Game Journalism Taboos

11 04 2011

Today marks what I hope will be a new-found relationship between myself and this blog. The plan is to update it daily with some new gaming topic I’ve been pondering, or at least multiple times a week. Nothing too heavy, mind – just short points of discussion.

I want to start off with a bang, so let’s discuss a taboo subject – the standard practice of game reviewing, or rather, the bits we’re not allowed to talk about. Actually, it’s not that we’re not allowed to, but rather that no-one dares to.

Certain questions cannot be asked, mainly because no-one else is asking them, and no-one wants to be the first one in. I was discussing this with a couple of my fellow game reviewers last week (behind closed doors, of course), and it’s interesting to see the flood gates open once one person has asked one of these taboo questions.

Questions like ‘how much should you get paid for a review?’, ‘who pays the most?’, ‘do you need to play the entire game all the way through before you can review it properly?’, and other such hush-hushes. I’m not going to answer these questions for the very same reason that others won’t – you don’t want to tick any current (or potential) employers off.

Of course, the other reason why people might not want to discuss money is because no-one wants to find out that they’re earning pennies compared to others.

But when someone does finally ask one of these questions in a public place – such as the Games Press forums, for example – there’s this odd balancing act between jumping in to discuss a topic that is rarely brought up, and keeping your answers safe.

Of course, this situation is found in most jobs. When I worked in a shop, there were plenty of questions that you wanted to ask, but just couldn’t. Yet I still feel like games journalism is one area where reviewers need to start being more open with each other. That way, employers would be forced to start providing better rates and a more healthy career.




9 responses

11 04 2011
Will Wilson

Handful of reasons, really.

1) It’s breach of trust between you and the employer. Most of us do work freelance (some of us have permanent positions either on top or as well as), so shouting out your pay is bad form, especially as it’d most likely would have been negotiated, or at the very least relayed through a private email/phone conversation. It also means…

2) You’re firing a flare into the sky if you say a high amount. There’s literally millions of people either working or want to work in the industry, and saying ‘this place pays crazy money’ has the effect of creating even more competition for your stuff to be published.

3) You’ll get squeezed out by others offering their work for less. Sad fact is that when so many people are willing to work for free, it takes down the price for everyone else. If Mr/Ms A knows you’re being paid x for that site, you’re basically saying ‘Hey, undercut me’.

It’s not the openness that’s keeping prices down, it’s the fact that there’s millions of people willing to work for free in this industry. If you don’t work for free (at least, when you’re starting out) then you’ll never even catch a glimpse of the ladder, let alone take your first step – and that subsequently lowers the price for everyone else, especially if you’re a decent writer.

11 04 2011
Michael Rose

I think it says something about an industry when freelancers aren’t willing to talk money for fear of someone else taking their job for free.

11 04 2011
Keith Andrew

I agree with Will 100 percent.

(I always do, actually, but he’s spot on here.)

I don’t think we’ll ever reach a stage where people openly talk about how much websites pay, because – in any industry – how much we earn is not something people talk about.

You’re ranking yourself. Websites and magazines will often offer different rates to different writers, and if you came out and said what you’re picking up, your broadcasting how well, or badly, you’re currently doing.

I’d hate to know what other people are being paid, because there will always be people out there getting more, and as Will points out, the number of writers working without any pay whatsoever is more of a factor why rates will never be standardised.

11 04 2011
Michael Rose

I think perhaps I put too much emphasis on the taboo questions being about money – that’s my fault. There are plenty more topics that games journalists won’t touch, even though many of them desperately would like to know whether they are ‘doing it right’ or not.

11 04 2011
Keith Andrew

Someone said somewhere that all writers feel like a fraud, and are just waiting for the day for their various employers to realise, no matter how long they’ve been writing.

I think this is even more the case when you freelance.

11 04 2011
Will Wilson

Aye, you’re only as good as what other people tell you in this line of work.

11 04 2011

People usually aren’t fond of talking about their income, regardless of the kind of work they do.

I’m in a different position tho – I write in my native language, and there aren’t many games related outlets in my neck of the woods. So there’s really not many people to talk with about stuff like rates. I do have a rate below which I do not go, but that is it.

But I think Will is right. Too many people will work for free. And large, corporate outlets (Gamespot, for example) will almost always take “good enough” for free, rather than pay for “very good/excellent/outstanding”.

As for other taboos… Well, it all depends on the issue at hand. Also, the other participants of the conversation. I’m usually totally open with people I trust, even if they are competition.

11 04 2011
Michael Rose

I think I stopped looking at it as ‘competition’ a long time ago, to be honest – it feels more like a ‘we’re all in this together’ situation! 🙂

1 12 2012

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