One of the questions we often get asked is “how do I get into games journalism?” We’re tired of replying, so instead the Daily Reaction crew of Seb and Dan are going to give you the definitive guide, as well as a detailed explanation on why you should instead try to be a doctor, accountant, council worker or office drone.
Seb: Before I give my advice, it’s best to work out if you actually want to be a games journalist. The pay is absolutely terrible – you’ll probably earn below minimum wage for years and years, have no health insurance, no retirement fund and no free time. Of course, how much you get paid depends massively on where you work, but the top end of the games journalism pay scale is lower than the mid-end of most jobs.
Oh, and no matter where you work, you are not secure, at all. If you work in print, your job is in serious danger, because that market is drying up fast. If you work online, no website is safe – each is at the mercy of the industry, random Google algorithms, hackers, advertisers and more. The traffic that funds your pay can disappear overnight – I’ve spoken to a site owner who lost 25% of his daily traffic due to a Google change.
Of course, you could get lucky, you could work at a big site with a history of long term traffic, a sizeable audience, and deep pockets. Your job is still not secure. Big sites are mostly owned by large corporations that trade the websites around like shiny cards, with new management ‘shaking things up’ and ‘streamlining’ to the detriment of their staff. Said management will also keep all the profits, and splash it on stupid things.
Freelance is even worse. There are too many writers out there, many of which are simply looking to get their foot in the door and will do anything, so the price-per-post/feature/whatever is being driven lower and lower. I know for a fact that a certain site about the same size as PSLS and in the same PlayStation-only market doesn’t pay any of their staff anything at all. To live off of freelance, you need to a) do a lot of work and b) be hired by the bigger sites – but most of them want years of experience, and prefer writers with lots of connections.
Also don’t forget that adblockers are also destroying the entire industry.
Your free time will decrease significantly, you might end up writing for a different continent’s timezone, covering late night articles daily, working weekends. But you probably won’t get paid overtime. You’ll also not play games anywhere near as much as you think, unless you want to be a reviewer – in which case you’ll play lots of terrible games in a short time frame, and not enjoy any of it because you’re constantly working out what to write and watching your deadline.
That’s why a huge number of games journalists end up leaving the games industry, moving into PR (also unstable) or quitting journalism entirely. If you stick around, a second job may be a good idea. Depression rates are high, your social life will suffer and you’ll often wonder if you made a huge mistake.
Ok, still here, still interested? Good, I like you. Here’s the most obvious way of getting into the industry – write a lot, build up a portfolio and send it off to a bunch of increasingly larger sites. It’s essentially that simple. You will probably have to work for free for a good while, may have to create your own blog, and work for places that suck, but it’ll give you a chance to work out if you enjoy what you’re doing, don’t mind everyone hating you, and want to hone your skills. Constantly be on the lookout for job or freelance opportunities – Twitter is an awesome tool, get on that – and build up a strong rapport with as many editors as possible (we want people we can trust to get out good content quickly every time, and aren’t forgiving).
I’d like to say that being a really good writer is important, but let’s be honest, this is games journalism. Oh and ethics will get in the way, leave those at the door.
Dan: Well much like Seb said, games journalism is not for everyone, but if you already have a nice dent in your desk or wall where you rest your head after reading the comments and articles already online, you might fit in.
Breaking into the industry is partially about being able to write well, but it is more about luck and connections. Having a portfolio to show your writing skills will help you prove that you can write once you get noticed, but getting picked up is much harder than simply working hard, you have to be in the right place at the right time. Having talked to a number of other games journalists from around the world, most seem to have completely different stories to how they got into ‘the biz’. Knowing someone is by far the easiest approach, but that is a standard for life – the more connected you are, the better chance you have at anything.
This ultimately breaks down into your ability to sell yourself and what you could bring to the table, just remember that you are just one of thousands of people who all want your job. Writing is just the beginning of the requirements to get noticed – for example, I have a degree in Psychology and was being groomed by both my Neuroscience and Multivariate statistics teachers for post-grad work, I am an artist with work currently in print and I still had a difficult time breaking into the industry. These things are great to show your background and ability, but if they don’t directly benefit the position you want, who cares?
If your resume is strictly scholastic based and you have zero experience, then you are just wasting time looking to get picked up – you need to go get your hands dirty. Whether this is starting up your own blog or piggybacking on another site by doing community reviews or articles, it doesn’t really matter. Just remember that all of the other people doing the EXACT same thing on those sites have pretty much the same background as you, making all of that work pointless if you aren’t in some sense unique/lucky.
This is where you will have to find a way to create your own voice, and figure out if you are really capable of defending your own opinion. The internet is full of people who have no idea of what they are talking about and will defend their own biases without regard for validity or fact checking. If you are able to be justifiably correct most of the time, even when the rest of the internet deems it wrong, then you might be able to stand above the crowd when the time comes.
If you do get hired at someplace, remember that simply getting (poorly) paid to write or cover video games does not make you a real journalist, it is the ability to grasp the industry as a whole and give it a voice that makes you different. Fans or readers in general are fairly hardcore, but most only care about a few IPs and care little about the business or realities that fuel the industry as a whole. If you treat the industry this way as a paid professional, you will quickly be figured out and potentially ruin the credibility of the publication you are working for as well as your own – and even though the industry seems to not care, you should.
Now, if you are confident in your own abilities to coherently put down your own thoughts and opinions, you need to next work on your people skills. PR is one of the biggest determining factors in your ability to do this job, as it can mean connections, exclusives and better content. For me, I feel the biggest asset that have brought to PSLS has been my interpersonal skills (BG is not a good example), as I have been able to bring in a number of exclusive interviews as well as expand our PR connections overall.
Looking at everything that is required to make it into the world of games journalism, you would think this job is for people who just do not know better and you would probably be correct, but it also takes a special kind of person. If you think that you have what it takes to push past the onslaught of internet trolls, the grueling hours, the inhumane pay, and the concept that weeks worth of work will be buried within a matter of hours then you should stop questioning yourself and get to work now.
Are you excited to get started? Let us know in the comments below, as well as ask us more questions there and on [email protected], or find out why we’re so depressed by following us on the twittersphere at Seb and Dan.