In this week's video, I take a deep dive into what the heck studios actually want to see from people applying for game writing or narrative design positions.
Sometimes the lists of requirements in those job postings can be pretty intimidating, but at the end of the day, there are only a few things they really want to see.
The good news is you don't have to know everything. As narrative director Tom Abernathy once said, "We look for the things we can't teach."
In this video, I'll use actual job listings to show that it really does just come down to three requirements.
Take a look:
If you are curious and want to explore on your own, you can check out the job sites I visited. They are:
If you want to learn even more, check out these series of my articles on the topic. Studios want to know:
Finally, here's the transcript, for all you readers out there!
00:00 Hi. Okay, so for today's video it is going to be a show and tell. So what I want to focus on is the question, what are the requirements, the job requirements for a game writer or a narrative designer.
00:17 So those terms for some studios are interchangeable. The industry hasn't quite landed on job titles quite yet. So at one studio, what is a game writer?
00:29 It could be another studio's narrative designer. There can be two narrative designers at different studios that do very different things, two different game writers that do two very different things.
00:38 So rather than get too hung up on terminology, what I want to do is just talk about what are the fundamental job requirements if you want to craft stories for games.
00:50 And then to illustrate it, I'm going to show you a couple of job listings that illustrate the point.
00:56 I've written a blog series on this topic; I'll link it below. And I'll also link the names of these websites that I'm about to visit because they're great places to go for if you feel like shopping for game job listings.
01:12 These are stores full of jobs. So so for the sake of this conversation, we're just going to walk through a couple of listings and I'm going to point out what they mean by some of what they say and like, what's, what's the message beneath the listings of like
01:31 the job responsibilities. So I hope this is helpful. This is a topic that it was of intense interest in my game writing masterclass.
01:38 And we spent a lot of time. I should find it there, but I also wanted to share it here because I feel like it's a really popular question.
01:45 It's a thing that causes a lot of stress. And if I can help with that, I will. So here we go.
01:51 So first of all, before we jump into any specific job listing, I want to share the TLDR of the blog posts that I will be sharing below.
02:02 When you think about what are the job requirements for someone who is a storyteller in games, there are basically three things that a studio will be thinking about.
02:12 And they are basically in order. Number one, can you write? Meaning can you put a sentence together? Can you craft characters that are really can compelling?
02:22 Can you write dialogue that pops off the page, right? Like the classic old school writing fundamentals stuff. And you know, not everybody can.
02:32 So it's really important for us to be able to demonstrate that we have writing chops. Once that box is checked checked, we can move to the next one.
02:41 Which is, does this person understand what it takes to write four games? Because games are their own thing when it comes to storytelling.
02:52 I often compare it to like trying to hire a novelist to write a screenplay. It could be the best novelist in the world.
02:59 And back in the 1940s, Hollywood studios. I hired the real writers, which were novelists at the time, to come in and write screenplays.
03:06 And by and large, they did not do a good job. Because screenplays ain't novels. And by that same token, screenplays ain't video game scripts.
03:15 And so you want to be able to show that you understand what it means to create a playable story. Co-create the story with the player and all that kind of stuff.
03:26 And what that really comes down to, honestly, before you get overwhelmed by what I just said, it comes down to being a gamer.
03:33 If you love games, if you play games, if you're excited about what's possible in the world of games, then like, you know, that enthusiasm is going to carry you through.
03:42 So that you can learn what you need to learn in order to be able to do the job. And, you know, especially for entry-level jobs, they will often train you.
03:50 But they really want to know that you love and appreciate and understand the medium on its own terms. And again, if you're a gamer, you do.
04:00 So that's the second thing. So first one, Can you write? Second one, can you do you understand what it means to write for games?
04:07 And then the third one is, are you good working with other people? Because game dev is a contact sport and you're going to spend a lot of time working with other people closely.
04:17 They're going to be up in your business and you're going to be up in theirs. And so being a, good team player is such an important part of the job, which is not common with other writing roles, but it is a big, huge feature of the work in games.
04:33 Okay. So I'm going to move myself over a little bit. So we, I'll just move myself around the screen as need be.
04:43 To show you a couple of different job listings. So I've already actually maybe as you can see, I've already selected the writing things.
04:52 Let me go back a step. This is the, this is the front page of work with indies. So as the name suggests, this is primarily for indie gigs, indie games are a subset of the game industry.
05:02 It isn't going to be everything, but it is a great place to start looking at job listings. As you can see, you could definitely look at all the jobs, but we don't want to look at all the jobs for this video.
05:13 We want to zoom in. So we could type in titles here, right? Like we could type in, ooh, we could mistype.
05:22 Okay, game. Writer. And some stuff comes up automatically, or we could type in narrative designer. And no, no job listings for that right now, but that's okay.
05:34 Remember Rose by any or other name, right? So sometimes game writer and narrative designer are interchangeable. So, so you can either type something in or you can select a category here.
05:47 So I'm going to select writing. I'm going to scroll here. There we go. Game narrative writer. Again, that's not even a job title.
05:56 I just said, I said game writer and narrative designer, just kind of smooshes them together. Perfect example of how titles don't mean a whole lot.
06:03 What's important is what the job actually is. So let's, let's take a look, shall we? Okay. So I'm just going to keep moving around this screen like a fool.
06:14 Okay. So let's look at this make it really out of the way. Okay. So they are building five mics, a digital hip hop trading card.
06:23 Okay. Sure. Sounds like fun. Okay. So let's start here. Let's take it one sentence at a time. We're looking for a game writer to build upon five mics lore, developing character backstories and video game storylines.
06:39 Okay. Remember I said there were three requirements for the job. We can see two of them in the sentence. Things like building upon lore, things like developing character backstories.
06:51 That is a writer's bread and butter. And I mean writers, all writers, right? All dramatic writers, all dramatic creative writers do this kind of work.
07:00 And then the second one, video game storylines. They're being. Specific, right? A storyline that would work in a movie or a book isn't going to work as well in a game.
07:09 Games make their own unique demands and create their own unique opportunities for storytelling. And a game writer understands what that is.
07:17 So there you go. Can you write? Do you understand how to write for games? Then let's look at the second sentence.
07:24 We are in our early stages as a studio and are looking for someone that is eager to jump into something brand new, hit the ground running, and build something huge that's never been seen before.
07:34 Okay, with my professional game dev goggles, like, what they mean is someone who can, who will work with us and collaborate.
07:43 The word's not in that sentence. But we're about to see them in the bullet points below. So this is very much about like making, being, this being a team effort.
07:52 So let's take a look at the responsibilities. Remember what I said? Don't worry too much about the job title, which is up here.
07:59 What does that mean? I don't Let's go through, we'll go through one line at a time. Cause I think this is a really good example.
08:09 Okay. Develop compelling character and story arcs that fit within the five mics world. Can you write? Voila. Right? They're asking for it.
08:19 Collaborate. There's that magic word. Collaborate with the team to refine narrative direction. Vision for five mics. So for me, that's, I hear requirements two and three here.
08:30 Do you understand what it means to craft a story for games? Meaning are you a gamer and can you collaborate and work well with other people?
08:38 Number three, create and oversee the writing of dialogue, scripts, and other narrative elements. Can you write with like a little taste of do you, can you write four games?
08:49 And remember, no one is born having gamed-up experience, right? Like everybody starts somewhere. So don't be intimidated. Okay. Just, just, just consider this like, okay, I'm learning here about what it is that studios look for.
09:05 Okay. I just want to reassure you there that don't get panicked. Okay. Number four, integrate the voiceover dialogue with the gameplay to create a seamless experience for the player.
09:16 Okay. I definitely read points two and three here and I'll tell you why. First of all creating a seamless experience for the player means again, understanding that this is a interactive playable story and that the gameplay and the story and player agency and all that stuff have to come together
09:34 . And if you are a gamer, you understand this instinctually because you've been playing forever and you understand when a game narrative works.
09:43 And when it works is when you get to be a part of it. And so again, that second point, how to write for games is sort of how to write for games is shining through loud and clear here for me.
09:55 And then I want to say something that I hope is reassuring, which is to me, this first part of this phrase, this bullet point is saying to me, works well with others because odds are you are not going to be doing this part alone.
10:10 So if you read this and you go, oh my god, I don't know how to integrate voiceover dialogue with gameplay.
10:14 What does that even mean? I don't have the coding chops for that. Blah blah blah, head trash. That's okay. Odds are you'll be sitting with somebody else who does have those tech chops and you'll be collaborating and working together to make it happen.
10:29 So to me that's what that is saying. And again, you won't know until you start having conversations with these studios.
10:36 But you know, sometimes when we look at these responsibilities, we're like, well, I don't know how to do all this stuff.
10:41 Maybe you don't know how to, you know, don't need to know how to do all this stuff. Maybe. All you have to do is be good at communicating with other people who do know how to do that stuff.
10:52 So something to think about. Okay. We're almost there. Collaborate with the rest. Oop, there's that word again, right? Requirement number three, boop.
11:00 We collaborate with the rest of the game development team to create effective and concise content in the correct voice. And update storylines.
11:08 Okay, great. So requirements one, two, and three are all here. Can you write? Do you understand how to write for games?
11:14 Can you work with other people? Voila. And then finally, ensure that the narrative elements are organized and oversee their implementation in the game.
11:23 Great. Narrative elements being organized means can you put stuff in a folder that makes sense on Google Drive or whatever.
11:30 And then oversee means again, it's collaborating, right? Supporting, helping, overseeing, whatever you want to call it. Programmers are going to be putting it together.
11:39 You just need to be able to help them figure out what goes where. That's all that means. So, so, again, we can see the requirements presented front and center right here.
11:49 Just, you got to put on the x-ray glasses to be able to, to see the underlying questions here, which are the three requirements that I just mentioned.
11:58 And then I want to just briefly speak to qualifications. First of all, indie games are often more generous and lenient with require- requirements or qualifications rather.
12:08 You know, if you look at AAA studio listings, they'll be like, must have shipped 47 games or whatever. No. First of all, I think a lot of times studios shoot for the moon with these job listings.
12:22 I mean, even they don't expect to find that unicorn person who's perfect and has all that incredible experience. And yet wants a junior game writing job.
12:29 So sometimes they ask for the moon just to see what they could get. So my point is if you see a job listing and you think, okay, I'm 70% qualified for that.
12:40 I want you to apply. Just do it. Why not? 70% good enough. In school, that's a passing grade. And I'm just saying that cause I don't want you to take yourself out of the running cause you never know.
12:53 Applying for jobs is a way to introduce yourself to studios and eventually you might make some connections there. And if those connections could lead to opportunities who could lead to whatever.
13:02 So it's worth taking a shot. What's the worst that could happen? They say no. And guess what? You're right back where you are right now.
13:09 So you truly have nothing to lose. So I just wanted to sort of share that. And again, indie is pretty forgiving.
13:15 I think this is pretty solid experience as a gay narrative writer. You can get that doing game jams ability to work creatively with constraints.
13:24 You can just have that capacity to be like, okay. This is all I have time for. Then all I have money for will make it work.
13:31 Right? You can learn game development pipelines. Again, Google is your friend here. Yeah. I mean, a lot of this stuff just feels very much like if you're the right person for the job, you're the right person for the job and they're not going to know until they have a chance to talk with you.
13:48 So apply. Okay. So I hope this is helpful. I'm going to show you a couple of other sites and then we're going to wrap this up.
13:56 So this first one I shared with you, of course, is workwithindies.com. I'll go back to that main page so you can see it.
14:03 Hooray. There's also, as you can see, a newsletter. They have a discord. There's lots of ways to build out your community when you are in the process of the job search.
14:11 And that can be really nice because it can be a lonely process and it's nice to connect with other people while you're going through it.
14:18 Another site that comes highly recommended from a lot of my writers in the masterclass is gamejobs.co. Gorgeous Craigslist. It's a hot mess.
14:28 Let me move myself out of the way here. Hopefully I'm still on screen for you. I don't know. Well, here, I'll do this for a minute.
14:35 Okay. So I'm just going to get in the way of this, this column, because I want to focus on this column.
14:40 So you have a couple different options on the site. You can up here, of course, you can type in game writer or let's say you want to go to, I don't know, Seattle, see what comes up.
14:51 Okay. There's one. Oh my gosh. Actually, one of the graduates from my master class works here. That's so interesting. So you can get really specific in terms of maybe again, remember job titles are kind of loose, right?
15:06 So maybe narrative designer. Okay. There's more that comes up. I don't know if any of these are relevant. Most of these look like they're not story.
15:15 They're more like pure design or level design. That's fine. So you have the option of searching that way, or you can look by category.
15:26 And so of course you're probably going to want to start with the writing category, but don't just stop there. I would recommend, so we can just move myself again.
15:34 Hope you're not getting seasick with me moving around. You can see plenty of job listings here that might be worth checking out which is great.
15:44 I would also just because why not? I'm going to move myself again. And I'm going to also click, I'm going to deselect writing and I'm going to choose design because sometimes not here, but sometimes you'll see narrative designer listed here or jobs that feel adjacent to the game writer that might be
16:03 actually interesting based on your background. So you have some really good options here with this site. Hacks in beauty, it makes up for in usefulness and functionality.
16:13 And as you can see, you also have the option to actually create your own profile if you want to. So, okay, that is really the gist of it.
16:22 That's all I really wanted to share. Oh, there's one more job listing site that I want to share very briefly, which is.
16:28 Scroll, scroll, let's go back. Here we go. Grackle HQ. Grackle. As they say, the horny devil bird of Texas. Which is the best description of a bird I've ever heard.
16:44 I don't know why it's called Grackle, but anyway, you can this kids also can be really. The useful site, I hear good things about this.
16:50 So between these three, which I'll briefly click through, workwithindies.com, gamejobs.co, let's go to the front, and then Grackle HQ. Start there and just treat them as stores.
17:03 Go in, start shopping, learn a little bit about what studios look for. You're going to start seeing. And keep in mind the three requirements I shared with you.
17:12 Can you write? Do you know how to write for games? And are you good working with other people? That's it.
17:18 That is it. So we'll talk more about this. I'm sure in greater detail on this blog, but I hope this is like really good, like, framing slash orientation video.
17:28 And I hope you pick. I've got some good tips here. It's great to share it with you. Okay. Bye!
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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.