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.

Carpe diem

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.

Q&A
This is the internet, so it is interactive. Questions in the comments please.

Other people’s guides:
Lewis Denby
Mike Rose

21 Comments Leave yours

  1. Cool article. It’s a super competitive field, but I do follow people who look up-and-coming, and what I’ve seen is that if you have the passion and determination to make money out of games journalism, there’s a good chance of making it.

    You’ve touched on it here, but what significance would you put on real life networking? (I kind of know the answer already, but it’s worth discussing.)

    • Lewie Procter #

      It’s hard to put a finger on really. It’s entirely possible that a face to face meeting could put you above other candidates for a position, or perhaps you’ll only ever get useful conversations out of it. I’d say it’s certainly not worth paying huge amounts to go out of your way to go to an event, but if there are any that you can get to relatively easily, it’s worth doing.

  2. I’ve just received my first paid comission this week and a lot of the points you make are a pretty accurate reflection of how that happened.

    My advice would be if you start something purely with the aim of it leading to paid work and couldn’t be proud of what you’d created if it never lead to something professional, you should probably reconsider your motives. It should go without saying that if you don’t enjoy creating something – be it writing, video or whatever – then you shouldn’t bother.

    • Jethro Seabridge #

      Can I ask where you were commissioned?

      • PC Gamer, for a piece in their Extra Life features section. As my first professional quality submission, I’m both incredibly excited and nervous as all hell.

        • PC Gamer UK, or US? I have a subscription to PC Gamer UK so I’ll look out for your article :D

  3. Chris #

    Hey Lewie very interesting piece you’ve got here, admittedly I don’t pay as much attention as I probably should to Savygamer but I follow you on Twitter and I’m a rabid fan of Rock Paper Shotgun thus I ended up here. So here comes my question, I really love writting about the things that I love and I am passionate about gaming and the industry in general but how do I get people looking at what I write? (A blog or Youtube channel for example, both of which I have tried.) I find it hard to be motivated and determined to do more if I feel nobody will find it.

    • Lewie Procter #

      I’d suggesting thinking about what other sites might be interested in the stuff you are doing, and see if you can get them to link to it.

      Or if contacting the PRs/Devs for whatever games you’re covering, or posting your coverage on any official forums/fan forums is a good idea too.

    • I always seem to get more hits whenever I comment on a post on RPS, because my blog is linked to my name on the comments thread. It turns out, people actually click those.

      Posting your more unique stuff in their ‘writers hive’ area isn’t a bad idea either. I’ve had some great comments from there.

      • Chris #

        Why didn’t I think of this! Very good suggestion Ben thanks a bunch, I post quite a bit on RPS I’m sure you’ll see if you look back and some times I get a good few reply’s so I guess people are reading that works for me.

  4. I actually started writing for a different field: I did music reviews for (non-paying) websites and later wrote about music and web culture for a German magazine (De:Bug). At that time I started seeing the amazing work people do in games writing and wanted to contribute, but thought that this is a field crowded with people far more knowledgeable than me and who are way better in writing stuff.

    I was kind of wrong. Well not about there being far better writers out there, but about the amount of talent. At first it seemed to me that there is no way to get into games writing. But actually I found that most editors are quite happy about being contacted by new writers. Be it more “lowbrow” gaming news sites, newspapers, magazines: editors are happy to get in touch with new talent.

    If you’re good, interesting and have a nice story to share, you’ll get a chance if you ask nicely. I’m more experienced in German media, but I do write for Kill Screen and there it has been similar. So far, there haven’t been many editors who didn’t reply at all (mostly from very, very, very well regarded news outlets or magazines so hip you shouldn’t even bother).

    Btw. my first big piece (4 page spread) for a major German gaming magazine got commissioned because an editor liked the articles me and a friend of mine were writing for a non-paying small online magazine covering arts and entertainment (think Paste Magazine, but way, way, waaay less popular…and German)

    Now, my goal is to actually improve my writing and get more commissioned work both in German and English. I think it’s helpful to find writers you admire (both in games journalism and outside) and look at how they structure stories, all the little things and then look at your writing and see where it needs work. If you write a great story and show it to an editor who will sit down and read it, chances are that this someone will see that you’re a talented writer worth knowing and worth having around.

  5. Good, you managed to avoid me adding “Just start writing. Somewhere. Anywhere”. It’s very satisfying to go from 30 views a month to 2,500 and you can say “I did that. Me”.

    I’d like to add in something about free writing: You should be getting paid if a site is profitable, and no matter what, non-paid writing shouldn’t be permanent. If someone says “Oh, but you get exposure here” then they should be ashamed.

    Question about actual industry stuff: There’s a site that the editor has said that he’ll read my email when I send it to him. Do I send him a brief outline of what article I’m thinking of, or a fully written out one?

    • Lewie Procter #

      If it were me, I’d probably ask him.

  6. Random tip from me – specialise. There are 10 million people out there who can write decent game reviews. There are far less who can write a good retrospective on flight simulators, or detail the elaborate history of the adventure game – or, for that matter, find ridiculously good deals on the internet.

    Nobody is going to hire somebody just because they can review games. Find a niche, make it yours.

    • I can’t agree with this enough. Having specialised with producing video game guides for around 5 years now, I’ve become the ‘go to’ person at the UK’s largest gaming magazine publisher when someone needs a magazine cover mount tips book or a spread on a specific game (or I get offered to tip what the hell I like sometimes, which is really flattering, being offered all that creative freedom).

      So find that ONE area that you are truly passionate about (you’ll create your best work this way) and just go for it. Then once you’ve got that all-important foot in the door, try experimenting then. I’ve started dabbling in writing features as well as guides, makes a nice change once in a while. :)

      Oh, and don’t expect it to be fun all the time. I’ve lost track how many ‘all-nighters’ I’ve had to do just so I can meet the ridiculously short deadline I’ve been given. But money is essential to survive, so keep that in mind when you’re writing away in the small-hours.

      Good luck!

  7. Brill. I’m so glad you picked up the “So you want to be a games journo” thread.
    Reassuring, hopeful, friendly…. cheers.

  8. Hi Lewie,

    Good article – I’m a games journalist myself and I love the shock on people’s faces when I tell them I play video games for a living. I started doing it as a hobby and now love doing it full time :)

  9. Jockie #

    I’ve written for several ‘volunteer’ sites and for the most part they’ve been great, you get writing tips and advice from editors, understanding attitudes, flexible deadlines, review/preview code and access to events.

    The problem for me seems to be making the step up to paid work – there are very few permanent paid positions advertised and I’m not in a position where I can quit my dayjob to freelance, not knowing whether anyone is actually going to pay me. Any advice for making that step? Is it just a case of trying to pimp myself out directly to editors for freelance work?

    • I would just take it step by step. Think of a good story, pitch it to a few editors of places you think might be interested in publishing your story, and take it from there. At first, you will only have one or two different deadlines so it should be possible to fit it into your schedule and then slowly expand your network of sites and editors and get more and more assignments until you feel either comfortable doing freelance full-time or find a nice balance between working a full-time job and doing part-time freelance stuff.

      Any other thoughts on that?

  10. Peter Lloyd #

    I found this article and comments very helpful. Over the past few months I have contemplated a career in Games Journalism. I have been tempted to start more recently upon finishing a college course that allowed me to learn the basics in 3D animation and games. Funny enough this course showed me that I am better suited at writing about the games rather than the creation of the games. The only thing holding me back at the moment is the lack of a console and not having the time commitment required in order to produce articles. This article gave me an insight into what direction I will be taking in order to write about what is easily my biggest love.

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