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  • Ask the Experts: Becoming a Game Writer

    - Jill Duffy
  •  Dear Experts, 

    I am a 21-year old amateur writer. I have written mostly short stories, poems, and dialogue. My strength is fantasy and sci-fi writing, and most of my stories are about those subjects. I also love video games, and my dream is to write video game scripts one day. The thing is, I don't know how to approach that path.

    I believe that a great story in a video game is important. I don't have a degree in script writing, but I have a lot of talent and determination. How can I learn more about video script writing and how do I pitch my ideas to companies?

    - Writer's Block

    Dear Writer,

    When you say, "I believe that a great story... is important," what does that actually mean to you? Could you write a few pages on the topic? Could you dedicate an entire blog to it? Then do!

    The very first thing you can do to set yourself up for a job in the video game industry is have passion for games and show it. One of the most impassioned things a passionate person can do is have an opinion-and express it.

    The second most important thing a passionate person can do to further their passion into a career is do that "something." For example, if you want to be a writer, write. If you want to be an artist, draw. If you want to be a game developer, develop a game (even if it's on paper, or if it's a mod, or if it's just one level of a game).

    At a recent publishing panel I spoke on, a publicist at Avalon Books agreed with me when I mentioned that having a blog is a great way to "do something now." She told an anecdote about an author that her company had signed to a book deal just because they found her blog online and realized what a talented writer she was (and that she had something to say that was marketable by the book company, of course). I'm not suggesting that having a blog will necessarily help you be discovered, but it can become a central hub for your exemplary talents.

    Your blog or web site is the place where you direct others--like developers you meet in the game industry (because you're already out there networking, right?) or potential employers--to show them the body of work you have created. That body of work, when developed over many months, shows just how much you love games, just how you work it into your every day life, and just how dedicated you are to making games a part of your career.

    For someone with your talents, Writer, I would suggest creating one central blog or web site and separating it into categories in which you write, such as Fiction or Science Fiction, Poetry, Reflections on Story in Games, Game Design Analysis, and so forth. That way, when people in the industry visit your site, they will be able to see your many talents and how they all fit together, which makes you a more well rounded person, which in turn makes you slightly more attractive as a potential employee.

    You don't need a degree in script writing to get a job writing scripts. What you need are scripts--samples of your work. If you lack some basic knowledge about script writing, such as formatting or conventions, why not start by reading a book about it or looking up some advice on web sites dedicated to script writing? See how far that gets you, and then assess whether you need to take a course on the subject. But most importantly, start writing as soon as humanly possible, and then put that writing in a place where others can access it easily.

    As for the question about pitching your game ideas, I want to remind readers of something I've said in this column before: companies usually hire employees, not ideas (see "Ask the Experts: Getting a Start as an Architect"). Once you're hired as an employee at a game company, you can pitch your ideas and know that they will be heard. Bijan Forutanpour, a veteran of the game industry with more than 10 years experience, says that just being in a video game company, in any capacity, enhances your ability to pitch game ideas. "To be honest," he says, "some companies send a mass email out to all their employees, soliciting game ideas. Game ideas can come from anywhere-programmers, artists, janitors, security, or the human resources department. ... [G]et your foot in the door of a company using your strongest skill set ... and work your way into your dream job." 

    Finally, one concern I might anticipate you'd have about this advice is: "But Jill! If I put my stories and game ideas online, someone will steal them. Then what will I do?" When you write original stories, those stories become your property. To prove you came up with them first, the simplest thing you can do is print out the story as soon as it's finished, stuff it in an envelope, address the envelope to yourself and mail it via registered mail. It's a precautionary measure some writers or inventors use that provides hard evidence: an unassailable proof of date for the idea's origination, which will come in handy if you ever need to take legal action against someone who steals your idea and profits from it.

    Good luck, and thanks for reading!


    Jill Duffy is a contributing editor of and managing editor of Game Developer magazine.

    Please be advised that does not evaluate nor endorse specific educational institutions; therefore, we do not counsel readers about specific universities, academies, or colleges.


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