Meet Alex Co, The Philippines’ Top Video Game Journalist

As a hardcore fan of video games growing up and as someone who’s always enjoyed writing, “video game journalist” was my first dream job. I collected video game magazines such as Expert Gamer, Gamepro, Game Informer, and Independent PlayStation Magazine (PSM). During the 90s however, there were no local publications that covered video games and my dream job of playing video games and writing about them for a living seemed like a pipe dream.

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In the early 2000s, mainstream publications started covering the video gaming scene. There were gaming articles in local versions of T3 and FHM, and we even got a local version of UK gaming mag GamesMaster, which ran from 2006 to 2009. During the same time, the Web 2.0/Social media era kicked off and a lot of video game websites and blogs came along. This new wave of internet-powered publications opened the doors for anyone who wanted to write about video games for a living, regardless of geographic location. Alex Co, from Makati, was one of those who stepped forward once the doors were open.

I met Alex in 2012 via the Neo Gaming Age Forums (NeoGAF). It was good meeting a fellow NeoGAF member who was also from the Philippines. At first, I couldn’t believe it when he told me that he was really working as a video game journalist full time while based here in our shores (and that he was interviewing developers/publishers and getting review copies of games). At that point, he had been doing it for a couple of years. Four years and almost two console generations later, he is still at it. And I’m still fascinated by the career he’s carved out for himself.

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Alex’s twitter handle is @excaliburps

Last week, I did a virtual sit-down with Alex, now the editor in chief of PlayStation LifeStyle (probably the biggest non-Sony affiliated PlayStation site in the world), to ask him questions I’ve wanted to ask him for some time; with the ultimate goal of unravelling the story of someone who I believe is the Philippine’s top video game journalist.

Buhay Digital: When and how did you get your start on being a games journalist?

Alex Co: I honestly don’t even remember when. I think it was 2009 or sometime in 2010? Before that, I used to submit articles to various gaming sites (waaaay back, this was during the time that gaming sites/blogs weren’t as prevalent). 

After seeing a few freelance job ads, I tried my luck, got picked, and then slowly worked my way from doing it freelance to moving to sites that gave me a salaried position. It definitely isn’t as easy as it sounds, and there’s a lot of ego-crushing moments when you’re told that you need to get better, and the pay is, for lack of a better term, shit. 

I managed to slog through all of it, and after a few years, made my portfolio a bit nicer and that’s when it picked up.

Buhay Digital: In the early days of your games writing, were you already dead set on making it your full time job? What did you think about circumstances surrounding the job such as very little publisher support in the Philippines (during the time you started), and no local full time publication that covers video games – the type that’s really in-contact with international developers and publishers, gets review copies of games, etc.?

Co: I knew I wanted to write about video games for a living ever since I was a teen. I remember picking up gaming mags like EGM, Diehard Game Fan, etc. and thought, “these guys get to play the latest games AND get paid to do it?? I want in!” Of course, realizing that dream isn’t as easy with the country not really officially supported by the big console makers, which made turning it into a full-time job a pipe dream back then. 

As for the publication, I wasn’t picky where I was going to write, but I did know even then that it couldn’t be for a local publication since the country’s video game demographic was tiny compared to the US — or heck, even our Asian neighbors. Just checking local newspapers and magazines, the most you could have hoped for when it came to video game coverage was a tiny blurb announcing X game console had this to offer, these are the games and so on. It’s gotten a bit better the last few years from what I’ve seen, but definitely still in its infancy.

Buhay Digital: What are the traits that you think one should have in order to be a good game journalist?

Co: Patience, which is ironic since I’m not very patient, a lot of grit, keen eye for what’s going to “click” with readers and of course, being able to write well enough that international publications will give a damn about what you have to say. 

Buhay Digital: What are the different video game sites you’ve written for and the positions you’ve had on the said sites?

Co: Wow! I think I’ve lost count on how many I’ve written for. I usually do freelance work and get paid per article, or be hired as a “Newsie” (news writer). Some notable sites I worked/wrote for are Gameranx (Lead News Writer), The Escapist Magazine (news writer), Pixel Enemy YouTube channel (I was the Editor-in-Chief of their site, and then transitioned to GM of the network after a year), and of course, PlayStation LifeStyle

Buhay Digital: Who are the notable people in the game industry that you’ve interviewed, and seeing as you are based here in the Philippines, how did you conduct the said interviews (Skype call, email, chat, etc.)?

Co: Usually it’s via email since it’s a pain in the ass to transcribe. I did Skype with David Jaffe (creator of the God of War and Twisted Metal franchises) though and it was FUN. I’ve interviewed, former DICE GM Karl Magnus Troedsson, Supermassive (developer of Until Dawn), Michael Pachter (a few times), EA on a bunch of different games and lots more. I’ve literally lost count since we/I do a couple of interviews each year.

Funny thing about interviews, especially written ones, is that most of the time, the questions are from a group of people and not just one person. So in effect, it’s like you’ve interviewed some people even if you didn’t ask them the question directly yourself. 

Buhay Digital: What are the best and worst things about being a full time video game journalist that’s based in the Philippines?

Co: Best thing is undoubtedly having to work from home. You don’t need to brave the traffic, handle the daily grind, and no official work attire needed. I’d say the exchange rate being what it is, helps, too. 

As for the bad side of it all, I’d say there are days where I literally stay cooped up inside the house and don’t go out at all (especially during E3 and other big events), everyone assumes you have an easy job since you’re “just working from home,” and there’s a lot of distractions that can keep you from doing your job.

There’s also the fact that you can’t attend events or it won’t be a good move if you did. I mean, say a publisher is paying for travel and whatnot, would it be easier to pack your bags, board a plane for 10+ hours or just send someone who can drive there? It is getting a bit better with more and more studios opening branches here in Asia, though.

Another thing I’ve noticed is when I tell people what I do, they give me a blank stare like they either don’t understand what my job is, or they think I”m making stuff up. 

Yeah, I’ve listed quite a few negative points, but overall, the pros definitely outweigh the cons. 

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Buhay Digital: Focusing now on your work as editor in chief (EIC) of PlayStation Lifestyle (PSLS), can you give a summary of one work day as PSLS EIC?

Co: I usually start work the moment I wake up (no joke), as the emails come in literally all day and night; be it from staff, PR, and other inquiries. I then talk to other staff members (since we have people from all over the world) on the day or week’s content and move from there.

There’s a lot of brainstorming and content outlining involved since there’s literally hundreds of thousands of gaming sites out there, you need to think of stuff that will make you stand out from the pack. After a few hours’ of personal time, work officially begins at 09:30 p.m. Manila Time (9:30 a.m. ET) and ends around 6 a.m. Manila Time or even later depending on the tasks for that specific day, and whether people from the West Coast need anything (Pacific Time).

It’s pretty much the same thing everyday, until gaming events, “reviews season” and “Game of the Year” stuff hit. E3 in particular can be a writer’s worst nightmare. Usually, you have press releases being sent out maybe a month before the event starts but will be under embargo, and then there’s the leaks, and the actual events themselves. There’s literally a gaming event happening somewhere around the world almost every two months, and when there’s a press conference, chances are you need to cover them — sleep be damned. 

For those not familiar with reviews season, it starts in October when the “big” games usually all come out within close proximity of each other all vying for everyone’s extra holiday money. You need to sort review events (who’s attending and what coverage you can get), who’s reviewing what game and so on. It’s definitely not as easy as it sounds since you’re usually pressed for time and targeting to meet the time embargoes lift. 

And then after that, there’s the end-of-year awards we dish out. There’s a lot of internal dialogue involved and not to mention content that runs through all the way to Christmas. Game awards are a big deal for most gamers, so it’s not something we take lightly.

Buhay Digital: Any PlayStation events held here in the Philippines that you’ve attended/covered for PSLS?

Co: I’ve attended some, but to be honest, most of the time, whatever info’s there is old news given we mostly cover stuff from the US and whatnot. There are a few preview events that I’ve attended that are good, though. And yeah, there’s been a significant improvement on events the past few years especially with the country now being officially supported by almost every big hardware and software maker.

Buhay Digital: Any advice to Filipino gamers who would like to become full time video game journalists as well?

Co: Be (very) patient, learn to write well (study the U.S. Associated Press style guide), have an open mind when it comes to learning, be relentless and don’t get discouraged with rejection. Don’t let where you’re located be a hindrance and again, learn to write well. No amount of gaming knowledge or zeal will get you a writing gig if you can’t actually write well.