Anyone who loves video games and has a talent for writing can become a writer in the games industry. While it may seem like a dream job to many, it is a very obtainable goal for those who put their minds to it. Just like any other profession, a little persistence is all you need to score a position as a game writer.
What Does A Game Writer Do?
A game writer can do a variety of things depending on their position on the narrative team. Video games are a collaborative art form, and many AAA video games that release today have teams of several hundred people. As games become more cinematic and expansive, more resources are poured into the narrative of each title.
One of the most common writing positions is setting up the backstory of the universe each game takes place in. Worldbuilding is a crucial step for any storyteller. Before work on the main story begins, the world must be fleshed out to make it more believable for the players. This involves setting up the creation myth, key factions, and laws that govern the world in question.
The main story is the next piece of writing that gets created. This type of writer focuses on the core events that every player will experience as they progress through the critical path. Much like a film, each game has a script that details the dialogue between each character. Dialogue is primarily used to make the player feel invested in the game they are playing. Without likable and interesting characters, many players will get bored and move on to the next big thing.
A game with loads of optional content will also have a writer dedicated to making these side events as interesting as possible. The most common example of this is in large role-playing games with hundreds of side quests. Each quest must be fully written as well as any additional characters the player will meet during them. In games with a smaller scale, the writer might simply write the instructions for a minigame or other small interactive elements.
Last but not least, some game writers are hired to fill the game with engaging flavor text. Flavor text can be used to establish lore or give the player clues about where to find something secretly hidden nearby. Many modern games have tons of audio logs and/or written notes for the player to collect. The flavor text writer is in charge of writing all of these. They also write the descriptions of any weapons or items in a player’s inventory. These writers excel at giving context to the world at large.
Where Does a Game Writer Work?
A majority of video game writers will work directly with the rest of the development team. Each major studio has a vast office filled with people working on the game. A writer must work in conjunction with almost every other team to ensure their writing makes sense in the context of everything else.
There are a few major cities that serve as video game development havens. The most notable of which is the LA game development scene. Dozens of studios have ample office space throughout a large portion of California. There are also congregations of studios in Austin, Seattle, Tokyo, Toronto, Paris, Montreal, and Vancouver. While there are a couple of studios that are based in smaller regions, a game writer should be prepared to live in one of these densely populated cities.
More often than not, a game’s main story is influenced by the levels that are already planned. Writers and level designers usually work in the same room to keep everything as cohesive as possible. If anything changes about the core design, a writer must alter their text on the fly to keep up.
Game writers also work closely with the art team to add any text that is needed. Many games feature humorous in-universe signs and billboards. The writers will sit in with the art team to come up with entertaining slogans or sayings for the player to stumble across.
The Difference with Indie Projects
Independent game studios have been popping up all over the world. There are tons of software and development tools that allow small teams to bring their vision to life. These smaller studios usually don’t have the extra funds to rent out office space when they first start. A writer for an indie game will often work from home and send their work to the rest of the team via the Internet.
Since each team is so small, they can easily work from different sides of the world without issues. Some indie games are made by just a single person. In that case, the writer is anywhere they choose to be. A game writer who wants more flexibility with where they work should consider employment at an independent studio.
What Skills Are Required to be a Game Writer?
The most important skill for anyone in the games industry is the ability to work with a team. Video games are massive projects that require dozens of people to collaborate towards the same vision. A game writer will need excellent communication skills in order to fully understand what the team expects. Writers also need to convey their ideas in a way that gets the rest of the team on board. Conflict resolution is also a must considering how many different people a game writer works with. There is guaranteed to be a few arguments about how a project should evolve. The ability to stay professional during heated discussions is paramount to staying in the business long-term.
As for the writing itself, the skillset differs depending on the position within the narrative team. At a base level, every game writer must have excellent grammar and a robust vocabulary. From there, each role requires more specific talent.
The writer in charge of worldbuilding should have extensive knowledge of how a creation myth is formed. Studying mythology is a great way to learn how a world is created from the ground up. They also need to have an extremely long memory. Worldbuilding requires a writer to remember every last tidbit about the universe in question. This allows them to keep writing without contradicting anything that was previously established. This is one folly that can shatter the player’s immersion in an instant.
A writer in charge of the script needs to create an interesting dialogue between each of the main characters. Great dialogue gives the player insight into who each of the characters is when they aren’t partaking in the adventure of a lifetime. It also can be used to foreshadow upcoming events or shed some light on what occurred earlier in the tale. Studying what makes dialogue engaging is a great way to start. It is also wise to master the art of exposition. Dumping too much explanation on the player all at once can be confusing, overwhelming, or boring. Learning to strike a balance between explanation and intrigue is the ultimate goal of any scriptwriter.
Optional Content Creator
A writer tasked with developing the side quests and other optional events should be great at creating short stories. Many optional quests are fairly short and don’t often have that much dialogue or writing included. The text that does appear needs to draw the player in with just a few words. Engaging hooks that make the player curious are crucial to creating optional content the player wants to explore. Dissecting short stories and reading anthologies is a great way to learn how to do this well. Boring side quests that feel too repetitive will turn most players off completely.
Lore and Collectables
A writer tasked with creating audio logs and other flavor text must be able to view the game world from a myriad of different angles. Written notes and audio logs are almost always from the perspective of random characters throughout the universe. The writer must put themselves in the shoes of these characters as the main story events occur. Imagination is the key to creating interesting ways for these side characters to react to the overarching narrative.
How to Become a Video Game Writer
The first thing any budding games writer must do is pick an area of expertise. Determine if worldbuilding, scriptwriting, side content, or lore sounds the most exciting. A writer needs to have extensive passion for their craft to break into the industry.
The next thing a game writer must do is write as much as possible. While it sounds incredibly obvious, it takes longer than most think to develop an engaging writing style. The more practice a writer gets the better their future works will be. Many game writers keep a notepad or use their cellphone to jot down ideas as soon as they come. Once they have more time, they begin to flesh out those ideas into a more cohesive piece.
Once a game writer has built up some confidence, they can begin posting their best work online for all to see. This is the best way to get noticed by an industry insider. Since everyone can upload their writing to the web, companies looking to hire a game writer will browse online to find their next candidates. A new writer must be able to prove they have talent by putting their best work forward.
Unless a game writer already has previous experience in another entertainment medium, they most likely won’t be hired on by a AAA studio initially. A young writer’s best bet is to get hired at a smaller independent studio first. This allows them to bolster their resume with actual games industry experience. Even a small project can make huge waves that ripple throughout the video game community. Once a writer is recognized for their talent, they will have no shortage of work in the games industry.
The road to becoming a game writer is very similar to most other professional careers. Patience, persistence, and a willingness to never stop learning is all a game writer needs to eventually land their first assignment. Once their foot is in the door, a skilled game writer can kick it right open and enjoy a long, prosperous career in the video game industry.
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