That means studios are working on lots of projects, and they need talent. They need designers and programmers and artists - and yes, writers. But can be surprisingly hard to find information about game industry jobs.
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.
Writing is an especially murky area - for creatives and studios alike. A colleague of mine wants to expand his studio. He's looking ahead to his hiring plan. He recently said, “I know what a good design team looks like, and what a good production team looks like...but what does a good story team look like?”
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?
Let’s break it down.
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.
But that seems to be changing. As my friend said, “On some level, I don't think they ARE different - everyone I've encountered who works in narrative kind of does the same thing. I have people on my team with the title "Game Writer" and "Narrative Designer" - and they do exactly the same thing.”
So there is lots of wiggle room here. Let’s go a step further, and take a look at a couple of recent job listings - one for a game writer, one for a narrative designer - and see how they compare.
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.
Now let’s look at a different job listing, this time for a narrative designer.
Wanted: Narrative Designer
This is a cross-disciplinary role. Sounds like you'll be working on the story, but you'll also be collaborating with different teams to bring that story to life.
Here we can see the job involves working with specific tools, like their Snowdrop game engine. But does that mean you need to know how to use these tools before you start the job? For the answer, let’s look at Qualifications.
They'd like you to be familiar with game-design tools like Unreal or Unity.
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.
There is a range of opportunities for writers in the industry - lots of different creative muscles you can flex.
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.”
And THOSE are the skills worth developing - now, and for the rest of your creative career. A studio can always show you how to work with a tool or an engine - but they can’t teach you how to write. For game writers and narrative designers both, storytelling will always be the skill that matters most.
Thanks for reading. See you next week.
Write great scripts with this free guide
Want to build up your writing skills? We can help. We've created an easy 5-step guide you can use to write scripts your players will love.
Best of all, it's free. Just click the button 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.