Monday, 30 June 2014

Let me tell you about freelancing


I've seen a lot of posts from editors over the last week lamenting the state of game criticism, or positing ways that it needs to change. A lot of what they say is noble, well-meaning, but they always miss something out: for any of this to happen, people need to start opening their fucking wallets.

I can't tell you how many times I've had this email: "Hey Ed. I really like this idea, but unfortunately we don't have the budget for this right now." Sure. Fine. By all means, sites can spend their money on trips to E3, analysis of trailers of whatever the fuck. But it's a bit rich for the editors of said sites to then turn around and start rhapsodising about game crit being in a bad way. If it's better writing you want, you have to pay for it. Like anyone interested in games, I'd love to see more long-form features and analysis, more proper journalism. But I'm not in this just because it's a worthy cause. This is my job. I have rent to pay. If you don't have the budget for this kind of work, because you've spunked it all on travelling to where a PR said you should, then tough shit. You have to pay for change. You can't tear down the current status quo in the hope of rebuilding it on the back of good will. What we want - what we need - is for decent game criticism to become a viable business. And you, you editors who seem to want this change more than anything, you're the ones controlling the money, so start spending it on the right things. Your readers will read whatever you give them. Most of them are tired of the same old shit anyway - most of them have been playing games for years and can smell a bullshit story from a mile off. We all want to feel like games are of genuine cultural worth. Gamers want ammunition when it comes to the debate about games being art - they want something to pull out of their pocket when their peers or parents say playing games is a waste of time. So give it to them. Throw some money at the genuinely insightful freelancers who want to write 1500 words on why Splinter Cell is a post-9/11 masterpiece, or why Call of Duty is actually just horseshit. You want change, you want games to be more than they are? Then start fucking paying for it.

Or at least be polite. If someone pitches you an article that's researched, articulated and that they've spent a long time thinking about, reply to them, even if you don't want to run it. I know you editors are busy and it's fucking draining to go through and respond to every pitch, but guess what, if you don't keep these people on side, the quality of your output will never improve. Yeah, we're freelance game critics, but we still have SOME pride, and every time we spend weeks working up a good article idea, only to have it flat ignored, it fucking knocks our confidence. Do that to us enough times and soon you won't get any pitches. You'll fucking alienate the people that, ostensibly, you're trying to court. This is a two way street. You want to Change Game Journalism, we want to make some money so at the very least, let's talk. I'm gonna time myself to see how long it takes to write a rejection email: "Hey Ed. Thanks for emailing, but we're gonna pass on this one - thanks." 15 seconds. And when you do it, you won't have to reach for the shift button to put speech marks in. That's it. It might seem like a waste of your time, but one day, that person you ignored could come up with something that wins your site an award.

You're probably thinking that I'm some disgruntled fuck who can't get a gig, but no: I'm one of the less than one percent that manages to make a living out of freelance game criticism, and I'm grateful. I won't be going on holiday or nothing, and I never have more than a week's wages in the bank, but I'm surviving, just, which is more than a lot of talented writers - more talented than me - can say for themselves. I'm not writing this because I'm personally pissed off. I've just spotted an hypocrisy is all. Like I said, you can't complain about the state of game criticism and then turn people down because you don't "have the budget." If you legitimately do want change, cough the fuck up for it. Revolutions aren't free. You don't just blow the trains up, you have to pay to make them run on time. If I'm wrong, tell me. If I don't get the budgetary process or the pressures of editorial, let me know. That's a start at least, some fucking communication. And if it can't be done - if our New Wave of criticism isn't financially stable - then just say it. I'll go back to my old job, working on the construction site. I'll make ends meet, work on my novel in the evenings and ten other hopeful kids will take my place in this faltering so-called industry. If you're never gonna step up and fork out, because you're scared of losing traffic or alienating PRs, just say so. Don't um and ah. Don't blow hot and cold. If this truly is what you all want, then start fucking shelling out for it, because it's not going to happen otherwise. There's the ring. Get the fuck in it. We're ready to write for you and we need the money.