The fact is, gaming journalism, like all journalism, has no place for slackers or quitters. You need to be ambitious, hard-working, dedicated to your craft and tough enough to take the knocks and rejections that will inevitably come as a result of paying your dues. Still interested? Great, read on…
A Growing Phenomenon
The gaming industry's recent explosive growth is due in part to a broadening of demographics and a simultaneous expansion of network capacity and enhanced mobility.
Games were once considered to be the exclusive domain of young boys in their bedrooms until 1994's Sony Playstation made gaming grown up. Ten years later the Nintendo DS made games smart and sexy (with a little help from Nichole Kidman.) 2006's Wii, meanwhile, reinvented games as an active, healthy pastime.
The following year Apple unveiled the iPhone and, with it, the smart device revolution. Suddenly gaming was for everybody. Meanwhile internet speed and connectivity continued to improve dramatically, helping to make online gaming of all forms fast, reliable and ubiquitous.
Nowadays gaming is a recommended hobby to list on your CV and nobody raises an eyebrow when the Prime Minister boasts about his Angry Birds skills.
The downside to gaming becoming mainstream, however, is that the field of gaming journalism has gotten even more competitive with many established journalists looking to jump on the bandwagon.
Step One: Get The Knowledge
Know your subject well, be passionate about it and make sure your knowledge is deep and broad reaching.
It's not enough to know the games, you need to know the players. So get to know the industry inside and out and learn what makes it tick.
Who are the big names? Who are the up and comers. What are the best-selling titles and franchises? Follow industry influences to help you get your finger on the pulse so you can namedrop all those exciting new start-ups.
Expand on your technical knowledge by getting to know all the major gaming platforms and what their capabilities and technical specifications are. Get familiar with all the jargon and develop your industry vocabulary so you can better describe crucial elements such as sound, graphics and gameplay.
Just like a music journalist needs to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of different musical styles so too will you need to know about gaming in all its facets and forms.
Online research is always good, but direct experience is better. Play different titles, rate them and do your history lessons. Who wants to read a film critic who's never seen the Godfather, or a music journalist who never heard Led Zeppelin?
Like any form of entertainment the gaming industry has its popular genres and franchises which all exist in context. Being up on all the latest games isn't enough, you need to be a true gaming expert who can trace the history of computer games from Super Smash Brothers and Call of Duty back to Donkey Kong and Battlezone.
With an eye to the past you are better placed to look forward, predict future best-sellers and anticipate important industry trends. This is the difference between being a good gaming journalist and a great one – the person people look to for guidance and inspiration.
Finally, as a budding journalist you'll need to get used to going on assignment, so start attending those big industry events, shake hands and take notes
Step Two – Develop Your Unique Voice
Electronic gaming is a multi-billion pound industry that's growing every day. Its primary appeal is its interactivity and immersive nature. If this dynamism doesn't come through in your writing nobody will want to read it.
If you find a game exciting then your words must convey it. You will also need to ensure that your writing still shines when asked to review a poor title – which, incidentally, happens a lot.
To have any longevity in this industry your writing must be a beacon of integrity. Humour works well. It's certainly worked for former gaming journalist Charlie Brooker who went from writing for PC Zone in the 90s to writing for the Guardian. Nowadays he's a popular screenwriter and television presenter. His secret? Developing and honing a unique voice and style.
According to Brooker's own origin story he never graduated from third level education because his lengthy dissertation on video games was not accepted as a valid subject. Not what Brooker wanted to year, but welcome news for those looking to break into the industry without the relevant qualifications.
Sure, having a degree helps but not having one shouldn't be considered an automatic disqualification. Most editors will agree it's more important to be a hard worker and a great writer.
Step Three: Gain Experience Points
If there's one thing gaming teaches us it's not to go up against the main boss without first building experience points and getting that killer inventory.
Online freelancing, while not glamorous, is a great first step whereby you can build up a body of work quickly, with accompanying testimonials, while grinding for game credits – i.e. money.
If you're lucky you'll find relevant paid gigs writing video game reviews for sites such as video game blogs, but don't be too picky starting out. Freelance sites regularly post jobs looking for product descriptions and reviews for gaming-related ecommerce sites and affiliate sites ranging from mobile/browser games for kids to online casinos for adults. At the end of the day it's all the same thing – you're writing about electronic gaming while building your reputation.
It's gruelling, sure, and competition is fierce, but it helps you build your core skills – researching, reviewing, writing, and, most important of all, delivering to tight deadlines.
Step Four: Cultivate Your Reputation
Be on the lookout for local publications. Even a couple of columns in your local rag's entertainment section might be just what you need to convince a future editor of your abilities. (Even better if it also has an online presence where you can include a short bio and your Twitter handle.)
Augment your freelance work with your own blog content. This way you have proof of what you can do, plus examples of what you could do.
All the while you should be constantly building your social presence across all top tier social networks and participating in relevant groups, communities and forums. Not only is this a great way to build your fan base, it's also a valuable learning opportunity.
Follow industry influencers, post valuable comments and, in time, offer to guest post for them. Many bloggers will be delighted to feature quality work that adds true value. Getting your name and content up on an influential site, meanwhile, will go a long way towards convincing an editor to give you a shot.
Research your editors carefully and approach them with care and respect. Keep your correspondence short and to the point. Follow up persistently, but politely – and always the focus should be on what you can do for them, not the other way around.
Now get yourself out there, portfolio in hand, attending relevant events and expos. Cover the event for your own blog, shake hands and get to know the movers and shakers personally.
Step Five: Find Your Niche
Ask any journalist how they got started in their particular field and the answer will always be the same, "I started by writing anything I could".
Nobody's going to give you the exact type of writing gig you're looking for straight away. Instead you'll need to work towards that goal. Learn first, specialise later.
So it's it's important to learn all the different types of electronic games that are out there so you can build your experience quicker. It might not be your desired niche, but it's still valuable knowledge.
Traditional Video Games:
These are the games that you play on a computer/laptop or on a standalone gaming consoles such as Playstation or Xbox. They tend to be the most elaborate in terms of sound, graphics and scale. Plus, with the advent of faster internet speeds, also benefit from improved multiplayer capability.
Thanks to the explosion of mobile platform adoption this is gaming's fastest-growing sector. Games can be either native (e.g. Android, iOS) or browser based (e.g. HTML5) allowing them to be played across a broad range of devices.
In both instances being able to keep up with all the latest titles and gaming platforms is critical – especially as the line between both traditional and mobile gaming is starting to erode.
Online Gaming Or Online Gaming?
The term "online gaming" can refer to two very different sectors. Besides online video games it's also the preferred term of the online gambling industry; an industry, incidentally, which is growing fast, worth billions and highly profitable for writers.
So once again know the leading brands, what types of games they offer (casino games, poker, video slots, bingo, etc.) and whether those games are via third party supplied on a white label basis or developed in house. Get to know the different demographics for each type of game and how they're marketed (online poker is aimed at a very different demographic to online bingo, for example). Then study the history of the industry and learn what challenges it faces.
Opportunities include new markets and greater mobility and right now the next big thing is online lottery games. Lotteries are already the most popular and socially accepted form of gambling worldwide. They offer the lowest learning curve and the highest payouts. I've been actively involved in this lucrative yet uncrowded niche for just under a year. It's refreshing to write about real people rather than just pixelated characters all the time and, for that exact reason, I've found it's also a great way to get my work included in several major mainstream publications.
Getting To The Next Level
Gaming journalism isn't all that different from any other form of journalism. It requires a lot of hard work, research, practice and determination, plus a little bit of luck, to get ahead. If writing and gaming are your true passions, however, and you're prepared to do the groundwork, then these steps will seem as welcome challenges, rather than insurmountable obstacles.
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- Jastin Bailey
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