Andrew McMillen is a freelance writer who, amongst other subjects, covers esports and video games.
How did you first touch on games or the gaming industry as a journalist?
My first videogame journalism came about through frustration that I couldn’t find answers to something that interested me: why had the biggest gamedev studio in my city of Brisbane, Australia, suddenly closed its doors? The local press didn’t seem to be covering the story at all, so I began digging around and asking questions, eventually publishing this feature story with IGN.
Prior to that I had been an avid gamer my whole life. I did entertain the thought of becoming a videogame journalist as a teenager, but I didn’t seriously give it a shot. I had been a full-time freelance journalist for under two years when the above Krome story was published. Most of my work at that point was music-related.
Not every interviewee is articulate and easy to write/speak to- what tactics do you use to get good stories and insights from people?
First, read. Lots and lots. I follow my curiosity. If I see a small news item and want to know the full story, that’s usually a good sign that others might be interested in reading it too. The task from there is to convince an editor that I should write it, via a compelling pitch, then see it through to completion.
As for interviewing, I find that it’s good to (proverbially) prostrate yourself before the subject and either admit that you know nothing about the topic they’re an expert in, or have them explain complex things in simple terms. Whether you’re actually ignorant about the topic is not so important, I’ve just come to feel that interviews work better when there’s a power imbalance between the interviewer and interviewee. If you act like a know-all arrogant arsehole, you’re not going to get very far. If you are genuinely curious about the person and their story, and ask open-ended questionsabout intricate parts of their life (that they wish they could tell to the people around them, but would probably bore them to tears), you’ll likely get much further.
A good journalist is the friendliest stranger you can meet; one who hangs off your every word and is endlessly fascinated by everything about you. This might sound a bit like a parasitic act, where you hang off a person and suck them dry until they’ve given you everything you wanted (a good story, good quotes etc). That is one perspective, I suppose, but I choose not to look at it that way.
Does deciding what to cover play a significant role in your work, or are you more accustomed to taking on assignments? In the instances in which you do decide what to cover, how do you decide what to write about?
90% of my journalism work (in all fields, not just videogames) comes from me pitching fresh ideas. I decide what to write about based on my own interests/curiosity, as described above. Usually the impetus is to find answers to something that is currently unknown, or has not been covered in any other media.
What advice would you give to someone looking to break into the field of gaming journalism?
I can’t give advice on this as I am not a gaming journalist, I am a freelance journalist who occasionally writes about games (or more specifically,about the people who make games). General advice would be to commit as much time as possible to reading and writing about the field that you’re interested in. If you have to get an unrelated part-time job to pay the bills, do it. If you’re young and hungry, you should be able to get by on enthusiasm and persistence for a couple of low-earning years. Keep your eyes on the prize and know that you won’t be in that situation forever if you keep doing good work and cultivating valuable relationships with people who can pay you well.
How important was networking to your career? What advice would you give aspiring game journalists (or general journalist) as to how they should approach networking?
Hugely important. You are your network, to an extent, especially when starting out. Even if it’s just a few writer friends on Twitter that you share yourwork with, and read their stuff. You should always be aiming to expand your network by introducing yourself to people and showing them your work. A lot of people won’t care or won’t respond but you never know who might.
I’ve always gone out of my way to email writers whose work I enjoy, immediately after reading it, usually mentioning a particular aspect that it’s clear they laboured over. Writing is a pretty lonely business so I find that people are usually happy to respond kindly to such compliments. From there you might be able to attract their attention and carve out a little of their time, asking a couple of succinct questions about contacts or advice etc.
Everyone is online now, especially writers, because it’s an essential to have an online presence in this business. You can find anyone’s email address with enough Googling, guesswork and ingenuity. Don’t be an annoyance. Be kind, as I hope you are in real life, so that it’s not just an act to get what you want from someone else.
As you become more established as a journalist, does it get easier? If so, what aspect of your work has grown easier over time?
Yes. Of course. Everything gets easier with practice. Identifying potential stories, writing compelling pitches, convincing editors that you’re worth taking a bet on, conducting interviews in an efficient manner that leaves both parties satisfied and doesn’t waste the time of either, writing the stories themselves in a compelling way that will convince people to turn the page or scroll down without even realising it, managing your workdays and workweeks efficiently while still maintaining a social life and thus sanity… All of these are highly skilled tasks. Some people are better at some of these aspects than others at the beginning, but ultimately you’ll have to ‘level up’ all of these skills quite significantly in order to make a decent living from freelance writing. I have gotten better at all of the above, slowly, and the money has increased in parallel.