Fingers on the buttons

The rise and rise of gaming has spawned a lucrative publishing industry. Rebecca Armstrong picks the top reads


Edge

Future Publishing. Circulation 28,790. £4

Described by one disgruntled reader as having a readership akin to a "parish magazine", Edge may not have the highest circulation but it's far and away the classiest games magazine on sale today, with its high production values and developer support. Aimed at the hardcore gamer with an interest in all formats, Edge is Future's flagship games publication, that's arguably the most respected gaming mag out there. High-quality writing and stony-faced seriousness mark it out from its rivals, as does the fact it's one of the few games magazines that you can read without feeling slightly embarrassed.

MCV

Intent Media. Circulation 11,209. £3.25

MCV - The Market for Home Computing and Video Games - is the games industry's magazine. It may have a small ABC compared with consumer titles, but its impact is impossible to ignore, especially since it's the only trade publication on the market since rival CTW was bought by Intent Media. As well as a dedicated retail section with extensive information on new releases, sales charts and recommended titles, MCV has an excellent news section featuring stories that often get picked up by the national press. Always an informative and informed read - and, for a trade publication, it's surprisingly high-end.

Games TM

Highbury Entertainment. Circulation 20,117. £4

The glossy Games TM is a relatively new title, launched by Highbury Entertainment in November 2002 as a rival to Edge magazine. Like its nemesis, Games TM is aimed at a hardcore readership, featuring multiformat news and reviews written from a hardcore gaming perspective. Its retro section at the back of the magazine is particularly good, and the magazine is well respected by gamers and the games industry. It has a lively and opinionated forum and letters page and has deservedly won MCV industry awards in the past. Games TM also has its own annual games awards ceremony.

Games Master

Future Publishing. Circulation 62,159. £3.25

Named after the early 90s television show of the same name, Games Master is aimed at a younger audience, rather than beard-stroking pedants of more advanced years. It's been going since 1993 and has seen off rivals such as Computer and Video Games magazine - now online only - to become the best-selling multi-format games magazine on the market. Editorial tends to focus on big-licence games, both on the cover and inside. Despite its cluttered layout and somewhat superficial articles, it's extremely successful. Unfortunately there's no sign of Patrick Moore, the original Games Master himself.

Official PlayStation2 Magazine

Future Publishing. Circulation 172,593. £5.99

Unsurprisingly, official magazines have the backing of games companies, so you won't find many crazy rumours or outright fibs on their pages. What you will find is unparalleled access to new products and licences plus cover-mount DVDs that feature playable demos. This is the UK's best-selling PlayStation magazine -and it shows: it's shiny, upmarket and has the inside track on forthcoming new releases directly from Sony. This month's edition comes with pre-release videos for PlayStation3, PlayStationPortable footage on DVD and a Grand Theft Auto exclusive.

Play

Highbury Entertainment. Circulation 68,963. £3.99

There are only two real players in games publishing, Future Publishing and Highbury Entertainment. Both have a full compliment of single and multi-format titles, and independent console magazines. Play is Highbury's unofficial PlayStation magazine. It has been going since the launch of the first PlayStation in 1995 and it is the unofficial voice of PlayStation2, PSP and the PS3 that launches next year. It features lots of import reviews which make it a hit with serious gamers. This month's issue comes with a free cheats CD for Grand Theft Auto and over 200 new PS3, PS2 and PSP games are unveiled.

Official Xbox Magazine

Future Publishing. Circulation 88,136. £5.99

Only Future publishes official magazines for PlayStation and Xbox. This may sound ominously hand-in-glove, but Sony and Microsoft have no influence - their involvement ends once they provide the magazine with materials. "Microsoft only read our reviews when you do" is how Official Xbox Magazine puts it. OXM is the leading Xbox magazine and has been out since the console launched three years ago. Editorial focuses on bigger games - Halo 2, Splinter Cell, et al - and the magazine benefits from high production values, from its glossy finish to the DVD of playable demos that is cover-mounted each month.

XBM

Highbury Entertainment. Circulation 30,003. £3.99

XBM is the best-selling unofficial Xbox magazine. Gamers like it because it goes all-out to get the first reviews of new games: this month, exclusive previews of Serious Sam 2 and Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon 3 - and has a distinctive independent voice. XBM also has seven pages of tips and cheats in its Solutions section, perfect if you're tearing your hair out over Medal of Honour: European Assault. Big news this month is the launch of X360 Magazine, dedicated to the next generation Xbox console that launches this Christmas. The magazine is free with XBM this month.

Nintendo Official Magazine

Emap Active. Circulation 44,195. £3.99

EMAP used to have a number of games magazines, but now only publishes Nintendo Official Magazine. EMAP held on to a winner - this is the UK's best-selling Nintendo magazine, which covers the GameBoy Advance, GameCube & Dual Screen consoles. Expect to see circulation rise this year, with coverage on the new DS and features on the forthcoming Revolution console appealing to new readers. While there are no cheats or demos this month, readers can enjoy their very own inflatable Mario beach ball.

Cube

Highbury Entertainment. Circulation 27,123. £3.99

'Cube' prides itself on being 100 per cent unofficial. Unlike the official Nintendo magazine, it has a free playable cheats CD and DVD video disc with every issue, although even this isn't enough to tempt more readers into the fold. Nintendo has a fiercely loyal following of fans, though, and 'Cube' rewards them with up-to-the-minute news and features that have a good dose of humour. Previews and reviews are extensive and the reviewing process is rigorous - no top marks for undeserving games here.

PC Gamer

Future Publishing. Circulation 57,023. £5.99

Back in the day when each were produced by different publishers, PC Gamer and PC Zone were arch-rivals, fighting it out for exclusives, and using every trick in the book to outdo each other. Both titles are now owned by Future Publishing but PC Gamer was always a Future title and it still has the advantage, with a higher circulation than its stablemate. Its focus is squarely on PC games and its reviews are exhaustively in-depth, with some games being given features of four to six pages.

PC Zone

Future Publishing. Circulation 40,480. £5.99

The UK's first dedicated PC gaming magazine, PC Zone started its life as a Dennis title, although these days Dennis has pulled out of games market altogether. Like PC Gamer, it has cover-mounted playable demos, and always goes for big exclusives on the cover. PC Zone has an extensive online section and its own website. While both titles used to feel very different to each other, it is becoming harder and harder to tell the difference between them. Both are good guides for the discerning gamer.

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