Career Guide: Becoming A Game Writer
Over recent weeks we’ve been looking at what is involved in a number of different roles common at studios where video games are made. We’ve considered the work itself, the potential for creativity and earnings, and the experience or qualifications typically needed to secure such a role.
This week, we’re turning our attention to the video game writer; a role that has become more common over time, as games have become more complex and sizeable, allowing more capacity for stories, characters and narrative detail.
While the original game story might be ‘three lives; save the world’, today it is much more common to see length, intricate and beautiful storytelling, or even a lot more plot and substance in genres like football or driving games.
But what does a games write do, and what is the opportunity for the aspiring game maker in your family?
Game writers, of course, often use words to tell stories in games. but as well as writing scripts and text that tells the player a tale, they can add a great deal of flavour and feeling to game worlds. Perhaps you’ve played a game where you can collect hidden letters and notes that add background information to a game world? That’s the work of a game writer. They might also write tutorials and menu text, or databases of information that players can access in a game’s back end.
Equally, many game writers create a lot of content the player might never see; sometimes there are thousands of words written that detail game locations, or flesh out a character’s history, or offer lines of dialogue, all of which are never intended to be included in a game. These background materials can help shape a world, guide designers, assure that game worlds make sense and do not contain contradictions, and provide a document a game development team can follow. They can also make sure that the world a player does see is convincing, and feels rich and detailed. Game worlds that make sense, are believable and feel authentic often have a lot of background writing to thank for their realism.
Theres also an older definition of the term ‘game writer’. Back in the early days of video games – and more so with board games – the ‘writer’ might be the person who came up with the game idea, designed it, or even wrote the code. As such, some modern game writers do also contribute to a video game in a way that could be defined as a ‘game designer’, ‘game coder’, ‘game director’ or ‘game developer’ more broadly. In other words, some game writers take the creative lead of a team, and bring many other skills to the table.
Game writers get to write. That may sound obvious, but if you enjoy the creativity of writing, adore video games, and like the idea of shaping and guiding the form a huge game world takes, game writing can be a dream career.
‘Game writer’ is a slightly more abstract, flexible role definition than something like ‘character designer’, so often game writers find themselves shaping or creating their own job description and place within a studio. But certainly, there are more game writers roles today, and there is a stronger sense of what those roles are, meaning you will see job postings and opportunities for game writers. Still, there are far less opportunities for game writers than more traditional and core game development roles, so you’ll have to work hard to become one.
Indeed, while it’s been relatively easy to find data on the average earning of the likes of game producers and game coders for this series of articles, there are almost no figures on what game writers get paid. That might show that there aren’t that many, or that the conventions of game writing haven’t settled down. Still, if you do well, you will likely earn wage in keeping with other game making roles, which can be very good.
As well as what we’ve touched on above, there’s less direct or proven routes to become a game writer. Game writing qualifications are rare and often unproven. Fortunately, there are solutions.
While game writing qualifications are uncommon, the same writing skills – and even qualifications – that see people work writing for films, TV and so on are workable, as the skills are transferable.
There really is no standard way in, but there are two approaches to consider.
Firstly, write anything, published or not. And write in different styles and for different purposes. It all builds portfolio, proves dedication, and gives potential employees a sense of your writing voice – or, ideally, writing voices.
Secondly, working with a small or independent team might let you try your hand at game writing while also serving other roles (most small teams have multitasking staff). That will give you experience without needing a full ‘game writer’ job, let you see how game writing fits in with the wider game making process, and give you portfolio material that has appeared in actual games.
You might join such as a team during a generalist University game making course, just after graduation, or simply by forming one with friends. And that same University course will inform a broader understanding of how games are made.
In terms of qualifications at a GCSE or A level, of course English writing will help, as may something like communication studies, where you learn how media works. But don’t discount sticking with subjects like coding, maths or computer science through to at least GCSEs, as they will let you keep a sense of the technical side of making games… and a creative writer that understands how games are made is perhaps the perfect games writer.