Video Games Journalism Isn’t Worth It, Especially for Canadians

The video games press operates in a doomed state. As the video game industry grows, the rate for writers shrinks. On average, a writer earns $150 per article. A feature length article with interviews takes days or weeks to complete. Interview transcription alone takes hours to sift through. If a writer somehow manages to publish one feature article every other business day, the rate means an annual salary of $19,500. You can compare the near poverty rates of many press outlets with this crowdsourced Google Doc spreadsheet.

One well edited spreadsheet later, I’ve decided to abandon a career in games press. It’s a scary, uncomfortable decision I never wanted to make. I worked for years to become a permanent member of the press, yet industry circumstance forces me to adapt. Writers accept the criminal rates for the experience and hope for a better opportunity. But as the spreadsheet shows, a better opportunity doesn’t mean a sustainable career choice.

Websites depend on insufficient advertisement revenue to pay operating costs, employee salaries part-time contribution. Employers want to pay their writers more, but they just can’t afford it. Until we figure out how to better monetize video games coverage, pay won’t improve. Websites can’t afford to pay their writers more, and writers can’t afford to reject their offers. Yet despite the effort needed to write and interview, writers continue to accept a couple hundred dollars as the ‘high end’ rate for their work.

When money prevents websites from publishing quality, original articles, it affects content. Click-bait posts and regurgitated press releases fill websites with junk. Those junk articles drive traffic, and higher traffic means more advertising dollars. Yet as readers grow tired of the same fluff articles, websites will need to rethink their whole strategy. Even the content published now feels like a deception of our own demands.

As video games accessibility changes, we still use the same forms and features to cover them. Writers put so much effort into reviews (including myself), still I doubt anyone reads them. Websites like Metacritic and Open Critic show people care about the reception of games, but do they care about the numerical score or the written words? Everyone claims we need news coverage and long form features, yet no one reads them. If people read the content and visited these websites, then writers wouldn’t fight for nickels.

A video games writer in Canada fights for nickels in handcuffs. Many job listings claim the applicant’s home country doesn’t factor, but it does. An American applicant stands a better chance at getting the job because hiring a Canadian creates more issues and complicates the process.  Even if I apply for a writing position from home, living in Canada means higher travel costs. A flight for an event like E3 – let’s say from Toronto to California – means the huge distance and border crossing drives up expenses. I want to believe geography doesn’t affect an applicant’s chances, but I know it doesn’t help.

The spreadsheet’s poor rates illustrate a clear problem: things are only getting worse for the press. As more and more writers search for jobs, more and more news outlets shutter. In the last two years, Joystiq, Game Spy, Game Front, Computers and Video Games (CVG), Edge Online and many other websites all closed. I can continue to send cold pitches to outlets not buying articles and circulating my resume to struggling websites, or I can do something else.

What now?

I don’t know. For the first time in a while, I’m not sure what kind of career I want to pursue. I’ll continue to write because in the middle of all this change, it’s still something I love to do.

A career choice change also means a change for Dual Analog. I won’t write reviews anymore. Reviews exist to dissect the experience and determine if a game is worth both your time and money. Instead, I’ll write focused features on what makes good games, great. If possible, I’ll suggest changes or additions to improve a game’s flaws, as opposed to just pointing them out. Imagine an essay your teacher corrected. On the paper you’ll find reasons for your mistakes, but also suggestions on how to improve them. My new articles will fulfill a similar purpose.

Along with the new feature, expect to find sports articles detailing my miseries as a Toronto sports fan. I never envisioned a career in sports writing and I still don’t. These articles will act as avenues to dump my complaints about the Toronto Blue Jays pitching staff or the Raptors’ inability to succeed in the playoffs.

With everything I post, I write to practice my craft. Although I won’t look for employment as game journalist, I know my writing will take my somewhere. I just don’t know where.