The NowGamer thing: To blog or not to blog


If you don’t know what “The NowGamer thing” is, click here. You’ll be taken to a page where said website is running a writing competition, the prize for which is a blog at their piece of webspace – which is to be regularly updated by the winner(s), completely unpaid. This has elicited some strong reactions from journalists and bloggers in the videogames arena, from 100% unpaid writers to full-time high earners. Generally speaking, there are two schools of thought; the pro-competition ‘it’s a great way to get a foot up the ladder’ camp, and the anti-competition ‘it’s unacceptable for a professional site to expect writers to provide content for free’ camp.

Firstly, let’s not forget that this is not without precedent. Just last year, IGN ran a near-identical competition which they called ‘Game Changer‘. I (very) briefly considered entering myself, but quickly decided against it. Partly because – in my personal, thoroughly unprofessional opinion – I find the writing at IGN to be by and large dry and soulless, and didn’t relish the idea of being homogenised into that culture. Also however, the idea of IGN expecting people to work for them for free angered me somewhat. IGN is a global multimedia company owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. With the money they have at their disposal they could assign a minor celebrity to each and every one of their staff just to tell jokes about willies during break times, and for all I know that’s exactly what they do.

NowGamer is a much smaller concern; but it’s still a business. A well established website which pays its experienced writers and (it seems fair to presume) turns a healthy profit. What’s in this competition for them? Nothing, really. Well, apart from free content. And publicity. Publicity enhanced by the controversy over the nature of the competition and its prize which, I am sure you will agree, they could not possibly have foreseen.

Twitter is the best place to look for angry/happy/misguided opinions squished together in one place. It’s tempting to say that those in the ‘anti-competition’ camp are almost exclusively snobbish full-time journos, secure in their circles where every single assignment is guaranteed payment. That’s simply not the case, however; the most common argument in favour of the NowGamer competition seems to be – from some of the most successful games journos of today – “I did a lot of hard work for free, I never would have got where I am now without it”. While on the face of it a convincing argument for the project’s validity, it does ignore a few important factors.

NowGamer CEO?

Firstly, most of the best known names in the industry are old hands; at least, so far as videogame journalism is concerned. Those who did internships, apprenticeships, battleships, whatever for free will almost certainly have done so for print publications. That automatically makes it much easier to get noticed. There have only ever been so many games magazines on the shelf whereas, today more than ever, there are more multi-million dollar sites and minor blogs than you could ever possibly read in one lifetime. As has been established, NowGamer is more visible than most; but by distancing itself from the winner(s) by awarding them a “blog” rather than a more defined place in the NowGamer family, the prestige is questionable. Regular contribution to a print magazine also carries a more easily identifiable work ethic; they’d have to make it to the office on time each day, and work hard and consistently under the watchful eye of an editor.

I pity the poor lad/s or lass/es who end up winning this thing. It’s become clear from day one that many within the industry will dismiss their newfound position out of hand, considering it a worthless crumb tossed from the table of slavers. A common kneejerk reaction against the competition has been to declare “People can get their own free blog from WordPress, what’s the point of going for this one?”. Hmm, let me think. Well, how about the fact that NowGamer recorded over a million unique visitors in November 2011? In terms of promotion, all the hard work – and it is hard work – is done for you.

To be frank, anybody looking to get into full-time videogame journalism in 2012 is fast running out of roads to take. Last year, publishing giant Future Publishing culled a large amount of talented and experienced staff, and even some publications – including the much-loved PC Zone. The publisher culled them expensive, the jettisoned staff culled their former employers bad names, and everybody was forced to cull the whole thing off. Ahem. The point is, PR firms which deal in videogame matters have a long history of swiping experienced journos. Nowadays, videogame journalists must be lining up to jump into PR as it is, in all honesty, the much more secure job right now.

No, when I said PR I meant... oh never mind.

The NowGamer blog carries no guarantee of a paid, full-time job in the future, not at NowGamer or anywhere else. There’s a chance it could help however, which is surely better than nothing. On the other hand, the whole business does carry a whiff of ‘dystopian depression-flavoured future’. In effect, what we have are unemployed people – or people in jobs they hate – entering a competition where the prize is pretending to have a job they enjoy.

One important issue that NowGamer has remained silent on at time of writing is the issue of training and advice, namely: will there be any? As mentioned before, the site employs experienced and talented writers. If said writers are willing and able to offer the winner/s advice on their writing, the value of the prize suddenly becomes more clearly defined. Advice from experienced full-time journalists will be worth more than the blog, and would certainly prove to be more of a help when looking for a paid position.

If you’re a budding journalist yourself and you’re considering this competition, the choice is entirely yours. If you go for it, I say best of luck to you. If all you want is for people to read what you write, the prize is most definitely worth your time. If you’re looking for something that will help you find a full-time paid journalistic position, the value is a little fuzzier when you look at it; though it won’t harm a CV. In the unlikely event that somebody from NowGamer is reading this, pay attention right now: people will stop shouting at you if you promise to pay the winner/s at least something.

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you'll find something he's written in there. Luke doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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