Interview: The Washington Post's Elise Favis
Elise Favis is a reporter at The Washington Post’s gaming vertical Launcher. She tells us about how she got her start in games media, her move from Game Informer to Launcher, and how you can improve your pitch for The Washington Post.
How did you get your start in media? What continues to be the most exciting part of covering the games industry to you?
I’ve been working in games media for about five years. I began as a freelancer, then as a Game Informer intern, until finally landing my first full-time job as an associate editor at Game Informer in 2016. I was with GI for three and a half years until the mass layoffs in late 2019. A couple months later, I was hired by The Washington Post to help build their new video game vertical Launcher, and I’ve been there ever since.
What continues to be the most exciting part of covering the games industry to you?
I love working in games media. But probably the most fulfilling part of it is I’m constantly learning. I enjoy meeting developers, learning their stories, and sharing how their games are made with the world, or speaking to their communities to understand a trend. Discovering something new, especially a story that may not be talked about by other press yet, is incredibly rewarding and exciting.
Having gone from Game Informer to The Washington Post’s Launcher, what have been the biggest differences?
Oh man, there are so many differences. Probably the biggest is the audience: The Washington Post has a much older demographic, and most of these readers aren’t gaming enthusiasts. At Launcher, we’re trying to attract a new and untapped audience for The Post: younger readers that play video games, without leaving that core WaPo readership behind.
Game Informer had a lot of long-time readers that are gaming enthusiasts, who knew exactly what to expect from the magazine. Launcher, on the other hand, is only starting to grow its brand and build a following. Our messaging has to be clear in terms of who we are and what we do.
Readers that find us through The Washington Post homepage are going to be older and likely part of a more general audience. Gamers that find us through www.launcher.gg (our vertical’s homepage) or through a search engine like Google, for example, will be looking for something more specific and tailored to them, whether it’s an update on Cyberpunk 2077 or an interview with the creators of Valheim. In comparison, our homepage readers might be more interested in, say, how video games can help medical professionals do their jobs.
I’ve had to adapt from writing for a niche audience to one that is both general and niche. I think we’ve struck that balance well. Sometimes it means using less jargon and explaining things a little more thoroughly (which is a really good thing to learn as a writer!), rather than expecting our readers to have that knowledge first-hand.
Can you tell us more about Launcher? It looks like there’s a great mix of video features, and more interactive pieces (I pet the dog at least 20 times). How does it operate under the larger Washington Post umbrella?
The Washington Post has an excellent, massive team of reporters, and we strive to bring that excellence to Launcher. Investigative pieces are given the same rigor as any other investigative story that would be published in other sections of The Washington Post. Sometimes we collaborate with other staff from different departments (my favorite being with the graphics team, like this story on video game vacations that has stunning, interactive illustrations). We can swing big with ambitious stories that feature incredible art, and it’s something we want to do more of going forward.
A lot of Launcher’s best stories are the ones that look beyond just gaming. Sometimes we tackle issues in video games through a social, economic or political lens, like what it meant for voters when AOC started streaming Among Us on Twitch. When I interviewed Ubisoft about Watch Dogs: Legion, for example, much of it was focused on the game, but we also dedicated space to a more human side of the story: how the Toronto team was grappling with a big launch amid unrest at the studio following sexual harassment allegations.
We’re also expanding more and more into video. As of a few months ago, Launcher started its own YouTube channel (previously, we were publishing videos under WaPo’s official YT channel), which helps people find us more easily and gives us more freedom in how we present our coverage. We do a lot of interview-based stories, so whenever there’s a chance for the camera to be turned on, we’ll usually discuss with PR to try and coordinate a video to be launched alongside an article. We’re also going to start live-streaming soon, which is very exciting! So keep an eye out for that.
As for how we operate — I think we’re pretty different than most games press. You might see “The Washington Post” and think we’re huge, and while we have access to The Post’s resources, Launcher itself is incredibly small. For example, when I worked at Game Informer, we had an editorial staff of around 20. At Launcher, we just expanded with an additional reporter (Shannon Liao, who joined from CNN), so now we’re seven. On the writing side, that’s just three reporters and two editors.
Because of our tiny staff, we have to carefully pick and choose what’s most effective for our coverage. That means having to pass on a lot of opportunities that other, bigger games press are equipped to tackle, but it also means we can be very thoughtful in how we choose our direction, rather than having to cover absolutely everything.
What topics are you personally most excited about covering?
I love stories about people. And that can be anything from an interesting cultural phenomenon within a video game and how its affecting its community, to a behind-the-scenes look at how a specific part of a game was built. I really love working with indie developers who are doing something unique, like how Spiritfarer’s studio developed a game about death positivity by visiting terminally ill patients.
What story have you worked on recently that you’re particularly proud of?
I’ve covered a lot of different topics at WaPo, in a lot of different formats, but my strength is long-form feature writing. I love giving the extra time to a single subject and going really, really deep. Some of the pieces I’m most proud of include this interview/analysis hybrid of Ellie’s evolution in The Last of Us Part II, how IO Interactive created the Dartmoor level in Hitman 3, and the challenges developers face when adding easy modes to traditionally difficult games.
Can you name an experience you had with PR that you’d consider a success?
I really like working with Raha Bouda over at Ubisoft. I think what’s most important is open communication, on both sides: the reporter being upfront about their intent (what is on or off the record and what is being recorded, for example), and the PR representative respecting the vision of the story. Working with Raha on Watch Dogs: Legion was great: she listened and provided what I needed (i.e. sending over assets early, and a lot of them!) and respected the fact that I needed to ask hard questions in certain interviews. I’m a reporter, not a PR mouthpiece — and it’s best that PR understands that so we can both do our jobs well. If something comes up that is a red flag for PR after an interview, I’m always open to chatting, but the angle and vision of a story is up to me and our editorial team, no one else.
What can PR do better?
This isn’t across the board, and very much depends from one circumstance to the next, but: PR needs to better understand and respect the journalistic process. On numerous occasions, there seems to be a disconnect there — i.e. I’m asked to only publish certain parts of an interview and leave out the rest, or I get called up after a story is published because PR is displeased with an angle I took. Asking for content to be taken down or changed to fit a PR’s narrative can’t be accommodated; my loyalty is to the readers so I can give them accurate information. If a quote is said on the record, it’s on the record! The Washington Post decides how to accurately extend that information to its readers.
I’m always more than happy to chat about this process with PR so that we can be on the same page. I want to respect a developer’s words and vision. A PR representative should also be extending that same kind of respect to the journalist.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give to PR in working with you and pitching The Washington Post?
Get my attention as fast as possible. Tell me what’s interesting about your game from the get-go, even in the subject line of your email. I get a LOT of emails every day, and I can’t possibly read every single one from top to bottom. PR should also do their homework on what kind of stories Launcher publishes. For example, we rarely do any news aggregation, so if there’s news that has no interview tied to it or no unique/exclusive angle we can add, there’s a good chance we’re going to skip on it and come back to it later with more thoughtful analysis or background information. Almost everything we do is rooted in original reporting.
The same goes for trailers: we don’t publish stories that are solely about a new trailer coming out.
If you’re in PR and plan to pitch Launcher, tell us why a certain person is interesting for a profile piece (make it unique, and not just about someone’s success! We get way too many “this 16-year-old is the CEO of their own esports organization”). Or explain why a certain game is doing something different, like Kind Words (a game about sending kind messages to other players, and how there are political inspirations behind its creation). Or why a certain video game studio should be on our radar. The more original, the better, and if there’s a real-life angle to it (i.e. how a technology is made or how a game has diverse representation with its characters), that will improve your chances too.
Follow Elise Favis on Twitter.