Today, videogames website NowGamer caused a bit of a stir by launching a new competition. That might sound innocent enough, but this competition wasn’t to win a free copy of a game, or a trip to see an upcoming title in action. No, this competition carried a slightly more dubious prize: column inches on NowGamer.
A lucky winner will be selected by the NowGamer team to write a new regular blog on the popular games website, whose other writers are all professional and paid. Games journalism might sound like the best job in the world, but whether that’s accurate or not it is still a job. NowGamer is turning it into something you win, not something you earn.
Understandably, many eyebrows were raised, and arguments broke out between those who strongly opposed the move and – mainly – NowGamer’s own staff. The arguments against the idea are numerous and convincing. If you’re good enough to be selected to write for a publication which usually pays for content, it has been said, then you are good enough to demand a wage as well. Imagine Publishing, NowGamer’s publisher, is a leading company with several national and international editorial properties, and everyone else who contributes receives remuneration. Why should the new guy or gal be any different?
More pressingly for me and my peers, this position is now gone from the market. It is not to be filled by a professional journalist, someone who has spent years honing their craft, working their way up the ranks, improving to the point where their words are worth something. A position usually reserved for the cream of the crop of writers – because let’s face it, everyone wants to be a games journalist – will now go to somebody who’s starting out and, rightly or wrongly, sees this as an opportunity. This isn’t an internship, whereby a position within a company is created for non-commercial means as a way of training up future talent. This is a position for a blog writer. Even if NowGamer offer the most comprehensive training package in the world to go along with this (I asked the team about this on Twitter, but did not receive a reply), they are still offering someone the amazing opporunity to produce publishable content for free, when such content is traditionally the work of experienced professionals, which sets a precedent that’s worrying for anyone in the industry.
I was initially troubled by the response of NowGamer staff members to the inevitable criticism which cropped up on Twitter in the hours after the competition was launched: comments that stated they ‘didn’t understand’ why people were so upset, writers saying they didn’t ‘want to get into’ a debate about it, suggestions that ‘if you don’t like it, you don’t have to enter’. But the more I think about it, the more I realise that NowGamer’s staff writers are the people we should really feel sorry for.
It wasn’t their decision to set up the competition. They put words on a page for people to read, and – as they have the skill – get paid to do so. Because of the way the media works, these writers become the face of the publication and, by extension, the company: they’re the names and noses and beards that we think of when someone says the name ‘NowGamer’.
But they are not the decision-makers, and they are employees of a company. It doesn’t matter what NowGamer’s staff think of the decision to exploit the enthusiasm of kids who think being a games journalist sounds really cool is repulsive. What matters is that the people who are the decision-makers are paying the writers to be representatives of whatever ideology they choose to impart.
If I’m a writer on NowGamer, I can’t voice my disgust on Twitter. I might have fought tooth and nail to prevent the competition from ever being launched, but now that I’ve failed, I’m obliged to sit on Twitter explaining to everyone how the trivialisation of an important profession is a really cool opportunity for gamers worldwide.
If I had to do that, I’d probably get a bit snappy too.