I published something on Stu Horvath's gaming and geek culture blog Unwinnable last week. They do themed weeks over there and the themes have been resonating with me, and I really like Stu and his crew so I participate whenever I can. I don't get paid for any of it, but I think the stuff I've been contributing to Unwinnable is some of the better content I've been writing lately. And I think there's a connection between the lack of remuneration and the nature of the work. My reasons for writing on Unwinnable are different than when I take professional assignments elsewhere.
Part of it has to do with how I perceive Unwinnable. It's a place where I can take some risks I can't take elsewhere. Unwinnable is much more a potpourri of different perspectives and lenses, whereas when I write for commercial sites they have established voices at the outlet level and part of a freelancer's job is to learn how to write to that voice. The fact that I'm writing for free does seem to matter, though. I'm writing this stuff purely because I want to share something with an audience, not to try and further my career or make new inroads at a new outlet, and I suppose that's why anyone ought to be writing.
If one wants to make a living at this, though, they're going to have to take gigs that have nothing to do with self-expression or the craft of the writing, or have less to do with either due to the nature of the assignment, and those pieces are inevitably, I think, going to be of lesser quality. I've seen this in my own writing, I've heard my wife saying as much as she moved from blogging to full-time writing and editing, and I've seen it happen to numerous people who have moved into paid positions on game journalism outlets. That isn't offered as a revelation or anything, but it isn't something I really thought about until recently, and realized how often I've seen it happen.
I have a few commissioned features that were inspired by brief dev encounters at the Expo and which I'll be writing up in the coming weeks, and a few other ideas I've yet to pitch based on game viewings, but I filed my last, official E3 story tonight and I want to do a quick sum-up and wrap-up.
I previewed three games at the show for Ars Technica: Halo 4, Gears of War: Judgment, and Planetside 2. I contributed to a preview of Beyond, the new game from Heavy Rain creator David Cage, and also interviewed the CEO of Crytek, Cevat Yerli. My final piece is another CEO interview that will hopefully hit the web sometime this week.
I also wrote two columns related to the show, one about the furor over the increased booth babe presence this year, and a second about the extremely widespread negative reaction to all the violence at the show.
I had a really tough time deciding whether or not to even attend E3 this year because I knew I wouldn’t get much work out of it. The few outlets I publish for regularly as a feature writer or columnist have staff positions dedicated to previews at the show every year and so I never count on getting many paying gigs. That makes the entire show a net loss in terms of what I make as a freelancer, but in the end I decided that I couldn’t afford not to go because it was E3, and E3 is important.
I get a little perturbed when I see or hear colleagues complaining about the show. This year was only my third Expo so maybe after I’ve been attending for a decade I’ll feel differently, but I still remember the summer of 2010 when I was writing for an indie games site, a fan site really, and was so incredibly excited to be going to such an important event as E3 considering I had just started writing in earnest only a few months before. That was the show where I really began cutting my teeth as a game journo by learning how to deal with PR folks.
This year was humbling for me because I had the most access I’ve ever had at the show. I attended all five press conferences for the first time, and had some Microsoft viewings for the first time owing to getting to cover the show for Ars. Getting to interview two CEOs was fun. I may not have made much money at E3 but it was my best Expo yet in terms of getting some quality work done, so I appreciated the opportunity.
As much as I recognize E3 as an anachronistic, almost vestigial organ of the videogame industry, I think I’ll always appreciate the show as long as it serves as a smorgasbord of shooters aimed at the 18-35-year-old-male market. I may be a little outside that demographic at this point but generally-speaking the games that publishers produce for that market are right up my alley, or at the very least games I don’t intend to miss. And the Expo will always be important as a networking opportunity, and a chance to keep up relationships with publishers. My industry book gets fatter every year, and ultimately that is a tremendous help when it comes to writing features that have any kind of development angle.
I do wonder if the show will ever change, or whether mobile, social and indie developers will figure out that they need to hold their own, separate event in order to get the press they communally deserve. Not that I need yet another event to pay my own way to attend. I will say that the benefit of attending events on my own recognizance, and on my own budget, is that my wife usually comes with me and so I have no choice but to stay in a nice hotel. I heard horror stories of journos staying in Los Angeles hotels where crackheads were being carted out of the building by the police, and some of my friends attending were packed in five-to-a-room in cheap hotels or forced to stay in crappy lodgings because the outlet that was sending them to cover E3 was cheap. As much as I may hope for a full-time games journalism position some day, I would miss having digs that might cost me a little more but give me what I pay for. I’m really picky about where I sleep.
PAX East is literally 15 minutes away from my house outside Boston. I can't always justify heading out to Seattle for PAX Prime, although this year I am tempted by the prospect of doing panels there, but PAX East is always a no-brainer.
This year I wrote three pieces for G4, about Fallout: New Vegas and the process of designing its downloadable content, the balance between story and mechanics in video games, and the challenge of popularizing eSports in the United States.
I only did one other article from the show, for PocketGamer.biz, just a quick interview with James Schultz, the Community Coordinator for mobile developer Halfbrick Studios. If I ever get to Australia, I'd love to visit these guys. Incidentally, this roundup post is up so late after the event because I was waiting for this interview piece to be published!
There's one other thing I have to show you from PAX East, and that's some video of the "Stuff Your Criticism! I Want a Review!" panel I moderated, which was a real thrill.
I'm planning on writing about my overall takeaway from GDC 2012 for my First Person column this week, but it was a much better event the second time around (GDC 2011 was my first GDC). The same thing happened with E3 - round one was mostly chaos and learning, round two was about getting some good networking accomplished and getting real work done. Here's everything I wrote from the conference (that isn't under embargo):
That's what I thought I might be doing on September 27th, but due to some insane circumstances "my" interview with Bleszinski was only "mine" in the sense that I wrote the questions for an off-camera producer to ask. They were questions I was intended by G4 to be asking myself, but hear me now as I tell the tale of insanity that is the Cliff Bleszinski interview I've been chasing since March.