Integrity vs. Income: Why Journalists Transition to Gaming Company Roles

Integrity vs. Income Why Journalists Transition to Gaming Company Roles

The gaming industry is booming, but the same can’t be said for gaming journalism. An alarming trend has been happening – seasoned journalists are ditching traditional media for positions inside the very gaming companies they once covered. But what about independent journalism, and won’t these ex-watchdogs struggle with a serious case of “both sides of the fence”?

Greener Pastures

This reporter migration isn’t exactly news, but it’s definitely picking up steam. Why the jump ship? Money talks. Nathan Grayson, co-founder of Aftermath, says, “Generally, they tend to be more stable. They pay way better and in a lot of cases, especially if it’s PR.” Grayson admitted that the fantasy of a high-paying, low-stress job occasionally crosses his mind. Still, the fulfilment he finds in journalism outweighs the material appeal of a luxury car, for example.

“Can you imagine just not working for a year? That would be crazy! What would I even do with that time? I will probably get really stir-crazy and want to work again, but at least for the first little bit of it, I’m sure it would be incredibly relaxing and would probably make me feel less burnt out.”
– Nathan Grayson, Aftermath Co-Founder

The financial lure is undeniable. Gaming companies often offer bigger paychecks, better benefits, and a work-life balance that traditional media outlets can only dream of. For journalists drowning in a sea of layoffs and budget cuts, the siren song of a stable income and less chaotic work environment is hard to resist.

Position Ave. Salary (US)
Ave. Salary (US)
Glass Door
Ave. Salary (US)
Game Journalist $57, 499 $60, 559 $72, 567 $63, 542
PR $64, 469 $70, 529 $94, 196 $76,398
Online Community Manager $80, 123 $66, 216 $98, 636 $81, 658

Clickbait > Artistic Expression

Imagine being squeezed between corporate bosses with their bottom lines, algorithms that crave clicks over depth, and the constant pressure to prove your worth. Amidst the pressures of corporate mandates and the constant quest for attention-grabbing content, a former journalist, who prefers to remain anonymous, shares a candid perspective with us.

“We all know people who joined the industry with the hope of breaking stories and multiple aspects of games, but were reduced to churning out SEO drivel and clickbait pieces which caused them to burn out.

There is an abundance of hyper-optimized, yet obviously inane and grammatically hilarious content that dominates the Google search pages, and with AI it’s only getting harder.

After all, if your site doesn’t get traffic, your employer can’t keep paying you. It’s no wonder that journalistic integrity and quality has gone down and writers are jumping ship to marketing and PR departments.”
– Unnamed Source 1

Ads and search engine tricks are in charge, leading to a flood of clickbait and shallow content. There’s not much room for serious research or digging deep into stories anymore. Unfortunately, we are also guilty of that, as we often had to prioritize SEO-focused articles solely because they’re what pays the bills, not because we necessarily enjoy or prefer writing them. As Pingal, founder of Spiel Times, aptly puts it, “When we’re no big shots but still want to pay our bills, we clench our fists and do SEO shit.”

“The first company I wrote for, deleted my credentials off the website so 90% of my work there is gone. The second company got rid of their content portal entirely so most of that is gone as well.

So now, my day job has nothing to do with games media anymore. I manage corporate social media and content, and write/make videos about games as a hobby. It’s much more peaceful for work-life balance too, because in games media you’re never really off the clock. ”
– Unnamed Source 1

Seasoned Gaming Journalist Transitions to EA

Another gaming journalist with over a decade of experience recently switched sides and landed a gig at EA. While they also chose to remain anonymous, here’s what this veteran journalist has to say about the current state of gaming media.

“I see that maybe written games media is struggling a little bit. Simply because I think the way how people are absorbing information is a lot different. At times, it’s a lot easier to just scan an article to get the gist of what’s happening.”
– Unnamed Source 2

The Written Word Still Has a Place (Kinda)

The way people gobble up information has changed. It seems it’s all about quick bites – video clips and social media snippets. Even though short-form content is overpowering, written media isn’t completely dead yet. Our source acknowledges a kind of back-and-forth between written articles and video content. Many of those popular YouTubers you watch don’t do all the legwork themselves. They rely on news articles written by journalists to get the scoop.

“There is like a synergistic relationship between written and video [content] because a lot of video creators, especially the biggest, most popular ones, they don’t do their own reporting. They depend on reporting that is done by written media. So I do feel that kind of symbiotic relationship does exist.

But somehow, the audience values the video version of the news a lot more than maybe the written version. Lot of the video versions of the media that we consume would not even exist if the written stuff wasn’t written in the first place. It’s just a mixed feeling.”
– Unnamed Source 2

Evolve or Become Extinct

Aspiring journalists and media outlets must embrace video production, social media engagement, and multimedia storytelling to keep up.

“I think anybody today wanting to get into the industry, [should] already pretty much be aware that you need to understand camera presence. Take the example of somebody like Gene Park from The Washington Post. He has his Washington Post job, and he’s very active on social media. He’s part of multiple podcasts.

So, for somebody at the level of Washington Post, you would imagine is at the peak of doing games coverage. Even he is aware that hey, video and social media and reaching out to people in different ways is a core part of this job today.”
– Unnamed Source 2

While this veteran journalist isn’t ruling out a return to gaming journalism someday, they’re more interested in US outlets that prioritize video content and podcasts. A career shift from writing to working at EA also highlighted the allure of the gaming industry itself. When asked about compensation for their time in games media, they said, “There’s a big difference.” They reportedly make more than twice what they earned in journalism, plus benefits like insurance. When asked if they would get back to games media:

“Maybe if an outlet in the US, which is already doing a lot of video. I would be a little hesitant to maybe join a website like Kotaku or something, but maybe like a big podcast network.

I think that would be very interesting even if it took like not a significant pay cut. I wouldn’t mind a little pay cut. That would still be exciting for me covering games like that. Yeah, I’ll take it.”
– Unnamed Source 2

Impact Beyond the Byline

But hey, it’s not all about the Benjamins. Some journalists might be drawn to the gaming industry by the chance to make a more direct impact on the games and communities they love. Working as a community manager or PR lets them shape the narrative around a game, chat with fans, and maybe even influence development itself. Sounds pretty appealing for folks who want to get their hands dirty and contribute in a real way.

However, this journalist-to-PR pipeline raises some serious ethical concerns. When watchdogs turn into PR flacks, their objectivity and critical distance can go out the window. This creates a potential conflict of interest, where loyalty to the paycheck might trump journalistic integrity. Grayson himself acknowledges this tightrope walk.

“I think the companies would honestly prefer a world in which there aren’t any journalists anymore, and they are only on the company’s side as PR and community managers, and then on the fan side, [they have] influencers, content creators, [and] people who are by design more willing to play ball with companies directly and essentially just do advertising for them.”

This talent drain from journalism to the industry begs the question: how independent and credible is gaming news coverage anymore? When journalists get too chummy with the companies they cover, maintaining that crucial distance for objective reporting becomes a major challenge.

For Nathan Grayson’s complete insights on journalism and the gaming industry, read the full interview here.

If you’d like to support our small independent company, please consider making a donation here. Your contribution will help us stay afloat and continue our work.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *