The lights are on
Veteran Member - Level 13
I've been a fan of Game Informer ever since I was nine years old and picked up my first issue in 1993 (although I'm also the proud owner of the one with Andy performing a slam dunk on the cover). I picked it up thanks to my Mortal Kombat obsession, and an odd series of events led to me working at the magazine seventeen years later. Since I get a ton of emails asking how I wound up with this position, I thought I'd explain it here.
It obviously helps to have a nearly-obsessive interest in video games, and I had that covered ever since I received an NES as a gift when I was four. Games were my only real priority throughout my childhood and adolescence, and I was a master at being terrible at sports and not talking to girls for about twenty years. Oddly enough, this paid off in the end, as whatever social skills I lacked going into college I made up for with an encyclopedic knowledge of video games.
For about three years in high school, I worked at my local Funcoland/GameStop. This definitely helped with my gaming knowledge, as I made a habit of pulling out random games and playing them whenever we weren't busy. This introduced me to a huge amount of titles that I would have never given a second glance to if I hadn't had access to them through my job. I'd open up the drawer for a different system each day, close my eyes, grab a game, and play it no matter what it was. Sometimes it was a sports game, sometimes it was a classic that I'd replay, and sometimes it was Rising Zan: Samurai Gunman. If I was too busy to play it during my shift I'd take it home and play it all night.
Working at GameStop was a lot of fun in high school, but I knew my final goal was to work at the magazine I had been a fan of for years. During one shift, I thought of a way to visit the office and get a glimpse of what GI employment was like. I was starting to get really into video production in high school, and I would see the in-store GameStop ads run all the time during my shifts. I knew it was a long shot, but I contacted GameStop corporate and volunteered to make a Game Informer commercial for them if they could send me up to Minneapolis.
At this point, I didn't really have a long demo reel or anything (I was 18), but I sent them a script and offered to make the video for them for free if they could cover my travel expenses. To my surprise, they responded by telling me that they'd need to pay me for the ad and wanted to know how much I'd charge. Considering that weddings were the only experience I had when it came to making money with videos, I didn't have the slightest clue what to say. I threw out an amount that sounded reasonable for me, my cameraman, and the supplies, and they responded with a check and my travel plans.
It didn't even seem real to me that my plan to get to Game Informer actually worked, even as my cameraman and myself stood in the Minneapolis airport with our cameras and luggage. For several days, I got to hang out with the GI crew (Andy, Reiner, Matt Helgeson, and Kato were all around back then), talk games, and learn what a work day is like at my favorite gaming magazine. Oh, and I made this kinda-crappy video as well, starring former editor Justin Leeper as Solid Snake, my grandpa as Colonel Campbell, and myself as an awkward GameStop employee. I'm pretty hard on it, but our video producer Ben Hanson defends it considering I was only 18.
Outside of our time at the office, my cameraman and I went to the Mall of America and bought a giant shark suit. I wore it to Game Informer the next day for some reason, and that resulted in my first appearance in the magazine (you can see the GI Spy image at the top of this blog). I also got plenty of use out of that shark suit once I got to college.
To this day I'm not really sure if my Metal Gear Solid spot ever ran in-store, but my experience at the office was invaluable. I wanted to get that job more than ever before, and I made it my mission during college. When I was 20, I started writing video game reviews for my college town's local website and newspaper, and by 21 I was the editor of the video game section. We weren't a huge outlet, and video games were just a very small part of it, so I had to pay my own way out to E3 every year. Almost every time, I'd run into at least one of the GI guys that I had met during my office trip. In 2006 I ran into Reiner and Andy near the cafeteria and talked to them for a few minutes, in 2007 I talked to Matt Helgeson as we waited for a press conference to start, and in 2009 I ran into the whole crew as they left the Nintendo presser. Every time, I reminded them that I was "that kid who ran around in a shark suit several years ago" and made it clear that I wanted to work for them. They were always fully staffed at the time, but I was encouraged to continue writing reviews so I'd be prepared if there ever were some openings.
Less than two months after I ran into Andy outside of the Nintendo presser, I woke up to an email from him asking for a resume and writing samples. Turns out they were preparing a full overhaul of the website and magazine, and openings would finally be available. After sending him my writing samples, I did a phone interview with Reiner and Jeff Cork. Within a month after that, I had my things packed up and left Kansas City for Minneapolis and my new job. Sure enough, I wound up loving it even more than I expected I would.
The specifics of how I got here are definitely unconventional. Shooting a video for GameStop, running around in a shark suit, and having the opportunity to write for a college site aren't methods that are available for everyone. However, I don't think those are the most important factors when it comes down to why I finally got the job. Even if I was writing for my own blog during college rather than a website/newspaper, the experience I gained thanks to writing all those reviews is what helped more than anything. Each year, I had more and more reviews and writing samples that I could
provide if the opportunity arose (I wrote over 600 reviews for that site by the time I
was done). I don't like looking back at my early reviews, but when I do I can tell that the quality naturally improved as the years went on. At no point was I a journalism student, and I didn't take any writing-intensive courses throughout college (I was a film student). If you do something over and over again for a long enough period of time, you'll naturally improve. That's why I think the key to getting a job like this is to keep writing and writing no matter what. If the job you want opens up and you don't get it, keep writing. If someone tells you your reviews suck, keep writing. If you can't find any local websites or outlets that will publish your stuff, screw it...keep writing. You don't have to be a journalism student, you don't have to know anyone in the industry, and you don't have to live in Minneapolis, Seattle, or San Francisco. All you need is a real passion for the industry and a hell of a lot of persistence. Also, buy a shark suit if you ever find one. They're really fun.
Email the author Dan Ryckert, or follow on Twitter, Google+, Facebook, and Game Informer.