Whenever I mention to people that I write about video games professionally the immediate response is always "Oh, that must be so great!", followed by "You must receive a lot of free games," not much later. Some of them even think that journalists are at the top of the industry, but the reality is that its the complete opposite.
I personally consider video game journalism to be one of the most difficult forms of journalism to master, and that isn't just because I work in this industry. There is extra responsibility that comes with reporting on video games, and a lot of extra issues that aren't as prevalent in other sectors.
Writing about games professionally means doing justice to the many hours of work developers put into their products. It is about being fair to both consumers and developers and about finding that balance between marketing and press releases and the reception of the final product.
To pull this off successfully means taking yourself out the equation. The story is about the game, not about you as a person. Some journalists seem to conveniently forget this from time to time in an attempt to build a brand around their name.
If you're in it for the money you're in for a big surprise. Writing about games still means that the majority of your readers is young, and this group isn't likely to pay for a subscription to read your articles. In addition, they grew up with online advertisements so that revenue model is also ineffective due to banner blindness. This leaves soul-destroying mainstream media as the only option.
Another obvious but persistent misconception is thinking publishers are eager to receive constructive criticism. They're not. No, most of them are just looking for cheap and easy ways to market their games. This is business, after all.
They turn to YouTubers and Twitch streamers because these people generally take every opportunity they can get to put themselves in the spotlight. This is also why, contrary to popular belief, many publishers actually won't bother sending review copies to a large number of journalists. Why waste time on a potentially critical review if they can reach millions of subscribers by giving a few keys away for free?
What I'm trying to say is that many publishers consider it a numbers game more than anything else. The more followers, likes or subscribers you have, the more inclined they will be to provide review copies. To many, doing your job as a journalist is less important.
Some think being a game journalist is actually like being a YouTuber or Twitch streamer; just playing games and talking about them. However, the two are actually not similar at all.
I always consider YouTubers and Twitch streamers to be more narcissistic. After all, it is all about putting yourself in the spotlight to entertain others. For journalists it is the exact opposite: taking yourself out of the equation to make sure you report stories objectively and accurately. While I understand this is a generalization, I think most readers will agree there is some truth in that.
Being a game journalist means having less time to play games simply due to the nature of the job. Some articles take many hours to research and write, and the success of these is often hit or miss because of the social media filter bubble. It also means playing games that you may not necessarily like personally and still giving those titles a thorough and fair review.
If all this doesn't throw you off, there are countless of potential pitfalls to watch out for.
Oftentimes people won't even bother to read the full story, having their opinions ready just by reading the title. Whether you voice the same opinions in the article you wrote is suddenly insignificant.
Some may even start a flame war for the wrong reasons: because you didn't agree with them, because you forgot to mention some tiny detail, or because you didn't fully look into unrelated subjects.
When you do receive press releases and products to review you'll want to be extra careful not to become an extension of a publisher's marketing division. Your primary goal should be informing and educating your readers, not pleasing a third-party source or business.
What becomes clear is that video game journalism isn't for the fainthearted. You need to have nerves of steel to report breaking stories and to voice your own honest opinions when it is ethical to do so. This is fairly easy if you are certain that your story is well-researched and accurate. However, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't ever worried about the potential consequences of reporting certain stories.
The challenges mentioned here are directly related to why many aspiring video game journalists give up and fail. They expect an easy route to success when they start out, but realize not long after that there really isn't any. It is only through hard work and perseverance that we succeed. This may be true for most professions, but it certainly applies here.
Writing about games only really makes sense if you're in it because it is your passion: you enjoy writing about games more than actually playing them. Then, hopefully, some day, that passion will turn into a career.