Forget Developers Burning Out, What About Our Press?

Lately, it’s seemed as though not a few weeks go by without some long-time editor leaving an enthusiast publication. Just when I feel like I’ve familiarized myself with someone’s output, they’re up and gone. Occasionally they join competing outlets, but often it seems like they more or less “drop out”: maybe do some freelance work while they set up their moody blogs or work on their artsy pursuits. Or, they simply leave the games behind to cover a more respectable industry. Even the people who haven’t left yet just don’t seem to believe writing about games is any kind of sustainable living. I imagine them quietly plotting their escape into actual game development.

I can’t say I wonder why, exactly. I have this image of what it’s like to write about games for a living. In it, you subsist on a nanoscale salary in an expensive metropolis and receive fool’s errand assignments like trying to judge if a fifty-hour game is any good with only twelve hours to play it. When you’re done, angry marketing people and spit-flinging fanboys both, in ironic unity, demand your head on a platter. Instead of getting to know the real developers who actually make stuff, you get to know publishers, producers and public relations people, who only want to use you to their own ends. Your writings don’t affect game sales at all, except maybe in aggregate form at Metacritic where your opinion is lumped in with Bob’s Game Reviews Dot Net’s eleven out of ten score. Finally, and most terribly, there are few who think your work should, or even can, be taken seriously. Nobody cares.

My treasured regular readers know I’ve taken more than a few swipes at what I see as bad writing and other irritating habits of the games press. But there is no monetary incentive, and therefore no real incentive at all, for the enthusiast publications to get any better. So instead the critics or journalists, whatever they may be, cut their teeth and then cut loose.

P.S. I’ve probably exaggerated how terrible life is as a writer on games, so I hope it doesn’t cause any offense.