I quite fancy being a games journalist. Actually, let’s ditch that knowing, understated tone – I want to be a games journalist. Maybe I’ll do it for a few years and get game burnout, or perhaps I’ll miraculously complete my first novel/epic poem/screenplay and be catapulted to literary stardom, but for now I would leap at any and every chance to become a staff writer on whatever magazine or website needs someone to crank out the content, whether its reviews of indie minnows or killer features on the front cover. I am also trained in brewing a variety of warm beverages, but you’ll have to ask nicely if you want one.
Thing is, with the way the industry is going, I have absolutely no idea what that career might involve in five years time, maybe even less. Gaming seems to me to be a uniquely volatile part of the marketplace, gobbling up more money than any other entertainment media but built on treacherous shifting sands. At present, the most accessible games media outlets, the ones that provide broad coverage across platforms and genres rather than pursuing a more specialist road, still cater largely to the top end of the market, with coverage of PC and console gaming on top of the list.
Will that be so in a few years time, with the massive but still largely dormant social market waiting to burst wide open? Mainstream games journalism, looking at the numbers, could have to start featuring more and more content on mobile games, Facebook games and so on. One quick example: Call of Duty: Black Ops recently became the all-time top selling game in the UK, having shipped 3.72 million copies since its release last November. This is a colossal number for a console game, but Farmville routinely brings in 30 million active users worldwide every day.
When I imagine a future career in games journalism, it tends to involve my writing compelling, thought-provoking features making readers look deeper at the artistic nature of interactive experiences. Naturally, I will also be wearing a monocle and a velvet jacket whilst writing these articles in my plush study with an enormous bookshelf behind me bearing the worthy load of my cumulative knowledge. Marvellous – but for all I know, I could end up hawking reviews of a thousand fitness games, casual MMOs and one-shot arcade titles on the IPhone 7 having been crowded out of an increasingly niche and specialised triple-A journalism sector.
Of course this is speculation; moreover, it’s speculation that has been speculated on previously by far more experienced speculators than I. My train of thought was kicked off by two things. The first is the dominance of Zumba Fitness at the top of the UK chart, a game that hardly registers a blip on most middle-of-the-road games sites, except in the usual chart updates that tend to dismiss its reign as a funny little quirk. It’s held the top spot on six separate occasions, this week outselling the next four titles, Lego Pirates, L.A. Noire, FEAR 3 and Virtua Tennis 4, combined. Whatever might be argued about the relative merits of Zumba next to something like L.A. Noire, the sales figures are striking and indicative of the change that has hit the industry in recent years.
The other was a report on UK gaming trends by the market research company Newzoo, which claims that 31m people in the UK, more than half the population, spend money on games. Casual games websites are named as the most popular platform ahead of consoles, with mobile games lurking just behind in third. Console gaming is still incredibly potent according to these figures, but the growth forecasts are the most interesting. In the period 2009-12, the MMO and social gaming market is predicted to grow by 40%. Console gaming, by contrast, could fall up to 11%.
All this is very much uncertain, which hardly helps me when I’m thinking about career plans beyond the short term – but it also makes everything that bit more exciting.