I recently tweeted that my day was going so well that it reminded me why I love to write. On my Formspring, someone asked me why, so I went into how for someone like me writing is as close to magic as anything in my life. When I write and the words are flowing and, even better, when a friend or collaborator is having a great writing day at the same time, the universe seems to make sense.
To paraphrase William Finn, sex is good, but I’d rather be writing.
But even when things are going well (and this past year has been a series of professional highs from new gigs to new friends to new partnerships) there is the awareness that this is a job that is best wasted on the young. I am at a stage in my life where I should establish more financial security and I really don’t write fast enough to churn out the features that I love to write or describe the games that take days to properly understand. I love writing about games; it will take at least another half dozen years to compete financially with my new opportunity.
Three weeks ago, almost on a whim and poked by some friends, I applied for a job in video game public relations with Evolve PR – a company that works with CD Projekt, Paradox Studios, Good Old Games, and a number of other places. A couple of weeks ago, I was offered the job – something that came as a complete surprise to me.
It was not an easy decision.
But, after consulting with my brain trust (you know who you are, and I appreciate the wise counsel), I accepted the position. As of this post, I am no longer a freelance video game writer. I am an industry shill. To my credit, I will be working with companies whose products I respect even when I pan them, and a PR company that has never lied to me.
This is not something I ever imagined myself doing, and some of my editors were shocked to hear it. I was never “that guy” looking for a way to get in good with devs or producers or planning an escape to the industry. But new skills, new challenges, new colleagues, more money. I’m not a halfwit.
This does mean a dramatic change in my life, my audience, and the things I love best. In my career to this point, the inanimate things I love best are my blog and the podcast.
Conflict of interest is a real thing. When I work in PR, I can’t spend my words lambasting a recently released game that competes with one that my company represents. When I write about a game that my company represents, I won’t lie, but I also can’t betray my clients by saying things against their interest. (Public relations is a little like practicing law, I imagine.)
Over the next few months, my last bits of writing will trickle out through Gameshark and PCGamer. These are things I undertook before applying for, accepting and assuming the new job. I hate to leave both jobs. Gameshark is betrayed by its hideous layout; I have never worked with a nicer group of people, many of whom should know by now how underpaid they are for keeping that site alive – the core writers there do it because they get along so well and they produce amazing content regularly. PCGamer welcomed me with open arms and gave me a chance to be in print again; the editors do real editing, sending back suggestions, questioning meanings, looking for ways to make the most out of a spartan word count. I loved working with the team there more than I could have expected.
Then we have 1up, Gamespy, The Escapist, and any other place that has seen fit to accept my byline in the last year.
Will the editors I work with find someone to fill my shoes? Absolutely. None of us are indispensable. Even strategy gaming has a bunch of people lining up to write about it.
I don’t want it to sound like I took this better paying job out of altruism, but the dirty secret of games writing is that the longer veterans like me stick around, the harder it is for other younger skilled voices to be heard and paid for the privilege. I am pretty good at what I do, and on my “on” days, I think I kick ass. But I am not so uniquely skilled that other people can’t do it as well or even better if they get the chance.
I will miss the reviews and press events and all that fun, but I am nearing 40. It’s time to get a grown up job and pass the work on to young men and women who can fill the hobbit sized gap I leave behind me. I love helping other writers make contacts and connections, and have spent a lot of the last couple of years pushing people to come to events, helping them meet devs, giving them PR contacts, and editing their articles. Some people might think it’s silly to train potential replacements; I see it as professionalism to help someone good become better.
Sometimes the best way to help people, though, is to step aside and let them have a crack at the job, especially since I am not hurting myself financially to do it.
Which brings me to my truest loves.
First, the podcast. I can’t host it any more, obviously. Any time that the show talks about or critiques a recent release, my presence will be a constant reminder that I have corporate interests to promote. Yes, we have industry guests from time to time, but usually to talk about either their work specifically or something very distant from their immediate interests. As a host, I organize the lion’s share of the shows, and I love the show and the audience too much to have any concerns about its legitimacy being in the air.
We often get things wrong on the show, but we are always honest. I never want that to change. I always held that the day the audience starts doubting the honesty of Three Moves Ahead is the day we shut it down.
This does not mean that I am going away forever. I hope that the new host, Rob Zacny, will have me to talk things far from my job. After all, nothing I say about M.U.L.E. can possibly be construed as a conflict. But I can’t do the host things like organize the show – plan topics, get guests, promote my company’s games. I will still be a presence and if I think I can contribute to the topic Rob chooses, I’m there. I am still much too close to Three Moves Ahead to let it go easily, especially if it starts moving in a weird direction. But I doubt that will happen.
Why does Rob get to be host? Because I have always liked his writing, he loves the show as much as I do, and he has great ideas for topics. (Except the holiday gaming show.) I will still host the main page for the show on the blog for now, and when Rob and his crew want to move that somewhere, I’ll help them with that.
And what happens to Flash of Steel? Well, the Amazon Ads are coming down. The donate button, too, and I will make sure that a large chunk of the money you all have donated finds its way to the show people. There will be less discussion of current games here, but let’s be honest – this last year hasn’t seen a hell of a lot of that anyway. I will still write about strategy games and how they interact with history and politics. Any current game riffs will be framed as “Here is what I am doing in it” so more AARs and experiential stuff.
The essay/feature series will continue. I may take the time to work in more non-strategy stuff, too. I’ve had some column ideas that never went anywhere that can’t be done now, so either I give those ideas to other people or I just write them up here. It’s probably a bit of both, depending on the idea.
(To be honest, I briefly considered ditching the blog, too. A saner voice told me that I would be an idiot to do that.)
Expect some gradual changes to the blog as I move into training, possibly physically relocate and learn what the limits of my editorial voice will be in this spot. It is an exciting time to be doing exciting things. I understand that some people – even colleagues I love – may feel a little abandoned, but I’m still here; I’m only going to be more creative about the limits on what I write.
I will answer your questions in the comments or on my Formspring – once I get back from New York.