Game Front 1-on-1: ‘Five out of Ten’ Editor Alan Williamson
The displacement of the publishing industry by the more nimble (and cheaper) website format is an old story by now. Publishing isn’t dead yet, but it’s had a rough go of it in the 19-odd years since the world wide web went worldwide, and the growing norm is for traditional magazines to abandon their format in favor of the web aesthetic or, increasingly, to go under. With that in mind, it’s seems crazy for anyone to start up a brand new traditional-style magazine, much less one focused on something as arguably niche as video gaming.
But that’s precisely what Alan Williamson has done with Five out of Ten, a new digital magazine devoted exclusively to video games that he curates, publishes and edits.
Five out of Ten is devoted to broader criticism of gaming, in the literary sense — think The American Literary Review meets Nintendo Power. There is no news, no reviews, or any “traditional gaming stuff,” mainly because Williamson believes that so many websites already provide “great coverage” of those sorts of content.
But its high mindedness isn’t code for boring. Far from it, Williamson set out to make a magazine that takes gaming seriously, but one that anyone could pick up and enjoy. “We publish ten features from five different contributors,” Williamson says. “Five are based on a theme – the latest one is ‘Reflecting Reality’ – and the other five articles are the author’s choice. It’s for people who love games, or just love reading, really.”
Williamson says that he wanted to make a magazine that anyone could pick up and enjoy, not just something for gaming fans. The magazine doesn’t have news, reviews, or “any of the traditional gaming stuff, because there are already so many websites who provide great coverage.”
“We just write what we want to read: unique and thoughtful features that you can’t get anywhere else. We split the revenue five ways as well, so everyone gets a fair share of the profits – that principle of fairness is important,” says Williamson.
Answering my earlier question about the magazine’s format, Williamson says that anyone can make a website these days. “That’s a double-edged sword,” he says.
“If mainstream websites are the main course of information about games, then Five out of Ten is the dessert.”
“I read a lot of great new blogs through my work at Critical Distance, but the signal to noise ratio is pretty high. It’s difficult for new publications to stand out, unless they’re coming from an established media presence like Polygon or Penny Arcade Report. When you’ve got new sites coming out along with the existing ones, everyone is competing for the same set of eyeballs with advertising, and sadly I don’t think there’s enough room for everyone – witness the recent closure of 1UP and Gamespy, to name but two.”
“A magazine is the best way to stand out,” says Williamson, who argues that because they only publish features, it may be possible to read Issue #1 now or within a year and it’ll still be relevant.
“There are very few outlets doing that. When there’s a pressure to break headlines and deliver to deadlines, I think we need an alternative to that. So much game coverage is reactionary, hyperbolic, flash in the pan stuff, and we need slower-paced journalism where the writer steps back from the zeitgeist and says ‘what does this all mean? What is the wider context?’”
“If mainstream websites are the main course of information about games, then Five out of Ten is the dessert. Nobody needs dessert, but who doesn’t want it? It’s delicious, and the indulgence factor is part of that! I guess it’s a magazine for people who like dessert, and bad food analogies. Sometimes your brain needs some good food, too.”