You guys did a pretty good job of responding, so let’s keep this rolling.
6. Don’t write a score that doesn’t fit your copy
Thanks to Jaz McDougall for reminding me of this one.
Every games journalist pops this cherry at some point, whether it’s writing a scathing article then wussing out when it comes to branding a low score into the game’s flesh, or praising a game for hundreds of words then unthinkingly giving it an above-average instead of exceptional score. In either case you’re being soft when we have to be hardest. Don’t let it happen.
Two things worth remembering when it comes to scoring: First, with the rise in importance of Metacritic and other review aggregators, that number, letter or series of stars at the end of your text will have more of an effect on the game’s sales and will cause more waves at the publisher and developer than anything you say. Don’t just bash it out. Second, when you fail to give a game the score it deserves, you’re not just fucking up with regards to that game. You’re discrediting that magazine or website’s entire scoring system.
7. Don’t do anything but the job
Again, thanks to Jaz.
Never get lost. If you’re writing a preview, don’t try and be entertaining, try and tell people about this game. If you’re conducting an interview, don’t try and be chummy, try and get the most out of your interviewee. If you’re writing a feature or column then always be orbiting the subject matter that people will be reading it for, and for the love of God if you’re writing a review don’t ever think you’re just chatting about the game.
As Jaz was told: “Don’t try to be funny. Just do the job, the funny will come naturally, unless you’re a robot, in which case, awesome.”
8. Do not let contact with developers, publishers and PRs affect you, ever, at all, I mean it
As a games journalist you will meet the people behind the games. They will have faces, and those faces will often have smiles, and your hand will be shaken. You’ll probably get drunk with these people, whereupon you’re really fucked because then they’ll have favourite songs and dogs and first kisses too.
It is a fact that meeting anyone in the industry will affect how you view their games, and you won’t notice it happening. It is a disease. Simply knowing what the developers were “trying” to do with a game is enough to make you more leniant, and knowing what Victorian novel a game’s plot is making refences to will make you quicker to call it clever.
Another point: It takes a total bastard to be flown all-expenses-paid to another country, take a look at a game, smile, tell the developers who’ve been working on it for three years it looks very interesting, let them buy you dinner and drinks, then fly home and give the game 5/10 in review. You must be this bastard. To be anything but this bastard is to be a prick to every single game which didn’t bribe you.
Some magazines and websites try and make a policy of not giving reviews to anyone involved in reporting on that game beforehand, but even then you might find a bias towards your new friends leaking into something else you’re writing. Don’t let it happen. Remember, the developers might make the games, but your readers, listeners and viewers pay your wages. Don’t betray their trust.
9. Don’t write anything you wouldn’t want your best friend to read
Thanks to Simon Parkin.
This is a nice shortcut to the jovial, respectful, confident and informed tone you should be aiming for. And besides, if you don’t think your copy would be funny or interesting to your best friend, it’s baseless optimism to think it would be to anybody else.
10. Don’t assume you need an introduction or conclusion
One of my editors has a technique for cropping overlong articles in his magazines, which is to lop off the entire first paragraph. The man commands his word processor like a guillotine.
But you know what? It works! That’s because first paragraphs are often rambling, inconsequential things made up of a joke or background information, and the second paragraph is where our writing reaches terminal velocity. Likewise, that highfaluting conclusion of yours will be next for the chop because it’s that much slower than the rest of your copy.
This is worth remembering even if you enjoy the infinite wordcounts of web journalism, because these are also the weakest parts of your articles. Either make them as punchy as the rest of your copy or don’t include them at all.
Alright, cool! That’s Numbers 1 through 10 done. You guys have any more ideas or pet peeves? I still think we can get up to 20.