Every game writer needs a portfolio. It’s how studios find, evaluate, and hire writing talent for their game.
But a lot of writers resist putting their portfolio together. Let’s face it, these things can be intimidating.
So let’s try to simplify it, with a list. Yay lists!
In her new book Writing For Games, Hannah Nicklin offers some great advice on the topic. I’ve taken her suggestions and added some of my own.
You can always start with a simple, bare-bones portfolio and then add to it as your collection of writing samples grows.
At minimum, a portfolio needs to include:
A landing page
This is the first thing a visitor sees when visiting your site. This is you saying “Hello.” Keep this front page short and sweet. Be sure to include:
- A picture of you
- A short summary of you and your experience
- Links to at least three different types of writing samples (more on this below)
- Your email address
An About page
This is a longer description of you and your practice, plus a list of crucial credits, qualifications, and experience.
And it is OK if you don’t have a long list of credits yet! Everybody has to start somewhere.
But what you CAN do is focus on the experiences that have helped lead you to this point, and prepared you for this next step in your career.
If you’re new to the games industry, focus on demonstrating your transferable skills. Transferable skills are exactly what they sound like: the skills that you use in every job, no matter the title or the field. Some transferable skills are hard skills, like coding, data analysis, or other technical skills, and some are soft skills like communication and relationship building.
Here’s a list of 15 transferable skills that people want. Have you ever used these skills before? I bet you have.
- Problem solving: figuring out what is causing a problem (the root cause) and figuring out a solution. (Hint: every time you play a video game, you are problem solving.)
- Analytical reasoning: similar to problem solving, this involves taking a big problem and breaking it down into smaller problems to identify a solution.
- Critical thinking: evaluating information in order to come up with a decision, rather than just accepting everything at face value
- Leadership: taking the lead
- Adaptability: the ability to handle curveballs, which happen ALL THE TIME on projects
- Teamwork: this is a big one in the games industry, because the work is so collaborative
- Communication: sharing ideas clearly
- Writing (of course)
- Listening, believe it or not - that’s a huge part of communication and teamwork and leadership and a whole lot of other important skills
- Creativity (my personal favorite)
- Attention to detail (my least favorite, personally, but some game-writing jobs do demand attention to detail!)
- Project management: the ability to manage yourself (and others) to get things done
- Relationship building: related to Teamwork, above
- Computer skills haha
- Management: making sure people have what they need in order to get their work done
Of course you probably won’t have all these skills. But you probably have some of them. Don’t be afraid to call them out in the About section of your portfolio. As they say in Texas, it ain’t bragging if it’s true.
Ultimately, every portfolio is unique, because every writer has different strengths they want to highlight. But to get you started, here are some suggestions on what you could include:
- One short dialogue sample which shows you have a good ear for…well, dialogue and characters.
- One sample that shows you know how to write with the player in mind. This could be something as simple as a bark sheet, or as complicated as a quest. (I’ll explain how to write those kinds of samples in an upcoming post.)
- One sample that really highlights your kind of writing. Maybe you love creating characters…great, give us a character bio! Or maybe you’re more of a worldbuilder. In that case, give us a one-page description of an imaginary world. Flex your creative muscles! This is the sample you will love to create, because it’s the kind of writing you’d happily do all day long.
For each item, consider adding a brief introduction explaining the context of the sample. If you have received any awards or positive reviews for your work, mention that here. And if you collaborated with someone on the sample, ask them if they would give you an endorsement. Other people’s opinions carry A LOT of weight.
- Link to social media
And that’s it! You can always add more, later on, but this list covers all the basics.
The best part of this list? The fact that you can create all of this, even if you don't have previous experience in games. HOORAY!!
And as you start to assemble your portfolio, take a look at the websites of people who are a couple of years ahead of you, career-wise. See what they’re sharing and how they’re presenting. Let their good work inspire you!
Here are some great portfolios worth checking out.
I hope this helped. Good luck!
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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 . 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.