Game writer versus narrative designer: FIGHT!
Video games are big business. In 2018, players spent $43.4 billion on games. According to Variety, “Video Games Could Be A $300 Billion Industry by 2025.”
Daniel was one of my game-writing students at UT. He has experience writing and directing films, and he's been thinking about his next steps. Game studios work with filmmakers, so I put him in touch with a friend of mine who directs cinematics for games. He was very encouraging, and suggested Daniel look into starting as a camera artist. After the meeting, Daniel said, "I didn't even know that WAS a job!"
How could he know? Nobody told him! His experience is not unusual. I was once in the same boat. I had never heard of "video game writer" before I started working in the industry. We don’t know these things until someone tells us.
We can start to answer that question by taking a look at team needs, and job requirements. For years, there has been confusion about job titles in games. Some people are game writers; others are narrative designers. What’s the difference? IS there a difference? And whether we're new to the industry or seasoned veterans, we're left wondering: are we good candidates for these roles?
It depends on the studio
I spoke with a friend of mine who runs a story team at a AAA studio. We've both seen these roles change over the years. For many years, writers created the story, and then narrative designers integrated the story into the game.
And there have been studios in the past where narrative designers rarely wrote a word of dialog.
Both of today’s job listings come from Europe (Finland and Sweden). But they could have just as easily be from studios in Seattle, or LA, or Paris. You can find game-writing jobs all around the world.
(And both of these job listings are active, as of June 26th, in case you’re looking for your next opportunity.)
Wanted: Game Writer
You'll be brainstorming story scenarios, creating dialog, and creating characters. And you're working closely with other departments, which sounds right - game development is highly collaborative. So far, so good! Let’s keep reading.
(That sounds like fun, honestly.)
This is a senior role so they are looking for past experience, which makes sense. Other than that, however, the requirements are that you be a good writer and a good teammate. They are looking for someone with a good ear for dialog, a love for storytelling, and a passion for games. What they are NOT asking for is skill with any particular software or tool or engine. They are looking for a storyteller.
If you want to learn more about the role, click here.
Wanted: Narrative Designer
They'd like you to be familiar with game-design tools like Unreal or Unity.
So...want to learn Unreal Engine - for free? OK! Epic has created easy-to-follow video courses and guided learning paths.
Or, just play Roblox or Minecraft! It's how 8-year-olds learn these systems. If they can do it, you can do it too. And it's fun. (If it wasn't fun, kids wouldn't do it.)
I know technology can sometimes be intimidating. But it helps to remember that tech is just a tool. Nothing more, nothing less. Pencils are tools, too. So is Final Draft. New tools give you new ways to tell your stories to your audience.
And if you'd like to learn more about this job opening, just click here.
But as my friend said, “at the end of the day, we spend most of our time writing - specifically writing dialogue. Even as a narrative director, I'm always writing something.”
Now I'd love to hear from you. What do you love about writing for games (or the idea of writing for games)? What sounds like fun? What sounds challenging? Let me know in the comments below!
Susan’s first job as a game writer was for “a slumber party game - for girls!” She’s gone on to work on over 25 projects, including award-winning titles in the BioShock, Far Cry and Tomb Raider franchises. Titles in her portfolio have sold over 30 million copies and generated over $500 million in sales. She is an adjunct professor at UT Austin, where she teaches a course on writing for games. A long time ago, she founded the Game Narrative Summit at GDC. Now, she partners with studios, publishers, and writers to help teams ship great games with great stories. She is dedicated to supporting creatives in the games industry so that they can do their best work.
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