Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Is the videogame industry right for you?

Or to put it more accurately, would I recommend a career in videogames. I’ll get to the other areas of the industry in a bit, but let’s focus on writing about them first. After a chat with Dom, he wrote some thoughts about where he stands on joining the ranks of videogame journalism full time. As he can attest, it can be a fairly tough nut to crack; after all, there are only so many professional magazines and web sites out there. And even if you make it, only a small percentage have a chance at running the show and make decent money. As Dom mentioned, the best he might hope for is a senior editor gig. In almost any other category where crafting words is your bread and butter, a senior editor position is gold. It takes years, perhaps decades before someone ascends to that rank or something equivalent. The difference between other industries and covering the games beat is that the latter is perceived as less valuable. Any kid with a love of games and high school degree could hack it right? Granted there have been “kids” like that running around in the early days, but the majority of editors I know are highly educated folks. The perception is still there and unfortunately the pay scale remains south of the norm. Don’t get things confused though, being a writer in any industry is no ticket to big bucks (unless you’re the writer of Desperate Housewives or are married to one of them). Is it any wonder that three friends, who I think are among the top writers in games, are no longer writing about games? It’s a damn shame.

So, is it still worth trying to write about games? Conditionally, the answer is yes. No matter how much you may think you love games, you have to really love them to play and write about them all the time. It can easily burn you out. Whenever a cherished hobby becomes your job, that’s always a danger. Of course just loving games isn’t enough. You have to write well, be able to function in an office environment, and manage your time wisely. Basically, every requisite of working in a professional capacity applies. You really do need a certain determination to do this job for the long haul. Writing about games in my original fanzine was something I just NEEDED to do and luckily it got me “discovered” allowing me to go pro.

As for what I’ll do next, many have advised me to go into other areas like public relations or game development. There’s more growth there, a tad more security, and certainly a whole lot more money they say. Game development is very exciting, but also very scary. With all the consolidation going down in the industry, I doubt there’s more security in one place over another no matter what you do. Well, I’m leaving the options as open as possible until shrinking finances force my hand. I have high hopes that the future of game journalism is bright. New forms of coverage will not only emerge, but also actually be successful. The internet changed the landscape just a few years ago, but there are still many different ways to cover games in this medium. Maybe I’m too much of an optimist?


Frosty said...

There's no doubt that moving away from any job-type, including videogames-based journalism, is scary. It's especially true when you've been doing something for so many years. There are no guarantees in life, right? So, why would anyone want to take that leap of faith unless they have to?

Fortunately, I was blessed with the opportunity to move on based on my own decision, but there was still plenty of apprehension and uncertainty about it. I just had to take a chance because I knew that a career of writing was not for me, especially when most of my educational background was based on the computer sciences. Also, I just wanted to apply all those years of commenting on games to (what I believe) was a bigger cause… making games. I needed a career that I felt had more room for growth and a larger number of possible paths. Writing always made me feel like I was on a bit of a back road with a limited number of forks. Still, my friends were walking that road with me, so there was plenty of fun to be had.

That’s why there’s no doubt that I greatly enjoyed all my editorial years. Being part of IGN and PSM was a definitely a highlight in my life and more fun (and challenging) than I expected it to be. I learned a lot and met a great number of people. I would never take it back. There was just this point I reached where I started thinking seriously about my future and where I wanted to be in five years. I just couldn’t see myself writing still, especially when I had already started burning out. So, I took the jump and landed at Electronic Arts.

It’s now a year later and things are still going really well. I was lucky enough to land in a group comprised of some great folks and am now just finishing up my latest project, Oddworld Stranger’s Wrath (which seems to be reviewing well). As before, I still don’t quite know what my future will hold, but I’m feeling a lot more excited. My only real regret is not moving onto my new career path sooner, but that’s to be expected.

To those of you who continue in your writing careers and those who are just starting out, I salute you. Enjoy the time and learn as much as you can. Just be thinking about the future when you can, so that you can make a good decision when you reach your fork in the road. Heading left instead of always right may be one of the best things you ever do.

sean said...

Well said. I've just recently begun down my own post-video-game-mag road...two weeks and counting, so far so good. ;) I told myself yeeeeears ago that if the game-writing thang ever stopped being fun, I'd get out of it immediately and go back to the much more lucrative field of electrical automotive engineering from whence I came. That never happened (though I did freelance my mad ISO documentation skillz a lot to fill in the financial holes Ratchet & Clank couldn't), and I shifted to something still in the tech/publishing field, only a little broader, and a little more "transferable." A little more actual-jobby, too. It's freed up my head a bit too to concentrate on some of the personal creative things I've been meaning to do for the last four years but couldn't because my entire right brain had been co-opted by writing about video games. It's a great racket to get into, and I wouldn't trade away those last 5 years for anything, but man, if that can get old, ANYTHING can get old.