As a kid I never had high aspirations. While most of my friends aimed at becoming doctors, astronauts (what’s up with kids and astronauts) or successful people, I for one was as clueless as a… clueless person. By the time I graduated from college most of the people I knew went on to do their MBAs while I was stuck with multiple brochures in my hand and a gigantic question mark plastered across my life.
Luckily that’s the time I got my first gaming rig with a GeForce MX440 graphic card et al. I felt like the cat’s whiskers. Need for Speed: II SE and Blood II: The Chosen were the first two games I ever owned and I remember waking up early every morning just to race across the Australian Outback or slaughter hordes of creatures as Caleb, the Chosen. Little did I know but I was regressing slowly into a cocoon of sorts socializing only with people who shared similar tastes as mine. And as you can imagine, there weren’t too many back in the day.
And then one day I came across IGN.com and my life changed forever. I knew I had found my calling. The thing is that ever since I started gaming I had decided to work in the industry but sadly I wasn’t smart enough or inclined to learn the software necessary for game development. It was only after I started reading IGN on a daily basis did I realize I could enter the industry as a Game Journalist.
Unfortunately for me, India in the year 2002 didn’t have too many publications that reviewed games on a daily basis. But I had made up my mind and the next time my parents asked me what I wanted to do for a living, I proudly told them I wanted to be a Game Journalist. They looked at me like I was on drugs since my folks actually wanted me to become a Chartered Accountant (lol). But parents being supportive and all, let me pursue my dreams and thus started my long journey.
Initially it was really tough finding a job but luckily I landed a gig with a gaming magazine. Unfortunately their office was insanely far and I was looking at a two hour commute every day. Still I stuck to my guns since this was something I really loved doing and I put in nearly a year there before that distance finally got to me. From there I moved to another publication before I landed up at Tech2 and the rest – as they say – is history.
You won't be rolling in the green stuff
What I’m trying to say through this impromptu biography is that if you want to work in the industry, it’s relatively easier today since you have tons of options at your disposal. You can work in retail/distribution/sales or even work at one of the many publications out there today as a free lancer or a full time employee.
Still it’s not all fun and games and there are certain hardships I should warn you about beforehand. For starters (and pay attention now because this is the most important one) you’ll never make as much dough as your friends who did their MBA. I’m not saying you’ll be scraping the poverty line but don’t go expecting to buy a flat or a car in a year. In fact some gigs don’t even pay you so make sure you have another income to sustain you till you get a full-fledged salary.
Next up is the fact that you need to really know your games. Just because you enjoyed playing Counter-Strike back in the day doesn’t make you the definitive authority on gaming. You need to have an intricate knowledge of the industry and even if you didn’t play all the old school stuff (like me) you need to read up on it so you don’t seem too clueless in front of others. Working in this industry is a learning process 24/7. You must keep reading on a regular basis. You’re not God and you don’t know everything so get down from that high horse and read, read, read.
Besides reading you’ll have to game a lot and while that seems like the fun (and not to mention obvious) part, there’s a flip side to that as well. For starters playing a game in your spare time is completely different from playing it when you’re reviewing it. Reviewing means work which means your mind has to constantly analyze the game at all times, making notes and jotting down important points. Also there are occasions when you’ll be really pressed for time and you’ll have to blaze through the game in a day or so. This might seem doable with action games or shooters but can be a real bitch when you’re tasked with reviewing a game like Fallout 3 that can take up to 50+ hours to complete. And remember, no matter how much you love the game you have to present a logical explanation for an outstanding score. Seem too eager and you’ll appear biased and be branded a fanboy.
You also have to be especially careful while reviewing high profile games like Grand Theft Auto, Metal Gear Solid or Killzone 2. You have to make sure you stay unaffected by the hype and if you really don’t like the game, don’t be afraid to say it. Just make sure you have a really robust argument or you’ll be torn to shreds by your readers. It’s imperative that you stick to your beliefs no matter what the outcome because at the end of the day, a review is your opinion and no one can take that away from you, unless of course you don’t believe in yourself.
The site that started it all for me
Oh and don’t think you’ll be limited to reviewing awesome games throughout your career. More often than not, you will have to review some terrible games as well and it’s these games that will make you hate what you’re doing. But it is your duty to play through at least 80% of it even if you can’t get yourself to finish the abomination. And even then you can’t just blindly spew your hate on paper. You have to systematically dissect the game, telling people why they should stay as far away from it as humanly possible. Because ultimately telling people whether they should buy a particular game or not is one of the most important things a journalist does.
In India the video game industry is still in a nascent stage which means you’ll face a fair amount of social ridicule as well. You’ll be branded a kid who hasn’t grown up because you’re making your living playing games. You’ll also come across tons of annoyances in the form of annoying PR people who didn’t know their elbow from their a**hole. I’ve also had the pleasure of dealing with distributors who stopped sending us games for review since we didn’t give their products a favorable review.
Now at this point most of you may be thinking, “Is there nothing positive about this job”? I know I’ve not painted a very rosy picture for you till now but that’s because it’s tougher in India than it is in the West. However, this shouldn’t demoralize you. Bang on every possible door out there and keep sending in your material to various publications. There will be times where you’ll be tempted to just give up but trust me when I say this – hang in there, it’s totally worth it at the end of the day. I probably make half as much as most of my friends do but I wouldn’t trade places with them for all the money in the world. I’m a happy man who loves what he does, which is something I’m sure not many people out there can say.
If you’re looking to become part of this industry and still have some unanswered questions hit me with a mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll do my best to help you out.