Recently a young gamer e-mailed me with this message:
I heard that you beta test and I would like to have some info about it like how you got stated and at what age and how old you have to be.
I always enjoy talking about myself and my work, so I answered his questions with a lot more detail than he probably anticipated. It's a fairly standard question that I hear more and more these days, so in the interest of aiding tomorrow's gaming journalists today I thought I'd share my reply here on Press The Buttons. If any of you have a follow-up question after reading this, feel free to ask.
Yes, I do get to play "beta games" sometimes, but it goes beyond that. I'm one of the editors at the Advanced Media Network, a company devoted to covering gaming news and reviewing new games. Most of my work at AMN involves playing new games that are either just out in stores or are just a week away from release and then writing a 2,000 word review about the experience. I also go each year to the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles, or at least I went before they canceled/rearranged the event for 2007 and beyond. It's at E3 where I'd play early versions of games and offer feedback to the developers before writing up a preview of the game. It's a very busy and crazy week, but it's the most fun I've ever had. I work in the Nintendo division of AMN with a great group of people with strong work ethics and a passion for the industry.
As a side project I created Press The Buttons, a gaming blog where I share my thoughts on events in the gaming industry on a daily basis. It gives me an outlet to write whatever I want pertaining to games without having to deal with hard deadlines and copy editors.
So you'd like to get involved with something like this as you grow older, eh? It's certainly possible if you work at it. Working in the field of gaming journalism takes dedication, strong writing skills, persistence, and a willingness to play games of all kinds. Having an encyclopedic knowledge of older games (or at least knowing where to find that information) is a big help as well. I cannot overstress the need for strong writing skills, however. There are an infinite number of people out there who can't rub two words together, and that kind of writing really won't get you anywhere. Use proper spelling and sentence structure. Know how and when to punctuate. Build your vocabulary. These are all basic things. The most important part of the review writing process involves being able to state which aspects of a game are good, which are not, and then explain why you believe these things. Anyone can say "this game sucks!", so it's important to go into detail as to how a game fails to impress. Likewise, it's easy to say "it's fun!", but you'll have to explain to the reader why a game is fun. Like anything else worth doing, solid writing requires practice.
If all of this sounds interesting to you, then I suggest that you work at your writing craft and make a habit of reading some of the reputable gaming websites on a regular basis to keep up with gaming news. Follow industry announcements and develop a working knowledge of which companies are working on what games. When you play games consider why you like or dislike them. Practice writing reviews just for yourself to help develop your own style. When you get to be 18 or so you'll have a leg up on other people your age that just up and decide one day to try to get into gaming journalism without any experience or background in the field.
Here's a little further reading for you if you'd like to know more. These are all articles I've written for Press The Buttons that are related to writing solid reviews and getting involved with the industry.