Ladies and gentleman, it’s time for an interview with Mr. Jim Sterling, Reviews Editor for Destructoid.com. Jim is widely known as one of the internet’s greatest feather rufflers with articles such as How Microsoft ruined fun for everybody, but is also famous for his hilarious video series The Video Game Show What I’ve Done.
Come with us as we muse on the gaming industry at large, PR firms, the review process, and how he got started in the blogging arena!
So how did you come about blogging, and where did you get your start?
I started writing online about seven or eight years ago, slowly working for sites that no longer exist, like Oratory Opinions or Project Wonderboy. I set up my own Web site, Morphine Nation, which was a social satire site (it’s still going under new leadership, check it out). I’d never thought of writing as a serious career move, instead pursuing a career in comedy. It had promise but I never had the love for it that you need to make that stuff work.
One day I just thought to myself, “I love videogames, I love writing, why not try and make it work?” I emailed a few places and somehow got on the good side of IGN. I wrote a piece for IGN Insider about the failed arcade fighter Tattoo Assassins, since I knew someone who worked on the game. The piece succeeded and it opened a lot of doors for me.
I was looking for a regular gig as a game reviewer and happened to be reading an issue of GAMEStm that had an article on how to make a career in the games industry. Destructoid was featured as an example of a gaming blog that had “made it.” I heard they paid, so I emailed Niero with some samples and the usual patter. He put me through to Nick Chester, and they decided to take a chance on me. It was a bumpy start, but I got there in the end.
No. We’ve always had a diplomatic system at Destructoid. What we do is provide a release list of games and the writers can pick what they want/are able to review. Of course, as reviews editor, I get to sneak in there first and claim dibs on all the hotly contested stuff, like Dynasty Warriors. Ooh, there’s such a fight over those games!
It varies, but I can be working for up to fifteen hours a day if it’s particularly hectic. I do a little of everything — news, reviews, features and now videos. It takes a lot of time to try and balance so much stuff, but it’s very important that I do. It’s what keeps my family fed.
I’d have to say Chris Morris is probably my biggest influence. An absolutely brilliant satirist. I recommend checking out Brass Eye, a superb series he created that absolutely mocked sensationalist media apart before it even got started.
I guess I’d say the Ten Golden Rules of Online Gaming, as it was certainly my biggest and most successful piece. I’d also have to suggest How Prototype is Blatantly Better Than inFAMOUS, as it seemed to be one of the biggest catalysts for the whole bitter debate. I don’t think that argument would have gotten as hilariously ridiculous if my article hadn’t stoked the fanboy fires.
I’d say it’s more to do with the fact that my mind retains useless information for a ridiculously long time. I can’t remember important things like doctor’s appointments or airplane flights, but I can remember the opening sequence to long-forgotten BBC1 children’s drama The Queen’s Nose. Ridiculous.
Not so much professional pressure as personal pressure. It’s hard to be cruel to a publisher you genuinely like and respect, and you worry more about hurting people you’re friendly with rather than having some big publisher try and fight you. In fact, I prefer publishers to get that way with me, as it’s far easier to stick to your guns when you’re dealing with a company that’s simply throwing a tantrum. It’s more difficult to have someone say “aw man, that sucks that you felt that way about our game,” and they’re being really friendly and you feel like you just strangled their dog.
That said, a shit game’s a shit game, and at the end of the day you have to bite a bullet and score it what feels right.
I think fear is the industry’s biggest problem. A fear of new things, a fear of creativity. It’s my belief that anything can be as successful as Halo if it’s marketed as confidently as Halo, but publishers lack confidence in anything but the biggest franchises and most established ideas.
As for what it’s doing right? It’s hard to pin down what is being done collectively as an industry. It’s easier to point at individual companies, like Valve that’s been doing a great job harboring customer loyalty, or Electronic Arts, that is backing some good, original content lately.
I think it’s disgusting if there were any shenanigans afoot, but we of course don’t know. I think Eidos needs to fire its PR department, though, as it’s been unable to keep a lid on any of this bullshit lately. Perhaps it needs to just sit back and let the games do the talking … oh wait, that would probably be worse.
Eurogamer seems to get itself into a lot of these debacles for some reason. I think they handled it decently enough. They offered a re-review, and were completely open when called out. That’s all you can hope to be as a writer, really. Mistakes get made, we sometimes slack off. I’ve done it myself. To be held accountable, however, is all I’d ever expect from a writer.
I write list columns myself, so obviously I think they have merit. I think the trick is to find a good angle, or turn the idea of list columns on their heads. There are so many “top 10 videogame babes” articles out there, which is why I parodied them by describing sexual intercourse with things like Kirby and Tingle. It’s all about having a unique idea that sets a good top 10 apart from a bad top 10.
People who claim that top 10s are lazy tend to be people who just have lazy ideas for them.
Treasure your readers, above all else. They’re the ones that keep you in the job, and the community you build is what keeps you going. Write for your readers, write about what interests both you and them. That’s how you make the transition from having readers to having fans. Also, it never hurts to start a few flamewars!
Hmmm … I’ll say Sonic the Hedgehog 2. It’s one of those games I can just play while my brain’s disengaged these days. It requires no mental effort, yet sucks up so much time. You can hardly ask for more.
Thanks for your time!
My distinct, non-sexual pleasure.