So You Want to Become a Games Journalist

by Ben Salter Featured 22 Comments 38 Votes 3968 Views 31/07/2012 Back to Articles

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.

Link to us http://wii.mmgn.com/Articles/so-you-want-to-become-a-games-journalist
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I'm planning to get into Journalism after year 12 is over but more towards motorsport's journalism. But it's a broad area so there's always possibility for change I suppose.
Great article ^_^
Tano
+
Nice read! But this is far too serious an article to be on a video game website. Shame on you Ben.

But you basically summed it all up: Write, Read, and get your content out there.

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.

I don't know. The role of a journalist is not to understand metrics and make sure the publication is "working". A journalist's one and only role is to report for citizens/readers. That's it.

I think it is irresponsible to tell potential game journos that they would be burdened with metrics. I think that is exclusive to MMGN. Ultimately, it would be the editor-in-chief/at-large that would be looking at metrics: someone that understands the content/readership.

I have a question, for Ben and readers:

Is "journalist" and "writer" the same thing? Because you move back and forth between the two.

I think they are completely different.

Unfortunately, the big problem with games "journalism" is that it isn't actually journalism. There's rarely any style used, there's absolutely no moral benchmark, rarely any ethical framework, and just a really lazy attempt at journalism.

Is this the reason why games are so relentlessly disrespected in mainstream media? I think it is a contributing factor, yes.

Also, I would discourage against putting all of your eggs in one basket and relying on a job at a major publication.

Media audience monetisation is very possible, still in its early stages, and waiting for potential journos to lead the way in a digital era. Sites like Crikey, Broadsheet all kind of prove that monetisation of an online audience is possible.

Big things have small beginnings: START YOUR OWN BLOG!
@Beta ooo SNAP! Nice read Ben
Who are your idols Benjamin?
Start your own blogs on MMGN, so you can have an audience straight away, and others can tell you what they thought of it.

Ben - all of your time belongs to MMGN... there is no your own time...
I chucked a few reviews on here. What is that? [MOG]
Very good article Ben. I think what most people don't realise is that game journalists spend the lateral part of their time writing. And there is actually very little time to play the games you want in your free time.

As a free contributor i have the advantage in that; I can decide exactly what i want to write about, which games i want to write about, which makes it fun to do.

Me too i started with my own site with 2 other people, and in no time they hooked off, because they found the work uninteresting and the writing boring. So i started looking further, cus i realized it wasnt the same working alone, than with other writers.

Trabman said: Very good article Ben. I think what most people don't realise is that game journalists spend the lateral part of their time writing. And there is actually very little time to play the games you want in your free time.
As a free contributor i have the advantage in that; I can decide exactly what i want to write about, which games i want to write about, which makes it fun to do.
Me too i started with my own site with 2 other people, and in no time they hooked off, because they found the work uninteresting and the writing boring. So i started looking further, cus i realized it wasnt the same working alone, than with other writers.



It's hard to still enjoy games when you know you need to critique, and play it enough to make an informed judgement :(

hi im gud vidya gamer um i like halo and cod is the best omg i love wow too i am a level 20 paladin gnome i meen not very high lvl but im best out of my friends
my qwestun is can u gimme a job i wud luv to rite for mmgn i meen i spend all my time here and i reely feel that i can help and rite artikles i promis i wont play cod all day!1!!

iamtom said: hi im gud vidya gamer um i like halo and cod is the best omg i love wow too i am a level 20 paladin gnome i meen not very high lvl but im best out of my friends
my qwestun is can u gimme a job i wud luv to rite for mmgn i meen i spend all my time here and i reely feel that i can help and rite artikles i promis i wont play cod all day!1!!




Get the Adobe Flash Player to see this video.
iz dat a yes? plz i fink we cud be gud frends beta

Just kidding, I'm too alpha for you. Do you even lift? No, I bet you don't. Get out of my house, you don't even go here.

iamtom said: iz dat a yes? plz i fink we cud be gud frends beta
Just kidding, I'm too alpha for you. Do you even lift? No, I bet you don't. Get out of my house, you don't even go here.



I'm lost...

Anyway, $99 gets you a Wordpress blog and some pretty easily customizable themes for the crappy web designers out there that want to get published.

1. Build a portfolio
2. Spam the MMGN forums
3. ?????
4. Profit
5. Job with MMGN

Hey, it's how I got the job *shrugs*
I would love to make Game reviews for 3DS games and I'm working on it as of now I hope you guys can see them when I'm done.
@iamtom clearly didn't read the part where I beat him...

CaptJoey said: I would love to make Game reviews for 3DS games and I'm working on it as of now I hope you guys can see them when I'm done.



Do it. Content is featured all the time. It's great to have content published, people commeting on your stuff.

Beta said:

iamtom said: iz dat a yes? plz i fink we cud be gud frends beta
Just kidding, I'm too alpha for you. Do you even lift? No, I bet you don't. Get out of my house, you don't even go here.


I'm lost...
Anyway, $99 gets you a Wordpress blog and some pretty easily customizable themes for the crappy web designers out there that want to get published.
1. Build a portfolio
2. Spam the MMGN forums
3. ?????
4. Profit
5. Job with MMGN
Hey, it's how I got the job *shrugs*



You know how I got the job? You shot me at paintball several times, a job opened, I applied, you remembered me and I got hired.

Key to networking: get shot.

It's hard to still enjoy games when you know you need to critique, and play it enough to make an informed judgement


That's true. But i think it's rather the fact that you have to play games which you don't fancy in the first place, that makes it hard to enjoy them. I pick games i think will interest me, and that gives me the motivation to write about them. There's the difference.

To say you have to be judgemental about a game isn't enough to stop you from enjoying any game in my opinion.

Maybe im wrong i dont know :P But thats what i think.
You're not wrong :P I don't not enjoy them, it's just that I approach them differently, knowing that I can't really take my time to enjoy a game as much as I'd like to :P
My advice to anyone who wants to get paid to write about games: get a Twitter account and start talking to people who already write about games. It's shocking how helpful having a Twitter account is. I probably wouldn't even be writing for MMGN if I wasn't on Twitter, amirite Ben?

Jickle said: My advice to anyone who wants to get paid to write about games: get a Twitter account and start talking to people who already write about games. It's shocking how helpful having a Twitter account is. I probably wouldn't even be writing for MMGN if I wasn't on Twitter, amirite Ben?



Twitter's a great news source. I don't really use it to interact, but in terms of finding good content and connecting with individuals, it's important for any prospective journo.

Jickle said: My advice to anyone who wants to get paid to write about games: get a Twitter account and start talking to people who already write about games. It's shocking how helpful having a Twitter account is. I probably wouldn't even be writing for MMGN if I wasn't on Twitter, amirite Ben?



And if we didn't end up sitting next to each other accidentally in a bar under a piece of paper that said VIP.

Evidently I charmed my way into that section.
I really enjoyed this article, Ben, great job. I think you hit the nail on the head in relation to emphasising a need for getting your content out there in the big world of the Internet, shaping your own unique style and personality and reading heaps. I guess I was a bit lucky in regards to my own circumstances as becoming a writer on here, as most of my previous work was in print and not online. But I have learned a lot of what you've advised on along the way, and definitely can say I enjoy writing about games and the medium of online a lot more than before.

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