So You Want to Review Games? – 2

Learn something!: If you’re still in school, work hard — even at the boring classes. If you’re not, try to get some interests outside of gaming. While we’re all in awe of your encyclopedic knowledge of Final Fantasy and Metal Gear Solid games, you can’t be a decent writer without at least some breadth of knowledge. If you get an assignment to cover a Civil War game, you should probably know something about the Civil War. Try to learn something about the business of gaming as well. Who are the players? What’s the difference between a publisher and a developer and what does each do? Do you know anything about digital and retail distribution and why they’re important to gaming? It’s not enough to know all the combos in Street Fighter IV, you should also know a little something about the differences between the Japanese, European and North American gaming markets.

Do a good job: No matter what you’re doing, no matter how lowly you feel the job is, when you get a job do it well. You’d be amazed at how small the gaming industry is. Walking around E3 often feels like a family reunion because everybody knows everybody, everybody’s worked for everybody and your mistakes can follow you around for years. I had an incident at the beginning of my career that nearly torpedoed me in the game industry forever. Fortunately it was resolved but it cost me nearly a year of effort. Don’t let that happen to you.


Forget about the money: Don’t ever assume you’re going to make a living writing about games. Even if you do get freelance work that pays, most freelancers need another source of income. You’d be amazed at what a lot of the game writers in this industry are actually trained for. I was a marketing manager for a long time and other writers in this industry I know were stockbrokers, retail salespeople, statisticians and there was even one who was a Merchant Marine before they lucked into where they are.

Have a thick skin: Stephen King tells a great story about nailing his first rejection slip to the wall over his typewriter. By the time his first novel was published, the nail had a stack of rejections about the width of his head (and if you’ve ever seen a picture of King’s head, that’s pretty thick). Even worse is the response when your work does get published. I hate to break it to you pardner, but not everyone’s going to be on board with your revolutionary ideas to turn the world of games journalism upside down. You’ll get plenty of rejection and hate from Philistines who are simply unable to truly understand your sublime thoughts. If that bothers you, find a less stressful line of work — like working on your local police bomb squad.

If you can do all that, I have one more little exercise for you. Find the five worst games you can find and play them to completion. That’s right — the worst. I’m talking the real stinkers. Then write reviews about what’s wrong with them and what’s right. Use those as your samples when you look for work. Anyone can enjoy playing and writing about good games, it’s the real professionals who put as much effort into the bad games as the good ones. I’ve had the privilege of reviewing a couple of genuine classics in my time at GameSpy including Knights of the Old Republic, World of Warcraft and BioShock but I also spent considerable time playing duds like Pirates of the Caribbean, Left Behind and X3 for a review. Think you can handle both?

If you can, you might have what it takes to do this job. Don’t forget though, you’ve also got to be able to cover news, do interviews, previews, feature stories, humor and more. You need to be able to do it fast, hit your deadlines and you’ll often need to do it while exhausted from a 12-hour plane ride, an 18-hour day at E3 or while you’ve got 16 other things on your desk screaming for your attention. You’ll get to play good games but you’ll also play a lot of bad ones. You’ll see a lot of buggy beta software, have to deal with PR people who are spinning you like there’s no tomorrow and deal with management who really doesn’t care how clever you are, only why you’re not pulling enough traffic to the website and why there’s an advertiser on the phone yelling about your latest review. Still sound like a good job?

It is. Best one I ever had. Good luck finding yours!

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