Ever say to yourself, “I want to write video game news. That would be so cool!”? That’s great, but it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Being a professional video game journalist takes skill, dedication, and a bit of luck. How do I know this? Because I used to be one. I wrote news for G4 Television and Anime Expo for several years. My job was to find out everything that was happening in the game industry that day and report it. I had to be fast, but more importantly, I had to be accurate.
How to tell fact from speculation
Journalistic instinct comes from having keen eyes and good sense. It’s not something you can learn overnight, but here are some tips to help you sort what’s what. Anyone can make a post on the internet and claim it’s a fact. That doesn’t mean it is. Trust your gut, especially when it comes to a highly anticipated sequel. I used to see a lot of speculation abut Half-Life 3 and Square Enix sequels, and I would always tell people, “I’ll believe it when I see the press release.” Always look for the source of the news. If you can find it on a developer or publisher’s website, then you know it’s legit. If it comes from a reputable news source such as Nerdist, IGN, or Kotaku, then you’re in good hands. Most of the time, a website that pays its writers is going to be more accurate than a reddit post or blog.
There are also some key words to look for. If you ever see “speculation,” “rumored,” “allegedly,” “reportedly,” “possible” or anything along those lines, that means nothing is set in stone. It’s okay to report rumors, but you should only do so when they come from a reputable source and you should be very clear that they are only rumors.
Also, beware of April Fool’s Day. The video game industry is notorious for releasing fake news that day.
Polish your writing
Video game news is writing. Even if you’re creating a script for someone to read, it’s still vital to have solid writing skills. You need to be able to convey the story in a clear and concise manner. Depending on your outlet, there may also be a style guide for how to format things such as dates and titles. For example, game companies are singular entities and referred to as “it,” not “they.” This means that you have to constantly check your work for grammatical and spelling errors. Everybody makes mistakes now and then, even me. I’ve read this article over four times, and there’s probably something I’ve still missed. Don’t be afraid to ask an editor to look over your work before it gets published. That’s their job.
Most long format news starts with what’s called a “lede.” That’s when you sum up the story in the first sentence. For example: “Activision announces Call of Duty 34: Night Shift Custodian is coming to the Xbox Dodecahedron this November.” Yes, that’s giving away the news immediately, but that’s the point. Make your statement, then go into the details. When you do short format news, say for social media or a news ticker, you will usually have a character limit. This is when lede writing is essential. Sometimes you just don’t have the luxury of more than a single sentence to tell the story.
Sources are everything. The most reliable source is a press release from a video game company. A press release is an official statement that’s not only filled with details, but often images and contact information. Game companies will email these releases directly to journalists. If you want to get on a company’s email list, look for a press contact. Usually there is an email address for press on company websites, but you can also find more direct information at the bottom of a press release. Just look for it.
Many gaming sites will pull news from the bigger sites. Why? Because those bigger websites have their own inside sources that get them the news first. If you do find news that’s “exclusive” to a website, you need to state that in your piece. “Tim Schafer tells GeekandSundry.com that…” And never, EVER, copy from another source and paste it in your article. That’s called plagiarism, and it’s illegal. You can quote from another site, but again, you need to give credit to the source. Remember, you are responsible to report truthfully.
As for images, you should always try to stick with official images from the game’s developer or publisher. Try to avoid stretching an image because that warps the original and publishers kinda hate that. Better to crop a little. If you’re writing for a website that is not your own, there will likely be a style guide for image proportions.
Learn the lingo
There’s some basic language to understand when writing about video games. You need to know the difference between a publisher and a developer. You need to learn who the creative forces are and who the executives are. You need to learn how to spell everyone’s name correctly. No matter what, always double check proper nouns. You need to know about consoles and engines and all the tech in between. And if you don’t know something, Google it, young Skywalker.
“Embargo” is a vital word to know. Sometimes a publisher will send you a press release, but say that it’s “embargoed” until a certain date and time. This means that you are not allowed to publish the news until that specified date and time. If you do, you will royally piss someone off and that could lead to you losing trust with the publisher, or worse, getting fired.
Also, “video games” is two words.
If you love video games, tune in to Game Engine tonight at 5:30pm PT on Geek & Sundry’s Twitch channel for news, interviews, and discussions of what’s happening in the video game industry!
Image credits: Kung Fu Grip Press/Tower Books, Doug Kline