16 September 2012

Tips For Writing Game News

I've been writing videogame news for a few months now so what makes me qualified to tell instruct people who have been doing it for far longer? Well, for one thing, I am a journalist. Or at least I've spent three years in college studying journalism.

There are many great game sites who post excellent features, opinion pieces, and commentaries. Yet their news sections let them down, at least they do in my opinion.

As these people make their living, or at least spend a significant amount of time writing about games, we can safely assume that they are gamers. One thing which is obvious however is that they are not journalists.

How often have you read a news story and on a game site and have to scroll down a fair bit to find out what the story is actually about?

Granted you'll likely have an idea from the headline but writing like this ignores one of the basic principals of news reports: a lot of people won't read an entire story (chances are you may well not have read this far, if you have thank you!).

You may also say that I'm taking awhile to get to the point, but there's a key difference, this isn't news, it is a feature. However, without further ado, here are my tips:

1) The Inverted Pyramid Structure:  Journalists are told almost from day one about something called the 'inverted pyramid structure'. What this means is that the foundation of your story - in other words - the most important information goes into the first sentence.

As you move down your story you add less and less vital information.

2) Intros! Intros! Intros!: This cannot be stressed enough, your intro is everything. Your goal here is to sum up the entire story into a single sentence of twenty to thirty words.

In school you were no doubt told to ask the who? What? Where? When? And how? In news the important information is really who and what. That's what you need to get into your first sentence.

When, where, and how can wait to the second or even the third. Again the reason for this is that most people simply don't read the entirety of a news story. They need to walk away from your intro knowing the essence of the story.

This is the intro I wrote to a story on Leviathyn:

The Wii U's GamePad can be replaced by Nintendo for a fee and will not be available in shops according to My Nintendo News.

As you can see I've answered the what as well as the who in 24 words. I'm probably biased of course, but that's a pretty solid intro.

This on the other hand comes from PSX Extreme:

Just about the only thing I'm clinging to in the FF universe right now is that Final Fantasy X HD reimagining. 

And if Square Enix takes that away and just leaves us with Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII and still no unveiling of Final Fantasy Versus XIII, I might officially give up.

FFX HD was announced a full year ago at the Tokyo Game Show in 2011.

You know the story is about the Final Fantasy X remake but for all you know it's a feature about the remake or an opinion piece. It's actually a news story. They've asked the Square Enix for an update but there's no way to tell from this.

I'm not slating PSX Extreme, it's a good website, but no news story should take three paragraphs before revealing that it is indeed a news story.

Alternatively have a look at this GameRant story:

The rising trend of domain squatting has made it difficult for large and small developers alike, who want to stake their claim in the vast, relatively new frontier called the World Wide Web. With the new car smell quickly being replaced with spam and identity fraud, shady organisation who take part in domain squatting often hope to achieve financial gain - either throuhg directly selling their nest egg domains to legitimate developers who require them, or intentionally diverting traffic to their own webistes, which are often riddled with spyware, or worse.

While this under-handed tactic is slowly being dealt with on a legislative level, companies like Microsoft have taken matters into their own hands.   

Here you know the Microsoft and patents are somehow involved but there's no mention of Halo thus far (the story relates to the Xbox maker patenting Halo 7-9). As with PSX Extreme this isn't intended as an attack on GameRant, they cover a wide range of topics and do so very well rather it's an objection to their editorial style.

Perhaps its' a clever plan to make readers look at an entire story, if so, I'm curious to know how well it works.

3) Sources: Finally credit your sources! If you pick up a story from another website make sure you let readers know where you got it from and if you first saw a story on website that they got from another website it's a good idea to credit both.

Images, ideally, should also be credited. If it's on the internet and has been posted by the developer or publisher you're usually okay but when you use graphs or tables designed by a site credit them. For example Gamasutra recently created the below graph to illustrate console launch pricing in light of announcements about the Wii U's cost upon release later this year.

Another story on a different site (which I won't name here) used that same graph and received significant attention on Reddit. That story didn't reference or credit Gamasutra. The implication should be obvious, the second story took credit for something Gamasutra created, and many people didn't realise it.

That's not just lazy, it's actively dishonest.


Maybe nobody will read all of this, maybe you'll disagree, but if you do write videogame news and if this helps in any way thanks for taking the time!

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