By Donal Shiel
So, how did you come to work at Game Informer? Did you ever plan to go into print?
It was an accident. I wrote a letter to the magazine in the feedback section and it won the ‘next big critic column’. That month there was a prize to go to the first EB Expo (Games Convention) on the Gold Coast and report for the magazine. I ended up getting along with the editor and he started throwing me freelance work, I jumped at that.
At the time I was doing an honours thesis at University, really not planning to get into gaming journalism at all. It all just snowballed, I ended up winning a journalism award for some of this freelance work, and got put on as a staff writer. A few years later the editor at-the-time quit and I ended up getting the role. Very little planning and design went into it, it was very much an accident.
What are some of your fondest gaming memories, old or new?
I’ve been gaming for a very long time. I had a SEGA master system as a kid, and I remember the built-in game, Alex Kidd in Miracle World. It was probably the Super Nintendo that made me fall in love with gaming, having friends over after school, passing the controller around, which doesn’t seem to happen anymore.
What does it take to keep Game Informer competitive in 2016?
It’s tough. We’ve always been the exception to the rule because we’ve always had a slightly different business model. The fact that we’re owned by EB games means we’re distributed in places where gamers are, the large proportion of our sales come from within video game stores. Whereas if you look around, newsagents are disappearing, they’re actually quite hard to find these days.
Our situation is different to most other print publications, it’s certainly not the boom industry anymore. And I don’t have that magic bullet, I don’t know those answers, I don’t think anyone does. As an editor, I just have to make sure content is good, I have to make it the best possible read. I need to make it worth paying for, that’s the real trick. People expect journalism for free now.
Do you feel a games journalist requires an encyclopaedic knowledge of gaming or should they root themselves more in the journalist side?
For me personally If I’m working with someone, it’s far easier for me if they’re a fantastic writer, especially in this climate where video is predominant and so important. People focusing on the written word really need to be good at what they do. You really need to double down on those skills basically and just be a very good writer. I think that’s more important than knowing everything about World of Warcraft.
That being said you cannot write about something you don’t know about. If I was talking to a young games journalist I’d say ‘get good at writing’ first and foremost. A lot of editors out there don’t have a lot of time, and if can make their job easier by presenting a polished copy, and you’ve checked all your facts, that’s going to go down well.
Because of the immediacy of modern digital news, does Game Informer have to focus more on high quality journalism?
Absolutely. News is far less important. It can’t be about what just happened, you need a good story. We demand a lot from game developers to get coverage, we demand that we play it, get good access to the developers, that our critics get their hands on it.
You have to offer something beyond the news cycle. That’s important. It’s a very large global magazine, the guys in the states are still able to wield a lot of weight and demand exclusives. But that’s not going to work for every publication, that’s just our unique situation that allows us to get away with that. It’s tough for everyone.
To close, what are the building blocks of quality games writing?
There are two sides of it, and if you can achieve both you’ve got it. The first is having something interesting to say, the other is having an interesting way to say it. Another thing that people don’t take their time do is work out their own voice, you don’t want everyone to sound like everyone else.
Think about rhythm and timing and sentence length, it’s not just about spewing words on pages. If you can make it entertaining to read just through the flow of the piece I think that’s something the best writers think about and the average ones don’t.