Video games have evolved into a dominant cultural and entertainment medium, surpassing even the film and television industries in profitability and creative potential. In 2016, the global video game industry generated a staggering $99.6 billion in revenue, dwarfing Hollywood's $36 billion in the same year. This financial allure is coupled with the breakthroughs in gaming technology and the impressive revenues of blockbuster games like Grand Theft Auto V, which earned $815.7 million on its first day of release alone.
For many screenwriters and storytellers, the gaming industry presents an exciting frontier. However, writing for video games is an art that diverges significantly from traditional scriptwriting. From understanding the role of a game writer to breaking into the industry, and from crafting interactive narratives to navigating the job market, this guide aims to demystify the process of becoming a video game writer, offering insights into the unique challenges and opportunities within this dynamic field.
Whether you're a seasoned screenwriter looking to transition into game writing or a budding storyteller curious about the details of this field, this guide is designed to provide valuable information and practical tips to help you navigate the path of writing for video games.
Section 1: The Role of a Game Writer
Contrary to popular belief, game writers often join after initial concepts and designs. Unlike film or traditional writing, they don't start with an original script but work within a predefined framework.
Key Responsibilities of a Game Writer
- Flow Charts: Essential in games, especially RPGs, where writers create complex narratives that adapt to player decisions, resembling an advanced form of "Choose Your Own Adventure" books.
- Character Development: Involves writing detailed descriptions and biographies for each character, guiding designers in character creation.
- Storyboard Scripts: The closest element to traditional screenplays, these encompass the game's narrative from start to finish, after all other elements are in place
- Cut Scenes: Responsible for cinematic scenes that advance the story, offering a more directed narrative experience within the game.
- NPC Dialogue: Crafting dialogue for non-player characters, a crucial element for enhancing game realism and depth.
- Side Quests: Writers craft smaller missions and quests, integral to deepening the game world and providing additional player engagement.
Game writing demands a balance between narrative and gameplay. The story serves the game mechanics, often leading to adaptive and responsive storytelling based on player choices. The interactive nature of games means writers must account for various player actions and paths, creating multiple narrative branches and potential outcomes. Working in a team-driven environment, game writers must collaborate with designers, artists, and programmers, often adapting their writing to fit technical and design constraints.
Section 2: Developing Writing Skills for Games
A career in game writing doesn't necessarily require you to attend a traditional university. Instead, it's about mastering the craft through various resources and building a portfolio of great work.
Alternative Learning Paths
The Creative Foundation
- Creativity Over Credentials: Emphasize developing creative skills over acquiring formal qualifications. Creativity, imagination, and the ability to craft engaging stories are paramount in this field.
- Practice and Experimentation: Regularly write and experiment with different game genres and narrative styles. This not only improves your writing but also helps in finding your unique voice.
Tools and Resources
- It's important to become familiar with tools for interactive storytelling and scriptwriting. These can help you create dynamic narratives and streamline your writing process. We provide a detailed list of the most used applications in our blog post "The 7 Best Tools for Game Scriptwriting".
Section 3: Getting a Job as a Game Writer
Game writing is a competitive and specialized field that differs from traditional forms of writing. Aspiring game writers need to understand the intricacies of interactive narratives and adapt their writing to fit within the framework, story and the game's focus, while overcoming the challenges and recognizing the opportunities unique to the gaming industry.
If you play games, you know that experience is crucial. Participating in game jams can be an excellent way to build experience, showcase your work, and network. Game jams like Global Game Jam and Ludum Dare are especially beneficial for beginners due to their collaborative nature and learning environment while being a challenge to the team, usually responsible for making a game in a short period.
Engine-specific game jams, like those hosted by Unity or Unreal, often offer help for beginners, and could be a good place to start as they are a bit more casual and sometimes have prizes involved.
Portfolio and Networking
The games developed during the jams can serve as practical examples of your writing and collaboration skills. These events are not just about game creation but also about meeting other game developers, artists, and writers, fostering valuable industry connections.
To build a diverse portfolio as a game writer, it is important to include a variety of writing samples such as game scripts, character bios, and narrative designs. Demonstrating an understanding of branching narratives and player choice can be achieved by creating interactive stories using platforms like Twine or Ink. For more info on setting up your portfolio, you can check out this guide.
Attending industry events like GDC (Game Developers Conference) or PAX, actively engaging on platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn, and joining online communities such as Reddit's r/gamedev or game development-focused Discord servers are valuable ways to connect with professionals, stay updated on the latest industry trends, and discover job opportunities in the game industry.
Learn from Industry Veterans
- Hidetaka Miyazaki: The visionary behind critically acclaimed titles like "Elden Ring" and the "Dark Souls" series, Miyazaki is known for his unique approach to narrative design. His work, blending intricate lore with minimalistic storytelling, offers a masterclass in creating deeply immersive game worlds.
- Rhianna Pratchett: An acclaimed game writer known for her work on the Tomb Raider series. She transitioned into game writing from a journalism background, initially polishing game scripts before moving into full-fledged game writing.
- Amy Hennig: Renowned for her work on the "Uncharted" series, Hennig's approach to character-driven narratives and cinematic storytelling in games has been influential. Her journey from film to video games showcases the versatility required in game writing.
- David Gaider: Formerly a narrative designer at BioWare, Gaider has worked on major titles like Baldur's Gate 2 and the Dragon Age series. He emphasizes the importance of understanding and critiquing game narratives and suggests practicing writing with tools like Twine.
- Neil Druckmann: As the creative force behind "The Last of Us" series, Druckmann's work exemplifies how powerful, character-centric stories can elevate the gaming experience. His progression from an intern to co-president at Naughty Dog illustrates the importance of growth and versatility in the industry.
- Olivia Wood: Starting as a freelance editor, Wood transitioned into game writing through personal projects and networking. She has worked with Failbetter Games and highlights the importance of proactive skill development and engaging in personal projects for career advancement.
Section 4: Enhancing Your Craft
After starting your journey as a Game Writer and getting your stories read, you'll face the need to hone your creative skills, improve your writing, and distinguish yourself in the industry. Here are strategies to elevate your work:
- Diverse Gaming Experiences: Play a wide range of games to understand different narrative styles, genres, and mechanics. This broadens your perspective and sparks creativity.
- Cross-Media Inspiration: Draw inspiration from various storytelling mediums like books, movies, and theater. Each medium offers unique narrative techniques that can enrich game writing.
- Creative Writing Exercises: Regularly engage in writing exercises. These can be prompts, short stories, or even fan fiction, helping you to think creatively and build your storytelling skills.
Improving Writing Skills
- Study Game Scripts and Design Documents: Analyze scripts from successful games to understand how they weave narrative with gameplay. Websites like GDC Vault offer resources and talks on game writing and design.
- Feedback and Collaboration: Share your work with peers or mentors for constructive feedback. Collaborating on projects also exposes you to different styles and approaches.
- Writing Courses and Workshops: Attend workshops or courses focused on creative writing, screenwriting, or specifically game writing. These can provide structured learning and professional guidance.
Differentiating Yourself in the Industry
- Develop a Unique Voice: Find and nurture your unique writing style. This could be a particular genre you excel in or a distinctive approach to character development.
- Specialize in a Niche: Consider specializing in a niche aspect of game writing, like world-building, dialogue writing, or branching narrative structures.
- Stay Informed and Adapt: Keep up-to-date with industry trends and technological advancements. Adapting to new tools and techniques can set you apart as a forward-thinking writer.
Engaging with the Community
- Active Participation in Industry Events: Attend game industry events, workshops, and panels not just as an attendee but as a participant. Consider giving talks or presentations once you have enough experience.
- Online Presence and Branding: Build a strong online presence through a personal website, blog, or social media. Share your insights, experiences, and portfolio to establish yourself as a thought leader in game writing.
The journey to becoming a game writer combines creativity, continuous learning, and community engagement. While the career doesn’t require a traditional college degree, writers must constantly learn and grow to evolve with the industry. As a game writer, you are tasked with crafting not just narratives but immersive worlds shaped by player choices. By leveraging experiences from game jams, building a diverse portfolio, and always growing through courses and industry connections, you can enjoy a successful and fulfilling career as a game writer.