Over four years and nearly two million words written since, I've witnessed a lot here at Massively. I've gotten to interview some big industry names, been allowed to take on fun pet projects, gone to conventions as a member of the press corps, and made a lot of good friends. I've also learned several lessons that have helped me to grow as a person and a writer, and I thought I'd jot a few of those down for one of these lists.
Fun Perfect Ten factoid: When I proposed this column to the editors, I had done extensive research on lists that other sites had done (as to not cover similar territory) and drew up about 40 new topic ideas. In retrospect, it might have been overkill. I could have just written in an email, "People like lists."
I'd like to think that I was a fairly good writer prior to joining this site. I had written a few books, done movie reviews for 15 years, and managed to pull off an English degree from college. But this was my first real professional writing gig and one that required a handle on both newspaper and opinion styles. Massively helped me hone these skills with eagle-eyed editors, being in the company of other fantastic writers, and learning how to digest news and deliver it succinctly and smartly. I'm still making many of the same grammar mistakes as part of entrenched bad habits, but at least I'm making fewer of them and understand the importance of not just writing fast but writing well.
2. How to deal with unexpected criticism.
I've always said that the longer you put yourself out there, the more inevitable it is that others will strongly disagree with you and say so with blunt, hurtful words. This happens, and sometimes it's fair, and sometimes it's not (by the way, usually my editors choose news assignments, not me, so don't shoot the messenger). In any case, I've had to learn to deal with criticism concerning columns that fail to coherently deliver a premise, poor choices of words that might convey bias, and embarassing oversights. Whenever criticism comes (usually completely unexpected), I draw out what usable truth I can from it and let the rest roll off my back. Just because games are "serious business" doesn't mean that we all have to be so serious all of the time. I can laugh at my missteps and move on.
3. How to appreciate ethical standards.
I'm not sure how much most of you know or appreciate it, but Massively is held to a much higher standard of operating ethics than most of our competition. We don't get in bed with studios nor accept paid junkets and other not-so-subtle bribes to write positive coverage. The ad team is completely divorced from the writing staff so that we can write without external pressure. We attempt to properly source and give credit at all times. We are strongly reminded that we don't work for PR but for Joystiq.
And while all of this can sometimes feel unfair, I am glad we do it. I can be proud of working at Massively knowing that we haven't sold out and that our coverage is above suspicion of shady practices.
There are many developers and public relations spokespeople who are lovely people and quite engaging. Yet one of the first rules that I learned at Massively is that while the press, PR, and studios interact for mutual benefit, we are not on the same side. PR is all about the spin and putting forth a positive message that will transform into sales and money for the studio. The press is (or should be) about wheedling out the facts, both positive and negative, and presenting as much of the truth as possible. So we dance with PR a lot in this job, and I've long since ceased to be stunned by some of the incredibly silly things that these people do.
Embargoes? I hate 'em and think they're ridiculous, especially when PR acts like the embargo police to us but has no problem letting another site break them without consequences. PR releases? They're full of obnoxious buzz words and rainbow-flavored spin, as if each announcement heralded the cure for cancer. And that's not even getting into when a PR spokesperson decides to stop communicating in order to stonewall an important story or to get indignant that we're publishing something other than rainbow-flavored spin.
5. How to appreciate playstyles and MMO other than my own.
We all have our comfort zones in gaming, and I'm no different. One of the best experiences that I've had working at Massively is that I'm always writing alongside other gamers who aren't always into the same games and playstyles that I am. This is a wonderful thing, both for the overall breadth of coverage for the site and for my personal development. By talking with them and reading their own perspectives, I've widened my understanding for what others see in MMOs that I do not. Empathy? It's something like that.
And here's the strange thing: Even though we don't all agree on, well, pretty much any one thing about MMOs, we all get along smashingly instead of announcing blood wars on each other every week. If there's hope for us, there's hope for MMO players everywhere.
6. How to understand MMO history on a grand scale.
One of my pet projects here at Massively has been running the Game Archaeologist column. I started it not because I was an endless font of historical information but because I knew that I had missed out on a lot as a gamer and wanted to go back and research the games and efforts that made the industry into what it is today. Getting past my small segment of current games to understand the genre as a larger and older entity continues to blow my mind, and I love having a place on Massively that we can document and remember classic MMOs to give them the honor that they often deserve.
I don't say this to pat myself on the back, but I'm constantly amazed by how many group press calls and interviews I've been a part of where nobody else asks questions. Massively is all about asking the questions that need to be asked and not to merely sit in silence accepting talking points or lobbing softballs to developers. We don't need to antagonize devs, but we also don't need to be afraid of asking them questions that are uncomfortable or will have the PR rep in the room fidgeting. So I am working to develop a fearlessness in regard to asking these questions in a fair fashion.
8. How to appreciate the goodness of gaming apart from the toxic elements.
It's really hard to be a part of the whole MMO scene and not become a cynic. We see a lot of failures and missteps, not to mention wade through an ocean of negativity in the community that seems hellbent on spreading a bad mood worldwide. I reject that. I wouldn't be an MMO player or a news writer if I thought that these games were the pits. And so I've had to constantly hold to the joy of gaming and celebrate the relationships, memories, and sheer fun that I've had without letting the grumpies drag me down. It's all about looking for the edifying elements that have been and continue to be the bedrock of this hobby and not letting go.
9. How to write quickly.
"Game day" for an MMO news writer is when a huge breaking story comes across the feeds and we need to get it out ASAP. That's when all of the practice on hundreds of other articles pays off because you need to not only be able to write quickly but consume information, sort the relevant facts, cross-check sources, format the post properly, and update it on the fly. I may not be the best writer on Massively (we have many great ones!), but I would say that my strong suit is being able to write extremely quickly when I have to. Fun fact: It often takes far longer to set up and format a news post than it does to write it, which is a whole 'nother skillset.
10. How to be part of a work family.
Writing for Massively isn't like a normal office job, starting with the fact that we're scattered all over the world and use a chat room to communicate. But even without the face-to-face experience, we've become a tight little family that cares for each other and is extremely silly. It's like being part of a guild in a lot of ways, each of us with our own specialties working together for the good of the site. So many insightful and snarky conversations go on behind the scenes, some of which inspire our columns and discussion topics that emerge on the site. Having others to bounce ideas off of is terrific even if (as in #5) we don't always agree. I wouldn't have lasted this long here if I didn't find it a great place to be.
Justin "Syp" Olivetti enjoys counting up to ten, a feat that he considers the apex of his career. If you'd like to learn how to count as well, check out The Perfect Ten. You can contact him via email at email@example.com or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.