What does a video game writer do, and how can I start in that career?

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In this episode of Game Industry Career Guide Podcast, I answer a question from Lance, who asks, “It sounds like game writing and game designing are very similar. I was looking to become a game designer due to the fact that I was able to make the story but it seems like that’s what game writers do. Is it realistic to think that I can make the plot and story by being a game designer or should I consider switching to game writer?”

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • What a video game writer does at their job
  • How you can start learning video game writing
  • Why you should also learn game design to be a successful game writer

If you have a question you'd like to get answered on the podcast, leave a comment below or ask me anything here.

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Hello, and welcome to the Game Industry Career Guide podcast. This is episode number 16. I’m Jason W. Bay from gameindustrycareerguide.com and this is the podcast where I answer your questions about getting a job and growing your career making video games.

This week’s question is from Lance. Lance wrote in and asked, “It sounds like game writing and game designing are very similar. I was looking to become a game designer due to the fact that I was able to make the story. But it seems like that’s what game writers do. Is it realistic to think that I can make the plot and story by being a game designer or should I consider switching to a game writer?”

All right, I like this question because there’s a lot of information available on the Internet about being a game designer. But there’s not much info about the job of a game writer or how a person like Lance could pursue a career as a game writer. Fortunately, I did an interview recently with a professional game writer. I interviewed Darby McDevitt who is a writer on the Assassin’s Creed series of games. You can read the interview on Game Industry Career Guide website but let’s take a few minutes now to discuss the major questions: What does a game writer do and how can you get a job as a game writer?

First of all, let’s talk about what exactly the game writer’s job is on a game team. What does a game writer do? According to Darby, the writer’s job changes quite a lot over the course of the game’s development cycle. Early in the game, during the conception phase, the writer spends a lot of time doing research. For example, if your game is to be in a certain historical time period, then you’d need to read up on that time period to help you develop an understanding of what it was like for people living at that time, how people talked and dressed and other aspects of the world that could inspire the game’s story and characters and make the game feel more authentic.

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That’s the conception phase. Next, once the game development is finally under way and into the production phase, that’s when the real writing begins – writing the backstory, the story, the dialogue. But the game writer doesn’t just go into a room and write everything all at once by herself. It’s a highly collaborative process. You’ll work with others from the game team, like the game designers, the mission designers, and even the voice actors and the directors. Many people on the team will contribute to the story. Darby said that on Assassin’s Creed, he got some of his best story ideas from the designers, artists, and other contributors on the game team. It’s the writer’s job to pull it all together and write it into a cohesive whole.

That’s the production phase, which takes by far the most time to complete. In the later parts of the game’s production when things are mostly finished, the writer works tirelessly to play test the game and proofread everything to make sure that their work is well represented.

So that’s a good overview of what a game writer does. Next, let’s talk about how you could start working toward a career as a game writer.

For starters, if you haven’t done much creative writing yet, well what are you waiting for? Seriously! If you have a pen and paper – or, like, a computer – then you have the tools you need to start writing stories. If you aren’t quite sure how to start writing stories, there’s already a ton of help online. Just do a Google search for “learn creative writing.” You’ll find just dozens of articles and tutorials, and they’ll help you get your creative juices flowing and give you a framework to start thinking about how to construct a narrative.

You don’t necessarily need to write stories that are for games, just start learning the basics of crafting a compelling story with interesting characters and dialogue. After that, practice, then practice some more. Just keep practicing because as you do more and more creative writing, you get better. And then you can start putting it together into a portfolio that you can show to prospective employers. You can post your writing to a blog online, or honestly you could even turn them into an e-book and self-publish them on Amazon.com.

The key is to start writing, finish some stories, and them get them out into the world. You can hone your craft by getting feedback from your friends and family. Every story you write will be better than the last. So just keep writing, keep making stuff, keep showing it to people, keep improving.

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One last thing. Along the way it’s also a good idea to start learning about game design. Because as a writer you’ll be working really closely with the team’s game designers. So the more you understand their jobs, the better off you’re going to be because the better you can do your job.

And there’s another reason that you should learn game design: It’s because the majority of video game teams don’t actually need a full-time writer. It’s only the biggest AAA games, the ones that have a big budget and they’re heavily story driven. They’re the only ones that really need a full-time writer. So there aren’t very many game writer jobs in the game industry compared to some other jobs in the game industry. That’s why it’s likely that your fist game job might need to be more of a game designer role. Then you can leverage your writing skills from time to time. Then you keep your eyes, and ears open for additional writing opportunities as your career progresses and once you meet people, make connections, gain some experience eventually you might be able to actually get a full-time job writing.

That’s an overview of the job of a video game writer and some tips to get started towards that career path. If you want to read the full interview with professional game writer Darby McDevitt, go to gameindustrycareerguide.com/writer.

Thanks to Lance for this question. And thank you for hanging out and listening to the show today. If you liked it, please leave me a review in iTunes. Your review will help others find this podcast and it will let me know that you like what you heard. For more information and inspiration on getting and growing your job making video games, visit me at gameindustrycareerguide.com. I am Jason W. Bay and I’ll see you next time, right here on the game industry career guide podcast.

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