So You Want To Be A Game Journalist?

The life of a game journalist is coveted, but far too many people want the role. Do you have what it takes to take a step forward?

The game journalism industry is a precarious place to say the least. There aren’t nearly enough jobs for the number of people who want a coveted position at one of the top sites or magazines in the world. In the last few years, the glory of the job has drawn so many people it would blow your mind. Those who can write well, those who think they can write, those looking for free games, and those who just want to work with video games. Some of these people will give the career a chance, some will flounder and fail, and others will work their asses off trying to get somewhere while not being given the chance to shine.

Coming into this field you need to understand, it is not an easy journey.

You will work long hours, long days, long weeks for months, more likely years. You will apply to every publication under the sun and most likely never hear back from a single one of them. You will be told to find a new career on more than one occasion. And eventually you will end up writing for small sites, making little money and hoping for it to grow into something larger. It rarely does. You will find a vice, you may grow cynical, but it could be worth the trouble.

Those first two paragraphs probably sound extremely discouraging. I’ve personally experienced every single aspect of that myself over the past two years I’ve been working in this field. And yet I continue waking up at 7:30 AM every morning and not going to bed until Midnight or later. Why? Because I love this world, I love writing, and I love the gaming industry. I’m willing to put in the required work over and over to get a foothold here. Sure I get discouraged, nearly every day I think. I see kids younger than me scoring jobs at big sites like GameSpot and IGN, people straight out of high school. Many of these land roles because they have a pretty face and video content is huge today.

Start off with a small site.

You will be treated horribly and asked to work more than a normal day job doing menial tasks. It’s good practice and good padding for your résumé. I’ll pray that you don’t end up there longer than required. Volunteer writing is a good place to start for some; it helps to get some experience, learn the industry and find good sources, and to refine your writing skills. Just remember that working for free isn’t fun, it’s slavery. Use it wisely and don’t let yourself be taken advantage of. Learn what you can and move on before it turns into something more permanent.

Sure the opportunity is always there to find a great site you’d like to see grow and help be a part of. Working voluntarily here is completely up to you. Sometimes you just have to face that it isn’t worth it. Bills aren’t being paid, school loans are piling up, and you need some steady work to take care of that stuff. You won’t find that at small sites, no matter how promising their owner makes it out to be. It’s their job to find writers like you who are looking for a step into the gaming industry and they will exploit that with promises of future pay, free games, and industry contacts.

Don’t be afraid to ask for advice, tips, or some help from those within the industry.

More often than not they will ignore you completely. I’ve had that happen all too often. When I finally did receive a response back from someone within a major publication, it was to tell me to find a new career. That hurts more than you can believe.

He stated the obvious to me: there are too few jobs, too few good writers, and too many people who want those positions. He did give me some words of advice, however, should I continue on this path--which I did. He told me to find a niche, find something to set you apart and use that. Become a master in a certain area of gaming, whether it is survival horror, indie, walkthroughs, or whatever. This will give you experience and set you apart from the masses.

Finally, don’t trust an editor completely.

Learn to edit your own work subjectively. I know that sounds nearly impossible as we all think our work is good. But really take the time to read through every word once, twice, maybe even a third time. Fix errors, grammar, replace some words with something that sounds better, and be thorough.

When the time comes to apply to a position at a major outlet or magazine, make sure to read the requirements carefully as well as your writing samples. The more experience you have the better you will look. Unfortunately that doesn’t always score you a job. I’ve applied to nearly every big site and have been turned down by all. The key to getting into this career is persistence and practice. You cannot get enough of either of these. Social media presence is a key part to the job as well, learn it quickly and utilize it effectively.

If you’re looking to get into game journalism, start by being realistic with yourself. Keep telling yourself it is hard and it may not work out, but keep fighting for it.

Published Jan. 22nd 2014
  • Steven Oz
    Amazing post! More often than not you will feel depressed. You are so right that the younger kids are getting the jobs. I get jealous. Sometimes they have talent other times they don't. They are extroverted and the editors see that.
    For me, I am redoing the old college try. I figured it will take me about three or more years to get that degree. Not that happy that it will take that long but I am going to college. I have been writing for years if that matters. I have been told by my family that you need to pick a different route in your life. Happens daily.
    Speaking for myself I want to write about games and geek related stuff. I just want to make a difference in someone's life. If I can help, I will!
  • Fathoms_4209
    Featured Columnist
    Having been a journalist in the game industry since 2000 (starting with the now-defunct, I can say that you'll almost certainly want to diversify.

    Don't just pin all your hopes on writing about games. Become an effective, reliable writer, editor and reporter; such skills can be applied to a wide variety of jobs. Maybe you won't end up covering games, maybe you'll cover Hollywood for Variety (very cool job) or you might get into music, comedy, or some other form of entertainment.

    The key right now is to peg yourself as an Entertainment Journalist, so you're not limiting your scope. You can put a personal emphasis on gaming if you like, but as the field is just getting more and more competitive, you need to be qualified and capable for a LOT of different gigs.
  • Stephanie Tang
    Featured Columnist
    That was a really interesting read! It is as I suspected looking into this kind of work, and a little depressing, but truthful and believable.

    I think too many people try to hop on the bandwagon because it sounds like an easy job and a semi-glamorous life when it's almost anything but that. Thanks for keeping us grounded!
  • Capt. Eliza Creststeel
    - definitely not easy. Even if you tried to make it your 9-5, there is SO MUCH out there to keep current on. I think that's why Gameskinny works so well for many part-time writers who just want to show their stuff.

    You can focus on a particular area, company or game etc. for your articles. I couldn't imagine trying to cover a complete platform or an entire genre of games.
  • Brandon Morgan
    Featured Contributor
    Covering one specific genre or platform can definitely be daunting at first, but once you get into the swing of it it comes easily enough. The only issue is finding enough to write about any given day on the specific platform/genre. One of my current roles is exclusively for the PlayStation 4, since it is just a fledgling console there hasn't been quite enough to keep that site busy.
  • Bradley Sanders
    So im on the other end of the spectrum. Im currently just starting my journey into game journalism and feel this article was a good read for me personally. I know its going to be a hard journey and maybe i give up in a couple months or years, but i don't want that feeling that i never tried. My writing may not be perfect (or even good) but my love of video games is strong and lets hope i can continue this path. Not gonna lie. Working and doing articles on the side has already started to suck but hey gotta start sometime
  • Brandon Morgan
    Featured Contributor
    I strongly recommend keeping the day job, at least for now. I went all in and quit my day job, mostly for personal reasons, but it left me kind of hanging up in the air. Thankfully I had a very supportive family and group of friends. I'm still working my way up, but at the moment I am making minimum wage worth with my writing while in school. Soon enough it will be better.

    Your writing doesn't necessarily need to be perfect right from the start. More practice will help it to improve naturally and a good editor, such as those here on Gameskinny, can give incredible feedback to help you improve further.

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