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    Tuesday, April 25, 2006

    How To Be A Games Journalist - In 10 Easy Steps

    For someone that likes games, writing about them for money sounds like a dream job. If you’ve learnt anything from this site, you’ll know it’s not. Everyone who wants to be a games journalist has heard this warning but still wants to do it anyway, as they assume they won’t become as cynical as the scores of journalists giving the warnings. If that sounds like you, here’s the RAM Raider’s definitive guide to becoming a games journalist.

    Read Stuart Campbell’s guide

    Stuart Campbell wrote his “So you want to be a videogames journalist?” guide for Digitiser over 8 years ago, before he was exiled, but it’s still essential reading. The gist is you need to do loads of reading of good and bad writing. He also predicted games magazines would be better in five years from when he wrote that article. We’re still waiting.

    Don’t bother with journalistic qualifications / training

    A common question with an easy answer is whether it's worth spending time doing a writing course or degree in journalism. Don’t bother. Honestly – you’re either a good writer or you’re not. If you’re not, getting qualifications in journalism isn’t going to make any difference – you might end up being slightly less shit, but you’ll still be shit. Magazines never look at what qualifications you’ve got, only at whether the stuff you’re writing makes sense and is entertaining. Practice writing – write sample reviews, copy the styles of writers you like, and eventually you’ll find your way. Editors receive loads of begging letters wanting jobs, but most of them are dire – if you can write, you’ll be noticed.

    Don’t bother learning about games

    In the land of make-believe, game reviewers know their subject inside out (just like the magazines always claim their writers do) and can write brilliantly. In the real world, only being able to write is important. Seriously – the people we know in the industry who know fuck all about games is astonishing. Ask many staff writers of prominent mags what they think of some major releases, and they’ll look at you blankly or mutter something about “not having time to play those yet”. The knowledge you already have from playing games is enough. Anything else can be easily picked up through web research ( is your friend). You’re not entering a twilight zone where everyone knows everything about games – chances are they know less than you.

    Expect shit pay

    Nobody writes about games to get rich. When you start as a staff writer, you’ll be paid around £10,000 to £12,000 a year for a lot of hours and have to contend with living in an expensive city. A lot of staffers supplement their pay by freelancing on the side, but that’s extra work on top of what you’ll be landed with already. You can forget about going purely freelance for several years at least, and then only if you’re lucky.

    Remove the word “morals” from your vocabulary

    This is so you don’t get pissed off with being lied to, and having to lie to your readers. Everyone lies in the industry – you’ll be lied to daily by PR scum, who are all mentally incapable of forming a sentence without including some bullshit. You’ll also have to lie to your readers by writing previews of games you’ve not played ( is still your friend) or writing reviews based on unfinished code. If you’re really good at lying, you’ll be offered a place at Official Xbox 360 Magazine. The advertisers tell the publishers what to do, and they tell you what to do, so if you can’t lie, you won’t get any work.

    Join the old-boy’s network

    You’re not in unless you’re in. To be really in, you have to be in a gang. The way the magazine industry is run at the moment means to really get ahead, you’ll have to apply for membership of the Bath Elitorati or the London Cronies Network. Which one you go for depends where you live or where you’re willing to move to, but the Bath Elitorati consists of Edge, GamesMaster, PC Gamer, some PS2 mags, Gillen, and alumni Campbell, and the London Cronies Network comprises the Xbox magazines, some more PS2 mags, PC Zone, and UK:R lad Cutlack. If you have a choice, go for the Bath Elitorati. Joining an old-boy’s network is as simple as getting staff work on a games mag and forcing yourself to socialise with the other writers. Once you’re in, you’ll be used when freelance work is being handed out. If not, it doesn’t matter how good your writing is – old boys come first.

    Expect your gaming hobby to die

    Writing about games changes the way you play them. At first, for a long time, you’ll be getting all the shit to plough through. You’ll also be subjected to unrealistic deadlines forcing you to cut corners, and the rate at which new games will be fired at you means you’ll have little time to devote to games you'd choose to play. Playing games before they’re released sounds great but the novelty wears thin quickly, especially when you have to go to a PR office and try to look interested as a husk lies about it in your ear or patronises you as you manage to shoot a barn door. Press trips aren’t free holidays, and press events are mostly shit.

    Start an anonymous blog

    After you’ve spent precious years of your life ruining your hobby for not much money, you’ll be due a mental breakdown. Venting in an anonymous blog is the perfect way to waste work-time as publicly as possible, and is the best massively-multiplayer online text adventure you’ll ever play.

    - Sit at desk (enter)
    - Check coast is clear (enter)
    - Load Blogger (enter)
    - Type “WELL-KNOWN ED models himself on Dr. Fox” (enter)
    - Wait one hour (enter)
    - Listen (enter) (Hear someone saying “he says WELL-KNOWN ED looks like Dr. Fox” whilst tittering)
    - Wait (enter) (Receive e-mail from WELL-KNOWN ED blowing it out of proportion)
    - Receive ten points

    It beats the fuck out of In Memoriam.

    Build a time machine

    Ask anyone who was writing about games about 15-20 years ago what it was like, and you’ll see a happy look wash over them. It was joy. Games were better. Times were simpler. The whole thing was less corporate, and you could get away with writing copy that was funny and THE TRUTH. Those days have long gone, so the only way you’ll get paid to write about games without selling your soul is to climb into a Delorean and hit 88.

    Don’t work as a games writer

    You’ve not got a Delorean, so forget it. Get out whilst you're still young. You can get free games without selling your soul to “the man” and spoiling your hobby by downloading them. If you think the world of gaming is great, carry on letting ignorance be bliss. Most of all, make something of your life. Leave a legacy, or make loads of money, or do anything that makes you happy. Writing about videogames isn’t where it’s at. Not any more.

    If you’re going for it though, good luck! And don't say we didn't warn you...


    1. Anonymous2:52 pm

      Christ alive, man, perk up.

    2. Anonymous3:37 pm

      So quit already.

    3. Anonymous4:25 pm

      "Type “WELL-KNOWN ED models himself on Dr. Fox”"

      Who do you mean? Can we guess? Give us a clue.

    4. Anonymous10:51 am

      Who DOESN'T model themselves on Doctor Fox?



      Ah, pissflaps.

    5. Anonymous11:32 am

      how can he quit... WHEN IT'S ALL HE KNOWS?!

    6. Anonymous4:31 pm

      But you did a journalist's course. Or is that you being ironic?

    7. Slightly less cynically, I'd put in these caveats:

      1) Do you want to do the job because you get paid to play games? Then don't bother. Really, really, don't bother. As Rammy notes, free games come from the excellent bank holiday monday sale value offered on bittorrent.

      2) Do you want to do the job because you get paid to write. Then that's a better starting point.

    8. Anonymous7:06 pm


      *wipes tear from eye*

      As a fellow freelance/"slightly inside" writer, I totally agree with every single thing written here.

    9. Anonymous10:26 pm

      Incidentally, although a journalism course certainly won't turn a crap writer into a decent one, they can help make an already decent writer that bit better. Which has got to be a good thing, surely?

    10. Anonymous11:21 am

      As a 'professional games journo' of many years now, I agree with all of the points made... but I still wouldn't change my job for the world. (Well, maybe for the world... but you know what I mean).

      What you do get from regularly working for a games magazine is a soapbox from which to reach out to a world of like-minded gamers, and a chance to have your opinions actually mean something every now and then.

      The trouble with games magazines today, is that everyone has become too serious. Edtior have lost sight of the fact that magazines are in reality the MacDonalds equivilent of a literary diet. A quick and entertaining fix of something nice, but ultimately not all that beneficial to your overall being. However, you already know that when you make the decision to buy one.
      The trouble seems to be that a great many Editors today have forgotten about the 'enternaining' side of producing a magazine. Everyone wants to come over like some kind of videogames professor. Just providing info is not enough. This is the entertainment industry. Mags generally have a week and a half lifespan before people move on. Yes, some people will collect issues religiously but in reality the mags themselves are only pawed over for half of their on shelf life.
      It's all got way too serious. Games are supposed to be fun. Games mags should also therefore be fun, should they not?

      Going back to my original point, all the moans and groans of this article have always seemed to me to be a small price to pay for a chance to entertain somebody, even if only for a week and a half. If I have ever managed to stop somebody wasting £30 on an over-rated and over-hyped game, then all the other crap has been worth it. If I have ever managed to steer somebody towards spending the same money on a great game, that they might not otherwise have considered, and in doing so have introduced them to weeks maybe months of soul lifting fun (which good games CAN deliver) then I KNOW it has been worth it.

      I didn't get into games magazines just because I wanted to write, nor did I get into them because I wanted to be paid to play games. I got into them because I wanted to immerse myself in a hobby I love, and have a chance to share my thoughts, opinions, highs and lows with other people who have the same enthusiasm for playing as I do. By writing about games I got the chance to do this... and get paid, if not fantastically. It seemed like a perfect marriage... and it has been. And for the few times that I have been unfaithful, I have always ended up dragging my sorry as back home to my first and only real love.

      And there lies the truth. Magazine work gets under your skin, you either love it or hate it. There's no in between. If you try to settle for anything less, then you will make yourself extremely miserable, because it is hard work. Really hard work.

      But I tell you something. If you leave, you miss it. You miss it so badly. Because all of a sudden you are not a 'face', you are just a face in the crowd, and your opinions don't matter beyond your own front room. That's a big comedown to deal with let me tell you.

    11. Anonymous2:00 pm

      Wow, anonymous 'professional games journo', I hope that you have a seriously good Sub Editor. Clearly competent spelling and grammar is *not* a pre-requisite for a job as a games writer.

    12. Anonymous9:50 am

      "Wow, anonymous 'professional games journo', I hope that you have a seriously good Sub Editor. Clearly competent spelling and grammar is *not* a pre-requisite for a job as a games writer. "

      What a snide wanker you are. Those kind of errors creep in if you write with passion on a weblog. Enjoy the flower, stop looking at the soil.

    13. Anonymous1:43 pm

      A proper games journo would save that much copy and try to sell it freelance. There's a £100 there. Or £30 if you work for Uncooked.

    14. Anonymous5:04 pm

      Spoken like a true text churning robot.

      Where's your soul?

    15. Anonymous10:47 am

      Mercenaries don't need souls.

    16. Another anonymous 'professional games journo'3:31 pm

      Making games mags is somehting I do for six years now and my colleague (the one in the comments who made some spelling mistakes omg!!oneone!111) is absolutely right. RAM Raider is not. He sounds like a cook who doesn't like to eat his own meals. Or something like that. I am not from England by the way. Can you join old-boys networks if you're from another country? Sounds like fun.

    17. Well I see, this take on gaming journalism is international thing. For me its the funnier as i moved my butt to a PR agency where the pay is much better and you actualy still get some time to play games you like. And if all goes well, you can still freelance and write about them.

      Not sure about the bullsiht comment. I laughet at it yet i am naive enough to think that good PR can not be based on lies. It has to be based on a free lunch with the journalists - free fro them, not for your client of course.

    18. Anonymous1:27 am

      Dr Fox is Tony Mott, right?

      Anyway, RR, you neglect to mention things like letting PRs write your magazine for you, or letting publishers tell you what scores to hand out. Shame on you!

    19. Anonymous11:15 pm

      Don't work at Bath. Not unless you want to spend all day in the company of a bunch of smug fucks who act like they're still at university (but are 29).

    20. Anonymous5:24 pm

      I was at a wedding a few years ago when a small girl, probably five or six years of age, approached and asked if I was Dr Fox. Then she asked me if I would pretend to be him anyway and sign an autograph. Someone used to say that I look like Suggs. Someone else said Simon Mayo.

      In conclusion, then: apparently I look like a number of people who are a bit shit.


    21. Anonymous10:50 am

      Yes... you look a bit like Tony Mott.

    22. Oooh, you pesky kids!

    23. You know I really hate cunting games critics. As a games developer I have to place a good chunk of sales in your hands, the hands of a bunch of miserable tossers who don't seem to want to do their own job. If things are shit it's because the whole scene is full of moany cunts like you lot, fuck off and let someone else have a go because with every day that passes you're fucking this shit up.

      It's the same all over the fucking games industry, I'm sick of working with cunts who don't care and hate the projects they are on but won't just fuck off. Things will never get better while it's overflowing with talentless fucks with no drive or interest in what they do. The pay is shit but rather than leave everyone just stays and complains as if something might magically happen when they aren't even doing work that deserves more money or even the money they are on. I enjoy my job but I fucking hate the people that populate almost all aspects of the British games industry and the press who call themselves the games industry.

    24. Neil... I salute you. Starting to wonder if people like this read the following ten steps of games journalism instead ->

      I'm a games journalist and feckin' love it.

    25. Anonymous4:28 pm

      It's the same in every aspect of the business, really. The good people are too busy working their nuts off under increasingly unreasonable conditions to be able to spread the love. Journalism has as many stagnant wasters as much as anywhere else, really, and it seems all too easy to bung everyone into a cynical category just because, overall, things are pretty shitty.

      And if your games job makes you sick of games, then you're in the wrong job; you have a responsibility to fuck off. But there seems to be that inexplicable divine right that people follow, that because they like games, then they're somehow qualified to work with them.

      I've been working with games for the past six years of my life, and the pressure can be exhausting, but it's still a healthy marriage. If I woke up one morning and didn't feel at all happy with my lot - and that's a very different lot to that of my line of work as a whole - then I'd quite happily fuck off.

    26. Anonymous10:11 pm

      "As a games developer I have to place a good chunk of sales in your hands"

      Wah wah wah - Neil, what games have *you* worked on? Are you a mobile games developer, Neil? Do you make shitty little Java clones of popular titles that about one person ever plays?
      Because, Neil, when an actual good game comes along the press gives it good reviews. Games like Ico and Beyond Good & Evil were given rave reviews yet failed to become megahits because of other factors.
      Sounds to me like you're bitter because every game you've worked on is a load of crap and didn't actually deserve any attention.

    27. And what do you do for a living Anonymous? Because if it is reviewing games then I really couldn't give two fucks about what you have to say. Write for a website do you? Work in Gamestation during the day?

      Still quoting Ico and BG&E reviews is old, Ico has long since got the respect and sales it deserved, maybe not BG&E but that was actually just a 7/10 game that snowballed.

    28. Anonymous12:46 am

      Didn't actually answer my question, did you. Tell us what games you've worked on.

    29. Do you really expect me to answer that question on a public blog read by over 20 people?

      Thanks for confirming your job though.

    30. Anonymous6:41 pm

      I didn't confirm anything. I have reviewed games but it's not something I do on a regular basis. I certainly would never consider myself a games journalist.

      Anyway, thanks for confirming that the only games you've worked on have been crap.

    31. Surely correcting remedial spelling is what Production Editors are for? I'd hate to put them out of a job.

      I really should get around to writing my long-promised epic-games-writing guide.


    32. Oh the irony.

      1) Whoever wrote that Outrun 2 review really shouldn't be teling anyone anything.
      2)Any refs to SC's guide is also an idiot. Sure, lets have more reviews built on the author's anger and rejection.
      3) Not having played the exact game you have played doesn't not mean someone is out of the loop - they most probably haven't reviewed that game either so shut up. Maybe if they had played it for five minutes they'd have more in common with bores like yourself who, y'know, know all about all games.
      4) the game developer (whatever he/she did/does) has a point. Some games (say, Outrun 2) will be met by idiots who should thnk more and react less. Classic game journo trick to find a small error in anything (spelling, wrong colour green in Halo) and make it the biggest problem ever, though.

      You ARE the problem RR.

    33. Anonymous6:05 pm

      RAM Raider, the passage below was taken from a page describing a condition that affects people in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s:

      “Many of us are aware of feelings of disillusionment and irritability setting in in middle age, attributable perhaps to a heightened sense of our own mortality and/or feelings of dissatisfaction at the way life has turned out. Very often such gloomy insights are brought on by a specific trigger: a redundancy or divorce, perhaps, or a more trivial event like a milestone birthday.”

      Maybe it is time to visit the doctor?

    34. Anonymous6:58 pm

      Wanks.. All of yous

    35. Anonymous9:04 am

      Fuck shit wank piss large-farming cuntruntery. Douches.