Oh my goodness, I’m boiling over with rage. Yet another gaming site is trying to deceive young writers into believing their work is worthless, and the only way they can get anywhere in this job is to work for free. (You can read my previous rant here.)
Pocket Gamer, who until now I’d always naively thought of as quite a cheery site, are offering three month unpaid “internships”. Which means they take their writing, publish it on their advertising-emblazoned site, and then keep all the money that article generates for themselves. The author gets the magical treat of “experience”, and we’re all to thank the publisher for their charitable efforts.
What’s made me quite so angry this evening is the realisation that I would FAR prefer the editors/publishers of such a site just admit that they’re taking advantage of a culture where young writers are easy to screw over. But instead we get told these ridiculous stories about how it’s for the exploited writer’s own benefit, that it’s to help them, and most of all, that they’d never get paid work without doing unpaid first.
That is a LIE. An absolute lie. And it’s a ridiculous one at that. Never mind that most the writers I know never did any prolonged stints of unpaid work. Never mind that I wrote for PC Gamer for a decade, and saw lots of young writers with no paid experience being given a chance with paid-for work in the magazine. Never mind that RPS hired the extraordinary Adam Smith despite his never having had any published games journalism experience at all. Nor that we’re not requiring it for our next hire. But because the lie is usually backed up with the stupidest logic imaginable. “I did unpaid work to get into this industry, and I’d never have got here if I hadn’t.”
Presumably people willing to make this argument are also aware of every other of the billions upon trillions of alternate paths their lives could have taken should they have turned left at the lights rather than right, or left the house on time rather than five minutes late. The capacity to contain the eventualities of every possible version of their existence must be the thing that exhausts them enough to be of a frame of mind where they believe published writers shouldn’t get paid. It’s such a monumentally lazy thing to say, to believe that because they did one thing – that they were personally exploited – that no other pathway was open to them. It’s illogical nonsense, and that it’s people’s best defense for the morally bankrupt practice is a touch problematic.
It’s not ambiguous. If your website makes money, and you publish someone’s article, you pay them for it. Otherwise you’re making money from their work and giving them nothing, which is exploitation.
It couldn’t be more timely. Two days after I kicked off a bit of a debate about whether it’s appropriate for writers to work for free for professional publications (no, it’s not), Imagine Publishing’s website NowGamer has launched a “competition” to find someone who’ll write for their site, on a regular basis, for no money.
Dressed up as an act of altruistic generosity, the site suggests that this will be an amazing opportunity for a writer to receive exposure on their site. What they don’t point out is how it’s a great way for the site to add regular content without paying for it. Content that will generate them ad revenue, and go toward paying the salaries of their staff. Servants get paid. This is a position below servant.
The title reads:
“Love games? Got a voice? Then you need a blog on NowGamer!”
No you don’t. You really don’t need a blog on a site that is looking to take advantage of someone’s desire for exposure at the expense of their dignity. This refrain that it’s “good for your CV” is such a wretched thing to be said. SO IS A PAID JOB.
There’s no need for me to repeat all the reasons why writing for free is wrong, both for you, and for everyone else in the industry – they’re in the post below.
It’s shocking to me to see a publication being so brazen about what I can only see as exploitation. Perhaps they’ve convinced themselves that they’re doing good in giving someone “exposure”, and have so far avoided thinking about how they would never allow themselves to receive the same treatment.
And what they call a “blog” is in fact filed on the site as a “column”. The column is generally the best paid part of any site, since it’s something given to a specific writer that the site or magazine specifically wants to be writing regularly for them. It’s not a feature any staff writer can fill. It’s something peculiar to that writer, with their name at the top, and thus generally they are paid for at a premium. The cheek of wanting someone to fill such a role for them, without paying, is astonishing.
They sell this by saying,
“Having a published blog is a great way of getting a start in videogames journalism, or you may just have a lot to say about games and want a platform for your opinion. Either way, you’ll be writing alongside some of the industry’s best games journalists.”
Yes, and they’ll be being paid. You won’t. What form of “alongside” is that, exactly?
Imagine – this is shameful. Please stop this immediately. If you cannot afford to pay for a new columnist on your site, I suggest not advertising for one. Especially in a way designed to trick young writers into devaluing their (and thus everyone else’s) words and work to zero.
Edit: Astonishingly, one of the NowGamer writers explains that doing this is “not work”, because it’s a blog. That’s why it’s free. Good grief.
A lot of people have responded to the list below by disputing the not working for free clause. I wanted to expand on it a little.
First of all, it’s important to note I wrote “for professionals”. i.e. sites that make money. That’s the crucial point. Writing for sites that don’t make money for free is a good idea. Amateur sites, whether they have ambition to become professional or not, are a great place for writers to cut their teeth. They’re a thing that didn’t exist when I was starting out. In fact, my career began in the gap between the popularity of zines, and the existence of gaming websites. So it’s something I know isn’t necessary for success, but certainly very helpful.
Writing for such sites is a good way to practice your craft, learn the skills of writing, and get noticed. Exposing that work in public is great too, because you’ll get used to feedback. It’s something you can refer to when contacting editors, and it’s also something editors may well be reading themselves.
But it doesn’t need to be an established site. Your own blog is a great place to be writing. The important thing is that you’re writing, getting better, and building up a stock of links you can send to editors. When you email an editor to suggest they give you work, you pick out two or three of your best pieces and you put those links in there. It’s an instant way to prove yourself.
So, to be incredibly clear: there is nothing wrong with writing for free for non-profit making sites. (So long as that site is not making profit for everyone involved.)
BUT, there IS something incredibly wrong with writing for free for sites that do make money. For the reasons I gave in the tips list. And it doesn’t matter how many people tell me it was how they got started, I still absolutely believe it to be wrong.
There’s another round of these “tips for young games journalists” floating about at the moment, and they trouble me. Their core appears to be capitulation, rather than principle. So here are some tips for young journalists I’d like to suggest.
1) This isn’t the only job you’re capable of, and you’re not a failure if you choose to leave it. Writing about games seems, on the surface, a dream job. But there’s no such thing as a dream job, and it is of course a great deal of hard work, intermingled with the enormous pleasure of playing games. The industry is a mucky place, and the pay is invariably dreadful. There are many great things about it, but there’s lots that sucks too. Your life can be utterly brilliant without this job.
2) This job is a not a privilege. It’s something you got by being good at what you do – you earned it. Anyone who tells you it’s a privilege is trying to get something from you they shouldn’t have. That’s the language of those who want you to do just a little bit more work than they’re paying you for, or put up with conditions that don’t feel appropriate. If you’re getting work in this industry, the chances are it’s because you’re much better than most the people who try to get it. You need to know that, because the advantage is in your court.
I’m a lucky man that I’m often given amazing freedom to write as I want in various publications. Obvious Rock, Paper, Shotgun affords me tremendous freedom – but in a way having no rules at all is more restrictive than having rules to break. Clearly RPS gives me space to blather on my own nonsense, and that’s a great treat. But sometimes it can be more fun to get away with it elsewhere. PC Gamer has let me have a lot of fun with They’re Back for over ten years now (eek), and over the last year Eurogamer have given me an enormous amount of room when writing retrospectives a couple of Sundays a month. These are rapidly becoming my favourite things to write – there’s an extraordinary freedom in writing a retro piece. Reviews require you to Get It Right, with the weight of responsibility, and the anchor of a score at the end. But a retrospective lets you, well, write stuff about a game. (Have I blogged about this before? Well, never mind.) Which has let me play with ideas, experiment with form, and most of all, be a bit silly. And my passion in writing is to be a bit silly.
And I think I’ve not been more pleased with one of these pieces than the most recent, about International Superstar Soccer 64, an N64 game. The idea of my writing about football is comical enough. The idea of writing it during the World Cup, and go up on the day of England’s crashing defeat, seems ridiculous. It gave me an opportunity to have a lot of fun, and to hopefully write a few funny jokes. It begins like this:
“Football! Eh? Don’t we all love football! The way they kick it with their feet, the lovely round shape of the ball, the haircuts. It’s a game of at least two halves. And have you seen when they score a goal? Gosh, everyone gets so excited about that. What a time.
OK, look, I have to admit something. That first paragraph – that’s not really me. That was the result of hours researching the subject in an attempt to pass myself off as a connoisseur of the sport. But as convincing as it may have been, I can’t keep it up. I know about as much about foot-to-ball as a gnat comprehends of string theory. Which is something I have in common with International Superstar Soccer 64.
Some of you may have noticed that the World Cup is taking place at the moment. Perhaps you’ll have heard it mentioned on the television, read an article about it in a newspaper, or been outside with your eyes open.
As the entire county drapes itself in the brutal flag of the English crusades, apparently in the belief that this peculiar display of faux-patriotism in their cul-de-sac will have a significant impact upon the success of a team of players on another continent, this sporting event dominates all senses. (Yes, things even smell of the World Cup.)
For those of us who don’t suddenly develop an interest in a sport that we otherwise find tedious, just because it’s played on an international scale, there is no escape. It is omnipresent, and not to care is to be a pariah, hounded from towns like a paedophile wolf.”
I do eventually talk about the game. You can read it all here.
PS. My favourite comment on the article:
“Don’t we all love football!”
Question mark, not an exclamation mark.
Found large chunks of this piece very condescending and patronising.