Comment & Opinion

10 things I've learned about becoming a better games journalist

10 things I've learned about becoming a better games journalist

Although I've yet to be convinced the term 'games journalist' isn't an oxymoron, that doesn't mean games journalists can't strive to be better games journalists.

So as I take a step back from the day-to-day grind of running PocketGamer.biz, I thought it was a good opportunity to consider what I've learned - and indeed still need to learn - from 15 years of hacking the games beat.

I hope you disagree with many of them.

Contrarian twist

This isn't a checklist of platitudes about Oxford commas, never starting a sentence with a conjunction, or turning up to interviews on time. 

It's an attempt to think more deeply about what it is to be a games journalist in an industry that's fast eroding the already slight role of games journalist.

We're an endangered species that one day soon may be put out of its misery.

But there is one lifeline to survival. 


Click here to view the list »
  • 1 Games journalists are lazy

    All journalists are lazy, and while game journalists don't have the laissez faire cool of say music journalists, they remain one of the most lackadaisical type of journalists.

    The reason is obvious.

    Game journalists are people who love playing games and fall into journalism because it gives them the best opportunity to play games for a living.

    Yet after about six months, they realise that playing games for a living is very different than playing games for pleasure.

    Playing games for a living means you have to play games you don't want to play for a living. And the living ain't particular great either.

    Reversal of fortune

    Things then quickly progress to not having time to play games, because you're writing about them for a living.

    Another six month pass, and many games journalists have stopped playing games regularly.

    From there, it's a short jump into the more lucrative professions of PR, marketing, community support or A&R.

    That's why there are very few game journalists with a decade-long experience. They are the committed ones... who can't get a job doing anything else.

    The easy life

    In a more positive manner, however, laziness is actually a useful skill for a journalist.

    By its very nature, journalism is the process of encapsulating complex events and experiences into a widely understood article, that's promoted by an eye-catching - and increasingly baitworthy - headline.

    Being lazy makes that process much easier. The more research you do around any story, the more complex it becomes and harder to encapsulate. Those articles take longer to write.

    Much better to be lazy, bash out the press release as quickly as possible, and spend the rest of the time moaning about games on Reddit.

    And to clarify, I personally don't have a problem with game journalists being lazy per se.

    From my point of view, the ability to maintain a passion about games is much more valuable than work ethic, so if laziness is your means to that end, I'll pass you the remote and point you in the direction of my LA-Z-Boy recliner.

    After you come up with 1,000 words on why you love/hate the location-based elements in Pokemon GO.


  • 2 You have to play games

    A corollary from point 1 is that games journalists need to play games.

    Just as you can't be a games journalist without writing, you can't be a good games journalist without playing games.

    I'd even go so as far as to say you can't be a good games journalist without enjoying games.

    Whether you can include playing games as work within work hours is something you'll have to take up with your employer, of course. But call it homework or not, the games journalist who isn't playing games is on borrowed time.

    And please note the plural.

    Playing (or watching others playing) League of Legends every night is better than not playing League of Legends every night, but unless you're a specialist who's writing just about League of Legends, it's myopic.

    Certainly, the world of mobile games provides more than enough games to drown in. Play something new every week.


  • 3 You have to pay for your IAPs

    Let's fall down the mobile games rabbit hole some more.

    In the world of F2P mobile games, there are two resources you can throw at a game: time and money.

    Given that game journalists are lazy and poor, it's a tricky situation to be in and that's maybe all you need to know about the coverage of F2P mobile games.

    One way of solving this problem is either to get free money from the developer or - lucky few - to have the ability to expense back any in-game purchases.

    But stop right there.

    The point of F2P mobile games is the balance between time and money. Good design will contain pinch points which encourage players to move from time spent to money spent.

    Obviously it's a situation heavily influenced by a player's wider resources. The 13-year-old has a lot of one, and the millionaire a lot of the other.

    (I'm not sure how the millionaire 13-year-old handles the situation.)

    For the rest of us, however, the decision to swap some of our own hard earned for some in-game currency is a delicious moment.

    Don't smother it in ketchup by using someone else's money.


  • 4 Don't expect to be liked

    I've often thought about Joan Didion's quote about writing.

    "In many ways, writing is the act of saying I, of imposing oneself upon other people, of saying listen to me, see it my way, change your mind. It's an aggressive, even a hostile act."

    And even although games journalists are the slightest of the writer species, this statement remains.

    Even the laziest of us are imposing our view of the world on others.

    (Hence the need to actually enjoy games. There's nothing more depressing than an opinionated, bitter voice.)

    Hit me, like a kiss

    In that context, it's surprising - and perhaps sad - we don't get more complaints about our output. Maybe no-one cares after all.

    For that reason, the times when conflict has arisen are to be considered. Of course, sometimes we just get it totally wrong and then there's nothing to do but apologise and make the best of it.

    More significant, however, are the handful of occasions when the disagreement quickly moves from a debate over the facts (good) to personal insults (bad).

    It's only happened a couple of times to me, and on both occasions my view is the conflict arose due to extreme pressures - personal and business - on the other side of the argument.

    Yet it's never nice to be called "crushingly condescending" until you realise that means someone really cares about what you're writing.

    It's better to be feared than liked. Better still to be liked and feared, of course.

    Just don't expect to be liked.


  • 5 PR people aren't your enemy

    In another life, I'll admit it: I did PR.

    All a long time ago now, but the stint provided me with a valuable lesson.

    PR people are not - as is the widely-held view - evil, fact-manipulators out to sully the virginal truth of games journalism. That's the game journalists' role.

    Simple task

    No. The PR role is pretty straightforward. They are being paid to spread some news that someone, somewhere thinks is interesting.

    Now, the news may not be interesting, but that's not the PR's fault.

    The PR certainly would like you to cover their news, but they understand that you won't cover everything, but they're being paid to send it to you anyway.

    So don't take offence. Indeed, the more PR contact you get, the more important you obviously are.

    Better, then, to think of every PR email as a small levelling up of your Games Journalist - special attack Extreme Laziness - character class.

    In fact, turn the whole situation on its head. Actually the PR knows much more about the story and the companies involved than you do.

    Shock. Horror. The PR person could be a source of more information, a better story etc etc...

    Three more facts.

    • PR people are generally more experienced in the games industry than games journalists (c.f. the ten year rule). Show some respect.
    • They also have expense accounts. Note, not for IAP (cf point 3.) but for dinner and drinks.
    • Finally, when editorial vacancies become available, PRs are often asked who they think are the upcoming games journalists.

    Conclusion: PRs can be a meal ticket in more ways than one.


  • 6 Can you follow the money?

    Difficult given point 1, but I've always been amazed at the lack of general interest from games journalists about how the games industry actually works.

    For the majority, if there was a machine with a big red button that someone pressed and out popped a game, they wouldn't be much surprised.

    Yet, how games are made and who funds them is the fundamental underpinning of the games industry and where it's headed next.

    It's why Dreamcast failed, Zynga is a $868 million basket case, and I need to work harder researching Tencent.

    Granted, I would say that wouldn't I, given a career writing for the likes of Edge, Develop and PocketGamer.biz.

    Cash trail

    But, to me at least, if you can't follow the money in the games industry, you can't understand the games industry and how it's changing.

    Of course, reading a company's financial report is hard work. It has numbers, graphs and everything it in. It's like being in math class again.

    But, at the end of the day, a dollar is just a dollar, even if you had to convert it from yen. So if you want more of them, spend the time understanding where they come from.


  • 7 Haven't you been replaced by YouTube/Twitch/etc yet?

    Plenty has been written about the declining power of the professional games journalist.

    But, let's be honest, the professional games journalist never had any power.

    Back in the days of magazines, the magazine's had the power, not the journalists. Magazines rose and fell on the basis of what platforms they were covering and the commercial deals that got them the exclusive review and cover disk.

    No change here

    No. The games journalist was never very powerful so it shouldn't be a surprise that the rise of influencers isn't about the rise of game journalists.

    Just as with music, as soon as game distribution went digital, the power of marketing (aka user acquisition) leached from mass-market magazines to adhoc networks, currently YouTubers, Instagrammers, SnapChatters, Twitchers etc.

    As for game journalists, I'm all for exploring new avenues of getting your thoughts across, but don't confuse them with the core task, which is taking a complex situation and making it engaging for a wider audience.

    Personally, I still think that's best done with words (and the occasional picture or graph).

    After all, the medium is the message.


  • 8 Thinking about modality not intent

    In a recent Indian Mavens discussion, one contributor spoke at length about the impact of adding carrier billing to the India market.

    His reasoned argument was that while carrier billing makes it easier to buy in-game items, it wasn't the ease of purchase that causes the very low average revenue of Indian gamers.

    "Will it result in higher revenues? I don’t think so," said SuperSike Games' Amit Goyal.

    "I think the barrier is not modality, but intent."

    That got me thinking: so much of what we do as game journalists - worrying about headlines, SEO, social media promotion -- did we use the right hashtag etc -- - is modal.

    Good to think about but not good to focus on.

    Less words, more meaning

    The intent for games journalists is writing great stories. Anything that gets in the way of great stories is a waste of time, both for the games journalist and the potential reader.

    Sometimes that means writing fewer articles and taking the time to research or even just sitting down and playing some games. Sometimes it means writing more - at least longer, more in-depth articles.

    It's not really a quantity question, though. During my time at PocketGamer, I've written over 10,000 stories. But who's counting? That's modality talking.

    What it should be about is quality in everything.


  • 9 It's all about the games

    I can't really stress this point enough.

    If you don't like the games you're supposed to be writing about, please find another job.

    And if you don't know whether you like the games you're supposed to be writing about because you're not playing them, please find another job right now.

    Because for all the words and videos created, companies formed and dissolved, billions made and lost, trends spotted and ignored, if you don't have a handle on whether games are good or bad - and that can only be filtered through your experience of whether you think they are good and bad - you have nothing.


  • 10 You are the stories you write, but to everyone else, you are everything else. And that's what matters

    Finally, we're getting existential.

    The games journalist is nothing if not the stories they write.

    The individual stories (videos, streams, whatever) that collesce together into a whole body of work are the very definition of your success or otherwise at the role - for you, at least.

    But to the external observer, the stories are nothing. Of course, if they didn't exist, there would be no games journalist.

    In that sense, then, they have to exist but other than existing, they are meaningless.

    Heart of the matter

    Instead, if you are a professional games journalist, it's everything else you do that defines your success or otherwise.

    • Do you answer emails?
    • Keep Trello updated?
    • Turn up for the daily Skype?
    • Play games?
    • Reply to PRs?
    • Make the working lives of those around you easier?
    • Are you lazy in the bad sense?
    • Can people rely on you?

    Encapsulating all, do you demonstrate passion? Do you?


Contributing Editor

A Pocket Gamer co-founder, Jon is Contributing Editor at PG.biz which means he acts like a slightly confused uncle who's forgotten where he's left his glasses. As well as letters and cameras, he likes imaginary numbers and legumes.

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