It’s not that hard to write about video games for a living. Really. I did it. Still do, kind of. I agree with Arthur on one point, mainly: being a good enough writer to do so professionally is a gift, and reading and schooling and blogging can only get you so far. If you don’t got it, you don’t got it.
But let me tell you my story.
I was working at an EB Games in Chicago until Fall 2006. Most of the time I was working there I also ran a gaming blog with my good friend Tom Mc Shea (now a reviewer at GameSpot) called G-Pinions. We just wrote about whatever was on our minds for the small group of friends and random readers that followed us. We also used the site to get into E3 for a couple of years (which is admittedly harder now). I dug up the names of some PR contacts from press releases and the like, and used our site to get copies of games to review. Sometimes it worked, mostly it didn’t.
All of the games writing that I read was becoming more progressive and mature by the moment, and I wanted to be a part of that. I poked around on Craigslist and saw that GamesRadar was looking for an Editorial Intern; I emailed them with some samples, saying that I’d fly myself out for an interview if they’d entertain the idea of hiring someone who wasn’t local. They agreed. The interview went well, and while I was in SF I stalked the 1UP staff from the downstairs lobby for a bit; watching my unbeknownst future coworkers Andrew Pfister and Garnett Lee going off to lunch – like they had always talked about on 1UP Yours – was a thrill (a story I’ve never told before now, so enjoy).
I guess GamesRadar liked me (I got the impression that there weren’t a ton of applicants), and agreed to bring me on as an unpaid intern if I moved out there.
I had saved a bit of money from my EB gig (which I loved, but that’s another story), so I quit my job, packed everything that I could fit into one car, and drove to San Francisco. I mostly did what amounted to data entry and asset management at GamesRadar, and wrote a few news stories and a review. I was plenty happy with it, but also running out of savings, even with renting a single room in a literally crazy man’s house in South San Francisco.
I was again browsing for jobs on Craigslist, and came across what appeared to be a dream job at Sony for a Product Evaluator position. I thought “what the hell” and applied, assuming I’d never hear back. While visiting my girlfriend at the time on the East Coast a week later, I got the call from Sony to come in for an interview. I did so when I got back, things seemed to go well, but they were put on a hiring freeze shortly afterward. Mark, who had interviewed me, kept telling me to hold on, but things were becoming dire financially. I could either go back to work at an EB nearby, or admit defeat and go back to Chicago.
It was then that my friend Johnny Postman (from the CheapAssGamer forums and customer at my EB) pointed me to a blog post by Andrew Pfister saying that 1UP was looking for a Reviews Intern. Being a massive lifelong fan of EGM, 1UP and the whole Ziff Davis shebang, I got my best samples together and compiled what they asked for and applied.
The following week was GDC, which I attended under the G-Pinions name (which was on its last legs since I was at GamesRadar). I pulled off some great networking, even managed to have dinner with Jenn Frank, 1UP’s Community Manager at the time, and Arne Meyer, a then-Microsoft PR contact who had actually taken notice of my blog when no one else cared. Most importantly, I managed to find and corner Andrew Pfister as he was eating his lunch in one of the GDC halls, introducing myself and giving him a face to go with a name that had applied for his internship.
The following week, he emailed me for an interview, which was conducted by himself, Garnett Lee and Sam Kennedy, three longtime games media heroes of mine. I was honest as always and passionate about my interest in writing about games, and they liked my samples. A day later (maybe even later that day, I forget) I received an offer for a paid internship from 1UP, allowing me to stay in the Bay Area.
I spent about eight months as an intern posting all of the reviews on 1UP, policing the comments section, and writing LOTS of reviews of my own (from the very worst to the very best). I was promoted to a full time position on the New Year, and held that job – my absolute dream job – for a full year until the 1UPocalypse in early 2009.
A few weeks after I was laid off I emailed Mark at Sony during some downtime between freelancing, saying that if he was still working there and happened to need someone, I was back on the market (with more experience to boot). He told me that they had just been looking for my email address, as I was next in line for the Product Evaluator spot that I had interviewed for two years prior, and they had an opening. Mark has been one of my bosses for the past two and a half years since.
So yes, you can write about games for a living. I did. It takes passion (selling yourself in an interview and knowing how to write a professional but engaging email), it takes risk and commitment (giving up your stable life and moving to the Bay Area), and it takes skill (having written enough about games to feel confident doing so and bringing your own voice/something unique to say, and having some degree of natural talent). I know MANY other games writers who came from similarly humble beginnings, came up alongside me, and are now working at the likes of GameSpot, IGN and Game Informer.
I don’t think that I was lucky, for the most part. I didn’t use connections, I used writing samples. I looked on Craigslist for jobs. I just took the right steps (which included a few huge risks), had some good timing here and there, and made it happen for myself. It’s rare to find a talented writer who actually WANTS to write about games – based on my experience looking for freelance reviewers, and reading a lot of games writing – so if that criteria fits you I think that you’re in a smaller pool than you think you are.
When I used to get asked how to get into games writing, I’d always be hesitant to give what felt like terrible advice: quit your job and move to the Bay Area. But really, if you’ve read this much and think you have what it takes, and it’s what you really want: quit your job and move to the Bay Area. You can make it happen, I know you can. Because it did for me.