So You Wanna Be a Game Journalist – The Jeff Gerstmann Edition

We had the pleasure of seeing Jeff Gerstmann speak at the NYU Game Center. He’s co-founder and director of the critically acclaimed game website called Giant Bomb. The topic of choice was game journalism and Gerstmann impressively covered a variety of topics that ranged from his personal experiences and how they’ve affected his outlook on the field, to what he attributes his success to. Many journalists have been inspired by Giant Bomb‘s work, and highly respect how well and how long they’ve managed to stay at the top of the game. As a veteran of the game industry, Gerstmann’s perspective is a valuable one. So, for your viewing enjoyment, I’ve compiled a list of tips and tricks that were gathered from this momentous event that will assist anyone who’s looking to break into this much-coveted career path.

Don’t niche yourself.

If you’re looking to attract a larger audience, the duty to cover games that may not appeal to you on a personal level becomes a certain kind of responsibility. You might be the type of person who relishes in their passion for indie games and you’re always going to attract people who share those similar interests. But if you’re looking to garner more attention to yourself and towards those kinds of games, draw in bigger crowds by talking about something more mainstream. This method works both ways. When Jeff talked about Giant Bomb‘s success as a unique game website, he made sure to point out the importance of diversity.

“For us it’s about establishing our positions on the larger games and being a trust worthy voice for those games and being a trust worthy voice across the board so that when we come to you and say ‘You really have to see Proteus, you really need to see this other game!’ that they’ll come along for the ride.”

With big dreams come a lot of criticism.

The more you talk about something, the more people will start to listen. The more people that listen, the more opinions you’ll get whether you like it or not. When asked about the debate of sexism in games, Jeff pointed out that it’s important to acknowledge that there’s a world outside of yourself. That small inquisitive truth will save you a lot of stress. There will be times when you’ll have to separate the irrationally hateful comments from the  rational and insightful ones, and at times those lines start to get a little blurry. The fact is, you won’t always be able to please everyone. When Jeff was asked about some of the political criticism associated with Giant Bomb, he quickly put it in perspective.

James Marion: “Do you feel that you’ve (Giant Bomb) gotten more political over the last couple years?”

Jeff Gerstmann: “I just think that the climate’s different and I think that you know, games are maturing and games are evolving and that’s not a political statement that’s just a reality.”

“It’s just about saying that not every game has to be for you. There are plenty of games I don’t like that other people do. And if people want to play Dark Souls fine, I don’t have to and that’s okay.”

Get to know the developers.

Developers are often the most overlooked piece of the puzzle in regards to game culture coverage but they are vaults full of the most precious information. It goes without saying that without game developers there would be no games. Want to know the strengths and weaknesses, the target demographic, the who, what, where, when and why of the game and the entire process? Who better to ask than the people who helped create it? It’s important to remember that game developers are important people, steering the future of gaming. Get to know them and establish a personal connection. If you enjoy their game, compliment them on it and you might get a good story about what it took to make it. Jeff enthused that Giant Bomb‘s early beginnings were greatly inspired by the lack of focus on game developers.

“Showcase the personalities of the people that are making games and kind of tell their stories.

” These people are interesting, a lot of them are really funny, they just don’t get their shot and it’s really hard to get them out from under the PR cycle.”

Rating systems are a thing of the past.

There’s so many reviews out there now that you don’t really have to look that hard to find one. The real task is finding a reliable source who’s on the same page when it comes to what you expect out of a game’s quality. A query about Giant Bomb‘s lack of game reviews was thrown into the mix during the event and Gerstmann responded with some modernized insight on the direction video game reviews might be headed in the near future.

” Well if you think about what’s out there on the internet and what’s popular on the internet there’s a lot of video of games out there and you have a lot of people that are making purchasing decisions based on watching long un-interrupted clips of game play. ”
“The thing we kept hearing from people more and more is that – ‘This is way more valuable than a review because I can look at this and hear your guys talking about it in the moment and get a sense about what this chunk of game is and I can figure out the rest from there.’ “

Be a jack of all trades.

In today’s industry, the more you can contribute, the more usable and valuable you are. If you’re a writer, it doesn’t hurt to to get in front of a mirror and practice your public speaking. If you’re great in front of the camera, try and inject some of that personality into your writing. Gerstmann was asked what he looks for in a potential candidate to work for Giant Bomb and he began to talk about how much the industry demands now.

“I have to make sure that they can conduct themselves effectively on a podcast, I have to make sure that they can talk naturally in front of a camera or in front of crowd because like it or not that’s just the new status quo for this job and if you can’t really do that stuff at some point you’re severely limiting the jobs you can take and at some point you’re limiting yourself to being a freelancer.”

The most important tip to remember:

Try. Failure and rejection are a part of the territory. Don’t let it stop you from pursuing something that you’ve always wanted to do. If there’s one thing you can take away from the NYU Game Center’s interview with Jeff Gerstmann is that there was and is no clear path set.

“When I first started there was no notion of video reviews or video anything or podcasts, it was just us literally showing up and writing things in a dark room and going home to another dark room and playing more games.”

Now, he’s 20 years into it and still standing. From his dark room beginnings to his notorious termination from GameSpot in 2007 to building Giant Bomb from the ground up, he stands as great motivation to all of us who inspire to cover and document our passion and (hopefully) get paid to do what we love. Hopefully these tips and tricks will help you because they’ve definitely helped me.

If you’re interested in watching the interview, the NYU Game Center was kind enough to cover it in it’s entirety and you can watch it here.