In 1995, Francesca Reyes was just another English major at San Francisco State University. In her free time, she worked at a coffee shop, played as many video games as she could get her hands on and read up on her hobby in magazines like GameFan and Game Players (her favorites at the time). One day, a friend told Reyes about a position at Sony’s consumer services desk. She got the job, which eventually led her to editorial positions at Ultra Game Players, Next Generation, PSM, Official Dreamcast Magazine and, most recently, her recently-announced position as editor-in-chief of the U.S. Official Xbox Magazine (OXM).
Over ten years later, Reyes admits she “kind of got sidetracked” from her plans to be an English professor.
Reyes’s promotion from executive editor to editor-in-chief puts her at the head of the largest “official” video game magazine in the country and makes her the only woman currently serving at the top editorial spot for a U.S. game magazine. Previous OXM EIC Rob Smith will become associate publisher for Future USA, taking with him some of the more business-focused roles of editor-in-chief, Reyes said.
Reyes said the promotion doesn’t represent a drastic change in her job responsibilities, but it is quite different from the days when she could do five or six reviews for a magazine in a month.
“As you move up the food chain, you get a lot busier and you’re a lot more hands off.” Reyes said. “You have responsibilities that take you away from your desk. The onus is on you to make sure you still have that connection to
the games. It’s tough, it’s a balancing act.”
Even as one of the rare females to head a major video game magazine, Reyes says she’s “always kind of nervous to speak as the representative for half the population.” Reyes says her gender might bring some new perspectives to the magazine, but it’s not an overwhelming part of her editorial voice. “It doesn’t inform every decision I make,” Reyes said. “My gender is my gender.”
In her experience, Reyes said she hasn’t run into any real adversity as a women trying to break into the overwhelmingly male field of game journalism. She attributes the proportional lack of women writing about games to a lack of women who view writing about games as a viable choice for a career.
Reyes speculates that the ranks of qualified female applicants to gaming magazines will start to increase as the girls who grew up in the Playstation generation start to see other women writing about games in higher editorial positions, like hers. “With gaming permeating every aspect of of pop culture these days, this generation of gamers — females, males, young, old — they’ll be entering media without ties to how it was done before,” she said.
Many assume that working for an official magazine brings with it many benefits and constraints of cozy access with the hardware maker. But besides the ability to have a demo disc, Reyes said working for an “official” is not that different from working for any other magazine. The biggest diference, Reyes said, is in the perception of the readers.
“It goes both ways,” she said. “Some people see ‘official’ and think that means it’s automatically true. On the flipside, a lot of people think everything you have to say is biased.” Reyes thinks that most readers are savvy enough to understand that their editorial is independent, adding that the scores the OXM staff gives games are tough enough to show they aren’t in Microsoft’s pocket.
As for the disc, Reyes said she “wouldn’t be surprised” to hear that some people buy the magazine just for the demos, and she wouldn’t be hurt either. “[The demo disc is] a tangible thing. It lets you play the games right then and there. You don’t have to read about them. I’m not doubting [the appeal of that],” Reyes said. “My hope is that the editorial is compelling enough that people would buy on its own. It’s a package, the disc and the magazine.”
Reyes ackowledges that, in some areas, magazines these days face tough competition from the Internet. “We’re going to have to figure out a way to refocus.” Reyes said. “Online will always have 24/7 news feed… print magazines will have to find a way to be more creative in how we cover games by filtering out all the noise and giving the gamers what really matters to them.”
Still, Reyes is confident that printed coverage of video games isn’t going anywhere. “In ten years, there will still be game magazines,” she said. “It’s hard to replace the actual tangible feeling of having a magazine.”
While Reyes is relatively sure game magazines will be around ten years from now, she has no idea where she’ll be at that time. “If you asked me ten years ago [where I would be today], I never would have picked this, “she said. “It’s a day-to-day thing. I don’t want to dominate the world. I just want to have fun, write good stuff, and make a good magazine.”