Ben Skipper is entertainment and video game reporter for International Business Times, and has been writing games reviews since he was 12. In the latest in a series of Games Media Brit List Interviews, he talks frankly about overworking and the pressures on mental health, building up a games media brand, and working with and getting to know wonderful people…
How did you first get into the games media?
I started writing up reviews games and films when I was about 12 on this ancient (even at the time) laptop, saving them to floppy disks. That turned into a hobby which turned into an application to study journalism at university. I graduated, was an intern at Yahoo Movies for a year then went freelance. It wasn’t long before I got in touch with Adam Cook at God is a Geek, who gave me my first regular gig writing news.
What advice would you give to someone currently looking at a career in games media?
Work hard, but don’t let your work overwhelm you. Create opportunities where you can, seize them and stay conscious of your career trajectory. Have your next step in mind and don’t hesitate in taking it when the time is right. Also, don’t feel guilty about taking breaks from work. Find and indulge other interests. Strike a healthy work-life balance.
What’s been the best advice you’ve ever received?
Eat a good meal before attending industry events where there’s free alcohol...
What are you most proud of in your career to date?
After a few months at IBTimes UK I decided I wanted grow what little gaming coverage we had into something more robust. My desk editor at the time David Gilbert agreed to let me crack on, essentially giving me free rein. At first it was just me, but ahead of E3 2015 I hired a temp (Jake Laverde) to help during that very busy week. Around that time I requested a freelance budget too, which I used to expand the scope of our coverage, commissioning writers like Jake Tucker, Kirk McKeand, Holly Nielsen, Sean Cleaver, Mike Stubbs, Chris Kerr, Sayem Ahmed and so many more to write reviews and features. When the tech desk at IBT grew, Oliver Cragg came on board as well.
I was a de facto editor working with talented writers to establish and grow a section that was eventually nominated for a Games Media Award. The nomination was incredible, but I’m most proud of the work we did to get there. To build something from so little, learn so much in doing so and help get up-and-coming writers published was a thrill. The best part was working with and getting to know so many wonderful people.
And what has been your biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge has been dealing with difficult circumstances when things take a turn for the worse. They inevitably do, so what matters is how you react and what you learn. I say that as someone who has not reacted well, and who has definitely slumped. The stumbling blocks I’ve encountered have been disheartening. They’ve caused me to doubt my abilities, doubt whether this is even what I want to do, and to be honest they’ve had a negative impact on my mental health. It’s why my advice up there included taking breaks and finding a healthy work-life balance. I’m proud of what I built at IBT, but there was a time when the work dominated my life. It’s as much a problem when things are good as when they’re bad, you just don’t realise it.
Which of your competitors do you most admire and why?
I couldn’t possibly narrow it down to even a select few. The games media is full of incredibly passionate people. Those who are successful, those that have been successful, those who are yet to be successful and those who work tirelessly for years and years without due recognition. Given the volatile nature of this business and the toxicity in the industry we cover, everyone who wants to do this is admirable.
Who’s your favourite non-games writer/presenter?
Joel Golby is an incredibly funny writer and makes it look easy. I hate him. His articles for Vice (the more in-depth the better) used to be events when the IBT tech desk Slack channel was at its busiest. We’d just share his latest with “G O L B Y” and no more.
If you weren’t working in games media, what would you be doing?
I have no idea. I should probably figure that out.
Nominate yourself for a Games Media Brit List award here – it’s quick and easy and finalists attend the event, held on May 17th at Rich Mix in Shoreditch, completely free!