We have more reader questions today - this time from Nir, an up-and-coming writer from Australia who wants to know more about what it means to write for games.
I am always happy to answer questions like these because, while game writing IS similar to film & TV writing in a lot of ways, it really is its own thing. Understanding the differences can save writers a lot of heartache!
First, Nir asks:
Do game studios have writers' rooms?
Do you have writers' rooms when working on new games? Or do you delegate various side quests/story lines to individual writers to develop on their own?
While some studios use something like a writers room, it is very different than the kind of room you'd see for, say, a television show. That's because in games, the story doesn't stand alone. Story and gameplay work together. That means writers and designers work together, too.
Even for something as simple as a side quest, the writer will be collaborating with other people on the team - the level designer, the head of story, the creative director, the system designer, the combat designer, the animators, the environmental artists...it takes a village to make a game. Your creative decisions affect other people's work, and vice versa, so it's essential to keep those lines of communication wide open.
Do studios start with the story?
Next, Nir wants to know:
You mentioned that it's a contact sport when developing a new game. Does this mean that all teams are involved from the get-go? Or do the writers get a head start on the rest, so the narrative has at least got a structure by the time everyone starts working on a game ?
If the writer is getting a head start on the story - if the writer is happily working on her own, without any input from the designers or the rest of the team - it's a sure sign the project is in trouble. (I've been this writer, so I speak from experience, I'm afraid.)
As a game writer, the last thing you want is to be left alone. Game narratives are not standalone artifacts. They are designed to work with the game.
Often the core team will have high-level concepts in mind for the game/story right from Day One. Core team can include people like creative director and lead designer. If the project is going to be heavy on narrative, story is part of the conversation right from the jump. But as I said, it doesn't stand alone.
Here's one way to think about it - the goal is not to create a story, or a game. The goal is to create an experience for the player. "Experience" encompasses the whole enchilada. Which means all the pieces have to work together.
Can game writers work remotely?
Finally, Nir asks:
Do gaming studios work with writers outside of the US? Seeing as things have changed and working from home is more common now, would gaming studios consider writers based in other countries? Or is there a strict requirement for writers to be physically located around the gaming studio?
Every situation is unique, but here are some rules-of-thumb that may help.
First *every* studio is working remotely during COVID - even if the whole team lives in the same city. Last March I was working with a large (200+ person) studio. One Friday, the HR team told everybody to unplug their machines and take them home. On Monday, the devs picked up right where they had left off. It's as if nothing had changed, for me at least - because I was already working remotely, a few time zones away.
So absolutely, it is possible to do some of this work from home. (Not easy, for new writers - there is a real learning curve, and it's steeper when you're not face-to-face with the team - but it can be done.)
One issue can be time zones, but it's not a deal breaker. I know a CA-based developer who is collaborating with teams in Ireland and Israel. It makes for some funny call times, but they make it work.
Finally, good news: you're not limited to developers that are based in the US. There are thousands of game studios spanning the globe. Here's an interactive map that gives you an idea of what's out there. (On that map I count 141 studios in Australia alone...)
You could surely find a studio who's in your neck of the woods (or at least your time zone).
Hope this helped. See you next week.
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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.