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What Qualifications Do I Need to be a Game Writer?

Video games have adopted a robust narrative focus. While simple pick-up and play titles will always thrive, the demand for thought-provoking interactive stories continues to grow. This means that the market for video game writers is expanding just as quickly. If you are fascinated by both storytelling and interactive entertainment, a career as a video game writer is likely your dream job.

Although the dream may seem larger than life, the path to becoming a professional game writer is more straightforward than it sounds. Like many professions, you must meet a list of qualifications set out by your future employers. After you learn about each qualification and how to obtain it, diligent practice of consistent study will lead you to your goal.

What Does a Game Writer Do?

A video game writer creates all the text elements featured in games. There are numerous forms of written content in video games, including plot structure, dialog, menu text, item descriptions, and character design. As a game writer, you may work on a combination of these aspects. Your role will depend on what style of game you are making and at what point in the development cycle you join the team.

Plot and Narrative Structure

As you might expect, a professional game writer is in charge of creating the core concepts featured throughout the game’s story. You will develop a narrative structure and story arcs for the player to navigate. This role is sometimes referred to as a scenario designer, as the interactive nature of games calls for a unique approach to storytelling. There is more action than in a typical tale and potential player choices must be considered when constructing the narrative.

Character Design

Writers will often work out the details of each main character in a story. This includes their basic motivations and how each person develops throughout the story. In this position, you often work with a character artist to finalize the look of each character. Visual form is a fantastic way to convey character traits, so a writer and artist will usually team up during this phase of development.

Menu Text

While it is not the most exciting part of game development, the menu and usability text is pretty crucial to a player’s overall enjoyment. Some of the most popular tiles, such as Call of Duty, gained their status because of the simple to understand menu interfaces in the industry. Intuitively guiding the player in interacting with the game is an art form in itself.

Dialogue

Crafting the conversations between each character is another core component of most game writing jobs. Modern titles have thousands of lines of written dialogue, and not just in massive open-world RPGs. This is because of the sheer number of actions and branching decisions that must be accounted for. The interactive nature of the medium allows for several ways to solve each problem. Many games even strive for multiple endings with radically different outcomes depending on how the player impacts the world around them. Learning how to account for player decisions and branching paths is key to becoming a competent game writer.

Flavor Text and Item Descriptions

One of the primary goals of any game is to fully immerse the player in the digital realm Worldbuilding and other environmental details are an effective way of giving inquisitive players more to enjoy. This can include audio logs, text notes, and even full books that are featured in some ambitious titles.

Another critical element of the game experience comes in the form of explanations about what each item in the world is good for. Players will not get very excited about picking up an item unless they know what utility it can provide to their character. Item descriptions must be carefully constructed to inform the player in a concise manner. Simple and unambiguous language works best here. However, do not discount the charm that audiences experience when clever wit is successfully injected into flavor text or item descriptions.

Where Does a Game Writer Work?

The primary place a game writer is employed is in dedicated game design studios. These facilities have all the office space and technology needed to make professional quality software. In this environment, everyone on the team collaborates on a daily basis. The community dynamic is a huge part of what makes game studios work. Since most major game developers have at least one studio, chances are you will work at one of these established locations.

If you are not too thrilled about working in an office, you will be happy to learn that remote work opportunities are continuing to pop up across the gaming landscape. Many writing projects can be done from the comfort of your home as you wear whatever you feel like that day. Keep in mind you may need to occasionally meet in person for various developmental milestones. Always work out such details with your employer to avoid any misunderstandings about what is expected of you. The good news is that most written work can be submitted remotely without any hiccups to a game’s production.

How Do You Become a Game Writer?

The most efficient way to become a professional game writer is to attend a formal degree program at a creative arts college. Unless you are already an accomplished author in another medium, you will need to prove your merit and develop a reputation that employers are willing to acknowledge. During a Digital Art and Animation program with an emphasis in Game Writing, you will learn all about writing in general, as well as the techniques that apply specifically to your medium of choice.

Although it may be tempting to train yourself with self-study, there are several issues with the approach. You cannot be sure if the info online is outdated or incorrect. Also, your progress toward developing the necessary skills will be significantly slower than if guided by a curated curriculum. The disjointed nature of the various online tutorials will make your education more confusing than it should be. That is not to say that all writing advice you find online is poor quality. You can use some self-study research to supplement your formal education. Just be sure to always refer to an official source when possible. Then, you can use web tutorials as an additional reference to strengthen your skillset.

What Qualifications Do I Need to be a Game Writer?

When you get down to it, there are three main pillars to focus on when applying for game writer jobs. Your ability to display merit in each area will impress an employer enough to give you a chance. Once you have your foot in the door of the entertainment industry, it will be much easier to land subsequent jobs in your desired field.

Qualification #1: Network of References

The idea that it is not what you know, but who you know, rings true in the games industry. While you will need enough skill to keep your position, getting hired is often a matter of knowing someone who knows of an opening before anyone else. Having someone put in a good word for you significantly improves your chances of getting hired. In some cases, you might even skip portions of the interview process depending on how quickly a role needs filling.

Qualification #2: Portfolio of Written Work

The main way you demonstrate your merit is through a portfolio of completed projects. The wonderful thing about attending a formal education is you will work on multiple game projects. These projects can serve as portfolio pieces, which makes it easier to get hired. If you get stuck without writing samples, and no other forms of relevant experience, then you will not meet the requirements to land that crucial first industry job. Of course, you can always write your own sample pieces outside of classroom responsibilities.

Qualification #3: Strong Soft Skills

Surviving in a modern work environment requires an adept proficiency in soft skills. These skills include common workplace staples such as communication, productivity, the ability to solve problems, mental outlook, digital literacy, and creativity. Again, you will get to practice each soft skill throughout your degree program. Each soft skill contributes to your overall professionalism and how easy it is to collaborate with you. While there is nothing wrong with actively articulating your ideas, having a reputation of being easy to work with will further enhance your career prospects.

What Do You Learn During a Game Writing Degree Program?

Your game writing education begins with a breakdown of traditional writing techniques. Analyzing what has worked historically will guide in the future. The more reading and writing you participate in, the sharper your skills will be. Once you have a sturdy foundation established, you will explore what makes writing for an interactive medium so unique.

The game writing course teaches you how to consider the numerous player choices and branching dialogue paths incumbent to any engaging title. Practice crafting dialogue, designing characters, directing cutscenes, and penning interesting scenarios for players to experience. Due to the sheer length of game development cycles, flexibility is emphasized throughout each class. Things can change over the course of five years, even some of your beloved story directives. You must be willing to roll with the punches and expect that some aspects of your original vision may be cut.

You will also get to explore the duties and responsibilities of a lead narrative designer. In addition to mentoring the junior writers on the team, you will manage administrative tasks such as budgeting and deadline management. Understanding how to assess the scope of a project and adjust design parameters accordingly will make you a well-rounded candidate for a variety of game design positions.

Throughout each course, you will work in groups on various game projects. Here is where you will pick up all the soft skills that 21st-century employers are expecting from new recruits. Much like a portfolio, you will build upon your soft skills throughout the curriculum. With that said, ensure you put as much effort as possible into both your portfolio and soft skills throughout your core studies. Every bit of progress will make you more confident in your job prospects. The mental effect of confidence will further enhance your ability to get hired after graduation.

Want To Learn More?

Did learning about writing for video games interest you? Today, the creative and financial success of major game releases increasingly depend on the strength of the game’s world, characters, and story. University of Silicon Valley’s new—one of only a few such programs in the world—was developed to empower and support aspiring writers and narrative designers who want to be a part of this bold new storytelling frontier.

University of Silicon Valley is uniquely poised to offer a meaningful and valuable education for 21st century students. We believe in an education that directly correlates with the work you’ll be doing after you graduate. Interested in learning more? Contact Us today.

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