Millions of kids (along with a healthy number of adults) want to make a living writing about video games. Dan Amrich wants to create more of them. Or at least give them solid advice on how to succeed at getting their dream jobs as video game reviewers.
That’s why Amrich wrote Critical Path: How to Review Video Games for a Living, a paperback book published earlier this year by TripleTorch. The book’s target audience is would-be writers who are complete “noobs,” or novices, when it comes to writing published reviews on video games for established magazines or web sites. This book is great for writers who are starting out, because it has all of the advice that seasoned editors can give you but who rarely have the time to do so.
Amrich had long career in game writing, starting out as a music reviewer and then shifting into roles at GamePro (he was “Dan Elektro”), GamesRadar, and the Official Xbox Magazine. He was executive editor of GameSport and Digital Diner and was editor-in-chief of World of Warcraft: Official Magazine. (You can learn more about Amrich on his web site, One of Swords.)
Among the obvious tips: Don’t trash your would-be employers in a forum, even before you get a job interview, as one fellow did as Amrich was preparing to bring in for a job interview. The comments surfaced, and the kid never got his chance.
The book is general; it’s applicable for everything from magazines to game blogs. But it holds enough concrete examples that Amrich has collected over years that I can say that I feel comfortable refering aspiring game journalists to this book now, rather than write them long missives about how to break into the game beat.
Veteran game writers should also appreciate the discussion in sections on ethics, office politics, and keeping your ego in check as you become more famous. He talks about how to respond to readers in comments and what to do when someone else gets a better exclusive than you. He discusses whether it’s OK to accept swag (most publications have policies) and how to represent your publication professionally at industry events.
Amrich never overpromises by saying that following all of his advice will get you a job. But if you do follow it, you’ll likely increase your chances against the poor slob you’re competing with. The important thing that Amrich does is deglamorize the business, noting how you’ll work long hours for low pay and won’t always get to do the kind of writing that you love.
Amrich is now on the other side of the fence. He’s Activision social media manager, responsible for communicating about the company’s games in a way that is “not journalism.” He talked about how to make such a transition in a chapter entitled “How It All Falls Apart — And Why That Might Be Good.” The tips in this section are useful to veterans who are deciding whether or not they still want to keep writing or need a change. In today’s media environment, the odds are good that someone else will make a career decision for you by laying you off or canceling your project. Adapting is a must for survival.
Amrich writes about the craft of video game reviewing from multiple perspectives that are both funny and honest. He even interviews a number of PR veterans who talk about what they like or don’t like when being approached by freelancers who want free games to review. And he deals with tasks such as getting screenshots or covering trade shows.
Some starter tips for getting experience writing, Amrich suggests:
– Write a complete review that does not exceed 50 words.
– Take someone else’s review and edit it down to 100 words.
– Play a game and then write a negative review of it. Then write the positive one.
– Write the same review twice — once using first-person voice, one without.
– Generate five headlines that might accompany a feature-length review.
For reading about the industry, he recommends these books:
– Game Over: Press Start to Continue, by David Sheff with new chapters by Andy Eddy (1999 printing)
– The Ultimate History of Video Games: From Pong to Pokemon — The Story Behind the Craze That Touched Our Lives and Changed the World, by Steven Kent
– Trigger Happy: Videogames and the Entertainment Revolution, by Stephen Poole
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