The inevitable F.A.Q – Part 2: The Games industry

The Games industry:

What do you do in the games industry?
I started off as a freelance writer trying to break in, working for DeUCE, Graduate Planet and Games Domain. Eventually Games Domain hired me full time as a staff writer. I was promoted to Console Editor a year later, before the site got sold to Yahoo. At Yahoo I became UK Editor, writer and liaison, before eventually being promoted to Yahoo UK Games Producer. I eventually moved on to become freelance, which is what I currently do, providing general content for numerous publications and publishers. May I direct you to my profile for those particular publications?

You may.
Thank you.

How long have you worked in the games industry?
Since 2000-1 (unpaid to paid). So I’ve a fair few contacts built up over time. They probably would disown me now, given I’m a writing ronin/mercenary.

“Writing ronin”? Doesn’t it say “Writing Gaijin”? on your tag?
Um… yeah. I see myself as both ronin and gaijin. Problem?

No. (Freak.)
That’s better.
Wait, what did you say?

Nothing. So, what kind of work do you take for hire in the games industry?
Reviews, previews, columns, transcription, script work (see the up-coming ‘Fiction’ section for more details), that sort of stuff. General articles. I also do news, although tend to be less willing as I’m fairly fed up with it. I’ll also strongly consider games manual, story work, fiction/character writing, that sort of stuff.

Are there examples of your work I can see?
Sample review: (Conspiracy: Weapons of Mass Destruction)

Sample preview: (Sensible Soccer 2006)

Sample feature: (Xbox 360 on Live E3 2006)

There’s tons more, so just feel free to ask.

Hmm. I put your name in a search engine, and only a few pages came up. Shouldn’t you have a billion web pages from half a decade of work?
*Sobs* Yes. But unfortunately, the Fates have decided me unworthy. Games Domain died a slow, uncomfortable death for many reasons, which-

What reasons?
I cant say. That would be unprofessional. Besides, these things happen.

How about a few beers and some money? Then you’ll tell?
It’ll take more than cheap bribery to loosen my tongue!
(Meet me out back in 10 minutes. Bring unmarked bills).

Okay, carry on.
Cheers. It died for various reasons, and so took many of its web pages (of which I had thousands of) to the great interweb in the sky. There’s some legacy pages left over, old/dead links and such, but most are gone, with the only trace of them being are the raw copy I have left on my computers.

Yeah. Lots of great people I worked with disappeared from the industry, too. It was pretty heavy slap of reality, but that’s life, it seems.

Do you accept work from publishers as well as magazines/sites?
Yes. Perhaps more so these days. The work is more varied, the pay better and prestige is higher.

Will you work for free?
No. Sorry. Freelancing is my only source of income, so my time is directly related to said income, which is naturally pretty important to my well being. I’m not trying to break into the industry anymore, I’ve paid my dues in both work experience and education, and this isn’t a hobby despite the fact I love it. I do actually have a couple things I do for free in the games industry, but I literally cant afford to take on any more. Nothing personal, I just need to, you know, live. And stuff. Sorry about that.

But what if I promise you future pay down the line?
Then I’m still unlikely to sign on. Again, sorry, nothing personal at all, but IOUs cant buy me food or pay my bills in the present. And if I cant even pay my internet connection, then you cant even get my articles, so we both lose out. There’s also the issue of trust. I’ve been screwed over by several companies who have taken my work and disappeared without even acknowledging my existence afterwards. And these were publications that I was working on for FREE.
As a freelancer, your survival is based on mutual reliability, and even the most professional company will slip up with an invoice from time to time, but at least they’re still paying me at the end of the day. So I try to be selective with work in the games industry now, having made a few mistakes that have cost me in more ways than I’d like.

Okay. What are your rates?
Depends on deadlines, type of work, etc. Give me a shout and we can discuss it.

Do you get free games?
Not as many as I used to. I’m lucky to get one or two every few months for review code, but that’s about it.

Does reviewing mean you ‘test’ the games?
No. Most reviewing is a combination of playing and writing; but you have to enjoy the writing part as much (if not more) than the playing, or it’s a moot point. Actual games testing is a job of playing every part of a game as much as possible, exploring each section for bugs, quirks and other breakables before the game is released. A reviewer often gets the game after the tester is done with it. Then we spend whole paragraphs on sanctimonious disdain detailing what the tester missed in a scathing write-up.

Do you cover press shows?
If I’m asked to, yes. Although the cost of travel means I’ll only do them for paying work anyway.

Are there any particular game genres you prefer?
Action, football, First-Person Shooters, RPGs… I’m pretty easy going, although generally prefer to review something that doesn’t take 60+ hours to play through. I’m not getting any younger, sadly, and been playing games since I was 4, so I’m more cynical than I used to be.

Who do you think will become next market leader?
It’ll be close and splintered across territories for Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo, but Nintendo may clinch this one through its aggressive marketing on new/lapsed gamers. That’s pretty much the key to ‘winning’ – untapped markets. Atari did it. Nintendo did it. Sega did it (in Europe). Sony did it most recently, and in HUGE way. And that’s what Nintendo is doing with its DS handheld and will try to do with Wii. New audience blood is pretty much the main reason why there’s a three generation changeover for consoles. A company finds a new audience, caters to it and then exhausts it around the time of its third generation, at which point another company looks for a new market, taps it and becomes leader. There’s no ‘three generation curse’, so to speak. Just a need for economic growth which happens over a natural period of time, coinciding by the time a successful company reaches its ‘third’ generation roll out. Otherwise the industry crashes and the snake eats its own tail. It’s survival failsafe. Some argue that the general public haven’t heard of Wii yet, so it’ll fail, which is dumb. Because the general public never heard of PlayStation before it got released. Nor the MegaDrive. Nor the DS. But that didn’t stop them from becoming powerful brands. The general public doesn’t know about a lot of things before they get released. That’s what marketing and advertising teams are for.

How do you break into the games industry?
Luck, work and persistence. It’s easier than it used to be because these days you can create your own sites and promote quicker. But it tends to mean there’s a lot of crap out there. Build up a reputation of providing good, reliable work on time (all the time) and get in contact with editors. Get your name about, keep an eye on vacancies slots. If you’re just starting out, be prepared to work for free and hustle for a while. Your time will come eventually if you’re providing good work for an editor on a constant basis.

Can you help me break in?
I can provide some names and a little direction, perhaps, but only your own work can help you get in. I’ve been knocking around the industry for ages, and even I have problems getting work sometimes, so it isn’t always a simple task.

Do you have an Xbox Live GamerTag?
Yeah, ‘Writing Gaijin’, unsurprisingly enough. You can add me, but I don’t have Gold access, so cant play any games online yet. Sorry.

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