Gaming Editor Emma Kent rounds up the EGX Rezzed 2018 session on breaking into games journalism, and asks Eurogamer about diversity problems in the industry
For outsiders looking in, games journalism may appear to be a closed-off world: difficult to break into, difficult to understand. Aspiring writers often express confusion at how to progress their careers, and many describe difficulty in moving from voluntary freelancing to paid positions.
To combat this issue, Eurogamer has recently taken several measures to bring more transparency to games journalism, including re-opening their annual summer internship programme, and giving careers advice at events to wannabe journalists.
As an aspiring writer myself, I went to this year’s talk at EGX Rezzed to glean some top tips from the panellists and learn more about breaking into the industry. Here are the main points that I took from this insightful talk, compiled into a handy list to provide you with the best advice straight from industry veterans.
Who were the speakers?
The illustrious panel was made up of several editors from Eurogamer, including Oli Welsh (Editor), Wesley Yin-Poole (Deputy Editor), and Tom Phillips (News Editor). Joining them was Vic Hood, herself a previous intern at Eurogamer, and currently a staff writer for PC Games N.
Interestingly, the panel came from a variety of backgrounds, showing that there is no one correct path into games journalism.
Oli began as a freelancer before making contacts in Edge Magazine through an online forum, which gave him his ‘big break’.
Similarly, Wesley began his career with part-time voluntary writing, which led to a position with a website called Pro-G (now Video Gamer).
Tom undertook unpaid freelance work alongside his studies at university, writing news pieces for Cube Europe before successfully applying for an admin job with Eurogamer.
Vic took perhaps the most direct route by going straight into the Eurogamer internship, which she followed with freelance work before settling into a staff position with PCGamesN.
About the Eurogamer internship
The talk began with a brief discussion of Eurogamer’s 2018 summer internship, which recently opened for applications.
Oli explained that the internship role is primarily focused on news reporting, as the industry is currently experiencing a shortage of talented news writers. In particular, they are looking for writers who can ‘dig into the stories’ and successfully discover their own.
The vision behind the internship is, according to Wesley, not only for Eurogamer to find talent, but also to “give back” and provide “an obvious route” into games journalism.
The panellists emphasised that the role would be strictly based in their Brighton offices, as this would allow them to work with the new intern to develop their skills.
To find out more and apply for the internship, make sure to look at Eurogamer’s job posting on Games Industry.
No journalism degree? Don’t write yourself off.
Oli noted that the question of whether you needed a BA in journalism was “one [they] got asked a lot”.
Of the panellists, half had taken a degree in journalism. Wesley found that his course had given him a number of useful skills; such as how to write in shorthand, an understanding of media law, and useful interview techniques. He highlighted that a journalism course can prepare you for high-pressure situations such as phone interviews. According to Wesley, “…good courses will put you in those uncomfortable positions”.
Vic agreed with this point, adding that as an anxious person, her degree had been “a baptism of fire”. She found that her course had been useful for learning the very basic structure of news writing, but that this “[wasn’t] the same as doing games journalism, nothing prepared me for the shift to that”. For Vic, this was where the Eurogamer internship “really helped”.
A point that was repeatedly stressed by all the panellists was that journalism degrees are “not the be all and end all” for breaking into games journalism.
In Vic’s words, “if you have a passion for games, if you have a passion for writing, if you are willing to learn and work on it, then that should put you in good stead regardless”.
Unpaid freelancing has its perks
Tom took a more traditional route into games journalism by starting with voluntary freelance writing. He found that voluntary freelance work helped him to understand the basics of how websites work, while the press trips to conventions such as Rezzed were particularly useful for networking. “They are intimidating when you first go… but they’re also super helpful as you get to meet other people doing the same thing.”
For Tom, voluntary freelancing was also a great way for him to develop his skills by giving him time “to practise and fail and get better”. He also pointed out that it’s a great way for people to get to know your work in the industry.
Vic agreed, saying that unpaid freelancing allowed her to try a variety of different formats and build up her own portfolio, which greatly helped her when she applied for paid work.
Moving from ‘free’ to ‘fee’
In response to an audience question on when to ask for money for your writing, the panellists agreed that unpaid work can eventually become ‘demoralising’ and ‘disheartening’.
Oli advised that you should avoid staying in one place for too long. “At a certain point when you’ve had enough practise and you’re confident in your work, you should say ‘I should be getting paid'”.
On this point, Oli noted that he had been impressed during Chris Tapsell’s interview (Eurogamer Guides Writer) when he mentioned that he had quit his unpaid freelance position. Chris had recognised that it was time to be paid for his work, which demonstrated to Oli that he had confidence in his writing.
Perhaps somewhat nervously, Oli added “it’s important for the economy of journalism that writers get paid!”
To the delight of all millennials in the room, the panellists emphasised the importance of using social media as a self-promotion tool.
Vic advised aspiring writers to “shove their nose into the gamer community”. She highlighted that Twitter is not only a good place to build your personal brand, but that the platform is also a vital resource for news stories.
On this note, Tom encouraged writers to look on Reddit if they ever needed new ideas for articles. As a place where people play and write about games all day, “it is up to journalists to just pay attention”.
Make your headlines pop
Of all the tips given in the talk, ‘learning how to write headlines’ was the one given the greatest importance by the panellists, with Oli describing it as “a really key skill for those who want to get into games journalism.”
“It’s about finding the angle because there’s a lot of competition and you need to find a way to make your story stand out.”
Oli believes that the skill lies in distilling the article’s content into a single engaging and accessible title. Wesley recommended using “as natural a language as possible”, advising writers to imagine describing the story to non-gamer friend at a pub.
“Say the headline to your friend in the pub, go ‘oh I just need to go to the toilet… hold that thought’, and they can’t wait for you to get back to them and tell you more about what that was”.
You don’t need to be a walking encyclopaedia on the games industry
Vic recounted that when she first began to look into games journalism, she was highly concerned that she would struggle because she didn’t know everyone in the games industry. Yet this problem never truly materialised, and even today, Vic feels that she still “doesn’t know half the stuff” and just picks things up as she goes along.
In Vic’s opinion, you should try to avoid feeling overwhelmed. As long as you are willing to learn on the job, it is entirely possible to break into game journalism without knowing everything about the industry.
Many members of the audience were eager to ask about the subject of pitching. Specifically, how to craft a pitch so enticing that no editor could possibly refuse it.
According to the panellists, the success of a pitch apparently depends on the subject matter and how quickly the author can communicate the point of the article. Again, headlines are important, but Wesley added that they are specifically looking for interesting news stories rather than op-eds or reviews.
“There’s a lot of opinions out there and most of them are rubbish, and I’m much more interested in reported features and cool stories.”
Where are the women?
There has recently been some discussion concerning the serious diversity problem within games journalism, following research which found that, on average, 75% of the articles on major games websites are written by men. Eurogamer came off particularly poorly in this analysis, with less than 1% of its content in February written by women.
To their credit, Eurogamer quickly acknowledged the study and admitted they had a diversity problem, commissioning Guardian Gaming Editor Keza MacDonald to write a piece on the issue.
As a woman hoping to break into games journalism, I personally found the study’s results a little alarming, and was interested in hearing the panel’s views on the matter. I took the opportunity to ask how difficult it is for women to get into games journalism, and what measures Eurogamer is planning on taking to help improve the situation.
Oli admitted that the study had been a moment of shame for Eurogamer, and that they were currently discussing ways to make changes.
“It’s a tricky problem, particularly at Eurogamer; we have a very small number of staff and it takes a long time to feed these things through”.
Although Eurogamer cannot discriminate in their hiring practices at the door, Oli felt that they could be more open minded. One of the ways in which Eurogamer hopes to do this is through the summer internship, which should aid them in looking outside the ‘Twitter bubble’.
On her own experiences as a woman in games journalism, Vic commented that, to her surprise, she “thought it would be a little bit harder than it was”.
She admitted that it was “a bit obvious” at Eurogamer that there weren’t many women, but that she never felt uncomfortable.
“I felt respected by everyone, I felt on their level, at no point did it feel awkward.”
“If you feel a bit out of place, that isn’t the publication for you and it’s not a common thing, so don’t accept that as the norm”.
For Vic, the main problem is that ‘horror stories’ about the treatment of women in the games industry can make it appear intimidating. Although these occurrences are rare, Vic believes they can significantly knock women’s confidence, which is a problem that urgently needs to be addressed.
On a more positive note, according to Vic, there is actually a strong female community within the games industry who are “really supportive” and “want to empower each other”.
She concluded by calling for more women to apply for roles, encouraging them to feel more confident in their writing and not be afraid to get stuck into games journalism.
Thus ends Redbrick Gaming’s round-up of the key points and advice from this year’s EGX Rezzed session on breaking into games journalism.
If you would like to watch the session in full, keep an eye on the official EGX Youtube account, where it is due to be uploaded shortly.