How To Get Into Game Journalism: Xfire Chat


On Tuesday I was privileged to take part in a live chat on Xfire for their Careers in Gaming Week. Joining me was Michael Zenke, Games Editor for Slashdot, and a host of people with questions about being a game journalist.


cigmedia: For the second round of chats, we have two top editors, we are extremely lucky to have Russ Pitts from The Escapist and Michael Zenke from Slashdot; they have taken the time out of their schedules to answer our questions and imbue us with wisdom, so let the chat commence!

cigmedia: I would like to have our special guests take a moment to introduce themselves…

[Slashdot] Michael: Hi there. My name is Michael Zenke, and I’m the games editor over at Slashdot. I also blog at, and freelance at 1up, and for this other guy.
* [Slashdot] Michael points his finger at Russ.

[Escapist] Russ Pitts: Hello. I’m Russ Pitts, Associate Editor of The Escapist.

[Escapist] Russ Pitts: Question: Edguardo the Milk Bandit: I much prefer reading games magazines than browsing through websites such as Gamespot, however it seems that printed journalism is slowly being pushed aside by the internet. Do you feel that magazines will soon become a thing of the past? The internet obviously has its advantages, but Which media do you prefer?
Answer: I don’t think print media is going anywhere. Obviously the print folks have to get a little bit smarter about how they serve up their content, since these days you can get just about anything you want on the web, for free, but the need for print media will never go away. You still need something to take … on the bus … with you.

But I obviously prefer online. It’s more immediate, you can take more chances and it’s far, far simpler to get your stuff in front of an audience. That said, I still prefer work with some thought put into it. Whether print or online.

[Slashdot] Michael: I would agree. Print offers a number of different things that online can’t match up. I am personally a big fan of Edge, and the quality of the paper, the quality of the writing exhibited there. It’s not something you can get online at the moment.

I also think print is ‘safer’ for publishers at this point, still. Online is still some sort of wild west for a lot of older business guys.

[Escapist] Russ Pitts: Question: -Yoda-: Question: How is gaming journalism different that say Television writing or Newspaper writing. I know television is shorter and to the point, so how would gaming journalism compare to these medias?
Answer: Journalism is journalism is journalism. The best way to become a game journalist is to learn journalism. If you’re a journalist, you can write about anything.

As of now, though, I think the differences are in what’s expected. You can get away with a lot lower quality work in games, and I don’t necessarily think that’s a good thing.

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[Slashdot] Michael: Question: Michael: How fun is it working for companies like 1up?
Answer: It’s much like freelancing anywhere else, really. 🙂 The folks at 1up are awesome, don’t get me wrong, but freelancing for one group is much the same as another. You pitch an idea, you see if the other end likes it, and then you write it and hand it in before your deadline.

[Escapist] Russ Pitts: Question: Hellblazer: How did you get into the industry writing about video games?
Answer: I’ve been writing my whole life (I’m 30-something). I’ve written for film, TV, theater and on the internet. I’ve also played games my whole life. Until recently, however, it didn’t occurred to me to mix the two. Once I decided I wanted to write about games, I searched for a publication I wanted to write for (The Escapist) and submitted material to them. They accepted, I got printed, then I took a job there as editor. It was fairly simple, if you don’t count the decades I spent learning the ropes 😉

[Slashdot] Michael: I volunteered at a site called, where I wrote about Massively Multiplayer games for free. Putting my name out there with that site led me to talk to Simon Carless, then-editor of Slashdot Games and now the EIC of Gamasutra/Game Developer. When he left Slashdot I was on the short list he handed my boss, and I guess I fooled him. This month marks three years I’ve been with the site.

[Slashdot] Michael: Question: That ties in kind of nicely with whîsp: To all: What education would you recommend other then journalism and English majors to become a gaming or computer related journalist? Any specialty subjects to study?
Answer: My only real recommendation would be to get a college degree of some kind. College will give you a breadth of experience that is hard to beat. Above and beyond that, though, there are several skills they won’t teach you in undergraduate studies. Pitching articles to editors, dealing with unhappy PR folks, talking loudly enough to be heard at parties you don’t want to be at … These are all useful skills as well.

[Escapist] Russ Pitts: Question: Namdas: Question for all: I’m a thirteen year old Kansan kid who is paler than a ghost because I spend so much time indoors on the computer. I like to write game reviews and read game reviews, and often they have determined whether or not I would purchase a game. I want to get into gaming-journalism, but I would like to know: What does it take to make it to the big-time game sites like IGN and GameSpot?
Answer: When I find out, I’ll let you know 🙂

But seriously, work hard, write well and be honest. Good work floats to the top. If you have integrity and are good at what you do, people will notice.

[Slashdot] Michael: I totally agree with Russ. If you have the chops, the folks you’re pitching articles to will let you know in a hurry. The key, I think, is to realize that just like with any other industry you have to pay your dues. It’s hard to land a full-time games reporting gig because there are a lot of really good people (who have been doing this for a while) looking for those jobs as well. Don’t feel bad about freelancing for a while before you try for one of the big names.

[Escapist] Russ Pitts: Question: -Yoda-: Do you work extensively with developers, or do you work mainly on your own for the articles that you write?
Answer: Little of both. For some articles I want to write about an experience free of any “spin” from the devs or PR folks. For others I need all the help they can give me. It depends on the story, the developer and my mood, honestly.

[Slashdot] Michael: For what I do, I have almost no contact with developers. Which is not to say I never see or talk to them, they’re just not a part of what I do on a day-to-day basis.

[Escapist] Russ Pitts: Question: DJ RBK: How do you cultivate relationships with game companies, especially when your site is just starting out?
Answer: Introduce yourself to everyone. Go to a game company’s website, look for their press release section and scan the press releases for names and email addresses. These are the people who are hired to answer your questions.

Also, go to conventions. I’ve made some of my best contacts at game conventions.

[Slashdot] Michael: “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” is a definite truth. Conventions are *the* best way to get folks talking to you. If all you need to do is walk up to a booth and put out your hand, you’ll be shocked by how easy it is to make a new contact/friend.

[Escapist] Russ Pitts: Question: BrotherJohn: Have you ever just picked up a game and played one and just thought, wow must give review or is it strictly write about what you’re given?
Answer: Both. I’m lucky in my position at The Escapist in that I get to choose my assignments the majority of the time, but not everyone is so lucky. And when I do get an assignment I work as hard as if it were something I was passionate about. That’s what it means to be a professional.

[Escapist] Russ Pitts: Question: Fallen Angel: To Russ Pitts: what’s involved in writing for a magazine?
Answer: All magazines have someone who’s job it is to search for new content. That’s my job at The Escapist. Writing for a magazine is as simple and as hard as sending them a story pitch and waiting for a response. The trick is to pitch to magazines that print the kind of stories you want to write, and in a style compatible with your own. Then be patient and persistent.

[Escapist] Russ Pitts: Question: [Fx]ĠŦ: My question Is how would you try to get more readers back into magazines? And how would you Deal with the Online Articles Would you support them or not?
Answer: If I were in print media right now I would … drink a lot … more

Then I would focus on providing something in the print version that wasn’t available online, and ensuring that both streams complimented each other.

[Escapist] Russ Pitts: Question: [Fx]ĠŦ: To Russ: Do you ever talk about topics like System Wars and being a Journalist Do you get to try out Betas and other online activities?
Answer: Console wars are the go-to for when I have nothing better to write about. There just isn’t enough that can be said about which platform is better than which other. It’s an endless debate, and people love to read that stuff.

I do get Beta invites and review copies and such. PR folks believe that sending us stuff is a good way to ensure we’ll feel obligated to write something – and they’re right.

[Slashdot] Michael: Question: Dr. Richard Kimble: How difficult is it to break into the field without a degree, assuming one is a fairly talented writer with a good knowledge of the gaming industry?
Answer: Not. Your writing is ultimately what people will look at. It helps to have the degree on there because it proves you can work hard … or at least make people think you can work hard. My personal opinion is that what your degree is in matters less than that you have one.

[Escapist] Russ Pitts: I agree with Michael. You don’t need a degree. It helps, and I would certainly not recommend to anyone that they skip college, but hard work and determination (I know, I know) are what matters most.

[Slashdot] Michael: Question: [Xfire] Brinstar: What do you think about David Gornoski’s (Videogame Media Watch) assertion that the “corruption and taint” in the game media stem from dependency on publisher exclusives? Have you ever been pressured by companies to skew your articles positively? If so, how did you deal with that pressure?
Answer: I’ve never had to deal with the exclusives problem, but I can understand where he’s coming from. I like VMW a lot, actually. (and not just because he said nice things about me.) I don’t really care whether an article is an exclusive or not; I care whether it’s well written or not. People ask me what the secret to getting on Slashdot is, and there you go: write good.

As for feeling pressure, even on my little corner of the internet I’ve felt the burn. I can honestly say I’ve never written a review that wasn’t 100% what I felt, though. My report cards when I was a kid said I had problems playing well with others. If you can garner a reputation for being brutally honest, you’ll scare some PR folks. I think it’s worth it.

[Escapist] Russ Pitts: I Agree with Mike. I know that people do get pressure like this, but I think the instances are the rare exceptions.

[Escapist] Russ Pitts: Question: SoK| Lizi: I’ve been told that having an English degree will hurt my chances in getting into the publishing world. I’m more interested in English than Journalism or Mass Communications though. What can I do to better my chances?
Answer: Listen to this advice. You can study literature without going for a literature degree, but learning to be a journalist is a lot harder without the hands-on experience you’ll gain from the degree. Put it this way: studying journalism will not ruin your appreciation or aptitude for literature.

[Slashdot] Michael: Question: Namdas: What sequel-less game do you think most deserves a sequel?
Answer: That’s an easy one. Shiny’s Sacrifice. First-person RTS FTW.

[Slashdot] Michael: Question: Fallen Angel: To anyone: what is your favorite article you have written? And what was it on?
Answer: (I promise I’m not sucking up to Russ here.) It was, hands down, this one: (Seems very appropriate for this chat, too.) The responses were just *so* on, the article fell together like buttah.

[Escapist] Russ Pitts:
I’m really fond of the one I just wrote for this week’s The Escapist.

[Escapist] Russ Pitts: Question: Dr. Richard Kimble: I keep a review blog in my free time. If I were to get serious and write regularly and often, what would you reccommend I do in order to get more hits?
Answer: I think my advice to this is the same I’d offer anyone starting any business: find a vacuum in the market and fill it. Offer something no one else is offering. Stand out. In whatever way possible.

[Escapist] Russ Pitts: Question: Vossk: Do you look up to or admire anyone elses work?
Answer: Absolutely. Unfortunately, being a writer, I’m unable to muster the selflessness to mutter their names. But check out Rock, Paper, Shotgun for some stuff on PC gaming by some of my favorite writers.

[Slashdot] Michael: I look up to a ton of people’s work: Allen Varney, Scott Sharkey, Simon Carless, Yahtzee Croshaw, John Davison, Jim Rossignol, Luke Smith (when he was doing it) …

I also really like a lot of MMOG Bloggers: Van Hemlock, AFK Gamer, Brent from VirginWorlds, etc. (though they’re not technically journalists, they’re great writers.)

[Escapist] Russ Pitts: Question: Edguardo the Milk Bandit: Russ & Michael: ‘New Games Journalism’ has allowed a much different perspective for reviewing games than traditional games journalism, allowing the author to write as more of a travel journalist visiting the game’s world than a writer reviewing a piece of software. Do you think there is a future in this style of games journalism? Have you written a piece of NGJ yourself? What do you feel are the pros and cons of NGJ?
Answer: I think NGJ is interesting, and will ultimately end up as one of many tools employed by game writers. I admire the balls of the folks who pioneered the effort, but I think we can and should go far beyond what NGJ signifies.

[Slashdot] Michael: I haven’t written any NGJ stuff myself, but I do think there is a future for it. I think the NGJ … dang, Russ just took my answer.

I’ll add that anyone that can write a NGJ piece that is as good as this deserves to write that way.

[Slashdot] Michael: Question: burningmunk: What do you think about the mass media’s spin on gaming as a children’s field and not taking much of anything seriously?
Answer: Gaah politicians are idiots. It’s like the monsters in the Simpsons. The less you pay attention to them, the less power they have. “Just don’t look, Just don’t look.”

[Escapist] Russ Pitts: It sucks. I’ve been gaming my whole life, my significant other games, and we both still get dirty looks when we’re gaming in public or wearing game Tees or whatever. I’m making a living at it but somehow it’s not a serious pursuit? I don’t get that.

It’s unavoidable, considering the nature of the medium, but I don’t get it. Although I suppose it’s a fair trade considering the dirty looks I give people who do stupid stuff I don’t agree with – like watching hockey.

[Slashdot] Michael: Hey! Hockey rules. 🙂

[Escapist] Russ Pitts: Question: | PorkLord: Most content for journalism seems to be delivered direct from publishers. Do you worry about their opinion on something like a bad review? Are publishers less generous to those who poorly review their titles? Or do they sill prefer their products name be delivered to your audience?
Answer: I think it’s important for the consumer to be aware of where their information is coming from. Blogs like ThreeSpeech blur the line between journalism and PR, and I think that’s a bad thing in general. But I’m glad the developers are so active in attempting to get their messages out. They should be. And it makes my job easier in a lot of ways. But I never take anyone’s word for anything.

I’ve heard of publishers being rude to outlets that give bad reviews, but I don’t think this is wide spread. I think they get more annoyed when you don’t write anything at all.

[Slashdot] Michael: Question: Vossk: Do you feel that the PC gaming is really dying? Many are saying consoles are winning over the PC and killing it off, do you agree?
Answer: Anyone who has seen World of Warcraft’s sales figures will tell you the PC isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Massive games are the biggest reason to play on PC today. Even as MMOGs start to push onto consoles more, I think you’re going to see a lot of folks who refuse to give up their keyboard and mouse for FPS titles.

I’m not worried about PC gaming; I think analysts are the only ones who are.

[Slashdot] Michael: Question: Dr. Richard Kimble: How many articles, on average, do you pump out in a month’s time?
Answer: “Pump out.” You make it sound so filthy. I do an article every other week for the Escapist, plus a weekly column for 1up, plus between 4 and 5 blog posts a week for MMOGNation. All of those I count as articles. I also do about 4-7 posts to Slashdot every day.

[Escapist] Russ Pitts: I have a salaried position, so my income isn’t directly tied to my output. That said, I’d still be doing alright if it were. I produce about two feature articles per month, and twice that many editorials/reviews.

[Slashdot] Michael: Question: Edguardo the Milk Bandit: I consider myself a good writer, but quite often find myself struggling to meet deadlines and such. What advice could you give to speed up the writing process?
Answer: Don’t. Budget your time to make sure you give every article the breathing room it needs. I’m sorry I don’t have any good answers, but sometimes life sucks. 🙂 I have this problem all the time. “Do I play a game or write about a game I’ve already played?”

[Escapist] Russ Pitts: Slow down. Get organized. Stop taking on work until you can get into a system that works. If writing is your job, you should work it as a job and write 6-8 hours per day. If you can’t do that, you’re in the wrong business 🙁

[Escapist] Russ Pitts: Question: Namdas: How do you feel about rereleases or remakes of old games, specifically targetting games like “Super Mario 64 DS” which entirely ruined the original game for me.
Answer: I don’t mind so long as they’re fun. Sometimes we put too much pressure on games. Remakes even more so.

[Slashdot] Michael: Fun! Yes, they must be fun. Why would you let a new game ruin an old game for you? Did Mario DS beat up Super Mario Bros. until he wouldn’t jump anymore? I’m still waiting for a Super Mario Bros. 2 DS. I loved our version of Doki Doki Panic.

[Slashdot] Michael: Question: whîsp: To All: Is it hard for you as journalists writing reviews to remain as objective as possible or are you allowed by your editors to be subjective?
Answer: There is no such thing as an objective review. The key is to be as honest as possible. If you don’t like RTS’s, and you’re reviewing an RTS, say so in your opening statement that RTS’s are not your cup of tea. An informed reader will be able to see between the lines and figure out where you’re coming from.

[Escapist] Russ Pitts: Agree with Mike. Objectivity in reviews is a myth. Be honest, and don’t try to review a game if you hate the genre.

[Escapist] Russ Pitts: Question: -Yoda-: Is there a specific field of journalism to get into? My school offers emphasis in News Editorial, Telecommunications, and PR. The classes are cross compadible but is there a specific one I should try to get into?
Answer: Whichever interests you most. If you’re engaged, you’ll learn better. (real English, folks 🙂 )

[Slashdot] Michael: Question: Air_Storm: Does Plagarism exist in Game journalism? What are the consequences?
Answer: Shootings in the main square at dawn. The ugly truth is that a lot of people write about pretty much the same stuff. Eventually, someone is going to call Halo 3 “innovative” or “sparkly” or whatever. Just because it shows up in another review doesn’t mean it’s plagiarism. That said (especially amongst bloggers) cutting and pasting seems to be a really easy way to “report”. I always always always always make sure it’s clear where I’m getting news when I post it.

The consequences, unfortunately, are not very severe. They’re definitely not what they should be. There have been, though, some high-profile instances of plagiarizing bloggers getting sacked for doing it, and most of the folks I know hate the idea as much as I do. I think a lot of times it’s just plain old fashioned laziness. “Oh, it’s not that big a deal” is a slippery slope.

[Escapist] Russ Pitts: Question: AdDiCt: Has there ever been a story or project so big that you voluntarily gave up your personal life to get the story/scoop/gig/whatever?
Answer: Um … every convention ever? I hate traveling, but I go to conventions because A) it’s a great place to meet people and B) it’s a great place to get content.
Just this past weekend I gave up 7 hours of my life to go see Richard Garriott’s house because I wanted to have a story to tell. It was worth it. Parts of it sucked, but it was worth it.

[Slashdot] Michael: I just got done with: a two day trip to Seattle to see a game company, Gen Con, PAX, and GDC Austin. Kill me. Kill me now.

[Escapist] Russ Pitts: Question: [Fx]ĠŦ: Russ Or Michael: have any of you ever turned to fans of games or family to help you write an article. Do you post there opinions?
Answer: No. I’ll occasionally lean on my SO to help me fine tune a piece I’m having trouble with, but I’m very serious about my words being my words, and not influenced by anyone else. At the end of the day, all you have is your integrity.

[Slashdot] Michael: The only person who touches my words besides me is my editor. Having an editor is a luxury I think everyone who writes should have. The interplay between two people working to make a set of sentences into something not crap is a lot of fun … even if sometimes you want to make with the stabbings.

[Escapist] Russ Pitts: Question: | PorkLord: Personally I try to avoid reading other material on a game/piece I am also writing for, I fear it may skew or influence my own article in some way. Do you also avoid this, or do you like to evaluate the opinions of others?
Answer: I wish I could. As Acquisitions Editor I see almost every piece of content we run. I try very, very hard to wall off the part of my brain that creates words when I’m reading other people’s. But ultimately every perspective I’m privy to informs my own. I’ve read articles in major publications I knew were inspired by articles I’d written, and that’s OK, really. We all have voices and our minds take us in unique places. We all inspire each other. However that happens is OK. So long as we’re not outright stealing from each other.

[Escapist] Russ Pitts: Question: Dr. Richard Kimble: Here’s one I’ve always wondered about: Which do you consider to be a more successful form of writing, humorous or serious? I like to ‘funny up’ my writing, but will that hurt me?
Answer: It’s possible to be serious about writing and still be funny. The audience is the key here. As long as you’re writing for them, funny or straight doesn’t matter. If it gets your point across, use what works.

[Slashdot] Michael: Question: Jantempler: What do you find is the best sort of game to be working an article on, which genre do you find to work on most is better?
Answer: A stock answer I give a lot is “Write what you’re passionate about.” That’s why I write about Massively Multiplayer games so much. I love the things. They’re teh hawesome, and I find I can pretty much spout nonse- … say meaningful, insightful things about them all day long. That’s why, in big game journalism shops, people get known as ‘the guy’ for something. “Oh, he’s our Final Fantasy guy” or “Oh, he reviews all the Metroid games.” The best thing to do is have one of those (who is obviously passionate about the genre/game series) and a total newb. Then you get the best of both worlds.

[Slashdot] Michael: Question: Dr. Richard Kimble: How often do you find yourself up at 4am struggling with writer’s block?
Answer: Not so much writer’s block, but 4am? All the time. The best part of working at home is that you don’t have to travel to work. The worst part about working from home is that YOU ARE ALWAYS WORKING. The key there is to make sure you have a space where you WORK, and little else. Having a home office is like a tiny bit of heaven.

[Escapist] Russ Pitts: Not much, actually. Part of my checkered past was writing for a daily, live TV show. Having to deliver a script on time, every time, every day was an excellent experience. You learn ways to stimulate your mind to deliver when failure is not an option.

One suggestion is to write about anything your mind goes to. When you’re blocked on a story, write about something else. You may find it will lead to a breakthrough on the block.

[Escapist] Russ Pitts: Question: {IW} MNET: How did you get introduced into the game journalism industry anyway? How did you get there? Any helpful hints?
Answer: I was very lucky to stumble on a community site seeking writers a while back. I worked with them for a while before trying to get anything published. I must have written for a year or two (weekly) for no pay before I submitted to a game magazine. This experience was invaluable.

[Slashdot] Michael: Question: Fallen Angel: To all guests: what can I do to increase my chances of getting a job in journalism for major publishings such as the ones that you are in?
Answer: My advice is to start small. (also, I’m not a ‘major’ anything. 🙂 Pitch an article to someplace that relies on Freelancers, and go from there. The best thing to do is get your foot in your door somewhere (anywhere) and then consistently be the best written, friendliest, timeliest, smartest, funniest, most eloquent writer an editor has ever seen before.

[Escapist] Russ Pitts: Question: | PorkLord: How do you find the time to review BIG games? Wouldn’t each review/article on a game be worth the same artistically and financially? If so, how do you differ your time between playing through a 5 hour game, or say a 80 hour Final Fantasy romp?
Answer: Unless you’re determined to get all the way through an 80+ hour game before writing about it, it’s not necessary to finish. You had a good idea 10 hours into FF if it was a good game or not. Write about that. And if you absolutely HAVE to know how it ends to write about it, but the Prima guide :).

[Slashdot] Michael: Question: Air_Storm: Pirates or Ninjas.
Answer: Pirates. ARRRR!

And nowigottago. I’m off to do a tabletop session. 🙂 <- nerd.

[Escapist] Russ Pitts: Pirates all the way, baby.

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