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From Gamepad to Notepad, So you want to be a games journalist

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The dream of many who play games is surely to be paid to do so. The idea that one can turn playing games into a living seems crazy to those outside the gaming circle. To those in gaming it is a much sought after opportunity that many see as the almost unreachable goal.

Games journalism allows just that though, right? Well yes and no, there are certainly aspects of gaming journalism that allow you to spend your days playing the latest games and still be on the clock. The job as a whole though is a lot more involving.

How would I know you ask? Well the answer is simple, Im one of the people trying to get into the industry. Having been trying to do so for only a short time means that although I may not have the most profound wisdom on the subject, I have the initial passion and intensity that has got me to where I am now. Where that is, Im yet to decide.

Now there are many approaches a budding journalist can take but we all share the same goal, reaching the widest audience possible. Some may start their own sites and hope to grow that into the next big thing, some may prefer to join an already existing outfit. There really is no right or wrong answer when it comes to starting out, whether this is good or bad news, is down to the hopefuls own views.

You see, there are many formats and techniques when getting involved in games journalism you need to be familiar with. Writing, video editing and production, presenting, researching and interviewing are just some of them. If you plan on taking the route of making your own site be prepared to take a crash course in website development and maintenance too.

So contrary to popular belief journalists dont sit around playing games all day and do little else. So why on earth do people want to do it? Who the hell subjects themselves to this simply for the once in a lifetime shot that may never happen? Well that is a question Ive asked myself many times, and one I still cant answer. The love of writing and games got me into this, everything else, Im picking up along the way. I wouldnt say there is one thing that makes someone want to do this, the costs are high and the chances are low, so deciding to dedicate your time to games journalism isnt one made in a moment of whimsy.

But just like there isnt just one way into games journalism, there is also more than one way to making a living from it. Many choose to freelance, writing for many publications and being their own boss. Others are video journalists, creating new and exciting gaming series for everyone to enjoy. There are those who love the community side, getting in and amongst the gamers themselves discussing all that gaming has to offer and there are a fair amount of behind the scenes people making the everyday stuff happen to keep the sites alive. Now I cant tell you all about those specific jobs, Im simply starting out and exploring like many of you. But I know some people that can.

Ive spoken to three of the above and asked what their views are on gaming journalism, about their jobs and the rise to where they are now. Ive asked what advantages and disadvantages there are in aspects of the job and just what made them keep trying and trying even when all seemed lost.

Before we get to them though, there is a point Id like to make. Often in games journalism there is a large amount of accusations and negative thought thrown around. These mini interviews were simply me talking to a journalist and asking questions. There is barely any editing from the responses they gave and nothing has been taken out of context or changed. What you read is what they said. It wasnt a formal interview and Ive kept it that way to make sure that the message they gave me stayed the same.

Kicking things off we shall take a look at the Video journalist, or at least that is what the site description under his name says. Danny ODwyer is one of many who create content for the massively popular gaming website Gamespot. His work includes the show Escape From Mount Stupid, a series that takes a look at whole gaming genres, series and more, condenses them into about 15 minutes of information and humour and beats you over the head with it. He has recently stepped into reviewing games for the site too. I asked if I could use him in an article, he said sure, consequences below.

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What in your opinion would be the required skills of someone looking to get into game journalism?

Danny: There is no just job title - and that's the thing. If you want to work in video, then learning how videos are put together is important. Good videos. So the pros and cons of presenting (even if you can't do it right away) what makes a well edited piece, and all the technical camera stuff. If you want to be a writer, then learning how to express your thoughts in words is important. Obviously enough. But for me, the single most important thing is to do something different. 99% of wannabee games press people just copy what has gone before. Previews, reviews, opinion peices. They're good for practise, sure, but just doing what professional games writers do - for free, is amateur. Folks need to be smarter than that.

What was the first time in your attempts to get into the industry that you felt like things were really beginning to become successful?

Danny: Never. The day I got the call about the GameSpot position maybe, but really never. I tried for years with what little time and resources I had. On a personal level I was very proud of my website Citizen Game and the show we did. But I knew not enough people were paying attention to it. So never.

During the period pre-Gamespot was there ever a time that you needed to progress to that elusive 'next level', and how did you manage your own expectations to avoid the inevitable low moments?

Danny: Yup. Around this time 2 years ago I told the staff (at Citizen Game) that we were going to go make or break. I said if we concentrated on increasing the quality of our video, articles and the podcast - and be cleverer about getting the word out - that we could increase traffic. I gave us the ultimatum of four times the traffic we had. By January we had failed - traffic was the same. At the moment I decided to stop trying to get into games journalism and move to Dubai. That was going to happen if Chris Beaumont in GameSpot hadn't emailed me about coming to GameSpot 5 weeks before myself and my girlfriend were set to leave. She now lives in Dubai. http://www.citizengame.co.uk/editorial/staffblogs/dannyodwyerblog/5715/so-long-farewell-auf-wiedersehen-dubai That's the blog I wrote about that whole chapter

How has gaming changed for you since it became paid work? Are there any parts of being the hobby journalist that you miss?

Danny: I think if you really love games then you play them as much as you can. I still play loads at home on the evenings and weekends. I guess I also work in that time too (force of habit perhaps) so sometimes I don't have the time to play everything I want. But it hasn't affected how much I love playing games. I still feel the same about games. More telling probably is I still feel the same about games journalism. In that the majority of it is awful and doesn't speak to real gamers.


So you get the idea, this isnt an easy journey and if you want to get involved it doesnt always mean itll happen on a big scale. As stated earlier though, journalism doesnt have to mean working on the latest gaming videos, presenting and reviewing games. Without a community to keep watching these videos we see stories like Dannys pre-Gamespot story of struggle and tough times.

That is where the community managers come in, these brave souls are tasked with keeping the passionate rabble that is the gaming community happy and informed. A monumental task one would imagine with larger sites. The roles of community managers are varied much alike those who are writing the main content with a whole host of responsibilities.

Synthia Weires is one of these brave souls. Whether it is updating the community blog with great activities to keep members, well, active, to moderating masses of forums she has a pretty hectic day, every day. A crucial part of the member to staff relay, you can bet your last coin if there is something going on with the site Synthia has to know about it. I caught up with the lady herself to ask some questions.

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What would you say are the skills required to be in a community based role within a major gaming publication?

Synthia: An open mindedness when it comes to any and all forms of gaming is essential. You know how, you might have a particular flavor as far as the style of games you like to play? You have to throw about 70% of that out of the window. You have to be willing to free your mind and be open to all gaming experiences. Though if you're looking for more "hard set" skills, articulation would be one of them,creativity, critical thinking skills and time management skills also.And of course a wide birth of knowledge when it comes to video games. If you can't identify some of the "sacred cows" of gaming on sight you might want to do some studying before applying.Also demographic insights, big, big thing for community roles is knowing your audience.

Would you say connecting to people is a major part of the role, is an amiable personality key to success when it comes to community?

Synthia: YES! Yes yes yes, and erm more yeses. I would say that making a connection with a person as a CM is one of my primary tasks during events and even during a daily basis on the site. As far as having an amiable personality goes, I wouldn't exactly say "yes" to that.Something better might be a mixture between anticipatory and insightful.

What are the challenges faced when putting yourself out there in the sometimes less than pleased public and working essentially on the front line between customer and product?

Synthia: Oh geeze, I could write pages about the horror stories I've seen and put up with from my (what I consider to be) short time in the front line. Complaints about site performance, an editors review of a game (I still get hate mail about Mc Shea's Skyward Sword Review). You have to constantly watch what you say, about what/whom. People can also sometimes get very personal with attacks, but that's a different story.

What would be the average day of a community manager such as yourself?

Synthia: Average day, hah that's adorable. About the closest thing to "average" in my day would be the chore like tasks that I have. Pending account X needs to be reviewed because of Y, moderation disputes, board monitoring, answering bug or site enhancement posts. But other than that my day can go from being "standard" to being totally chaotic and random (which is something I love). This is the first job I've ever had where my boss tells me "We need marshmallows so we can build a tower and set on fire, for the community!" or "Go buy 500$ in video games, for the community!" or "come up to the 6th floor so we can paint you up as a zombie for the community!"


The community manager then ending on a high note, with clearly some parts of the job requiring a thick skin and a tough mentality there is also an incredible amount of fun to be had doing things just for the community. It is also important to remember that Synthia will need to play games just as much as Danny will, both are still heavily involved with gaming just in different terms. Both need to be as current as each other and have plenty of experience in gaming. Just because you arent going out there with the goal to make your opinion known to the masses as a community manager, it doesnt mean that you can sit back and take it easy.

Other jobs in the industry require the same up to date knowledge and gaming and even expand that into actually seeking out the latest and greatest games. Those who work behind the scenes are some of the people required to know what is happening, before it happens.

Erick Tay, a member of the technical team behind Gamespot and also a major part of the eSports coverage on the site kindly agreed to let us know a little bit about the difficulties of maintaining a huge gaming website, what the perks of getting behind the scenes are as oppose to being directly in the limelight and what to expect if you are looking to be one of the crucial team that keeps the site churning.

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Was it always part of your plan to be more behind the scenes and less on the face of the site?

Erick: It wasn't always my expectations to work behind the scenes in terms of the site, I always wanted to work in the video game industry. I was never sure how I would get in, but I happen to have the skills set for this particular job opening and was able to land the job. I've been slowly but surely making my way to the front of the scene though, be it through live streams, tournaments or other things. I help out where I can as I can.

When looking to become more a part of maintaining the site what path would you advise in terms of getting to a role similar to yours?

Erick: Make sure to pay attention to the details, for example we have to try to stay on top of release dates, proper box art, esrb ratings, etc. Be ready but willing to do some tedious tasks some times. Data itself might not be the funnest thing out there but it is definitely needed. Also, because of the nature of the business, timeliness is everything. Try to get things up as soon as possible and most importantly never break an Embargo.

What would you say the most enjoyable part of your role is?

Erick:The most enjoyable part of my role is probably getting to see things or find out things before they are made public. Watching trailers, or finding out when games are coming out, and getting early media access is definitely a perk. Above all else working in a field you love as well.

Just how hard is it maintaining a website like Gamespot?

Erick: It's pretty difficult to maintain GameSpot in terms of the vastness of the site and all it's other outlets. There's always new games etc coming out, and these aren't just the big AAA titles, it is also about Mobile, indie, etc so we try our best to stay on top of all of it.


Whereas some may perceive the behind the scenes roles as the least glamorous, there actually isnt much glamour in the games industry to start with from the stories you hear above. As you can see above those involved get access to the things not yet public. If you love gaming and are always interested in what is happening, this is a nice role to aim for. The bonus being that you are one of the first to hear it!

After these three interviews I hope you start to see the picture behind what it takes to get into games journalism of any form. A dedication to games is required as standard but a lot of these jobs require passions beyond just simply knowing about games. Gaming culture is also something you have to be in tune with across the board, the willing to be just as dedicated on one subject as another is also crucial.

From what Ive garnered out of these industry folk whilst going through interview, the path is long, the goal is in the distance and the obstacles in between are numerous. We all knew that though, but there is something else. What these jobs describe is what I do now, only I do it on a small scale, maybe with less quality.

When I started this whole journey I had 3 word documents, a review of a game, a news piece and a feature article. I wrote these to see if I liked writing about games and the pieces happened to click together. Four months in, I have a group of followers to keep pleased, I write and create as much new content and review as much as I can, and I keep up to date with the latest news and try to catch the latest as it drops. Also maintaining a site is a big part of my day. So when starting out you get a great taste of all the above professions. At the cost of maybe not being able to perfect them as quickly as you want to.

My point? Enjoy the journey you are on, just because you are not in the position you want doesnt mean that you cant enjoy what you have now. There are little victories to be had along the way that make a big difference, for me this was one of them. Earlier I made the point of saying I couldnt tell you why I got into games journalism, and there is a truth behind that. There are much easier ways to make a living.

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This is the first and probably the last article I'll write on games journalism itself, these type of articles are far too self-indulgent and dont have a great deal of info. Im hoping where I failed the knowledge of professionals has helped to keep things informative. As a newcomer Ive certainly learnt a lot from writing this out, so I hope it has given some insight into the world. Speaking of self-indulgence, incoming.

I started writing this a week before my trip to the UKs biggest games convention Eurogamer Expo. This article had a secret agenda, I wanted to write something on games journalism that was informative to the reader, but I also had to ask myself if I really wanted to do this, you know, be a journalist. So I devised a cunning plan. This very article was to decide if I should go to the show as press, or to let the dream go and just enjoy the trip for what it was, use it as a great last hoorah.

I asked each of the interviewees if they wanted to ask me a question in return. I got two responses each relating to the same thing in different ways. One asked if Ive ever thought it isnt going to work out, and what presses me to go on. The other was about my biggest fear and how it is rationalized.

Well my fear like most newcomers is that is isnt going to work out, so these questions are linked for me. I rationalize my fear of not making it with a constant barrage of self-criticism. What causes me to carry on? The progress Ive made and just what a brilliant time Ive had in the past 4 months. Ive met some incredible people, had some great opportunities and I get to be passionate and knowledgeable. If I didnt write about games I would only be playing them anyway, Im just into it.

Most importantly to those looking into the industry, there are many ways you can achieve it, but a wise man once told me that youll know in your heart if you are good enough. So think long and hard, it is a big commitment. My decision, Im sticking with it, come Friday I travel to London with the sole goal of being the best journalist I can be.

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