[dropcap size=big]A[/dropcap]s someone who has written about video games “professionally” for around 5 years I have paid attention to a multitude of writers on all degrees of sites, from super large to niche. Over the years I’ve seen many jump between websites, juggle multiple positions at once, and occasionally leave the writing sphere altogether. In the past few years in particular even non-writers have probably noticed many websites close down. There are far too many to list, quite honestly, and some writers never regained a foothold. Many others have luckily found other locations to call home. I don’t expect this trend to change – in fact I still expect more sites to close. Why?
I’m not just a debbie downer, I swear. It just seems that in the current climate of gaming sites you are expected to chase corporations and fall under their wing. At that point, you become completely beholden to their click-driven culture which results in BuzzFeed-esque sites. Although they actually DO offer some high quality writing you’ll have to dig deep beyond the immense amount of click bait nonsense to get to it. Either you bend to that style of producing outrageously heavy amounts of (mostly) vapid content or you crumble. At least, that seemed to be the overarching narrative. Just deal with writing tons of 10 word articles and childish lists because at least you’ll get paid.
We may be approaching a period where this is no longer a necessity. Heck, some people are already living “the dream” of writing what they want, being paid, and not having to bend to terrible click bait practices. Just look at Massively, which was held under the AOL brand alongside Joystiq. Both sites were shuttered earlier this year and while Joystiq sort of got a life line with Engadget, the Massively team didn’t receive such treatment. As such, they launched a Kickstarter to crowdfund a new site – Massively Overpowered. Without bowing to corporate overlords they would finally have complete editorial control, website design freedom, and more. The MMO community, who had been incredibly displeased by the sites untimely closing, showed their love by fully funding the $50,000 campaign in just a few days.
Of course, that tidy sum of cash will not support Massively Overpowered forever. That’s just the first leg of their funding campaign to get the ball rolling. Afterwards, they plan to move to the sustainable, continuous crowdfunding platform Patreon. With Patreon they’ll be able to receive monthly funds from their stable of dearest fans. Although there’s no proof yet that their Patreon will be nearly as successful as their Kickstarter, the fact that it was so quickly funded does bode well for future funding efforts. Readers already knew what it felt like to lose a needed resource and probably don’t want to experience that again!
Although Patreon has been around for a while as a great platform for independent voices in the gaming scene, it took a few big names to make others take notice. Perhaps the best known single gaming journalist entity on the site right now is Jim Sterling. Once the “name” that most people knew and visited Destructoid for, he has managed to successfully pivot from a semi traditional sphere into doing exactly what he wants. While it was admittedly a very frightening step for him to make, fans have shown up in droves to ensure he is paid (presumably) far better than what a traditional website ever would have offered for similar amounts of work.
Crowdfunding is scary for everyone, but especially so for people hoping to make a living off it. Western culture really loves to push the idea that only certain kinds of labor are valid, and more than that, once you have a job you should not leave it. As of late the driving narrative is “at least you have a job at all” as the US economy recovers. Yet, people like Sterling (and many other writers) have been pushed to the degree where they feel this is the only way to continue their careers. Some have been immensely successful in this endeavor. Of course, those folks are usually the ones who were already in the greatest positions of power to start with. As with Kickstarter, if you’re a known “entity” then money will be thrown your way with ease. If you’re someone who does not have that degree of recognition the climb to become funded just a livable wage is far more challenging.
It is not only single individuals who have already made Patreon work for them. Group efforts such as Kinda Funny Games took off when that well-known team left their jobs to pursue it fully instead. There are even sites who now partially sustain their existence off crowdfunding when they were never part of the corporate sphere to begin with. For example, HardcoreGaming 101 and Tiny Cartridge have flourished with received funds. Then there are sites like Gaming.moe which are completely new entities which are gathering steam with intriuging content. The more attention the site gets, the more funding it will likely receive, and so the circle continues. While there are many sites out there still off Patreon and Kickstarter, chances are we can definitely expect it to become more prevalent.
But does simply being common mean eventually crowdfunding will be the only means of sustainable funding for games writers? No, my belief is that there will always be some paying jobs out there. Yes, they’ll become much harder to access as established names will always have first shot at an opening. As more sites likely close we’ll see even less lateral movement for writers who still want to be in the industry but don’t want to work for X, Y, or Z site. There will also always be those individuals who write for free with the hopes of eventually getting a coveted paid position… even though they deserve to be paid for their efforts right now. That’s a huge issue in and of itself, though.
It seems obvious to me that even more folks will attempt to utilize Patreon or Kickstarter in the future. Not everyone can be a runaway success, but at least some smattering of people will be able to make it work for them. I do not feel that crowdfunding is the modern end goal for games writers, as there is no true stability there. If some tabloid-esque story made it out about you then perhaps half of your backers would be gone in a day. Even so, crowdfunding offers many writers monetary proof that their work is enjoyed by others. Keep an eye on Cliqist as we will cover some of these individuals and sites seeking to fund themselves via Patreon.