Interview conducted 12/15
How’s everything going?
Good! It’s been crazy here today. I did some stuff for The Daily Fix and our Game of the Year nominee page just went live 2 minutes ago. Now I’ll be playing some indie games and writing some stuff for the holiday break!
How did you get into the industry?
I feel like everyone I know has such a cool story for this and mine is the dumbest! But here goes: Out of enthusiasm for gaming magazines, I ended up getting obsessed with the idea of writing about video games. I was totally taken in by the concept that you could talk about games in interesting ways. I ended up interviewing with an editor at a magazine and not really leaving him alone after that – and was offered a freelance position. Though I had no idea what it meant, I said yes anyway! He gave me a set of instructions that I fulfilled to the best of my ability, and I didn’t get fired! From there, I just asked him questions over and over. He was a great mentor, I love the guy! His game is Dan Amrich and now he works at Ubisoft. From there, he pushed me to bug other editors at other outlets, which I did. I started writing for GameSpot and GamePro and that all snowballed. Once I had a notable outlet on my resume, it was fairly easy to get work elsewhere, and I hope that was a reflection of my work.
What did you study at university?
So, I actually started freelancing before I went to college. After high school I took a few years off because I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I took a factory job at a Styrofoam factory, which was a horrendous manual labor job, but it paid the rent. In my spare time, I would write for a website my friend and I started about games, because that’s what I was super interested in. Eventually I went to school, though I started at like 21. I was actually freelancing to pay for school, that was really nice! I would go to class, have lunch, come back, and write a review or an article. I was studying English, and realized it wasn’t a great major, so I switched to this nebulous program called New Media. This program had me using a bunch of Adobe software, which was great, but the rest of the program was pretty useless. I switched back to English intending to pursue education, however in summer 2012 I got a job offer from IGN. At that point, I dropped out of school and moved to San Francisco.
And there you have it, the origin story of Mitch Dyer!
What is your position at IGN?
I’m an editor, and I began as an associate editor. However, based on the work that we do, those responsibilities are largely the same. I came in and day one was “Hey, welcome, get settled, learn the company, HR, here are your benefits, here are the people you’ll be working with.” It was very basic orientation stuff. Day 2 was, “Hey we need you to fly to Vegas tonight to go play a game, preview it, and come back and make a video about it” I thought, “Holy shit, this is a real thing!” I had to go travel, interview some developers and make stuff. And because IGN hires useful people, I had to prove my worth and really work my ass off. We’re very much a hit the ground running company. Over time, as IGN started leaning more heavily towards video content a lot of what I did started to revolve around that. It was being on camera, it was editing video, making release schedules, and less about simply your writing ability. I’ve since got promoted though my tasks have stayed the same, because I’m not graduating to bigger and better tasks, we still have to get done what needs to get done and I’m going to do it if I can.
What is the office atmosphere at IGN?
This morning I sat down to write the Daily Fix with my headphones on sitting across from Daemon Hatfield who was also wearing headphones. There was this ruckus going on behind us and we gave each other that look like, ‘What the hell is going on?’ And it was like; you know those few minutes before class starts and the teacher is out of the room and everybody is letting out this energy? It’s kind of that but all the time.
We’re basically a bunch of loud excited kids who happen to work.
It’s buzzing all the time, there’s rarely a moment of quiet. It’s both cartoonishly loud and fun but also very intense, because there’s so much happening at any one moment. I could be watching a game of Dota and then have someone need me to do an unboxing video and then I’m 30 minutes late for a meeting I forgot about and then I need to go get lunch and then we’re meeting some devs for Let’s Plays. We have a very intense, professional office that doesn’t take itself too seriously and we have fun too! It’s a very good balance of both, almost like organized chaos.
You recently reviewed Far Cry 4, and you’ve reviewed quite a lot of games for IGN. What is your process for reviewing a game?
For Far Cry 4, the very beginning of it was contacting our reviews editor Dan Stapleton and telling him that Far Cry 2 was one of my favorite games of all time, that I reviewed Far Cry 3 for IGN, and am thus qualified to review Far Cry 4. His response was ‘I know, I already had you down for it!’ Sometimes Dan will come to me with a game he thinks I’m interested in and suggest that I review it. If it is a game I’m interested in, I’ll do it. Dan especially will not simply toss a game at an editor and expect him or her to review it because it needs reviewing. He always finds the right person for the right game, sometimes that person is on staff, and sometimes they’re a freelancer. Once we get the game in, it becomes a race to become an expert on the game before the deadline. This involves playing the story, multiplayer if the game has it, exploring as many nooks and crannies as possible – really just becoming confortable with the game. A lot of that revolves around capturing footage because we capture our own footage, we don’t use generic b-roll for our video reviews. Oftentimes, we write two scripts for our reviews: one for the video review and one for the text review. They say the same things, but in a very different way, because we speak very differently than we write. It’s very valuable to be able to show in a video the moments in the game that you consider important or memorable. The process of making a review come to fruition is much different than it used to be. When I was freelancing, it would be to play through the game as fast as possible, write the review, send it to the editor, get a copy back, edit it and publish it. At IGN, it’s a lot more involved, because you have to give your all to understanding the game, capturing the footage, having a good video and editorial product. We even have supplementary content, such as video conversations talking about the review, roundtable discussions and the like. There are so many more pieces to writing a review now than there used to be.
Do you think that the evolution of reviews has meant the score is meaning less and less?
I have a hard time separating myself from the score of a review, because it does mean something to so many people. It is a good way to encapsulate what you’ve said, but without the content, the score doesn’t mean anything. I can tell you that Far Cry 4 is great, and almost amazing in some ways, but that won’t mean anything. You’ll have questions, you’ll want to know more: Why is it good? There’s often 1500 words or more explaining why a game is impressive or disappointing, and I think the score fits in in the sense that it helps the readers understand those words with more clarity. I think people get mad because they’ll see an 8 when they wanted a 9. It’s not like I started at 10 and worked my way down, I played through it and my reaction is ‘this is a fucking great game, and here’s why!’
Many of the people who have a problem with our review scores have played the game already and want some justification of their thoughts on the game, but that’s really not the purpose of a review.
The purpose of a review is to inform gamers about the positives and negatives of a game before their purchase.
Why do you game, and why do you think gaming is an important medium?
The answer to that question has changed in the last year for me. Previously, I would play games as an escape mechanism, and a lot of people can identify with that. And that’s perfectly fine. Increasingly, I find myself playing games for simultaneously the same reason I read books and the same reason I go to a bar with my friends. Sometimes, I play games for mental simulation; these are games with a meaningful story, an interesting narrative – Gone Home is a really good example of that. It has a thought-provoking message; it’s just a really fucking interesting game regardless of whether or not its systems are complex. At the same time, I’ll play something like Dota, which is extremely systemic, entirely reliant on complicated mechanics. The reason I play Dota is as much for it’s rewarding progression, as it’s social aspect. I can spend an entire evening playing Dota with friends and although we’re playing a game, it’s as if we’re hanging out. Instead of sitting at a bar drinking and catching up, we just happen to be playing Dota. I never used to understand that, and now I really fucking get it! At the International this year, I met for the first time close to 20 people I play Dota with and we all went to a bar together and it was as if we had known each other for years. These friendships are just as valid as the friendships I have with people I went to school with or people I work with! Games like Dota and Rust allow for intense collaboration – and in this way one can put their own personal stamp on it and leverage its freedoms to say something or do something, especially with other people. I think this is the most valuable experience a video game can provide.
What are you passionate about outside of gaming?
Oh boy. So, gaming is like the number one passion. It’s like I work with games all day and I should go home absolutely tired of them. But I don’t. I’m still super excited to play Shadow of Mordor or Dragon Age or Dota. As an adult I’ve found that I want to read more, and be outside more. I want to be offline, and not in front of a screen. I mean, I love watching TV, but at the same time, I like going to a park and sitting on a bench and writing fiction stuff. It all ties back to words, everything I’m obsessed with has to do with words. If I’m walking somewhere, I’ll listen to an audiobook. I’m constantly trying to soak in as many words as I can, through both writing and reading. However, the thing about writing fiction is it sucks! For a time I started writing terrible short stories and publishing them to a Tumblr so they were out there for people to see. That way it exists, and I can go back to it and find the things I liked and what I didn’t. But I’m way too terrified to actually publish anything I’ve written. You can have a great idea and it has so many possibilities that you end up getting overwhelmed and just not doing anything, and that’s no fun! I end up writing a lot of pieces of a script or paragraphs of a chapter and letting them exist on their own.
For a person such as myself, who aspires to get into the industry, what advice would you give?
Well, the best way that you can succeed in writing about games is to write so much, and read a lot. I feel as if the worst video game writers are the people who only read about video games. If you’re not reading other works, whether they’re other articles, short stories, fiction, poetry, biographies, you can’t really grasp how to tell a story in an effective and successful way. This in turn influences things like writing a review and effectively communicating to somebody why you had the experience you did. If you don’t understand what makes a good story, it makes it challenging to write one. Also, try to write about things other than video games, write about things out of your comfort zone. Challenge yourself, challenge your expectations of your own writing. There’s no time in your life where you cannot get better. In terms of writing about games, write about what other people aren’t. For instance, your site is dedicated to interviews, and I haven’t seen anything like that before! Find a niche and write about it! Also, don’t expect to get noticed; pursue success yourself. You can’t write amazing things and have IGN’s editor-in-chief find it and hire you. It’s often hard to admit, but writers write to get noticed, it’s very egotistical. You want to make yourself known!