You just might make it in the games press

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.

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Published in: on September 20, 2011 at 6:56 pm  Comments (19)  

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19 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Really enjoyed reading your blog post, I thought that Arthur was a bit harsh at points. I’m in a similar position that you were in at some point, started my own website getting review copies for games, interviews with developers, attending conventions ect.

    Been trying to get freelance work in the last month or so with not much success, as it would be really good to be earning a bit of money while studying at university.

    Not really sure if I want to pursue it as a full time job at the moment, as I’m doing a computer science degree and kinda enjoying programming and all of that stuff too.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing and congratulations on getting where you are now, hopefully more people will start sharing similar stories.

  2. Your article is very inspiring. I myself am an aspiring video game journalist and it is my dream to do this full time and work for Game Informer. I’m Senior Editor for greatgamingcrusade.com and a reviewer for psuni.com, so I’m trying gain enough experience to get noticed by someone. Your article gives me some reassurance that some small town guy from Oklahoma just might be able to make it on his writing skills and love for the video game industry. Thank you.

  3. It’s nice to hear stories like this. I know Arthur had his say and G4 said somethings too but I have enjoyed hearing everyone’s sides. As an outsider looking in, it’s nice to have everyone’s perspectives. I think all of you have had great points that are not worth arguing about but everyone reading can see how passionate you all are. I personally just enjoy writing and reading about games. If no one reads what I have to that’s fine. I just find it therapeutic.

  4. Nice post Nick. I am so glad to hear your counter to Arthur. The industry seems to be full of inspiring journalists who to often hear that it’s, “to hard” or, “you should do something else.”. I myself have no desire to be a writer, but there is always room for more good writers out there. I think Arthur may have an inside looking out point of view, and try to realize that disheartening statements about the career choices that people make is no good for anyone. Encouragement is what I like to hear, and you sir have clearly given us just that.

  5. Thanks for the post Nick! Makes me feel better about trying to take my site, HandheldHeroes.net further to the point I can pay people to work for me. I would love to do more writing since I love doing it but I have to settle into the role of making things work by emailing, calling, and planning things.

    Your words makes me want to keep going even more until I make my site a place that people will come to and enjoy.

  6. Little known and possibly encouraging fact for Tyler Lee: Oklahoma was once a hotbed of games journalism, with no less then three future GameSpot and 1Uppers writing for the teeny tiny Edmond Sun at the same time.

  7. Nice post, Nick. I meant to write my own counterpoint to Arthur’s piece about how I got into the games press, but hadn’t gotten around to it yet.

    The one point I’d differ from both you and Arthur on is the importance of being in the Bay area. I got into it by simply writing about games from my then studio apartment in Portland, OR (where I’m still based). There’s not much industry around here, but it’s reasonably close to Seattle and still on the West coast, so it’s a cheaper flight to LA/SF than some places. Could be better, could be worse. But I never had to do anything as risky as quit my job and move to one of the most expensive cities in the country based on a wing and a prayer. No way.

    Instead I worked an unremarkable part-time job to pay the bills and wrote on the side until I worked my way up. It happened quite fast for me. Within two weeks I found freelance work at HonestGamers and TheGameReviews.com which didn’t pay much but gave me experience (and free review games on occasion).

    After only a year I had the confidence to pitch to bigger outlets and got my first big time freelance gig at G4. That didn’t exactly skyrocket my career as expected, though. I still had to keep my eyes peeled elsewhere, brainstorm ideas, send cold pitches, and find my own work. Nobody said it was gonna be easy.

    But I’m doing it now. As in it’s now my full time job and I support myself off it entirely. It’s definitely a lot of work, but it is totally possible.

    I’d be tempted to say I was lucky, but the truth is that several of my old comrades at TheGameReviews have likewise found themselves doing this full time now as well. I think that’s the key, really. Finding other like-minded people so you can keep each other motivated, inspired, and perhaps most importantly of all, give constructive criticism. I still remember how discouraging it was when I first began, but persistence really does pay off.

    Anyway, that’s the encapsulated version of my story. There’s several ways to break into the industry and moving to the Bay area is just one of them. Luck certainly plays a factor, but looking at my peers doing the same thing, luck has a bigger effect on WHEN you’ll make it than IF you’ll make it. It’s definitely something worth pursuing though.

  8. […] recharged and re-motivated. In fact, all it really took was a post by Nick Suttner entitled “You Might Just Make It In The Games Press” to get us to look at each other and once again say “Dude… we need to move to San […]

  9. […] life had gone from passion and excitement to procrastination and complacency. That is, until I read Nick Suttner’s excellent blog post last […]

  10. […] had gone from passion and excitement to procrastination and complacency. That is, until I read Nick Suttner’s excellent blog post last […]

  11. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed!

    https://randomplethora.wordpress.com/

  12. Your story was an interesting summary of the challenges that go into game writing. I worked as a reviewer briefly but found that freelance work wasn’t for me. I later interviewed in game retail but after two rounds if interviews the local store manager sat me down and told me that he thought I could do better then working here. I didn’t know what to say but decided to just leaving gaming as a hobby for the time being.

  13. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed.

  14. Very inspirational. Gives me hope for similar endeavors in the tabletop realm.

  15. Hey thanks for this post. Gives me hope as well as opens my eyes to how things are done. I feel like a lot of people just assume anyone can apply and get a job in this field.

  16. Great information! May I print this out? My son is interested in this field and would enjoy reading it. He’s young still, but with his passion for the gaming field, well, it might give him some direction and hope for doing what he loves.

  17. Hey, great post. I think I’d be really happy writing for a living, and I have written some stuff about games on my blog. It’s on a purely hobby basis, though, and I’m a full-time law student, so I can’t really think about dropping everything and moving to the Bay Area. In another universe, maybe…

  18. If you think that what works for you can work for others (just because it did in your case), you are quite detached from reality. Maybe that’s what it takes in your field.

  19. This was extremely inspiring for us, as we start our new blog/game reviewing adventure. It’s nice to see that, no matter how difficult it might be, we might make it yet. Thanks for making my day.


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