A Week in the Life of a Kotaku Writer

20 May

Hello, friends. Long time no see! I’ve been busy in my Kotaku-cave (Kotakave?) for the last couple of months, and have been doing so much writing that I haven’t had much time to do any blogging here. Today, that changes, and with what else but… a post about Kotaku!

Despite the fact that I’m writing and publishing more work than ever, I sometimes get the sense that my friends and readers maybe don’t have a firm grasp on what it is… that I do. I can’t blame them—fur flies all over the place at Kotaku, and unless you’re obsessively following the site or working there, I can’t imagine how a single human could keep up. In particular, some people seem to be under the impression that I “get paid to play video games all day,” which is a misconception so hilariously “mis” that I really do want to dispel it altogether.

I thought it might be fun to take you guys on a walkthrough of one week in the life of a Kotaku writer, focusing on last week. Get ready for thrills, chills, and behind-the-scenes excitement!

The week of May 14 to May 18 was a very happening week for us–the world of gaming saw a lot of breaking news, ongoing stories, big game releases, and other fun miscellaneous stuff. Each bullet-pointed link here is a post I wrote; I’ve included ‘em all, from the lowliest blip to the lengthiest feature.

Let’s get started with Monday, May 14…

Monday

Every day, I work a shift that goes from 10AM to 7PM. That’s Pacific time, though Kotaku runs on East-coast time, so really, I work from 1PM to 10PM Kotaku time. The time-stamps on the posts here will be Kotaku time, so remember to subtract three hours if you want to know when I’m publishing them. But generally when I talk time, I’ll try to talk in Pacific time. Since this post is about about me! MEEE

I’d spent the weekend cramming both the Game of Thrones game and Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, since I was reviewing both and the former was coming out on Tuesday. During my shift, I’m logged in to the Kotaku group-chat, talking to our other writers (who are spread around the world, centeralized in New York–I’m the only one in San Francisco). The folks in NY work at Gawker’s headquarters in SoHo, but everyone else works from home–I sometimes work out of cafes, but mostly work from my apartment, where I open up my Macbook on my desk and plug it into my LCD monitor with my iPad serving as a third screen to the left. It’s something of an information-phalanx, but it helps me keep my workflow somewhat organized.

On Monday morning I did my routine of first reading everything that I’d missed at Kotaku, which is usually around 30 posts from the night before and the morning crew. This takes discipline—you’d be amazed how easy it is to write for Kotaku but not actually read Kotaku.

Once I know what our site has covered, I go through my RSS feed, which has all of the big video game sites in it as well as a bunch of more off-the-beaten path spots to find stories. This is a process that I’m only just now getting down; it’s harder than you’d think to get all your data organized and keep it in one place. Some of our other writers are amazing at this–finding stories is one of the most important parts of working at Kotaku.

On Monday, I found a few things that hadn’t been posted yet and got going. I had a couple of news items to post–a trailer for a fun-looking indie game and some sales figures for Minecraft on Xbox 360:

Easy-peasy. Some of my fellow Kotaku writers are super good at photoshop, but I’m just okay–even so, I also help out on images, so I put together the images for this article and this article while doing those short posts. With a few exceptions, I do all the photoshopping for my own posts, and I did all the images in this post except for the one of the video game controllers.

A friend had dropped this really funny Game of Thrones joke onto my Facebook wall over the weekend, and I decided that even though it wasn’t video-game related, I’d post it. One of the fun things about Kotaku is that while we do focus on video games, we also just sort of post cool stuff throughout the day. For some reason some of our readers like to grump about this, even though we invented the games-only “Kotaku Core” sub-blog just for them. A lot of readers just like to try to tell us what to do, I think.

Right? That is a funny-ass tweet. After that, we got an email in our “tips” inbox telling us that someone on the gaming site/forum NeoGAF had pieced together the Halo 4 boxart, so I ran that, as well as a link to an article written my my friend Michael for the website Kill Screen and the just-breaking story that Curt Schilling’s video game company 38 Studios was in financial trouble with the state of Rhode Island.

Since my title is “Features Editor,” I generally write bigger articles that splash on our front page. I do at least one of these a day, often more. My evening feature was about Diablo III.

I also did a news post about a job-listing at CD Projekt indicating that they were working on another game in addition to The Witcher 2, and wrote up a quick post describing the unboxing video that Chris and Tina had made for the Diablo III collector’s edition, which Blizzard had also been kind enough to send to me.

Every day at 10:30, I’m in charge of the “Open Thread,” which is a post where our readers can kind of just hop in and talk about whatever. I have a good time doing it, since it lets me link to whatever I want as “conversation starters” in the post. So, every day as I write and do images and catch news, I’m also keeping an eye out for great non-gaming stories to include in the OT. Here was Monday’s, which ran at 10:40 since we’d had that extra unboxing video:

That night, I and the rest of the gaming world had Diablo III all installed and I was excited for the midnight launch. Right at 12:01, I fired the game up and… couldn’t log in. Blizzard’s servers couldn’t handle all the new players, and because the game requires an internet connection to play, no one could play it. I saw enough people hollering on Twitter that I realized that this worth posting about. So, at around 12:30 AM, I hopped back into Kotaku’s group chat and posted a funny story about it.

That one seemed to really tap into the zeitgeist.

Tuesday

When I woke up the next morning, I decided it was time to write the op-ed news response piece that everyone was thinking–namely, the fact that Blizzard had botched the launch of their already-controversial always online game neatly identified the entire problem with that concept. Feature time!

That day, Rockstar sent me a copy of Max Payne 3 along with some goofy promotional swag. I used to really think that posting “unboxings” and swag-pictures was super beneath me, but it’s the kind of thing we do a lot at Kotaku, and they can actually be really silly and fun. The key is to keep in mind that yes, you’re helping the company promote the game, but depending on how you frame the article, you’re also just sort of sharing things with your readers. I realized that I still have and use my old Max Payne mousepad, so I wrote up a surprisingly nostalgic post about the swag from two different eras.

I’d spent the night before cramming more Game of Thrones and trying to play Diablo III, but both games were technically “out” today. I’d logged about 10-12 hours of Game of Thrones and it was clear that this was a bad, bad game. We generally try to finish the games we review, and I wasn’t finished yet, even though it was out today (I’d only recieved my review copy on Friday).

For that afternoon, my boss Stephen Totilo suggested I write up a primer about the game for people who like the show and might be curious. I’d plan to review the game later in the week, and do what I could to finish it in the interim.

I also tossed up a quick post about the Community video game episode, Sworcery composer Jim Guthrie’s new album, and another OT.

That night, Diablo III started having failure AGAIN, so I wrote a second funny post about the NEW error message, which also would up being quite popular.

Wednesday

On Wednesdays, I spend a chunk of time getting ready for my “Kotaku Melodic” programming block, which runs on Thursdays. (More on that here). I wrote a quick “blip” post about Tribes: Ascend and caught some breaking news about the complicated legal wrangling between Activision, two their former employees, and EA (I got lots of support from our fellow writers, since breaking news can always be a lot for one person to handle).

Also on Wednesday, my lovely friend Cara had tipped me to a fantastic and provocative essay by writer John Scalzi titled Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is. I loved it, and thought that it would be perfect for Kotaku, so I reached out to John about republishing it. At Kotaku, we offer to do “repubs” on blog posts that we think would be great–we don’t pay for them, but they give writers a Kotaku byline and get their message in front of millions of people. (As an aside: I actually got my start as a games writer by getting a funny article about hipsters and Mass Effect republished on Kotaku way back in 2010. And so, the republishee has become the republishER!)

I asked John if he’d be into the repub, and he was, so I pulled the text, made an image, and set it up to run at 1 on Thursday.

In addition to all that, I cleaned up the text and put together an image for this preview of The Last of Us by Stephen, who was on the ground in LA for E3 Judges’ Week. Also, throughout the day, fellow Kotaku-ite Jason Schreier and I collaborated via instant-message on our weekly conversation post called “Burning Questions,” which was the splash-feature that night. Feature time!

That night, I ran a pullquote article about Diablo III, returned to make fun of a third night of (less frequent but still annoying) error messages, and did the OT.

After my shift, I played a bit more Diablo III (which is plenty fun when it works!), and a few more hours of Game of Thrones. It had become clear to me that the latter game was beyond saving, and I figured I had enough to go on to write a review, even though I hadn’t completed it. When it came down to it, I simply didn’t have another 10 hours to spare, and I had pages of notes about the game’s many flaws already. I knew Thursday would be crazy with Kotaku Melodic, so I aimed to run the Game of Thrones review for Friday.

Thursday

Thursday started out with Scalzi’s “straight white male” repub running at 10AM my time–it was cross-posted to our Gawker sister-sites Jezebel.com and to Gawker proper, and it turned into a megaton, attracting 125,000 pageviews and 2,700 comments (and counting). Woah.

After that, I did three news stories, one of which was the ongoing saga of a card game called Tentacle Bento, which centers around Japanese tentacle-rape fetish and had become a very strange but compelling story for us during the week. Luke had already written about the game back when we first heard about it, so this was a follow-up about the creator apologizing after Kickstarter pulled his funding.

By then, it was 4PM (or 7 Kotaku time), so it was time for Kotaku Melodic to begin, with a bootload of stories from me and several from our other writers. Here are mine:

Whew! I also covered the 9:30 slot and did an OT.

After my shift, I scribbled out the first 2/3rds or so of my Game of Thrones review for Friday, played some Max Payne 3 and Diablo III, and called it a night.

Friday

Fridays are usually relatively mellow, both because there’s not that much breaking news and because I don’t have too many assigned slots during the day because I do the three-post “Total Recall” segment that runs on friday night. I started off with my Game of Thrones review.

I also did some simple news posts as well as the OT.

After that, I ran three posts for Total Recall, which brought my week to a close.

Well… that almost brought my week to a close. On Saturday morning I read this funny/angry blog post that Community showrunner Dan Harmon about being fired by Sony and NBC, and in it he mentioned loving the video game Prototype 2. That seemed worth jumping in on Saturday and doing a quick post.

And with THAT, it was the weekend, and I decided to write this post for y’all.


If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! You now hopefully have more of a feel for what it’s like to spend a week working at Kotaku. Yes, it’s somewhat insane-if you were counting, that was 45 posts in 5 days with a stray one on Saturday. I certainly understand how our more-faster-more-more model can seem psychotic to anyone on the outside.

But while this job can be exhausting, it’s also a hell of a lot of fun. I have a ton of freedom in what I write, and it’s a privilege to get to say whatever I want to say, every day, to millions of readers. Many internet grumps hold up Kotaku as an example of All That Is Bad in Games Journalism–they say that by cranking out so many posts, we’re burying good content and worthwhile stories in frivolous posts and hastily written news. They say we’re hacks, or jerks, that we can’t write and don’t know what we’re doing.

I understand where those people are coming from with some of their criticisms, and I’d be the LAST person to try to tell you that our approach is perfect, or that we don’t make mistakes (It isn’t, and we make ‘em!). But now that I’ve worked at the site long enough to finally (finally!) have some sort of grip on how the job gets done, I think what we do is… well, it’s frickin’ awesome. (Yeah, okay, I’m biased.) It’s very specific, and it’s not the same thing that other gaming sites do. But that’s okay. By moving quickly and pushing ourselves not just to please our existing readers but to win new readers, we’ve become (I think) the most interesting, provocative and fun gaming website in the world.

There are many fine video game sites out there–Eurogamer has terrific reviews and retrospectives, Kill Screen often runs some great stuff about obscure topics and angles, Joystiq has been doing some good industry reporting, EDGE employs some of the best writers in the biz, The Gameological Society has great wit and creative video segments, and the new dogs at Polygon have admirably invested in the type of long-form journalism that most full-time editors don’t have time for.

Those outlets are all great—hell, I’ve written for many of them! But they’re not Kotaku–they’re just different. And again: It’s okay for different sites to be different! I’m immensely proud to work where I do, alongside a team of phenomenally talented writers who all work as hard or harder than I do. It’s a wild time to be a writer on the internet, and I couldn’t be happier to be right in the thick of it.

So hey, it’s Sunday. I’ve got a game to review for Tuesday, and it’s beautiful in San Francisco. Soon, it’ll be time to get up, plug in, and do it all over again. This should be fun.

5 Responses to “A Week in the Life of a Kotaku Writer”

  1. CJ May 20, 2012 at 11:09 am #

    A really enjoyable read – and somewhat of an eye opener in certain regards [I had no idea Kotaku writers read the Talk Amongst Yourselves section.

    Plus, I spied at least one article there which i’d missed and will be going back to delve into after dinner.

    Thanks kindly for the above article – and for your hard work and enthusiasm on the site. Very much appreciated ^-^

    • Kirk May 20, 2012 at 3:19 pm #

      Hey, thanks CJ! Glad you’re enjoying what we’re doing, and thanks for reading. :D

  2. John Funtanilla May 24, 2012 at 5:46 am #

    Wow that was an incredible look into the daily grind of an editor. Myself being a game developer, we wonder why our press releases seldom get picked up, but I can see how sometimes it’s just a matter of not having enough time to read through all the emails. You guys have a crazy amount of stories to sift through.

    Like what CJ said, thanks for the great article and letting your passion shine through in your work. I live in San Franciso so kudos to that as well!

    • Kirk May 26, 2012 at 11:58 am #

      Glad you enjoyed that, John. Ha, hopefully that gives a sense of just why it’s so difficult to get a story picked up by us. We’re moving so fast! We do read every email we get, though, so my advice is to make pitches/press releases personal and really tell us/me why it’ll make for a good story.

      Cheers, and thanks for reading! Hope you’re enjoying the lovely weather.

  3. Pasteur Tran (@PasteurTran) May 28, 2012 at 7:14 am #

    Great read! As mentioned above, it was wonderful having an insight on what you go through, definitely useful for upcoming studios. I think all of us feel that it would be easy but wow what a journey hey?

    Hectic but fun. Love the sound of it!

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