In my experience, ‘how to get into video game journalism’ is a loaded question. It’s long been said that video game journalism is becoming increasingly irrelevant. While there is some truth to that, it is also true that the money just isn’t there anymore. No longer are we in the days where IGN or Gamespot are setting the cultural conversation around video games online, and writing about games is less relevant than it ever has been. In fact, it’s mostly dominated by listicles and unconvincing reviews now, although there are some gems still out there.
Still, I do think that figuring out how to get into video game journalism is still valid, although its difficult to make a full-time income. As I’ve identified in the past, video game journalism is a great proving ground to build up experience to work in marketing and PR. However, expecting to break into video game journalism, let alone journalism at all, in 2017, is a difficult feat.
With that said, here is my take on how to get into video game journalism, and what I did to break away from it and use my experience in it to move on to other career endeavors.
Start Writing as Early as Possible
I always joke that I really started my writing career in 5th grade, when I would fall asleep in class. My teacher at the time, Mr. Klinger, would always ask me if I was asleep in ‘Dannyville’ (yes I went by Danny at that time, it was horrible). Instead of trying to prove him wrong, I turned Dannyville into a fictional universe and figured out how to turn my inherent laziness (and then-undiagnosed sleeping disorder) into something productive.
Still, I found writing about where my brain went when I fell asleep in class wasn’t exactly scratching the writing itch for me. It took a few more years, but in high school I started writing for the school newspaper, eventually becoming Opinions Editor and directing coverage such as ‘Why I Hate Math,’ general indictments against the school board and the occasional game review and film review. Ultimately, this experience helped get me more into writing, and fueled my desire to pursue writing as a full-time career. From college forward I asked the question of how to get into video game journalism to myself in a pretty serious way.
Write for Independent Video Game Sites
As soon as I started college, I started molding myself into a fledgling video game journalism. For 4 years (minus the year I studied abroad, although I was writing for USA Today then) I wrote about games online, starting for tiny little outlets and eventually working my way up to independently recognized ones. In fact, I was writing for so many outlets at low pay or sometimes no pay that I would often go to press events for major companies in NYC and have to consult with all of my editors, figuring out which one I would be covering the event for. While this was a great ego boost in college, it didn’t help me financially as much as I had hoped. After graduating, I did brief stints at Heavy and Complex, and then got a legitimate offer as the Editor in Chief of Indie Game Magazine, which was gratifying.
Unfortunately this was right around the time the infamous scandal that sunk Indie Game Magazine broke. The one where they charged for reviews. That didn’t help things, and ethically I didn’t want to be involved with a company like that, so I decided to go it alone with a colleague and create our own video game site. It went better than you would think.
Consider Starting Your Own Video Game Blog
Arguably my most successful venture as a video game journalism was co-creating the site Continue Play. I managed the strategy, recruited much of the editorial team, and created some of my best writing on video games to date. At its peak, we were able to get around 70k monthly traffic and were rivaling some of the other big independent sites. For a while there, it seemed like this might be going somewhere, but as the story goes, initial success was our own undoing.
It really is telling that anyone with a WordPress site and the skill to put together a volunteer team could make an industry blog and get into legit press events and interview some big names in the industry. Due to personality clashes (some of which have since been reconciled), the site ultimately failed, and so did my efforts in video game journalism.
Remember There Isn’t a Lot of Opportunity in Journalism
Now that I am no longer a journalist in any meaningful sense I can tell you that tempered positive coverage for free stuff is definitely encouraged, and this is not just true of video game journalism, but in all fields of journalism that need sponsorship to stay afloat. Even sites with independent bases of revenue tend to focus on product coverage, although not as frequently outside of sponsored content.
Still, it’s important to note that there is a reason that a lot of journalists have turned to marketing. For example, I used to work at a larger tech publication, and of the three editors I worked with, two moved on to marketing positions. It’s not because they lack integrity but it’s because journalists with years of experience and great skill sets just can’t make real money anymore.
For example, if you go to the games journalism job board, they are almost all volunteer or low-pay positions, even at the higher level. Again, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to be a video game journalist. You just need to be realistic. Ultimately, I found personally that the best thing for my mental health was to get out of video game journalism and start anew, and keep my creative endeavors (such as comics and screenplays) wholly separate from my day job, which is as a PR Manager for an SEO company.
Well, that’s my story of being a video games journalist. I certainly don’t regret spending a lot of time figuring out how to get into video game journalism, and I’ve learned a lot along the way. I hope my definitive guide serves you well to understand how video game journalism works, and where the future of the industry is headed.