Hi! Today we're answering reader mail. Mike writes,
Hi Susan, I would love your advice! I'm thinking about a career change. Long story short, I feel my true calling is to write stories, particularly for video games. I want to be the next Neil Druckmann. What would be your advice to someone without much industry experience but a ton of creative energy, professional writing experience, and a passion for games? What's the best place to start? Thanks so much, Mike
I love this question. Yes! If you want to write for video games - if this is something that is calling you, absolutely you could make this career change happen. It won't be easy - but then, nothing worthwhile ever is. So I say go for it!
I'll do what I can to help. Here, I'll share a process we used in my recent masterclass to help up-and-coming (or career-change) writers chart their way forward. We called it "Success Leaves Clues," and here's how it works.
Step One: Study your favorite writers
First, make a list of your favorite game writers. If you don't know them off the top of your head, make a list of your favorite games-with-great-stories, and find out who worked on it. They may go by different titles - Writer, Lead Writer, Narrative Designer...don't worry too much about exact titles at this point. Good enough is good enough.
(Note: If their job title is Creative Director or Head of Story, they may be one step removed from the actual writing. But that's OK. Right now you are just trying to find the names of people who created the stories that you love.)
Don't stop with just one. Or three. You want at least TEN names. You'll see why in a minute.
Once you've got your list of names, you're ready to take things a step further. Get on the Google and research their careers. Don't worry too much about where they are NOW...you want to know how they got started! You want to see what they did when they were in your shoes. (We all started somewhere, after all.) Yes this can be time-consuming, but have faith that the information you need is out there. It may be in an interview, it may be on their Wikipedia page...it's out there somewhere and it's your job to find it. Then -
Step Two: Look for patterns
Once you've got all your data, read it all over. See what you find. Are you seeing any common threads? Are you seeing multiple references to how such-and-such a book really changed things for them, or how personal game projects were the thing that opened the door for them?
Everybody blazes their own path, but again, success leaves clues. What worked for them MIGHT work for you. Which leads us to:
Step Three: Follow their lead
Are there things THEY did that YOU could do? What's within your reach, right now? It doesn't have to be a huge step. It just has to be something that gets you moving.
For example, let's say three of your favorite devs all went to Carnegie Mellon. Does that mean you need to go back to school? Not necessarily! Instead, you could find out who teaches in the game department at CMU, and watch some of their YouTube videos. And see where that leads you. Could give you some new ideas for things to try.
Or maybe a bunch of your devs made their own game, back in the day. Could you do that? Yes! It's never been easier to make your own game. You could start by making a Twine game. This tool is free and easy and it's a great way to stand your story ideas up into something that is interactive and playable. Share it with some people, and see where that leads you.
You could also simply start applying for game-writing jobs, and see what happens. I just saw a listing on Twitter yesterday for a junior game-writer position at one of the Ubisoft studios. Check the websites of your favorite game devs and see if they have a jobs board. If they do, keep an eye on it.
You don't have to take a HUGE step...just take small steps, and take them consistently, one after the other. My advice? put yourself on a schedule. Tell yourself, "OK for the next X months I'm going to follow their lead...doing [this thing that they also did] at least [x] times a week...and at the end of that time, I'll evaluate where I'm at." I bet you'll be pleasantly surprised at how far you've come - and how much clearer your path has become.
Good luck, Mike! Let me know how things go.
And thanks for reading. 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.