A few months ago I wrote into Kinda Funny, a well-known group of video game influencers. I’ve followed Greg Miller (Kinda Funny Host/ Founder) since his time on Beyond and have always held the opinions of the whole Kinda Funny crew in high regard. I reached out to them to ask a question many gamers ask, how do I make a living for myself in the video game industry? They’ve covered this topic before, but I had a new perspective to add. I’ve been working in the video game industry for several years now, and it’s not all it is cracked up to be.
They recently covered my question in comprehensive detail on episode 176 of the Kinda Funny Gamescast, and this is a breakdown of what they said, where I agree and where I disagree. For anyone wanting to pursue a career in video game journalism, I hope you find this enlightening.
Skip to 36 Minutes to see them answer the question.
I started talking about games publicly when I was 15. I was running a reasonably successful YouTube comedy channel at the time, and was receiving several thousand views on a weekly basis. Like many YouTubers I wanted to expand, so I created a gaming channel. I mainly did ‘Let’s Plays’ and covered the news. I ended up stepping away from both gaming and YouTube soon after to pursue other interests.
While in University I found myself in a rut. I wasn’t sure what I really wanted to do when I graduated and had worked several jobs over the last year; from retail, to public relations, to construction. I hated my jobs and was unsure of my future. So I sat down and asked myself two questions; what do I love and what am I good at. The only constant passion in my life was video games, and my skill set included being a competent writer and decent at performing on camera. It seemed like the perfect job for me would be to work somewhere like IGN (the world’s biggest games journalism website). But I live in New Zealand, and although Lorde has helped our small country break into music and Peter Jackson has done the same for us in film, we have almost no professional video game presence. Very few developers and almost no games journalism organisations exist here.
It was then that I stumbled upon Alanah Pearce, an Australian YouTuber and freelance games journalist who had just secured a job at IGN. New Zealand and Australia are different countries, but are from the same corner of the world, and she was only a few years older than me. If she could do it, maybe I could too. With a quick Google search I found a website that offered a variety of freelance writing jobs from websites based all around the world (click here to view it). Some sites had 100’s of followers on social media, while others had 100,000’s, and every one of them was open to working with writers from all over the world. I applied for a few with a review and opinion piece I whipped up on this very blog (although it was called “whatshouldiplaytoday” at the time) and got my first job within a week.
Within two weeks, I’d received my first early access review code (for a game called Dungeon of the Endless), written a review and was a published writer on a real games journalism website. The entire experience was so surreal. I worked hard and hungrily. I started off reviewing one game a week, with no choice in what games I was given. After 4 months I had built such a repertoire with the owner of the site that I began filming, hosting and editing a weekly news show, handling the websites social media accounts, editing the work of other writers and now had a say in what games I wanted to review. Within 6 months I was also a recurring member of the sites weekly podcast, creating graphic designs for the sites merchandise and occasionally interviewed small indie developers from around the world.
I’ve now been in this industry for several years. I’ve created content for a multitude of websites and expanded my skill set even further. I’ve created Let’s Plays, been a news writer, slaved away on wiki’s and branched out into film, television, tech and comic content. Every site I’ve worked for has been significantly bigger than the last. So surely I’m living the dream life.
Well now I’m going to break it down for you and be brutally honest. Over the course of three years in this industry, working 10 – 20 hours a week, producing 100’s of pieces of content, I’ve made less than $150…
In total… for 3 years work… $120. That’s not even $120 USD, its 120 New Zealand dollars, which is roughly $60 USD. I wasn’t paid so little because the websites were greedy, in fact they were making virtually no money themselves. Most video game websites (that aren’t IGN or Kotaku) are run at a loss, with money coming out of the pockets of the owners of the site, who have to work full time just to support themselves. The money isn’t necessarily a deal breaker. People like myself work hard without reward in the hope that one day it will pay off and get them a job at a major outlet, but the bottom line is that for 90% of the people who slave away, that will never happen.
So I wrote into Kinda Funny to ask what to do. One piece of advice was to create response content and fan art to grab the attention of people bigger than yourself, so well, I guess this is what this is. Another thing they seemed to go back and forth on was whether to focus on niche content or mainstream content that the IGN’s of the world produce. I can safely say neither work. I’ve written for one website who just wanted us to regurgitate the news… after bigger sites had already broken it. We were literally encouraged to copy and paste articles from major websites with minor adjustments. That didn’t feel like real journalism to me and it also didn’t help me build a name for myself. Anyone could have done that job. I’ve also in the last year attempted to create more niche content that is close to my heart. I’ve written about how video games relate to break ups, depression and meditation. I ran a short lived podcast where I interviewed smaller developers and tried to help foster a community of collaboration. The work was more fulfilling but I still saw very little success.
I have learned, honed my skills and produced content in an incredibly wide variety of ways, and none of it has gotten me anywhere.
So let’s get to the core thing Jared (Petty), Tim (Gettys) and Greg (Miller) think I’m missing. Networking. I’ve done the hard work and I’d like to think I’m good at what I do, but I don’t have the right connections. This is why, as someone who has tried, I can safely say that even if YOU try, you probably won’t get into the games journalism industry. The core of Kinda Funny’s advice is to meet the right people. Go to events, go to parties, be friendly and meet people of influence. That’s an easy enough concept to swallow, but for some of us, it is physically impossible. The games coverage industry is geographically incredibly focused. There are jobs in the UK and across America, but the overwhelming majority of the industry is situated in San Francisco. If you live in San Francisco it’s easy to network and if you have good work and a likable personality, you have a decent shot at making it into the industry. If you live elsewhere in America you might have to fork out a few hundred bucks to get to a convention, but you still have a chance. If you live on the other side of the world (like I do) the cost of going to a convention and hoping to meet someone is thousands of dollars.
Even if you do somehow get there and meet the right person, there are a lot of people trying to get into this industry, and the job will always be offered to a local before it goes to someone who has to immigrate from another country. As Jared put it, even if you do everything right, you still might not make it. If you’re situation is anything like mine, the odds are stacked against you.
However life is short and you should follow your passions. I will always write about games on this blog, but I’ll never do it for a living, and honestly I don’t think I want to anymore. I know journalists who are pressured to produce a minimum of 10 articles a week for less than $10 pay. I’ve been publicly shamed by other journalists just for trying to have a conversation with them. I’ve been let go from sites for not “meeting my quota of articles,” because I was in hospital, despite the fact that every bit of work I did to help grow the site, was done for free. Even if you do make it, public figures like Alanah Pearce, arguably one of the most prominent of IGN’s hosts, have admitted that even when working full time at our dream destination, she often struggled to pay the bills.
I love writing and talking about video games, and I love the sites I occasionally still write for, but the majority of the games journalism industry I’ve been a part of, has been cruel and soul crushing. However that doesn’t mean that you have to give up on your dreams of joining the games industry, because despite all this I haven’t.
I sent in my question to Kinda Funny several months ago, and almost immediately after sending it in, I decided to pursue game development. I’m still doing what I’m good at (writing), I’m still working on what I love (games), but I now have a far better opportunity at making a living and a name for myself. This IS an amazing industry. I’ve worked hard, but it wasn’t for nothing, I’ve learned a lot. Stay passionate and persevere. You never have to give up on your dreams, but you may have to adjust and course correct. Thanks Kinda Funny for answering my question, good luck to everyone out there trying to break into this industry and I can’t wait to show you what I’m working on next (when it’s ready).