much unthinkable at this point, new titles are still hitting UK newsstands. How can they keep this up? Simple. Since distribution costs are smaller in the UK (because it's a smaller country, of course), publishers can keep magazines at circulations that would make their US counterparts pass out and still make a profit. (The usual make-or-break circulation for a UK mag is a little less than 20,000 copies a month; meanwhile, in the US, Ziff Davis Media cancelled GameNOW in 2004 when its circ dropped to "only" 80,000.)

How easy is it for a magazine to make money in England? Here's an example. I went to the UK in the spring of 2004 to cover some game or another, and while I was there I made it a point to buy every single game magazine on the stands that month. It nearly bankrupted me. I wound up going to a single shop and spending over 70 pounds on magazines -- and that was after I decided to skip over the strategy-only titles. I wound up discarding most of them before I moved cross-country, but one I saved just because it amazed me so much that it existed at all.


This is the last issue (March 2004) of the Official UK PlayStation Magazine. What? But certainly OPM must still be publishing in the UK. And yes, you're right -- the officially PlayStation publication in Britain, more correctly called Official UK PlayStation 2 Magazine, is still coming out and is in fact the UK's top games-only magazine. This, on the other hand, was the Official UK PlayStation Magazine. As in, PlayStation One.

In the US, the Official PlayStation Magazine did the sensible thing and incorporated PS1 and PS2 coverage into one magazine. Across the pond, meanwhile, Future Publishing figured they could make a bit more money by keeping the official PS1 mag going while launching a separate official PS2 mag...this despite the fact that after 2002, there really wasn't a whole lot going on with the old PS1, except for crappy budget games, and even those petered out by '03.

So how do you fill up a 100-page magazine with virtually zero advertising with coverage for a system that's been legally dead for nearly two years? Editor-in-chief Ryan Butt's solution: Get silly. OPMUK's final issue has a whopping two reviews (for XS Junior League Soccer and Ford Truck Mania, which is given a pity score of 7/10), a few pages' worth of capsule game lists, a feature on the 108 greatest PS1 cheats, and a primer on the PlayStation 2 for all those avid magazine-reading gamers who somehow didn't know what a PlayStation 2 was by 2004. The rest of the magazine is pure fluff -- 2 pages on the editorial staff, 2 pages covering a typical month of the magazine, a spread with character art you can cut out to "make your own OPM funeral" with, and an Operation-type game where you get to pull out all the bits from erstwhile editor Dan Curley. It's all remarkably well-written and amusing, which is the really surprising thing here because the readership had to have been in the four-figures by this time.

As it turns out, Future Publishing (the biggest UK game-mag publisher around) does this sort of thing all the time. The best example I can think of offhand is Commodore Format, a mag launched in 1990 devoted to the Commodore 64 computer. Launching a C64 mag in 1990 seems silly enough already, but amazingly, the mag survived...and survived...and survived, publishing 61 issues before finally closing in October 1995. 1995! Who the hell was using a C64 in 1995?

And this is exactly why the UK magazine scene is so neat. If you can find a few thousand people interested in reading PS1 coverage long after everyone's ditched their PS1s in the closet, then you can -- and what's more, it may just support itself in the long run. In the US, magazine overheads are too high to allow anything like that. (In fact, US mags didn't really experiment at all until the Internet forced them to in the early 2000s -- good for readers, but arguably a case of too little, too late.)

[Kevin Gifford breeds ferrets and runs Magweasel, a site for collectors and fans of old video-game and computer magazines. He owns enough magazines to smother himself with should the need arise, and his secret fantasy is for someone flush with game-publisher stock options to give him a monthly stipend so he can spend a year researching their full history and finishing the site. In his "off" time he is an editor at Newtype USA magazine.]