Jen Simpkins started her games media career blogging and freelancing, and soon after joined the ranks of Official PlayStation magazine. Now Deputy Editor on Edge, she discusses the camaraderie of a magazine team, the dangers of too much overtime, and Mario vs Modernist literature…
How did you first get into the games media?
I was sort of dancing around the edges of it when I was at university: I wrote for various hobby games sites and magazines, attended a handful of industry events, and made sure I wrote each week for my own embarrassingly amateur WordPress blog. I graduated and got a job at my local Co-op, and then a friend posted on Facebook that Official PlayStation Magazine UK were looking for a staff writer. I thought I'd give it a shot despite having limited experience, nervously babbled my way through a two-hour interview, got the position and my break. It probably wasn't because of the nervous babbling. Please don't do that in your interviews.
What advice would you give to someone currently looking at a career in games media?
Write regularly, even if it's just setting yourself a weekly post goal on a homemade blog: you're proving to yourself that you're serious about doing this, holding yourself accountable to deadlines, and hopefully developing your own personal voice. Get on Twitter (which is terrible, but also useful), follow editors you admire, and look out for freelance opportunities. When pitching, do your homework on the site or magazine you want to write for, and make sure the pitch suits. Don't copy-paste the same thing to multiple editors, because we can tell. And get a staffer role as soon as you possibly can: working under an editor that can offer you consistent, focused feedback is a surefire way to become a better writer.
What’s been the best advice you’ve ever received?
I once got some stellar advice from Matt Sakuraoka-Gilman – he was editor of GamesMaster magazine at the time, and something of a mentor to me. He always advised against making a habit of working overtime, and said it was important to always remember who you're really working for. Working in magazines – and in something you love, like games – means there's a lovely atmosphere of camaraderie in the face of deadlines, but it's also easy to convince yourself to pull crazy hours and burn yourself out because you don't want to let your teammates down. Of course, if you're working for a company, it's all in service of something much higher up on the food chain, so it's sensible to keep that in perspective and make sure it's not at the expense of your sanity. I think a lot of people my age are particularly bad at that, and could do with looking after themselves better.
What are you most proud of in your career to date?
Honestly, the nice thing about magazines is that you're so proud every single month of this beautiful thing you've made, that you can hold in your hands. I tend to think of my proudest moments in terms of covers and the stories behind putting them together. The No Man's Sky cover for OPM was my first big feature, so I'll always be proud of that; the 'Can Indie Games Save The World?' cover feature for Edge is sort of symbolic of a lot of achievements in my career coming together. But it's hard to pick just one thing, really, because I'm proud of every magazine, and every mad month that goes into it.
And what has been your biggest challenge?
Being a woman. Writing is cake compared to some of the nonsense I've had to deal with because of my gender.
Which of your competitors do you most admire and why?
It's hard to think of any real competitors, because Future Publishing basically owns all the gaming magazines now, and online publications often have a wildly different approach to covering games. But as far as mags go, I love both PC Gamer's personality-driven stuff and its unique features. Their team is one of the strongest in the industry right now. Online, Eurogamer has my favourite overall games coverage, which is somehow both rigorous and approachable. I get my indie gaming tips almost exclusively from Rock Paper Shotgun: they always know what's up.
Who’s your favourite non-games writer/presenter?
This is where I realise I live in a games bubble. Does Louis Theroux count? I'm obsessed with his interview persona – it's completely genius. I'm always fascinated by how other journalists coax out stories from people, and Theroux is the master. I'm still very much working on my own approach.
If you weren’t working in games media, what would you be doing?
I probably would have somehow convinced myself to go back to university and become a full-time academic, which would have been disastrous for me. Turns out I'm much happier writing about Mario than Modernist literature.
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!