GI Staff / Aug 4th, 2002 No Comments
The gaming industry is loaded with opportunities. It seems that almost any person can find a job in the business. Artists can become character designers, level architects, and numerous other things for developers. People with skills in managing and coordinating large groups of people can find work with publishers, doing things like advertising and budgeting. Perhaps the most sought after job though in the industry is that of a gaming journalist.
On the outside it seems like a pretty sweat deal. After all, all you have to do is play games all day right? Wrong. Now, at one time or another, you’ve probably read some article that told you writing about games isn’t as easy as it sounds, so I won’t bore you with that. I will say though, sitting here working hours without pay, that most of the things they tell you are true. I found that out the hard way when I broke in.
There are many benefits to writing about the games industry however. One I found out really quickly is that you get $50.00 video games for free. Now most of the time I would get some piece of garbage game to play, but every once in a while I’d come across a gem. Even if you don’t like the games you get, you can still sell them to a game retailer and get store credit. Don’t think you won’t get much for your games either, in a matter of months I’d built up enough credit to get an Xbox, and a Gamecube. As you can see, even non-paying freelance jobs pay in a way. If you preview games for a site, you’ll often get to play games months before anyone else can, which is always something to brag about.
The problem is that in order to get all that good stuff listed above, you have to actually break in first. Breaking into the gaming journalism industry used to not be so hard. The birth of the internet saw the opening of many gaming websites. In this new age there were tons of new sites who need writers, so finding a job opening wasn’t too difficult. Many of these new sites articles were poorly written as well, so you didn’t really have to be that great of a writer in order to get a piece of the action. When the internet boom ended though, many of these sites saw their demise. What was left was the cream of the crop, as only sites that had retained a high standard in writing remained in the game. This meant two things: One, bad writers now had a harder time finding writing gigs. Two: It was a million times harder to find a publisher that needed a new writer.
Because of this state in the gaming industry, unless you have a set strategy, it can be very hard to break in. Many articles have been devoted to the subject, giving you a very detailed process of how to get in. What I found out very quickly though when I put some of these strategies to practice, was that many of them didn’t hold up. That’s when I realized that many of these articles were written by guys who broke in years, even decades ago, thus making their articles inaccurate.
So, I thought I’d write a detailed strategy for all you young hopefuls out there, straight from a guy who only broke in a mere six months ago. Now I can’t guarantee that you’ll get in just by following my directions, but it should be something to spring off of. Remember though that this guide shouldn’t be followed too strictly. Many different writers have broken in many different ways, so chances are that you’ll have to divert from the known path every once in a while. So, take my precautions into account, get your note taking journal ready, and read onward!
1. First things first, in order to become a writer you have to learn how to write, right? Knowing that means you’re going to have to find a good teacher. For you lightweights who are still in school, that knowledge isn’t going to be too hard to come by. Just start paying attention in class, and you should acquire some writing skills. If you want some extra help, you can always just talk to your teacher after class. I know it sounds stupid, being taught when you don’t have to, but it did me a lot of good. For you older guys, you’re probably going to have to start at step 2, just be aware that step 3’s likely going to take a lot longer.
2. Start reading every piece of gaming journalism you can. You know those magazines you see every time you visit on the grocery store, with those huge 9 buck price tags? Read them. You know all those gaming websites you always come across while your surfing the net? Read them. (This site especially.) Find every single article you can find and read it. Get a feel for how they are written, get to know some of the more common gaming terms such as “draw-in distance” and “Slow-down.”
3. Once you have a basic idea of how gaming journalism is written, start writing your own pieces. Keep in mind that your first publisher will likely be a website, so your articles are going to have to be longer than a single paragraph. Pick games in your collection to review. Try to pick the ones you’ve played the death out of, and make sure that they are all relatively new. Trust me, no one’s going to be impressed with your Atari 2600 reviews.
4. Here’s where it can get a little tricky. At this point your reviews are likely going to suck. Don’t feel bad though, everyone’s got to start somewhere. I can’t speak for many other writers, but I know my first few articles were EXTREMELY bad. Now though, I’m considered a pretty good writer by many people in the industry. All you need is practice and teaching. You’ll need to talk to someone who knows how to write gaming journalism properly, and have that person help you out. Problem is, where do you find such a person? Believe or not actually, many editors of huge sites and magazines will help you out. Try emailing some of the writers on your favorite sites. Remember though that some of them could be busy, so they can’t help you. Don’t sweat that though, just keep looking and you’ll find someone. Heck, if you want to, you can drop me a wire and I’ll be glad to look over your work. Just remember to be courteous and polite to everyone you mail, and put every suggestion they give you into future articles. After you write another review/preview/etc., putting in what you learned, send that review off to that person again. Repeat this process until you can compare your articles with others in the industry without looking embarrassed.
5. Now it’s time to actually break in. First write up a very letter in a word document. Include your name, where you live, how old you are, and all the other small details. Write about your skills, how you’ve been helped out by other great gaming writers, and that you’re hoping to find a publisher for your work. Set up some small website with a free web provider such as http://www.expage.com. Only put your best work on it, none of the reviews that you started out with. Put the web links for your work at the bottom of your letter and direct people toward those links.
6. All right, here’s where breaking in can get really tedious. Go to this link, http://www.gamerankings.com/itemrankings/Sites.asp first and foremost. As you can see, the good people at Gamerankings.com have set up a very comprehensive list of pretty much every known gaming site in the universe. Visit these sites and look to see if they have job listings. Many times there will be a link at the bottom titled “Jobs” or “Employment Opportunities” or something like that. Click on that and the site will usually give you an address to mail them at. Send them your all ready made email, and move onto the next site. Don’t bother with sites that aren’t listing job openings unless they are really small. In that case mail the webmaster of the site asking for an employment opportunity. Hopefully, the editor will like your work and hire you. Sometimes finding the job listing can be a little difficult though, Check in the “Contact” section or the “About” section as well, as many times job listings are hidden in there. Check every site that is on those four pages Gamerankings.com provides you. Many people will turn you down, and many people won’t even mail you back. If you’re lucky though someone will mail you back asking you to write for their site. If this doesn’t happen, don’t feel bad. Many successful people, Walt Disney, Abraham Lincoln, all failed their first try in their desired field. If this does happen to you, just go back to step 4 again.
The Future: Congratulations, if you’ve made it this far you have successfully broken into the industry. From this point just keep refining your writing through repetition, get all your articles in on time, and you should be fine. Don’t forget to follow the site’s rules though, and try to get to know your bosses. When you feel like your ready, start taking on bigger sites, and applying to write for them. That’s about as far as I can take you though, since that’s about how far I’ve gotten in this industry. Thanks for reading, and good luck getting in!