We’ve informally done this for a while, but we recently officially committed to a plan at Kotaku to give staff who play a game after-hours for a deadline—usually for a game review—time off in exchange.
If you’re a reader of our reviews, I hope you’ll appreciate us solidifying this approach.
Playing a game for a review is labor. Pure and simple. It’s too easy to lose sight of that. Sure, it sounds fun and often is, but it can also be a grind and consume an incredible amount of time. Work is work, and we should always recognize it as such, even if the work involves playing Animal Crossing before it’s out or being among the first to dive into an exciting new JRPG.
The logistical challenges of covering games are formidable. Games and hardware are expensive. Pre-release access to games is constrained, as is access to developers. Gatekeepers abound. On top of that, games just take a long time to play and understand.
One of the biggest yet most mundane challenges games journalists and critics face is the time commitment necessary to cover games well. It creates immense difficulties in terms of allocating people and resources. It’s also part of the gig. Giving people time off after a review doesn’t alleviate that, but it’s the right thing to do.
It’s inevitable that Kotaku (and other outlets) wind up depending on reviewers playing games into the night or across weekends. Game publishers and developers may send us review copies days before release, but that doesn’t mean we can just glide through the game and comfortably write a review or other coverage of the game without some significant extension of the work day. I’ve always tried to spot when a staffer is ground down by the added hours they need to put in to write a review and have offered time off, but why wait for that?
It should be automatic: assign a game for review, anticipate how long it’ll take to play, and plan a day or two off to compensate.
Note that we already take our time as much as we can. We don’t always rush a review for the embargo date provided by the publisher, often because of the time needed to play. We’ll take our time, even if that means our review will run later than others’. We’re Kotaku. We can afford to take our time. We can review a game a week “late” and readers still show up. Even when we do this, however, after-hours playing is often needed.
To be clear, I’m not talking about all the gaming we do outside of traditional work hours. I expect that any Kotaku staffer, like me, will likely play games after-hours anyway. We like playing games! We’re not turning all of that into more time off. But that distinct experience of playing into the night or weekend for a deadline must be treated as real labor.
I worry that not treating deadline-driven gaming as work can make a game’s length, mediocrity or poor quality feel like more of a personal aggravation than it should be. It also risks blurring already blurry lines about work-life balance.
I’ve been there, fuming that a game I’m reviewing isn’t over yet and feeling what should be my non-work time vanishing. I’ve stressed over how to fit 60 hour games into my life on top of my full-time games media day job. It shouldn’t be so fraught.
All this said, our reviewers are pros. I’ve never sensed that the stress of reviewing has impacted their take on a game. But I’ve seen it tire them. We’ve been reactive to that.
Finally, we’re getting ahead of it.
Playing games for deadline is work and, silly as that may sound to some—lord knows we have bigger problems in the world that need fixing—I’ll make sure we always treat it as such. That’s best for the reviewers and is, I hope, what readers would also want.