PAX Panel Recap:
You're a Games Journalist! Now What?

Advice from industry veterans

Apr 28, 2016
PAX East 2016 Journalism Panel

Getting paid to review games is a much-coveted job these days, but it takes more work than the average person would think. Games journalism is an industry full of writers working for next-to-nothing. With so much competition, how does one go from working for free to making a living wage writing about games? At this year’s PAX East, industry veterans offered their advice to growing journalists in a panel titled “You’re a Games Journalist! Now What?”

Listen to Feedback

The panel started with the assumption that attendees already have some experience in game journalism. This allowed the panelists to jump right into talking about ways writers could hone their craft. Susan Arendt, managing editor of GamesRadar+, said how she loves helping writers by taking work that is considered “good enough” and making it better. "When you get to a certain level in this industry, people stop touching your work. You don't get the opportunity to be edited.” Ken Gagne and Alexa Ray Corriea, who both have experience editing, agreed, adding that working without an editor is one of the downsides of being Patreon supported. “If you have a Patreon, still have someone else proofread your work,” Alexa said.

Ken celebrated how much editing has helped him improve as a writer, recalling a time where he used to try to explain everything his editor complained about instead of listening. "Now when I get a lot of red marks I'm thrilled because it gives me that many opportunities to improve."

Get Paid For Your Work

According to Alexa Ray Corriea, the first step to getting paid in this industry is to value yourself. “Don’t write for free,” she said. “If you show the person you want to write for that you value yourself, they will value you as well”. This sentiment was echoed later in the panel by Holly Green. “If someone's getting paid for the clicks on their site, you should be getting paid for your work,” she emphasized.

"If someone's getting paid for the clicks on their site, you should be getting paid for your work."

That being said, earning a living wage is not an easy task, especially when publications aren’t bringing in a lot of money. When asked about the hardest thing she had to do at her job, Susan Arendt remembered a time where she had to fire six staff members from her team. “I had to ruin 6 people's lives after the best month the site ever had.” Even Holly Green, who has been writing professionally for over seven years, mentioned how little money her career has brought her. “Even with over a million subscribers, only the Editor In Chief [of our site] was making a living wage,” she said, mentioning that his job required much less work than hers.

Make Some Videos

Even for writers who are making money, it was made clear that making enough to pay the rent requires more work than just writing. For some, video was their way to earning some additional income and exposure. Ken Gagne’s first six years as a writer went by without his pay rate ever increasing. “The most money I’ve ever made from games is my YouTube channel,” he told attendees, stating that the channel made him roughly $20,000 over the course of three years. “It’s a side hobby,” he said, pointing out that video alone wouldn’t have supported him through that time.

"The idea that you're going to be just a reviewer? Forget it."

“Video is easier to monetize”, said Susan. “Youtube takes a 45% cut, but you make a lot of money so long as you're getting millions of views. The ad rate on sites makes almost nothing. People don’t read anymore. If you want to increase your value, learn how to edit a video.”

“If you’re a writer, I don’t see any way other than video. You have to have a personal brand,” Holly Green said, emphasizing the need to reach a wider audience. “It’s tough, most people want to write, not have a huge social media presence.”

Video isn’t the only way. To become more valuable as employees and freelancers, writers should expect to take on multiple roles. “The idea that you're going to be just a reviewer? Forget it,” Susan said. “If you want to pay the bills, you need a lot of skills.” While she reiterated the importance of video and social media, she noted that there were many different opportunities in the industry. “The plus side is they're mostly really cool! You're doing creative things.”

Learn New Skills

Samit Sarkar, a senior reporter for Polygon, gave some examples from his own personal experience, stating that he started covering sports games at Destructoid before moving on to reviews, and eventually a podcast. He is now doing broader entertainment coverage for Polygon, as well as video. “Yesterday we did a 10 minute live stream [on Facebook] about the Playstation 4K,” giving an example of the new things he’s doing every day. “That's all stuff that's been offered to me, but it's really important to try to argue for getting those opportunities [if they aren’t offered].” He referenced how he was interested in trying to make Polygon’s review layouts himself ever since he started working there, but never got the opportunity until he thought to ask about it. “Now I do a lot of them when Polygon is busy. I'm stretching a lot of muscles that I'm not when I'm writing.”

"I'm stretching a lot of muscles that I'm not when I'm writing."

These opportunities also far surpass writing or making videos. When asked specifically about how to make the jump from freelancing to a paid editing job, Holly Green stated that she moved up at Gameranx by making herself invaluable. She mentioned taking the lead on tasks such as setting up social media profiles and keeping up with search engine optimization, “pushing and pushing for new infrastructure until I was told ‘you should be a managing editor’.”

Susan Arendt later described the value of building on both hard skills and soft skills. She explained further that hard skills are things that are easy to bullet point on a resume, such as video editing and product photography. Continuing, she stated “soft skills are the things that go in between,” mentioning things such as being able to deescalate a situation, sounding nice in your emails, or making sure that someone has both heard and understood what you’ve said to them. “The kind of stuff that no one will ever tell you on a performance review that you need to work on.”

Advice For Beginners

Before their Q&A session, the panelists wrapped up by discussing the things they wished they knew before starting their careers. Samit regretted not strengthening his skills outside of writing sooner. “When I started I had only done video in my first semester of college,” he said. “I do wish that I had explored the stuff [I learned during my career] earlier. It's pretty much necessary at this point.”

“I wish I knew that making a mistake wasn't the end of the world,” said Alexa. “If you make a mistake or publish something with the wrong name, go in and fix it. Mea culpa,” she said. “It's gonna happen, and it's ok. One of these days I'm gonna make a mistake and I'm gonna be able to pick myself up and move on.”

“Having value doing something other than just being a writer,” said Susan, whose current job consists of mostly editing and managing. “The ability to say, 'you shouldn't do that and here's why’ is an important skill that has value that not a lot of people have,” she said. While she still wishes her writing skills were better, she now knows just important the skills she has are to her team. “I bring different skills to the table.”

Go Out and Create!

Games journalism is an industry overflowing with competition. While that can be daunting, the best takeaway from this panel is that it’s possible to break into this industry if you’re willing to put in the work. No one at this panel was as good of a journalist when they began their careers. Everybody starts somewhere. If you’ve got what it takes, what’s stopping you?

Zoë Wolfe

Co-Founder, Webmaster