Key advice for young writers getting started in games journalism
Four journalists from UK gaming titles share their tips for young writers and explain why knowing your audience and subject well is crucial
Gone are the days where games were considered to be predominantly for teenage boys in their bedrooms.
Over the past twenty years, the popularity of games has increased dramatically, with more consoles and experiences available than ever before.
Inevitably, the field of games journalism, which focuses predominantly on the reviewing of video games, has become more and more competitive – and there's a lot more to it than simply playing FIFA for a living.
So how can young writers get their big break in games journalism?
"Knowing your audience in any form of journalism is key, but I think more so in games because you have to know [gaming] in a lot of detail to be able to talk about it," said Ben Tyrer, staff writer at Official PlayStation Magazine UK. "It has got an audience who knows the subject really well."
He said readers will quickly pick up on any gaps in the writer's knowledge. "I would say play as much as you can, find the stuff you like and try and understand how a game works."
"Having an awareness of the history of new games is majorly important. It is a very passionate fanbase, people know games just as much as you," he added in a recent Journalism.co.uk podcast.
Kate Gray, video producer at GameSpot, advised aspiring games journalists to immerse themselves in the culture and experience of gaming, in order to learn about the industry and keep up to date with the latest news.
"I combined holidays to places like Germany with going to Gamescom – it might not be everyone's idea of a holiday, spending a long time in a room with sweaty people playing video games, but if it is what you want to do with your career then you will end up doing it anyway," Gray said.
Screenshot of GameSpot's website: A range of in-depth reviews and feature articles
"You will make contacts and meet people and you will learn about games. You don't have to play everything that comes out because that is expensive, but I subscribed to a game rental service, so I paid about £5 per month.
"It meant I could get more games than I could afford on a student budget. There are more ways of getting around the obvious cost of keeping up with games."
Drew Sleep, production editor at Play Magazine UK said anyone can get into games journalism, whatever their age or experience, as long as they do their research and commit to gaining a through knowledge of the industry.
"A fair amount of people I have worked with in the industry have known they wanted to be a games journalists for quite a long time, since they were in their teens or even in their childhood, but you can get into it at any age – it is accessible to anyone," Sleep said.
But a knowledge of games and the ability to play them aren't the most important aspects of games journalism, he said. Instead, the ability to write well and express yourself is paramount to doing the job well and communicating with the audience.
"Get out of the mindset that games journalism is just about reviewing games and that ilk because quite a lot of it is feature based, analytical, interviews, industry-perspective work also, so a good experience crafting features is paramount," Sleep said.
But how do beginners start out writing in the industry? With no set qualifications needed, Sleep recommends starting your own blog as a way to get work in to the public eye, before pitching ideas to editors as a freelance journalist.
"You must have experience of writing, because writing is going to be quite a lot of your job. Writers who have come to us with feature ideas are the people that we use again and again, as they show they have the initiative to get out there and source interviewees themselves.
"Those kind of writers are the ones that we know will really go somewhere," Sleep said.
Cara Ellison, writer and video game narrative designer, highlighted the importance of finding gaps in current publications' coverage in order to get yourself work within the professional sphere of games journalists.
"It is really important to be a great writer first and be interested in video games second," Ellison said.
Cara Ellison began her extensive career by freelancing.
"Editors are always super glad to see someone who is going to help out filling a gap in their website that they hadn't considered or were trying to fill. That's how you can get in to cover other stuff too.
"Become an individual voice – a really good games critic is able to inform readers, regardless of whether the critic likes [the game]. That is really important."
Ellison explained that although gaming may be a passion, aspiring game reporters should weigh up the pros and cons of the industry before deciding to embark on a career.
"You do get a lot of games sent to you for review, but people do not realise that a lot of those games are bad games that aren't very pleasurable to play and it is your job to get through them," she said.
"That is when it becomes a job rather than anything else, and you are not usually paid very much at all to review games. If someone is paying you say £100 for a review, you've got to weigh up how much time you can give to that £100 when a bigger game can sometimes take three or four days to play!
"That is one of the more gruelling aspects, but sometimes you do get some real gems that make you cry because they are so beautiful, and you get to discover and advocate for people who wouldn't usually get much coverage because they aren't making the big budget shiny games."
For more advice and insights into games journalism, listen to our podcast below.
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