A question I get asked and see a lot is “how do you become a games journalist,” so I figured, now that I’ve been doing this for around seven years now, it’s about time I share some insight with you. There’s also some notes from our Editor in Chief Reid Gacke in a few spots for some extra tips, so pay close attention!
First of all, I had never planned to become a games journalist. Back when I was in junior high, I played video games way too much. My daily routine would be essentially to go to school, come home, grab a snack, and head downstairs to play some Halo 2 with a buddy from school. Of course, I did other things as well like homework, hockey, and hung out with friends, but in general I spent way too much time playing games.
I eventually got involved with a Gamebattles team for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, and my gaming time increased even more. My team was called Damage and we actually ended up being #2 in the Team Ladder bracket for a while until I finally called it quits. Well, actually, my parents sort of made that decision for me. Probably for the better.
After they had finally cracked down on me and told me to find something else to do, I basically had the thought process that I’d go online, get some games for review and write. How naïve. Don’t judge me, I was 14 years old at the time – 14 years old with some really terrible writing skills. I also knew very little about website design and found a cheap drag and drop builder that I built my first site, called TitanReviews.
First of all, do not use a drag and drop builder. You will regret making that decision after about 12 hours.
If you really want to start writing about games, you don’t even need a website to do it really. I was overly ambitious at the time and really hadn’t a clue what I was doing. I had a general idea, but I got into this whole industry completely unaware of what I was really walking into. Maybe that’s a good thing, maybe it’s not. But if you want to get started, just start writing. Start writing user reviews on gaming outlets, get a free blog from WordPress or Blogspot. Just write. And read. Read a lot of different authors to help form your own writing style. Reading every day significantly helps to increase your vocabulary and grammatical skills.
If you’re really serious about becoming a games journalist, there’s a few obvious things you need to know how to do.
The most important aspect is being a good writer. Not to say that if your writing skills aren’t the greatest you shouldn’t even bother, because as I said above mine were complete trash when I started. Over the course of a few years and the utilization of my EIC as a mentor, I significantly improved my writing skills. They’re still not as good as I’d like them to be, but when I go back and look at what my writing originally looked like, I die a little inside.
NOTE FROM REID: It’s also worth mentioning that when you make it “big,” you’ll likely have an editor watching your back. Of course, it cannot be overstated how important it is to have a good grasp of grammatical rules, punctuation, and spelling. You’ll need them to get your foot in the door. The number one thing that causes me to throw out an application is glaring errors, even though I know I’ll be editing for them once they’re hired. And it never hurts to have your editor on good terms, and frequent and consistent errors is always likely to put us in a bad mood. So do yourself a favor and brush up on your high school English textbooks. You won’t regret it, I promise. You’d be surprised how often “good writing” simply boils down to “correct writing”.)
Try to write a few times a week when you’re starting out, whether it be the review of a game you just purchased, an opinion piece, or even just a basic news article. The more you write, the better you’ll become overtime. If you know somebody that’s a good writer and has copy editing skills, have them look over your work with you and have them explain the mistakes you made in your writing to you
NOTE FROM REID: Don’t take advantage of them, though. Offer to buy them a pizza if you can’t outright pay them. Or at the very least, realize you’re taking up their valuable time and be polite. Knowing how to fix your own mistakes, and properly make use of whatever language your writing in will help to increase your own confidence as a writer. You can write a super insightful piece about the video game industry but if your grammatical skills suck, all that hard work just went to waste. Trust me, people notice your mistakes quicker than you ever will.
In light of that, make sure you know what the hell you’re talking about. Read as much gaming news as you can. Read developer interviews for insight. And fact-check your work, always. The more gaming information you read about, the more literate you become in terms of gaming knowledge and how to talk about it.
Don’t go into this industry just for the free games. When and if you receive a review copy, you should look at it as a piece of work material to do your job. Sure, it’s incredibly exciting when you get your first free copy of a game from a developer. I’ve been there. When I received a review copy of Skyrim from Bethesda when I had just started out I was super excited. Granted, I was 15 at the time. But don’t let it get to your head. Review copies are work material and should be treated as such.
If you do go into this industry, have a plan for what you want to get out of it. If your goal is to build your own outlet, you better think of a unique idea to do it. Running a generic gaming outlet that just rehashes news won’t cut it anymore. If you plan on writing for another site, make sure to research what that site is all about, how they’re run, and if their writing style fits your own. If you have a specific website in mind, really read their content and study it. Don’t just go write for a site because you can. There’s too many sites out there that will take advantage of you and build up their stats on the backs of volunteer writers with no actual plan to pay them in the future.
That being said, don’t be afraid to volunteer for a while to just get your foot in the door and get some experience. You can volunteer for a website to see what it’s like to work under someone else, meet deadlines and hopefully work in a team environment like the one we’ve created here at OnlySP. If the only thing you’re doing while writing as a volunteer for another site is posting articles with no interaction from anyone else on the site, you should probably look for somewhere else to volunteer. Find a place where you can gain valuable experience and not just submit your content.
Finally, enjoy what you do. Be passionate about writing about video games, be ethical about it, and most of all, enjoy doing it. If you don’t enjoy this kind of work after a few months of partaking in it, then find something else to do. Your readers will quickly catch on to you if you’re not enjoying what you do.