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Ask GR Anything: How do I get a job as a games journalist?

Ask GR Anything is a weekly Q&A column that answers questions submitted by readers (as well as questions we're particularly curious about ourselves). Got a burning question about games or the industry? Ask us in the comments below and you may just get it answered!

This week, former GR editor and industry veteran Dan Amrich fills in for Andrew Groen to finally answer a burning question posed ages ago by Lurkero, snipes101 and countless other readers…

As a game reviewer, I've been asked "How do I get your job?" so many times over the years that I have lost count. I understand – it's an awesome gig, right? Playin' games! Spoutin' opinions! Snappin' screens! Crackin' wise! Beats workin'!

Above: You may even think every day is like this! (Warning: every day is not like this)

Naturally, if it's a fun job, it's not an easy job to get. For a lot of new writers, I think just getting noticed is the hardest part – like, you have the drive and the desire and the passion, but how do you actually, you know, GET anywhere? There are thousands of people who want to do what you want to do, so it may seem impossible to get anybody's attention in that giant crowd. And… it kind of is.

So let's start small, with the most important things to keep in mind as you chase this dream:

Accept that your chances are slim

Like I said, thousands of people. Thousands. It's great to have a goal, but you also need to be realistic about how much opportunity you can create for yourself versus how much timing, luck, and happenstance may play in your big break. 

Above: For the privilege of penning this column, Dan had to survive a grueling trial by combat against 27 deadly freelance writers. And that's how we treat the people we like

It's not as easy as it looks

It's tough to simultaneously encourage the people who are sincere in their desire to write game reviews for a living and discourage them by crushing them with the realities of low pay, brutal deadlines, and technological mishaps – but here I am, doing just that. The first thing you must accept is that this job is work, not play, and there are a lot of responsibilities that come with it, from respecting deadlines to simply being able to back up what you say in your articles. It's not just playing games with your feet propped up on your desk.

Be a good writer

This sounds so simple, but "don't suck" is a big part of it. The core thing to understand: They are hiring you as a writer who understands games, NOT as a gamer who sometimes puts sentences together. Before you even make contact with someone who might publish your work, make sure you have your writing mechanics down: spelling, grammar, the ability to self-edit. These will be evident in your writing samples, and your articles will do more to get you work than any cheeky cover letter or fancy font choice on a resume.

Be a good-enough gamer

This is the mindblower for a lot of people. You don't actually have to have an astronomical KDR or have earned every Trophy or Achievement in every game you play. It's way more important that you understand what you play when you're playing it, and then can explain it back to others in a way that they understand. Articulating opinions informed by experience is what you actually do; the game part is just the experience.

Above: This image was seriously one of the first things our stock-photo service returned when we typed in "video game journalist." Ha ha!

Ask if they are looking for freelance writers

How can you get a job if no job exists? You politely contact the media outlet you want to write for and ask if they need anybody right now. This does not mean writing an email to every member of the staff. Write to one person, preferably the editor in charge of the content you would like to help write (reviews, news, features, etc). If the single person you write is not the correct person, they will forward it to the correct person. If you write to everybody, nobody will do anything.

Don't assume they'll come looking for you

"Hey, so, Twitter/Facebook/blogosphere, I just wanted to tell you that I am available for game review work, so contact me." How deluded are you? Do you really think Stephen Totilo or Jim Sterling or Charlie Barratt are scouring the web to find unknown writers who are not motivated enough to reach out to them? Spoiler: They're not.

Put your best foot forward

You haven't written professionally before? That's OK. Just make sure that what you send them as your sample articles are your best work. If the publication you're contacting uses a template that includes certain information in a certain order, follow that template.

Don't take it personally if you don't hear back

A lot of editors are super-busy – not "I need to get all purple gear by doing this raid again" busy, but actually, legitimately, "I have two publisher visits and four articles due in 48 hours and I haven't had lunch all week" busy. Your interest may be sincere and you may even have the right skills and voice for their outlet, but they may not have the time to get back to you. What's more, they may not have the budget to hire you right now. Just check back later and follow up politely.

Apply for an internship

I have lost count of the number of interns I worked with who went on to be hired full-time by the publication after graduation. It's basically on-the-job training, when you think about it. The tricks here are that you often need to be in college and you always need to be local. So this is a really good thing to do, but not necessarily practical for everybody.

Above: Like many GR staffers, Charlie Barratt started as an intern. Now he gets to wear shirts to work

These are some of the core building blocks; the rest is rejection, embarrassment, frustration, and heavy drinking. Well, actually, there's a lot more to it than this (such as crying, begging, and holding grudges), but hey, that’s why I wrote a book about all this stuff. Critical Path: How to Review Videogames for a Living is my insanely detailed answer to "how do I get your job," with actionable advice on every stage of your potential writing career. I spent eight years writing the damned thing to give you the most complete response possible, so I would ask that you buy it for 10 bucks and get the 78,000 word answer if you're really, really serious about this. There's so much more to cover that I think that's one of the reasons why you rarely get an answer to such a simple, straightforward question.

Submit your own questions in the comments (or Tweet them to @sciencegroen) and we may tackle them in a future Ask GR Anything.

16 comments

  • missfors - March 6, 2012 6:53 a.m.

    I just quit my job so I can write freelance for a local gaming blog in Singapore (robotsgonebad.com for anyone interested). I've been wanting to get into this field of work for about two years and I've been writing community news and dabbling in game reviews on my own, but the experience I've gotten from just half a month of working with a professional is phenomenal. I'm probably going to be really poor for the rest of the year and may have to swap my soul for a plane ticket to EVO2k12, and I may have to delay marriage plans for a good number of years, but I'll say it's worth it. Also, might I add that after reading this article, I think I'm really really lucky to have actually scored a paying freelance gig in games journalism because I'm an average gamer and I learned nothing in school about journalism.
  • TurtleAssasin33 - March 2, 2012 10:35 a.m.

    First off, this article is awesome because I want to be a journalist, and it sheds light on a lot of things that were previously unknown to me. I respect gaming journalists for what they do, and personally I think it's ridiculous that anybody would question their passion for gaming. Why would you get a job that's so centered around gaming if you weren't passionate about them? I usually try to stay away from internet wars, but Darth Hater has been spewing his opinion a bit too loudly for me to ignore. I'm sorry, but I feel like if you have an opinion that you would like to share, you should do so without attacking all other people in the comments. Also, don't hate on the people who run the website you're actively using. If you don't like the website, then do us all a favor and leave.
  • Yukichin - March 1, 2012 6:16 p.m.

    THANK you for this. I just started my own gaming blog, since I really want to get into gaming journalism. http://beyond-the-joystick.blogspot.com is the URL if anyone is interested.
  • Plan10FromOuterSpace - March 1, 2012 11:05 a.m.

    Some nice information here, its always been a dream job of mine to work as a games or film journalist but I'm forced to accept that the likelihood of achieving either of these dreams is very slim. This hasn't put me off though and Im hoping to refine my writing skills while at university and maybe even get some stuff published, even if its just writing for a uni newsletter... that's good experience right? Who knows where i'll be in ten years time, im pretty sure a degree will give me plenty of fall back options, but for me, being a games journalism seems a dream worth chasing.
  • markwiglesworth - March 1, 2012 9:50 a.m.

    This article really helps a lot and I will probably pick up your book. I am currently a trainee journalist at the University of Portsmouth - I imagine this will help quite a bit for the future. Thanks.
  • XanderGC - March 1, 2012 9:37 a.m.

    What a nice surprise. Thank you for writing this article Dan. Time to work on my writing skillz! :)
  • Y2Ken - March 1, 2012 4:18 a.m.

    Thanks for taking the time to write this, Dan. I will be picking up your book as I think it would make for an interesting read. I have considered going into games journalism for a while now, I know it's not the highest-paid job and there's a lot of deadline stress, but I think I could handle that to work in an industry I love. Been writing reviews and opinion pieces of late in an attempt to improve my skills, I have always been a competent writer but attempting to tweak that skill to the specifics of games journalism is a unique challenge. Hopefully I can make it work out, but in the meantime I'll carry on practising. (Spellcheck doesn't like "practising" but rather favours "practicing", however I believe the former to be correct usage when it is a verb, perhaps it is different in American English.)
  • sh33phead - March 1, 2012 4:02 a.m.

    Very helpful, honest article with no sugar coating. Important things to know if you want to get into this line of work. Thanks GR
  • AuthorityFigure - March 1, 2012 12:58 a.m.

    This article doesn't explain how Tom McShea is employed...
  • Jaces - March 1, 2012 12:17 a.m.

    Always thought about writing articles and reviews for games as a job when I was younger, though after I realized it was actual WORK I decided not to mix work with my games.
  • DanAmrich - March 4, 2012 12:31 a.m.

    I think a lot of people do the same thing. Games are an escape; games are pure enjoyment for most of the people who play them. When you review a game, you have to consider it on a different level, and sometimes that strips all the fun out of it, and you ruin what you loved about it. I had similar problems when I started out reviewing music.
  • phoenix_wings - February 29, 2012 10:39 p.m.

    If you're not a half-decent writer or don't like writing, forget about it. As a hobby, I write for a small horror-gaming website, which I've been doing for a few years. I love writing, and I've been told by many that I'm pretty good at it - but I have a really rough time writing a decent article if I'm not interested in it. No one wants to read a basic run-down of a game's requirements or what's involved in the game. They want you to sell it to them. You need to make your opinion interesting and entertaining to read, or why bother? And when you're not interested in the particular subject, that's a tall order. Falling back on strong writing skills is crucial. Glad it's a small site and I only do it as a hobby - but someday I'd like to take the plunge and go for something bigger.
  • Matt Hughes - February 29, 2012 10:34 p.m.

    Dan, I'm genuinely impressed by how you've turned what has probably been the most annoying (and common) question asked of you throughout your career into an opportunity for profit, while simultaneously answering it for everyone, once and for all. Genius. By the way, the book is awesome. Required reading for anyone interested in this path.
  • babyface - February 29, 2012 9:58 p.m.

    I am actually studying journalism right now at my university and have always been quite interested in games journalism, and that article alone got me even more interested! Picking up a copy of your book for sure.
  • Lurkero - February 29, 2012 9:52 p.m.

    This question is asked so much that I wish people would just stop answering it
  • sigmanaughty - February 29, 2012 8:46 p.m.

    After reading this article i couldnt help but buy Dan Electro's book

Showing 1-16 of 16 comments

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