So You Want To Be A Games Journalist
It’s a new world. The old rulebook is now history. Read it (starting here), and sort through which bits of the wisdom contained in it are timeless, and which bits are relics from the past. Then come back here.
The profession of writing words about video games has rapidly changed over the last few years, largely disrupted by the internet, and technological progression shows no signs of slowing down. Convincing someone who runs a magazine to give you a job is still a viable route into employment, but there are plenty of opportunities elsewhere, and that’s what I’d like to talk about here.
Here’s my guide to becoming a ‘Games Journalist’ in 2011, primed for some whippersnapper to consign it to the history books in another five years time. I’m going to focus on passing on things I’ve learnt from my own experiences, and looking at what’s been going on around me. Currently about 1/3 of my income is from writing for other places on a freelance basis, and over the years I’ve written for Rock Paper Shotgun, VG247, Eurogamer and a few others. Hopefully I’ll have something to say that is useful to some people, but I look forwards to seeing what my peers have to say too.
Here it goes:
Create interesting, useful or funny things on the internet
In the 21st century, the nature of the internet means that anyone who wants to can have their own platform. Whether it’s a wordpress blog, a twitter account, a Youtube channel, or whatever amazing things haven’t even been made yet: You share the stage with everyone. You can’t shut down the signal, the open infrastructure of the internet isn’t going away any time soon, so your job is to make your signal louder and clearer than anyone else around the world with an internet connection.
How do you do that? You need to make things that are worthwhile and put them out there for everyone to see. Writing about games does not need to be as narrow as doing written reviews (although those can be very good). If you can corner some niche that has not yet been filled, come up with a unique angle on something that hasn’t been considered yet, or make people laugh, you are off to a good start. If you are the only source for something that is in demand, success will come to you. Specialisation is definitely a good idea.
You don’t need anyone’s permission to get started. There’s nothing that you need that isn’t available somewhere for free on the internet.
You are selling yourself and you are selling your reputation
The quality of your copy is one factor that you need to be concerned about, but your reputation is probably far more important.
Qualities like integrity, professionalism, good communication, good engagement with your audience, reliability and knowledge are all things that will make you highly employable, and will endear people to support you.
Many of the opportunities that have been presented to me over the years have been from when one person I have worked with has recommended me to someone else. Behave in a way that makes people want to recommend you.
Only work for free if doing it is beneficial to you
There are lots and lots offers to contribute to web sites for free “at the moment”, with an offer of pay further down the line. The reality of the market is that even with the best intentions, not all of these websites will grow into profitable enterprises. Working for free can be an excellent stepping stone to getting paid work, but I would recommend caution in choosing who you will and won’t work for without getting paid.
I’d strongly suggest you only work for people who’s work you are happy to be associated with. Are they doing a good job of the site they run? Are you impressed with their editorial outlook? Do they look like they are going places? Are they interested in building a respectful relationship with you as a writer? These are all questions you should be asking before ever giving away the fruits of your labour for free.
There is plenty you can get for working for free, but I’d certainly like to know specifically how they intend to get you exposure. Have they got a sizeable audience? Are they well connected within the wider industry? Do any of their other writers get paid work at any other publications? Are they going to link back to your blog?
If you’ve got a clear idea of exactly what you are getting out of it, you are far less likely to be taken advantage of.
Speak to people
Go to where the people who are doing what you want to be doing are, and talk to them. Whether it’s twitter, forums, comment threads, community events, industry events or the pub. Everything I’ve learnt has been either from experimentation and making it up as I went along, or advice directly from all the other writers out there.
Games people are generally lovely, in my experience. Everyone remembers what it was like starting out, and if you approach them in the right way, lots of people will happily dispense valuable advice.
It’s a pretty cool job, and the number of people looking for work vastly outnumbers the amount of paid work going, but if you want to do it then you should absolutely go for it. The barriers to entry are lower than ever before, and you can very easily get started whilst holding down another job.
This is the internet, so it is interactive. Questions in the comments please.