Outside of my regular job in the Sports Fashion Industry (I work for a clothing company called SUGOi based in Vancouver), I have been doing freelance work for a Canadian Gaming Site called Game Focus since last September. In that period, I have reviewed over forty games, done a handful of previews and have written plenty of news stories on top of covering a few events. As I approach my one year anniversary writing for the site I wanted to reflect on what I’ve learned during my time as a Rookie member of the ‘Enthusiast Press’.
1) Do not expect a walk in the park
Considering I know so few people in the industry (technically no one personally) I can only assume that most people who work for one of the bigger sites started their careers first working either on their own personal site or for a smaller gaming site. They took the necessary steps to move their way up the ladder. If you want to get into the industry, especially if you have aspirations of working at place like IGN, Gamespy, GameSpot or even a regular job at Future, you need to have the experience. Do not be afraid to work for essentially nothing at a small site and build your resume from there. You will learn a lot working with a smaller company that will help you take the necessary steps to move forward.
2) Be prepared to deal with crap
Considering I am a Freelance writer, I know that I will almost never get to review a big name title. Those bigger games like recent releases like InFamous, Prototype or even Halo Wars will more than likely be reviewed by senior staff members, specifically those who get a salary from the site you write for. There might be a situation where you get to review a higher-class game, but it might only be because you a) already bought the game and b) the senior staff are so backed-up with other titles that they just can’t find the time.
Because of that, you will more than likely be offered to review lesser titles. If you get offered a game, even if it’s one that you typically wouldn’t play, take on that responsibility. In my own opinion, those who are willing to review a smaller/niche title end up learning more about themselves as writers than someone who is reviewing a big-name title. So who you had to review a bad Wii game, at least you can try your hardest to get the message across that the game is awful and sway people will not buy it. Also, even the top tier sites have to play and review those same games, so you are not alone.
3) If you’re offered a News Position, take it
I don’t think I have met anyone who enjoys the role of News Editor or Freelance News Writer. It’s a boring job. You deal with Press Releases and are required to hunt through the web looking for news. You don’t want to deal with rumors and you’re always concerned about other issues. But I think the best way to move your way up is to start with news and go from there. Press Releases often have information about games including images, videos and other detail that are typically overlooked by many. If you see a game that interests you just by reading it, you have the first opportunity to give it a good spin and it might lead to bigger and better things (you might be given the opportunity to write up a preview of the game). Don’t be afraid to write a news story since they typically only take a few minutes to do and they are among the best ways to improve yourself as a writer in giving the most information in the smallest amount of space.
4) Try to become friends with others in the Media and the Industry, but don’t become “Friends”
This is another opinion point. I think it’s good to know people in the industry on both spectrums, those who write and those who make, but be careful. Those who are also writers are doing their job and often you need to be careful not to confuse friendship with competition. Every site is looking to get the best stuff out there and you don’t want to reveal your secrets. Certainly make friends and contacts but don’t rely too heavily on them for everything, it’s your own work that will get you ahead.
The same goes with making friends with those who make the games. It’s good to know people, but don’t start turning around and expecting things from them. It is a sad fact but those who write about games do heavily factor into the success of a person’s job. Companies look at Metacritic and Sales scores when determining bonuses or future projects. If your friend works at EA, people may question your writing of a recent EA Sports game since you might be doing it as a favor rather than reporting on the truth. The Sports media often know the athletes they cover but you’ll never see Jim Rome or Bill Simmons having drinks with a Kobe Bryant or Kevin Garnett after a game. It is extremely difficult in this industry since there is so much connectivity, but if you can draw the line yourself, you will be better respected from both sides.
If you are still serious about getting into the industry, I can only give you a few suggestions in heading in the right direction. It will not be an easy venture since it is still a small market and filled with a lot of competition. Be prepared for a lot of rejection at first.
I strongly suggest if you’re still in school or working a job that offers a lot of free time (a part-time or shift job) apply at a smaller site and work from there. You won’t be paid much (almost nothing) but the experience you’ll get is incredible. Again, don’t expect a nice juicy steak but if you’re willing to sample seconds/tiny pieces and build from there you will truly appreciate it. I have seen so many people head into this with high expectations and then get hit with the cold hard reality. Hopefully this little primer will better prepare you in your aspirations on becoming that next great, respected writer.