How Eurogamer's Head of Video Aoife Wilson approaches flexible working (and the gaming industry)

by MJ Widomska

Aoife Wilson is a gaming journalist and the current Head of Video at Eurogamer, responsible for managing YouTube content for the magazine. Her team of three puts out a video every day, which is very impressive.

She’s in Eurogamer’s Brighton office two days in the week and spends the rest of the time working from home, which allows her the flexibility to take on other projects — most notably with BBC and BAFTA Games.

Aoife has also been voted one of 100 most influential women working in the UK gaming industry in 2019.

What are you looking forward to in 2020? A couple of games that formulated my love of gaming are being remade, and I'm looking forward to covering them. It's fun from a personal perspective, but from a professional perspective, it's going to be super busy. They're being released within a week from each another. Thankfully Cyberpunk 2077 was delayed, as it was going to be out a week after that as well.

There's a lot of big things happening because the industry has been a little bit stagnant for a while as we're waiting for the new consoles to come out. A lot of developers are just treading water. So I'm just looking for things to get a bit of a shakeup again, to be able to cover more exciting stories.

What do you think was your proudest work moment in 2019?DM-ing for giffgaff's Dungeons & Dragons collaboration. I was really proud of the fact that I DM'ed for the very first time, in front of loads of people. It went pretty well, and now I do a lot of D&D stuff, through that one thing I was really nervous about. That I wouldn't have done, had it not been for giffgaff. I literally studied for that like it was a test.

Oh, I know. It was terrifying. But then, it went really well, and then invited to go to Lucca to play D&D with Joe Manganiello. It's just like, what's going on? I was on this huge stage, live on the D&D Twitch channel. I really love D&D, we even started our own campaign on Eurogamer.

How has your work changed since you became Head of Video at Eurogamer? I’m definitely answering a lot more emails.

Beforehand emails would come through, and I’d be like, someone else can deal with that. We had more of a flat team structure then. But now, I try to be as proactive as possible. That’s the one thing about doing almost a typical nine to five and then also extra freelance stuff on top of that, is that I have to be really good with my time management. I have to know when anything is happening, and I have to plan things out weeks in advance. I need to know there’s going to be no overlaps and I can actually do the work and not leave anyone hanging. Or even just not do work that isn’t to the best of my ability because I hate that. I like to give everything my full attention.

So I think since becoming Head of Video, it’s just being even more on my time management. I also have to manage two other people and make sure that they have everything they need to do their job as well as they can. The work is constantly changing, from having to consider merch options, or planning schedules for meet and greets, to live stream shows.

It’s a really agile place to be in, and it’s really exciting. But it’s exhausting. You can’t let those emails pile up for too long.

How do you organise your time? Google Calendars is a godsend in that respect. I’m constantly on either Google Docs or spreadsheets or calendars so that I can see exactly when things are happening.

There’s also making sure that you’re communicating. A problem shared is a problem halved. If I tell someone, well actually this causes a little bit of a problem for me, can we do something about it? Most of the time, people will be willing to help you. But, if they don’t know if that’s an issue for you, they can’t help you.

Being open and honest about what it is you need to do and at the time that you need to do it can really make things a lot easier.

Your work schedule is quite flexible. Do you feel like flexibility helps your productivity? It absolutely does. I couldn’t do what I do if I had to stick to absolutely rigid office hours. People are productive at different times of the day. Sometimes you’ll get a flash of inspiration at six in the evening, and you’ll want to keep working, but you can’t plan for that to happen.

I like to get up early and get stuff done. I go to the gym for lunch, which gives me an extra burst of productivity towards the end of the day. Trying to make everyone fit the same mould of when they’re going to be at their most creative just doesn’t work. There needs to be a level of trust with the company that you’re working for or with your team members.

My team and I mostly work remotely, and we communicate through Slack. If someone is like, I’m not feeling great this morning. Or I’m going to go do a post office run, they’ll make up the time later. We trust that they’re going to do that. The way our metrics are if a video is going out every day, we’re putting the hours in.

You mentioned going to the gym as one way to become more productive. Is there anything else you do to get yourself in a productive mood? Drink a lot of coffee. Sometimes just take a walk. At the moment I’m not sleeping particularly well, so walking outside for five minutes and getting a slap in the face of cold British air in the morning can definitely help (laughs).

The danger of working from home is that you can get a little bit too cosy. You need to stay motivated and stay focused. If you’re struggling, you’ve got to get up, walk around for 10 minutes, and then come back to it refreshed.

A lot of freelancers mention that working from home sounds great, but can prove to be quite tricky. Do you have any tips for anyone who may be struggling with their productivity? You have to be disciplined because otherwise you will procrastinate and then you’re going to get yourself into a world of hurt. Deadlines sneak up on you pretty fast.

My biggest tip would honestly be working out. I’m really late to the gym game. The only reason I did it was because I started working from home. There’s something about switching off your brain for an hour and doing physical work.

It’s a hard reset in the middle of your day where you come back. I mean I never walk away from the gym feeling worse than I did when I walked in. I always feel more energised. I think that it’s a great antidote to the sort of funk that you can get working from home.

You get a lot of emails. How do you deal with stress when work gets a little bit overwhelming? Honestly, I pet my cat (laughs).

If I’m feeling stressed out, I’ll walk away from my laptop for a minute. I have a ritual where I’ll make a cafetiere coffee. Because I’m a coffee snob, I grind my own beans.

I’ll just sit in the kitchen and pet my cat. If you have a pet, your pet is never going to be stressed with this kind of stuff. Being in the vicinity of an animal who’s just like, where’s my food at? Puts everything in perspective.

There’s also doing something completely unrelated to your work. There are days that I finish, and I don’t want to want to play a video game ever again. I just want to watch something mindless. Or have a glass of wine and chill.

The real danger of working from home is that your work-life balance can be disrupted. It’s really, really important to set those boundaries as early as possible. Having a separate room that you do your work in and a different room to where you relax in, it means that your brain’s not hanging on to the stresses of the day. That you can separate the two.

Moving away from stress… what brings you the most joy in your current role as Head of Video? Seeing my team members have fun doing what they do. I see my role now as more about giving them what they need and giving them the space to thrive and flourish and make what they want to make. It brings me a lot of joy when they have everything that they need to create a really great video.

Then I watch that video back, thinking this is far better than anything I could have made. That’s the really great thing about becoming a team leader, rather than a team member: seeing other people flourish and wanting them to eventually surpass you. I think that’s what being a leader is.

Do you have any tips for someone who is struggling to get into your line of work? I get DMs and emails about this literally every single day. I think it’s a challenging thing to do. I think you’ve got to find your niche. Whether that’s streaming, whether that’s talking about D&D, whether that’s talking about one game specifically, or maybe you have real knowledge of the technical aspects of games.

Find the niche and find the audience that appreciates that niche. Don’t cast your net too wide. You’ve got to be tenacious, and you’ve got to be proactive. You’re not going to find success overnight unless you’re .0001% of people. It takes a long time to carve a career in an industry that’s so sought after by a lot of people.

I used to get up at the crack of dawn and write articles before I’d start my regular day job. I wanted to build up a portfolio that would one day be good enough to get a job somewhere like Eurogamer. It’s hard graft, but it is worth doing.

The biggest thing is just to start doing it. The greatest thing about where the industry is right now is that anyone who has a phone and a TikTok account, or YouTube account, can start building up a following. Nothing is stopping you from doing that.

When you contact editors or whoever it is that you want to work for, you’ll be able to say, I can do this and here’s the evidence because I’m already doing it.

What’s one piece of advice you wish someone had given you when you were 20? Know your worth. Don’t work for free and don’t think that just getting your foot in the door is enough in terms of payment. If you’re doing a good job, then you should be paid appropriately. I mean you might want to believe the best in people, but some people will take advantage, and they’ll know they can get you for cheap, and they’ll get you.

Especially as a woman. I’ve worked places where some guy is doing the exact same job that I’m doing and getting paid more. Or getting more praise for doing the exact same job. Or having more credibility in what he does because how could women possibly like games — but I digress.

Which brings me to my next question. If you could change one thing in the gaming industry, what would it be? I would get rid of the gatekeeping that held us back a lot of times. I definitely think that it’s changed since I’ve started working in the games industry, even in Eurogamer specifically. We’ve hired more people of colour and people of underrepresented genders in the last two years than ever in its entire lifetime. It’s brilliant, and I think that that needs to continue.

I just want the industry to feel as welcoming and inclusive as it possibly can. I think there’s still a lot of work to do there. Because I want everyone to know that gaming is something that they can enjoy. It’s not just the preserve of a certain vocal minority. The more people stick their head above the parapet and say, this is my space, and I belong here, and I deserve to be here, the better.

Is if there’s a cause that’s close to your heart you want to give a shout out to? I have been honoured to work with the BAFTA Young Game Designers Awards in the last couple of years. They’re really doing a fantastic job supporting and encouraging new generations of game designers. Some of the concepts that I’ve seen there, some of the working prototypes are mind-blowing. This is coming from all ages, from 10 to 18. They really are incredible and they’re really imaginative too. It goes back to what I was saying about gaming being more inclusive. For these kids, inclusivity is in their nature and it comes through in the games that they make. It really makes me full of joy and full of hope every time I see what they make because it’s just so exciting.

To find out a bit more about Aoife’s work, visit Eurogamer’s YouTube channel.

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