Friday, 1 July 2011

Games Journalism 101: The freebies

If you ask most video game journalists: what's the best thing about your job? nine times, out of then, they'll say:
"All the free stuff"
In fact, it's safe to assume, that same ratio of gamers would like to be game journalists for that very same reason. Who wouldn't want to get games for free and get paid for playing them? But free stuff is just the tip of the complementary iceberg. Games journalism is run on free bars, promo items, trips to foreign countries and review code. If it weren't for the free stuff, most game journalists would probably turn to prostitution - as sucking cock and taking drugs, don't really qualify one for much public sector work.
When you work as a reviewer, you get sent "review code,"which are promotional copies of a game. These tend to be a regular copy of the game, with the yellow "promo copy" strap (see title image) on the cover. Or the disc in a plane CD case, with a sheet of paper telling you what the controls are. And these games -if you don't already know- are free. I remember how exciting it was to get a promo copy of a game sent to me for the first time. And all it came with was a promotional sticker! But it was a free promotional sticker and a sing that I was a proper games journalist.
If you do want to make it, in the upper ranks of games journalism, review code -and any associated promotional items- will become part and parcel of your work. And soon enough you'll be living off canopies from press launch events, flogging that promotional statue of Kratos on ebay and taking all your free review code to your nearest branch of CEX. 
Any journos living round Camden may be in trouble
But if you're reading this then either you're a proper (hack) games journalist, getting his jollies by reading the pathetic rantings of an industry failure. Or you're wanting to enter the insidious, nest of vipers, that is games journalism. I'm gonna assume you fall into the latter category. And probably think that if you're not working for a big website or magazine and you think getting review code is out of the question. Not so.
Even if you're writing for a low viewed website/ blog (most likely for free- but that's another subject we'll get to one day) getting sent review code is possible. Ultimately, it comes down to views. If you have a decent sized audience and your site/blog/online videos look professional enough (Meaning you don't write everything in "l33t" and your writing doesn't sound like the old PlayStation plus magazine) then send a nicely worded email to the game publishers head of PR. You can usually find their email on the official website or a full list of them, on a industry site like gamespress (which is about all it's fucking good for) or Edge magazine. You introduce yourself, tell them who you work/ have worked for and politely ask for any review code going spare, and if not, can you also be added to their list of press contacts. Never ask for a specific game, being a newbie, you wont get it and you'll come across like a 14 year old chancer. What's important is getting on that list. This usually involves being sent a link to their press site. Once you're registered, you get sent all the latest news about release dates, trailers etc. Which is the bread and butter of games journalism.
Of course some PR companies are nicer than others. Some will let you know if they have spare review copies, and whoever wants it can get it, first come, first serve. Some PR people will be helpful enough in hooking you up with people from a games development team for a interview. Some will at least tell you of how many hits you site needs to get review code. And some just mug you off, because you ain't one of the big boys or they're just massive cunts. But you'll find that, throughout all of life. For every head of PR for Capcom (probably the nicest person I've met in the whole industry after the bloke that used to do Rockstar's PR) or Koei (yeah, their games suck. But their top guy is a baby doll) there's  several heads of PR for Rising Star (do you guys actually do anything?) or Nintendo UK (you know you work in the games biz, right?). You just have to take the rough with the smooth. And not take it personally.
But even then, a nice email and well run site may not quite be enough. That's when some face time is needed. If you are writing regular content (and you should be, in way, shape or form) it's time you did a write up on a games event. Something like the Eurogamer Expo or the MCM Expo (yeah, it's full of cosplaying morons and whores, but it usually has loads of games), and find the press section on their site and apply. I mentioned regular content because you're gonna need a link to the site, you're representing, as proof. And afterwards, they'll want links to what you'll write up on the event.
If you get your press pass, then well done! Not paying for something is the first step in becoming a proper games journalist.
Dress smart-casual. You won't get taken seriously looking like a fanboy and NO COSPLAY! You're a professional damn it, so look like one.
Not like this twat
Wear your press pass where it can be seen. Which is why you should always try to keep your lanyards. because it's handy to keep spares
Bring a note pad and pen. Cliched as it sounds, you're not gonna remember every detail of every game you've played and every person you've met. So always have a note pad handy. You never know, you have suddenly have to interview someone, so you've got something to quickly jot you questions on. Also, when playing a game for the first time. I like to write down my initial impressions and notes of information. It's a god send, when writing about it later.
Be sociable. Introduce yourself to whoever looks official at the stand. Ask for the head of PR, that's who you'll get the usual information from about the game. And it's a good chance to have a little chat with them and ask about their press site. A PR is more likely to give someone a game if they show interest in it.
Get some business cards done up. You can get it done cheap as chips online and even if the PR guy doesn't keep it, they'll be obliged to give you their card. So now you've got their contacts details.
Concentrate on the job. You're there to check the games out, network with the PR people and get those games written about. Don't be distracted by the cool stuff for sale or the mouth-breathers dressed up as fucking Cortana. Get your work done, then you can go buy some over priced DVDs and drunkenly try to chat up a booth babe.
If you can do that, then you might never have to pay for a game again. Because on your way, while working for the smaller websites. You'll have to get your own review code. That's right, even on the sites/blogs where it's all done for the love of it all, editors are still lazy bastards who covet that Crash Bandicoot Mug you got sent one Easter. Exactly like the editors of big websites and magazines

But remember one thing. Even though you didn't pay for the game you're reviewing, the person reading your review will be. So don't feel obligated to shower praise on a game, just because the head of PR sent you one, out of the kindness of their hearts. Even if it's not a glowing appraisal, so long as it's decently written and thought out. The you shouldn't feel any shame sending them the link to your review/preview/news post. Your job is to give an honest, unbiased opinion about a game. Not be swayed by free keyrings and alcohol


  1. This is an awesome post ... AWESOME is an understatement.

    Should in the TIMES. 'The underworld of gaming'

  2. I've been trying to make some headway into the Gaming Journo scene for some time now, but to not much avail, and this blog post has taught me more in the past 5 minutes then I've learnt in the past 2 years.

    Amazing article, thanks.