Whenever my job emerges as a contentious topic of conversation, whether it be with my still confused mother (who doesn’t understand what I do with an internets all day), or during one of my many escapades working a room at a raging party, the first question is always “how did you get that?”
Would you believe that being a games journalist isn’t as fun as it sounds? Contrary to popular belief, my days aren’t all saving princesses and shooting men in the face. We actually rarely play video games in the office; that’s on our own time, which is worse than it sounds.
This is a fairly accurate portrayal of my face whilst writing this article.
I hate complaining about this. It never sounds genuine, but as a passionate gamer, I’m ashamed that I’m still trying to finish Skyward Sword. That’s because I’ve been busy sitting home after work playing games like The Amazing Spider-Man and Silent Hill Downpour. Not complete rubbish, but I wouldn’t have picked them on my own accord.
Would you believe that being a games journalist isn’t as fun as it sounds? Contrary to popular belief, my days aren’t all saving princesses and shooting men in the face.
Work days are filled with metrics and research to ensure our publication is working as efficiently as possibly for our readers and as a business. Then there’s beating up incompetent fools like Tom Robinson for missing his deadline. There’s no joy in beating his deceptive eyes, but it’s part of the job. It’s not all shits and giggles, as I may have imagined as an aspiring 15-year-old.
Nevertheless, people are inexplicably interested, and rightly so. While it mightn’t be the playboy lifestyle it should be, it’s still a fun job, and from where I’m sitting, considerably better that actually growing up to a mundane life wearing the same tie, sitting in the same cubicle and complaining about the same wife to the same people between doing the same task every day for eight hours.
A psychologist will probably tell you that’s seeded amongst some deep commitment issues. Whatever.
I hadn’t intended to open by waffling on for so long -- there is some genuine advice coming if I’m yet to scare you away -- but mid-writing Mark Serrels published an interesting insight from more veteran eyes on Kotaku. He’s concerned about being a video games writer into his 30s and 40s. Too many people want to do it for free, all media industries are struggling in the digital age, and such a niche does not pay well. These issues are always at the back of my mind, as a 21-year-old mind you, who is paid to write about games full time. Those fears are unlikely to dissipate with age.
So You Still Want To Become A Games Journalist?
If you’re still interested after those incidental ramblings, then good news: someone has to do it. Gamers will always want to read about games, and someone, just like you, with charming words and a passion for the industry needs to arrange them in a coherent and informative manor. See, right now I‘ve said a great many things, without touching on the information you so desired from the headline. This is no good.
If you’re only in it for fun, the outcome is easy. Start your own blog. Even the most inept imbecliles can launch their own website to discuss the finer points of golf bats or where best to buy knitting sticks.
That means anyone can establish a moderately successful gaming blog to service his or her own amusement.
Making A Career Of It
If you’re serious about making video games writing a career, or at least generating some beer money, you’ll need to look beyond your own pathetic website (sorry, it’s probably true, and why I don’t have a personal site anymore). A handful of people have found monetisation on their own websites. Most successful journalists found employment at an established or rising media conglomerate.
Even the most inept imbecliles can launch their own website to discuss the finer points of golf bats or where best to buy knitting sticks.
And it all starts for free. As a lowly contributor I wrote for a year or two without thought of payment, while frying chicken for fat people to support my philandering lifestyle (note: no further questions). I wanted to write about games, and I loved doing it for free. Almost everyone I’ve spoken to, including those far more successful than I, have much the same story. They wrote for free because they wanted to, and almost stumbled into paid employment as if it were the Batcave: I’m there now, but could never find my way back if I had to start afresh.
Unfortunately, in such a niche market with a monolithic supply and demand discrepancy, you’ll need more than a dash of luck to venture into substantial paid employment. Like anything, getting your foot in the door is the hardest part.
Practice Makes Slightly Better
I was rubbish when I first started, for free, in 2007. I wasn’t all that much better when I banked my first pay check in late 2008. I hope these words aren’t the best I have to show when presenting my work in 2015. A footballer doesn’t peak when he’s drafted, nor does a gamers writer when his first piece of work is published.
Frankly, if you have no idea what you’re talking about and spew words onto the page like a dyslexic alcoholic, this probably isn’t the best vocational path. If the drive and raw talent is there, you can always improve, and the only way to do that is by writing, and getting it published.
The first obstacle any aspiring writer has to overcome is the realisation that thousands of people are going to read what you write. Many of those won’t like it. Many will. Others will find immense joy in correcting the smallest of errors. Complements, criticism and corrections are all part of the package. It’s easy to accept when it’s paying your rent, but much harder when you’re first starting out, pouring your heart into an article, only to have some angry internet trolls crush your resolve.
Move past that. It’s going to happen, even if you eventually want to move to print (for unknown reasons in the digital age) you’re going to have to start out online with the dreaded comments box.
Find someone who will let you write for free. Australia has a limited selection of professional outlets (those that pay most of their contributors), but there are hundreds of great sites out there that thrive off the back of volunteers. Most sites, including MMGN, encourage user contributions. Consider those a test drive to gain some community feedback and determine if you can see yourself writing about the intricacies of video games day-in-day-out for several years.
Read, Read, Then Read
Now that you’re well on your way, take a step back. The best writers weren’t born with an unobtainable talent. They studied their craft and learnt from those who forged the path before them. Find some idols, even if they don’t write about video games, and read everything they produce. Try and understand what makes their writing so captivating and why they can charge a pretty penny in the process.
Find Your Voice
Developing a personality through your writing style is the key to success, especially with the saturation of online content. Our core team of writers each has his or her own personality. Stephen Heller and I have our own unique way of tackling the same content idea. That’s what makes the broader publication enticing and why it’s beneficial to have a team of several writers, rather than one lonely soul churning out everything from a dimly lit room in an undisclosed location.
This is why it’s important to find some idols and understand why you appreciate their writing over the countless other dribble that inundates the Internet. Somewhere around here the glass should break. If it hasn’t happened yet, maybe you missed a step, or you’re far smarter than I suspected, and stopped reading 800 words ago.
Understanding the written personality of some of your favourite writers is the path to developing your own.
Get Your Work Noticed
By now, you’re a total stud. When I win the lottery and retire to Tracey Island, you can have my job.
I wouldn’t discount that as an impossible scenario to catapult you into the envious career of full time games writing. You’re going to need some luck; a touch of being in the right place at the right time or knowing the right person. However, that will only help if you have the goods, and experience, to justify yourself as a bone-fide games writer that deserves to be paid
good any amount of money.
Get your work out there. Contribute to as many free publications as possible. Mingle at social occasions. Charm your way past security if you’re not invited. Share your content online. Twitter is an amazing thing.
Your grandpa might also be able to tell you about this thing called “hiring”. It was more popular before the Americans loaned money they didn’t have to some Mexicans who never paid it back, screwing the world’s economy in the process, but it’s still your best chance of actually securing paid work.
Look for websites and even the occasional magazine (if newsagents are still in business by the time you’re reading this) advertising for paid work. It might be a one off article. It might be regular work. Either way, it’s the foot in the door you’ve been looking for.
By Ben Salter - Bio
Feel free to post any questions. If they’re not applicable to me, we can get someone else from the industry to answer them.