I don’t feel like it’s a stretch to say much of my recent audience growth as a writer this year has come as a result of writing about games and devices that have not yet been officially announced. From unboxing and reviewing a PS4 Slim before it was officially announced, to writing about when Nintendo’s “NX” trailer would debut 40 minutes before Nintendo themselves announced it.
Where long form features writing and podcasts have been my bread and butter for the past two years, the last four months of my life have been spent fairly head-first immersed in reporting on leaks.
Honestly, writing about video game leaks is unbelievably exhausting.
First there’s the worries about publisher, PR or developer pushback. I’m an independent creator working on a shoestring budget, a threat of a lawsuit can be tough to stand up against, as I know full well I do not have the money needed to fight one. Blacklisting limits my ability to cover games pre-release, and puts additional financial and time restraints on my ability to cover games and consoles as they release. An inability to play nice with PR can ruin my ability to interview people I feel have interesting stories to tell.
Then there’s the audience backlash, no matter what you publish. Publish a report that could plausibly be an educated guess based on existing material, and you’re criticised for “pulling it out your arse”. Publish a report of something outlandish and you’re accused of making it up because “there’s no way X would do that”. If a publisher chooses to deny your report, much like Supermassive Games did with my reports of Until Dawn: Rush of Blood’s existence a week before it was officially revealed, you have to handle an internet that believes you to be a credibility-lacking liar for a while, and apologies never come when you’re proven right.
Then there’s the waiting. No matter how many times a source has proven themselves reliable to you in the past, there’s always the possibility they started making shit up just to mess with you. There’s always the chance they misheard something around the office and reported it as fact. There’s always the chance they’re being fed false information somewhere along the chain.
The day the Switch trailer went up, I was sat watching it with immense nerves. I trusted my sources, but I still worried about what if I had messed up somewhere? What if I failed to catch a warning sign for an unreliable source?
Then there’s protecting sources. Reliable sources are the air you breath, and you have to protect them with everything you write. If a source is discovered and loses their job, that weight lands squarely on your shoulders. You have to constantly assess how large a pool of people know the information you are reporting, how much crossover they have with other projects, how many people fit into those intersections and what the timing of your posts might say or not say about your sources. Worrying if you’ve done enough to protect them takes a toll.
Working on leaks is tiring and stressful work. No matter how confident you are in the information you bring forward, you’re left with a sinking feeling during the entire wait until official confirmation arrives.
Knowing your long-term credibility as a reporter is at stake is exhausting. People who think that any reporter working in games media full-time would risk long-term stability for short-term interest in their work hasn’t had to wrestle with the precarious long-term nature of self employment.
I’m going to live and die on how much of the info I have reported is proven accurate in January. That’s not something I undertake lightly as someone wanting a long-term career as a writer.
Writing outside of the established PR cycle is tiring, but it’s also incredibly rewarding. I’d rather take my chances working with my sources than be a glorified extension of a company’s PR team. I sleep better knowing I dug into companies and unearthed information on my own terms.