Monday, September 19, 2011

So You Want to Be a Gaming Journalist...

After years of playing games and reading gaming magazines and visiting gaming websites, you've finally say to yourself, "Screw it. It's time to enter the glamorous world of videogame journalism." The early peeks at yet-to-be-released games, the parties at E3, receiving games to evaluate - it sounds like a dream gig. Or is it? There's only one way to find out, dive in and give it your best shot. 
But hold on, getting into any field of journalism is no easy task. You have to be able to write (you'd think this would be a given but it's not, everyone thinks they can write), you need patience and you need a little bit of luck. You also need to know how to to attack your newly chosen profession. 
A number of years ago my colleague Dan Hsu wrote what is still the best piece on the subject when he was the editor-in-chief at EGM, but I figure it never hurts to have another point of view. I'm just a freelancer and not nearly as successful as Shoe, but after stints manning the helm at and GamePro Arcade, and having written for GamePro, OXM, Play Magazine, GameZone and a few other places, I feel I can contribute a little something to the conversation.
So you want to be a gaming journalist? The following steps can help, hopefully.
Work on your craft - This is priority one. The #1 thing I've noticed from aspiring game writers (I've hired several people from is that the good ones can take constructive criticism and work at improving their writing. The ones who think they're good but aren't never make it in this industry because A) they can't write and B) they refuse to acknowledge it. Be your own harshest critic and edit edit edit edit edit edit edit edit edit your own work until it's exactly the way you want it. Read other writers and break down their technique. What do you like about it and what can you do to absorb that into your own style? If you can be your own worst critic and always hand in solid work that needs little cleaning up, editors will love you. 

Also, be sure to put as much effort as possible into what you write and never submit anything half-assed, even if it's for a site you work for for free, because you never know who will read it.
Be Social - The saying "it's not what you know, it's who you know" certainly applies to gaming journalism. I got my first writing gig by emailing the sports editor of my local newspaper and asking if they needed any freelancers. After I got a job at the newspaper I bugged the entertainment editor to let me cover gaming (something my paper didn't do until I asked). From there I got my first job with a major magazine after interviewing OXM's Fran Reyes and making a good impression. I parlayed my experience with my newspaper and OXM into a gig with GamePro and things started rolling from there. That was 7 years ago.

Now keep in mind, a lot of these people let me go at one point or another. The publishing business is in a constant state of flux. A couple years ago Tae Kim, a senior editor at GamePro at the time, called me and gave me the bad news that GamePro Arcade and all blogfaction sites were getting shut down. My entertainment editor at my newspaper has had to hire and fire me more times than I could count due to budget constraints. But guess, what? I rolled with it and I still work for both organizations because I always leave a place on good terms, I always work hard, and I always made friends with the people I worked with. Not because I had to, but because I like to. That leaves a good impression and people remember that. 
Also, be polite and social with people even if they can't get you work. I'm friendly with many gaming journalists and PR reps. None of them can get me a job but they're good people. And who knows, maybe one day they'll be in a position to cut a guy a break. You know how it goes, you'd rather work with people you know than take a chance with someone you don't.

Before becoming a zombie photographer, Frank West ran his own gaming blog.

Don't Be Shy - I'm not saying you should be pushy or annoying, that will just tick people off. But being shy isn't good either. Meet people, introduce yourself, go to gaming events, and send emails to people you'd like to work with or who inspire you. Events like E3 or GDC are great places to meet people. I met Shoe 4 or 5 years ago by accident when we shared a cab from G4TV's studios to the LA Convention Center. I met Dan Amich at E3 three years ago by walking up to him and saying hi. He didn't know my face but he recognized my name. Now he has a face to go with it. Do the same with PR people. Most PR reps treat me great because I'm always joking around with them when I go to E3. I'm not asking for anything, I'm just being social. They remember that when I actually do need something, even though I'm just a freelancer.

Be sure to show off your experience too. Whenever I send an email to a PR rep or someone who may not know who I am, I always include in my signature the places I've written for. It shows that I'm a serious writer who has chops. I may just be a freelancer, but I'm a freelancer with credentials (or Geek Cred as my son likes to call it). Even if the places you've written for are small, it shows you've been published and you're not some random fanboy looking for a handout. 
Location, Location, Location -  Move to California. If you're reading this you're probably young, single, and have no kids. If you really want to make it as a full time game journalist, moving is something you have to consider. I'm too old, have kids, and have a mortgage. I'm not going anywhere. Of course this doesn't mean you have to move. There are a number of people I know who work freelance full time and live where they want (my buddy Robert Workman does just that and lives just north of me in Denver) but if you're looking to work full time in PR or for a major magazine you'll likely have to move.

Several gaming companies and magazine publishers are based in California and it's also where some of the biggest yearly gaming events take place. It's just where more opportunities lie. My friend Matt Swider moved from Philly to LA and is running Gaming Target from there. Why? Better industry access.
Be Patient - You have a snowball's chance in Phoenix of writing for a place like GamePro or Kotaku right out the gate because it takes time to build up clips and name recognition. It will get frustrating because gaming journalism is wicked competitive. The market is flooded with good writers (and not so good writers) so finding work can be a fierce battle. The truly dedicated and talented persevere and will eventually get work but you may have to write for free for a long time. Just consider it part of paying your dues. 
Since being a new game journalist can be stressful, it should come as no surprise that this is where having fellow writers as friends can come in handy. But again, not just friends who can get you work. I've traded emails and phone calls with many other writers. We'll share our disappointments and successes. It's like a support group because, and I can't emphasize this enough, you will get frustrated. What's great about having friends in the industry is that when you succeed no one will be happier for you than your writer buddies because they know how tough things can get, and when things are going badly they'll be there to help get you through it.

Don't Give Up -  If this really is your dream, you can't quit. I turned 40 this year so I've had plenty of jobs (part-time and full) over the course of my life. Some I've hated, some I've loved. The ones I've really enjoyed were the jobs that I was passionate about regardless of the pay. It sounds like a cliche but it's true. Figure out if it's gaming or writing that you really love. That'll be the starting point to figuring out what your career path will be. Maybe it's not even anything to do with gaming or writing. Do what you're passionate about and money will figure itself out. Do that and you'll be a happier person. 


  1. Great advice, TnT. One thing I'd add... be prepared to work for FREE for a good long while. As you pointed out, it's part of paying your dues. I had to do that for a few years prior to finally getting coin. Lots of dues to be paid and lots of churn in that industry... LOTS.

  2. Yeah, that's true. Plenty of dues paying, which some people just aren't ready to accept unfortunately.