Here’s the thing about being freelance: you don’t get called in by your manager for an end of year review. All in all, this is probably a Good Thing. I mean, the fewer pointless exercises in paperwork I have to do, the better, and the fact that I don’t have a manager watching over me is well up there in my list of Top Ten Great Things About Being A Freelancer. But having said that, end of year reviews ARE a good way to look back and see how far you’ve come, as well as to plan out where you’re going. So this is mine – and I’m pleased to say that it’s been a pretty bloody excellent year.
I started off as a freelancer in 2013, when I left my position as a copy-editing manager at the Nature scientific review journals, and since then copy-editing has made up the majority of my income, with writing making up a much smaller percentage. But 2019 was the first year in which it’s been pretty much 50/50 between writing and copy-editing – and hopefully writing will overtake editing in the year to come.
But writing about video games is still a relatively small portion of that writing percentage – mostly because video-game writing pays far less and involves far more work than other, more lucrative writing gigs for commercial companies and marketing firms. Still, I write about games because I bloody love writing about games, and I was particularly proud of some of the features I churned out this year.
The biggest moment was undoubtedly getting published in EDGE magazine for the first time back in June. It’s been a long-held ambition of mine to get a feature in EDGE, so this was a really big thing, career-wise. And I’d been wanting to write something about the games scene in my adopted Northeast England home for a long time, too, so getting to do both at once was a real treat.
Another big moment was getting a feature in the excellent Wireframe magazine in April. And it was a particularly weird and interesting one as well, all about people downloading games from the radio and TV back in the 1980s. I love bizarre stories like that – secret histories from the dawn of gaming.
It’s been a strange year in the sense that for the first time ever, the majority of my games writing has been in print rather than online: as well as the EDGE and Wireframe features, I’ve had a preview in PC Gamer, wrote several chapters for a book on AR called Convergence, and had eight features published in Retro Gamer magazine. And in another first, on several occasions I’ve had editors contacting me to write stuff for them, rather than me chasing after them with pitches and prayers. It’s nice to be wanted!
The biggest disappointment was probably the article I wrote on how Google Stadia and other streaming services will affect indie developers. The GamesRadar editors decided to hold back publication for several weeks so that it would coincide with Stadia’s big reveal – but everyone I interviewed for the article (along with myself) had assumed that Stadia would work on a Netflix-style subscription model, so when Google revealed they’d be charging per game (I still can’t believe they chose to do that), much of the article was rendered irrelevant. Ack, you can’t win ’em all.
But I’ve had some excellent features published on Kotaku UK this year – one of my favourites was on 20 Years of Lego Star Wars, when I got to speak with the head of the Star Wars division at Lego and ask him all sorts of nerdy questions off the record. The Fall of Rise of the Robots was another fun one to write, as was Why Were old PCs Beige? – an article that resulted from an idle thought that turned into some proper detective work. The year ended on a slightly sad note, however, with the passing of Jason Brookes, the second editor of EDGE. I’d interviewed him in October for a feature on the history of EDGE (which should be appearing on Kotaku UK sometime soon), and I was shocked to hear about his death in early December. I wrote a tribute to him featuring a partial transcript of that final interview – and doing that piece of transcription made for a very sad few hours indeed.
On a more fun note, the week I spent writing E3 news articles for GAME Media was brilliant. After several incredibly late nights covering the live streams from LA I was probably going slightly mad, but it did mean I got to write some very silly stuff, like heaping praise on the Very Good Dog who appeared on stage during Ubisoft’s presentation and writing a recommendation that Mr Blobby and Sharon from EastEnders should be in Watch Dogs: Legion. And thrashing out news articles about newly announced games WHILE THEY WERE STILL BEING PRESENTED ON STAGE was a real adrenaline rush, and quite different from my normally sedate pace of feature writing.
Overall, I think my favourite features this year have been the ones for Retro Gamer – the one on the making of Amiga Power in particular was an absolute joy to write. That magazine helped inspire me to become a writer in the first place, so it was wonderful to speak to the people who created it, as well as to recreate some of the mag’s infamous running gags in the feature itself – like Rich Pelley always speaking in capitals. And it was fantastic to speak to the great Julian Gollop for a feature on X-COM, as well as to interview the presenters of BITS, a show I used to love back in the day. I’m also particularly proud of the massive History of Videogame Magazines I did for the 200th issue of Retro Gamer. It nearly killed me, but it was worth it.
So all in all, 2019 has been a pretty amazing year for me in terms of games writing. And thanks to shows like EGX and EGX Rezzed, I’ve been able to catch up with several other gaming freelancers whose work I enjoy, like @dirigiblebill and @JordanOloman – swapping freelance horror stories was particularly fun. So that just leaves the plan for next year – how can I top this one? Well, for a start, I’m still aiming to get something published in The Guardian – another of my long-held ambitions. And I’ve got a few great ideas for Retro Gamer features that will take a bit of work to pull off – if I can scoop the cover feature, that would be absolutely amazing. But probably my keenest ambition is to write a book – I’ve got a couple of ideas for gaming books bubbling away, so I’d love to see those through to fruition. Watch this space.