Video Game Journalism: Lacking the First Step

Chances are, you might have heard about the immense backlash at Brash Games. It goes to show that the entry level of video game writing and journalism really isn’t friendly. It is a system that exploits people who wish to be writers and does all manner of horrible things. While Brash is not the first, there seems to be a constant question of why people get exploited, as well as a plea from others to make sure up-and-coming-writers aren’t tricked into working for free.

The problem is that these people have no first step.

Personal Experience

This is not the first website I’ve written for, nor will it be the last. Before this, I had written for two small-time websites: Splitpush.net and Fortis Core. Let me be clear that Fortis hasn’t paid me but I do it because I know those who run it and I have high hopes for it. Splitpush, conversely, paid me for my work albeit it wasn’t all that much money in hindsight.

Perhaps what frustrates me most about others who insist on finding a place that will accept me and pay me a fair wage is that those places don’t truly exist. Paying writing jobs are often contract work or throwing your resume into a giant pile in hopes that someone will pick it up. I would love to get paid for the articles I write here but I doubt that is going to happen. They need editing and I’m not the best when it comes to editing. I could use eyes on my work but beyond posting on twitter and sharing with other sites, I can’t get that “exposure” that I need.

In the grand design, people often ask how anyone could write for exposure. The answer is simple: It’s all you can get. I was shocked when I was being offered about ten dollars for what I wrote at Splitpush because I had never been paid for my writing before barring some commissions. Often, new writers will take anything they can get because we don’t have that much available to us. So we either start our own websites and hope to garner a following or we go where they’ll take us.

Stairs Without a Step

This comes back to the problem that there is a lack of a clear, first step. Most writers will have a cavalcade of stories with how they got noticed: Some went to college, got a degree and worked at small time places for cheap. Others wrote a lot on the net and eventually got noticed. Some might be able to even leverage the horror story they had into job offers and being a spokesperson about the industry. Yet in terms of an actionable start to a career in video game journalism, there isn’t much.

This, in turn, leads to the abuse situations one can see on the net. Yes, exposure isn’t great and exposure can’t pay bills…but in terms of a first step, sometimes that is the best you can get. It feels dreadful because now you’re working for free but with the hopes that this can transition into something that will pay bills and let you work. It also doesn’t help that the pool of people who wish to write about games is enormous. Competition will shut out a majority of these people, which will lead them into taking less fair work and more painful jobs.

Perhaps this sounds like whining from someone who can’t find work, which is fair, but I’d hardly say my experience is unique. Outlets like Reddit aren’t well-suited to article sharing because of the format of content that shines while people will chastise you for spamming and posting your own work as opposed to reading about it.

Paving the Cracks

I think the best question to ask is if this is a problem that can’t be fixed. Honestly, it’s probably not something you can fix. Game journalism is just like any other media and breaking in is the hardest part. Sure, we can advertise and work with companies who treat up-and-comers right but those are limited jobs and there are a lot more questionable groups than admirable groups.

The earnest, best thing we can do to help those who wish to get ahead is to try and get more of those companies who can treat writers well. The more helpful groups there are who seek to nurture writers, the better the talent pool grows and the overall industry improves. It also means shady situations are avoided and left to rot. So long as there is more positive construction than negative exploitation, there will always be a net gain.

Overall, the worst thing I see being done is the posturing that “you’re worth money” and “find a place that will pay you for your work”. If that were as easy as it was said, situations like Brash Games wouldn’t happen. There are struggling writers who don’t have a place that will pay them, making them resort to working at other places for the great reward of exposure. There is so much talk about it yet very little in the way of offers of places to go.

Everyone wants to pay writers fair wages but it seems that when that young upstart comes knocking, the wallet is empty and they’re told to get to the back of the line.

Blizzard and Riot’s Lack of Help for Writers

Perhaps this article might come off as more of a rant. I’m ok with that. To be completely honest, I often feel slighted by these companies as a content creator because of the medium I chose: writing. Yes, from articles to fan fiction, writers are just as much a part of the creative community as anyone else..but good luck finding support.

Dying Art Form

The reason for the ignoring is pretty obvious: Writing as an art form is somewhat dying. With movies, games and more all muscling out books and the written word, companies generally don’t help these types of people. That’s not to say they don’t appreciate your contribution…well, I think.

Art contests are abound such as polycount. League features a nexus for fan art where you can submit your drawn art and show it to the world. Blizzard regularly features art on their twitter as well as having a wall in the Overwatch studio dedicated specifically to fan art. You’re not going to find writing here, however. Companies don’t do these sorts of contests with writers because the time and effort going into analyzing a good story is likely more subjective and more questionable than art itself.

Along with that, the main medium of sharing art in recent times is twitter and reddit. Two websites that focus greatly on short, quick, easy-to-consume content for the masses. One time someone posted one of my fan fics to the League subreddit and it got something along the lines of four hundred positive votes. Comparatively, a quick shitpost I did (with wrong information, mind you) nearly garnered eight hundred. It felt demoralizing to know that jokes I can make in five minutes are far-and-away more well received than stories I pour hours-to-months-to-years of work into.

The Bouncer at the Club

Perhaps the moment that truly tilted me was when I saw Riot sending a care package to a cosplayer for creating content for League of Legends. I thought it was awesome and showed that Riot really cared…and then I remembered there was no possible way I could earn this as a writer. Above all else, it stung because many writers put just as much time, effort and otherwise into their work comparative to artists, cosplayers and movie-makers for youtube.

Blizzard regularly releases Overwatch hero maps for people who wish to cosplay their character. For writers they can’t even get a straight story to stay canonical. Riot regularly hosts content creator workshops with youtubers, cosplayers and more. Writers are never going into that. The only writing content I remember for League was done by a rioter (Bioluminescence, bless her soul) who took it upon herself to read, review and otherwise categorize everything on her own.

This sort of thing is also poison for people who wish to create for your game. If I don’t have a basic place to put my work and share it with the community, what’s the point? Writing a story for yourself is all well-and-good but people want to share their work with the world. They want feedback, praise, criticism, critique, acknowledgement. Artists and video-makers are afforded this luxury. Why must it be a challenge for a writer?

A Box of Scraps

This is usually the part where I list what I think could be done to improve things for writers but, honestly, I don’t know. I’ve spoken with friends at both Blizzard and Riot about finding ways to acknowledge great writers and those who pour their heart-and-souls into the work they do. My advice has either fallen of death ears or applied in an ironic way. I’ll leave you with a story:

One of my ideas I spit balled at a Rioter was the creation of a subset in their “Nexus” (lore form) for writers to submit their ideas and writing. They asked how I would do this in a way to include everyone. I said that’s not possible and that it would be subject to rigorous standards, testing, etc. They told me that wouldn’t happen, as the divide between have-and-have-not-writers would be far too great.

About a week later, Riot unveiled a system where artists could submit their artwork to a grand database after a rigorous review process for recognition and praise. The very system I wanted to writers was applied for artists while writers were told that there was still no place for them in League of Legends. It was yet again another avoided inclusion of writers and yet another time I felt that my form of content creation did not matter to Riot.

Situations like this make me want to put down my keyboard and say forget writing.