How and Why to Get Started Writing for Video Games

Writing For Video Games

If you’ve decided that you want to start writing for video games but you’re not sure how to get started, do not worry. As with anything else in life, you just have to learn a few tips and suggestions and you’re on your way. Writing for companies that produce video games is a specialized form of writing but this doesn’t mean that you can’t learn quickly and jump right into the process.

Starting at the Beginning

To write video games, you have to have a passion for it above everything else so if you’re a video game lover, you might just have what it takes to do this for a living. In many cases, the companies that develop video games hire either in-house or freelance writers to work closely with the design team from beginning to end so that the perfect product can be developed.

If you’re a good writer and love video games, you might have a very good shot at this type of career. You can work on a contract or permanent basis for the game developer and you are most often working with other writers throughout the process. In fact, you are usually part of a group that includes other writers, the lead game designer, the creative director, and the senior game writer.

When you’re writing for a video game developer, it has a lot in common with other types of writing. This means a lot of rewrites, revisions, and editing. You might have to draft additional copy for cinematics or rewrite certain lines during the voice-over recording phase. From the beginning to the end of the process, it is possible for you to be called upon for various revisions so it isn’t over until the product is ready to be released to the public.

Just what will you be doing as a video game writer? Your duties will vary and will include writing game dialogue, perfecting game environments and character images, pitching ideas for characters and scenes, and creating story treatments. In other words, every aspect of the game is something that you’ll be expected to contribute to, which means that you have to be prepared and ready to start working as soon as a project is begun.

Your Skills and Background

As with other writing jobs, a lot of video game developers require writers to have a bachelor’s degree, preferably with an emphasis on screenwriting, fiction, storytelling, or creative writing. You also have to have excellent editing skills and a good understanding of how to write a great foundation for your story. In order to prepare for the job, you can:

Video Game Developers Require Writers to Have Certain Skills and Background
  • Study as many video games as you can.
  • Be well read and knowledgeable on a variety of topics.
  • Be versatile in what you can do.
  • Make sure that you understand the narrative component of video games.

In many cases, game developers want someone with experience but if you are fresh out of college or have no experience in writing for video games, don’t get discouraged because you still have options. You can try for one of the many entry-level positions that game developers usually offer, such as game tester, intern, or any other position considered entry-level. Companies tend to hire employees, not ideas, so getting your foot in the door should be your ultimate goal if this is what you want your career to be.

You should also keep in mind that most game developers do not take unsolicited submissions for story ideas so even if you decide to send in a resume and samples of your work, you should skip the treatment or script because it is unlikely to be read once it gets there. If you get hired as an entry-level worker, you can network and prove yourself to improve the odds of getting hired as a video game writer later on.

Some Things to Keep in Mind

Wanting to write for video games and wanting to be a video game developer are two different things so you should always start by knowing the difference between these two occupations. While a developer is involved in the entire game, including its appearance, balance, and the storyline, a video game writer concentrates solely on the conversations between the different characters and the storyline itself.

This isn’t to say that you can’t do both because some companies will hire one person for both positions; however, in most cases, they want two different people for the jobs. One of your main responsibilities will be to develop interaction between the characters and narration for the story. You have to take a storyline and form character personalities, decide how the storyline is going to progress, and even come up with additional characters if they contribute to the story.

In video game writing, the player is going to have a certain amount of control over the game itself, which makes this type of writing unlike writing for films or movies. There are also two different types of video games, including those that are:

  • Linear in design, which gives the writer more control over how the player will move through the game
  • Open in design, which gives the writer less control and makes writing a little more challenging

Also keep in mind that in most cases, writing a video game is a group effort so if you have a weak area, it is possible that another writer can take up the slack. In any case, it normally takes several writers and designers to come up with the perfect video game so it’s important to contribute and do your part every time.

You Are Not the Project Director

When some people think about writing for video games, they picture themselves conducting a meeting and pitching an idea to a group of people, and then those people go and develop the video game. This is not realistic because this is the job of a project director and it will take you many years of experience to earn a title such as that. Most people start out as writers and work their way up to more advanced positions. That’s just how the business works.

Game developers hire narrative writers and standard writers and they will work together on the dialogue, storyline, and narration. Although most people don’t think of it this way, writing and designing videos is never a solo project; instead, it is always a collaborative effort between many people. Each person has a job to do and it takes everybody doing his or her job to make the project a success.

Knowing What You’ll Be Doing Helps

Video game writers spend the majority of their time implementing the game — in other words, developing the story and making it work within the video game. This involves a lot of continuous rewrites and editing so it’s good to be prepared for that aspect of the job. Remember that a lot of different things go into creating and developing a great video game and it all has to come together perfectly to end up with an award-winning game.

Knowing What You'll Be Doing Helps

Sometimes you’ll write and rewrite a certain level and spend a lot of time on it in the process only to have that level cut later on by another member of the team. Afterwards, you’ll have to go back to the drawing board and start all over again, which isn’t always fun. This is what the typical writer for a video game company does over and over again but it is all worth it in the end when you see the finished product.

You also have to keep in mind that writers don’t always get what they want. Sometimes logistical concerns prevent you from getting what you want and sometimes the art department is just too busy to accommodate one of your demands. You often will get what you want, of course, but it’s best to prepare yourself for those times that you don’t.

The Chances of Getting a Job

If being a video game writer is something you’re dying to do, you should know that it is very difficult to get into this field. Even if this is where your talent lies and you’ve already gotten a little bit of experience under your belt, it is still difficult to find a job in this line of work. This is mainly because of two things:

  • The jobs are not exactly plentiful. There simply aren’t that many jobs available in this type of work.
  • Proving your worth can be difficult to do. You can’t get a degree in video game development so it’s sometimes hard to convince a prospective boss to hire you.

This doesn’t mean that you should give up at the first rejection, however, because everybody has a right to follow his or her dreams. Remember that many video game writers are contract workers or freelancers so there is always a chance that you’ll be called into a certain project when you least expect it. Many game developers don’t call writers in until much of the project has already been completed so it is possible that you can be contacted near the end of the development stage.

How to Get Started in the Field

If you’re interested in writing for video games but have no experience, there are things that you can do besides hope for an entry-level position to open up at the company. These include:

  • Learn all you can about video games. Watch them, interpret them, read about them, and do whatever it takes so that you are as familiar with video games as you can be.
  • Practice the art of writing. Anyone can learn to become a great writer so it’s a good idea for you to take advantage of a writing program or even join a mod team for a better understanding of the craft.
  • Become familiar with the different studios. Play their video games so you know what they’re looking for because this is the first step to eventually working for them.
  • Prepare a submission that you can use when you’re ready to start submitting your resume and portfolio. Check to see if the studio has specific guidelines for submissions and, most importantly, keep your submissions simple.
  • Don’t give up. Persistence is the key and it will eventually help you get what you want.

Although this business is a tough one to get into and you’ll have to prove yourself to get hired, if this is what you want to do with your life, you owe it to yourself to keep going until you find the position of your dreams. After all, this is a very lucrative field once you get into it so it is worth the time and effort that you spent beforehand.

If You Get an Interview: How to Pitch Your Ideas

If You Get an Interview and How to Pitch Your Ideas

Since freelancers are often used in video game writing, you’ve at least got a chance that someone will call you once they’re ready for the best writers. If you finally get an interview, it is good to practice what you will say and do during your interview. You have to make sure that you pitch your absolute best idea. Below are a few of the tips that make doing this a lot easier:

  • Make sure that you show them a detailed description of your writing skills, expertise at gaming, and any of the other talents and interests that you consider important.
  • Let them know that you can also write game reviews, preview assignments, video content, and list stories as well as others that you might be good at. If they don’t hire you for the job itself, there might be other ways to get your foot into the door.
  • You can also offer to write for several different gaming companies so don’t forego one interview just because you have another one scheduled.

The interview is where you have to shine so practice before you get there in order to catch any problem areas and make sure that you present them with the very best work you have to offer. If you mess up, do not worry. Just learn from your mistakes and start preparing for the next interview.

Some Aspects to Remember

As with other types of games, video games are continuously changing. When you’re interested in writing for video games, it’s a good idea to be as familiar with the industry as possible. This includes keeping up with technology and all of the trends that make video gaming so popular. Some of these trends include the following:

  • Many games have a psychological aspect to them. They don’t always address just the audience; they can make the player go through the story as well. These choice-based and tension-filled games are becoming more popular all the time.
  • Visuals and cinematography are becoming more advanced with each passing year, which means that you have to take high-tech visuals into consideration when writing your video game. Many games also have hidden content in them, which can affect your writing style as well.
  • Last but not least, virtual reality has made games almost unrecognizable from what they were just a few short years ago. Although virtual reality enhances video games in a way that few other things do, it presents challenges for the writer not only because of its unique qualities but also because of the additional game pieces that are required of the player.

Finally, there are some things that you can do to increase the odds that you’ll one day be the video game writer you wish to be. These include the following:

  • There are writing agencies that supply freelancers and contract writers to the gaming industry. Find one of those agencies and get a job there.
  • Find a large studio developing games where the writing is crucial to the plot. They may be more willing to hire a large number of writers for their projects.
  • Develop another game-related talent such as designing content, coding, or creating game art.
  • Start your own video game company. This is difficult, of course, but it is not impossible to succeed.

Since the player is such an important part of any video game, it is crucial that you look at everything through his or her point of view. Becoming a video game writer is the dream of a lot of people and it doesn’t have to be an impossible dream if you start soon and learn everything you can about the industry. Play the games, study all of the technological advances in the industry, and start developing the perfect resume and portfolio. This is a magical industry and it isn’t impossible for you to be a part of it one day.