Writing for computer games?
March 1, 2014 8:28 AM   Subscribe

I'm a fiction writing and I've always wanted to be involved in the storytelling aspect of a computer game. Can I make this happen without a career change or having to take on technical or design stuff? If so, how?

I love well-written adventure games like Primordia (or anything by Wadjet Eye) and all of the big morally complex, story-rich RPGs like Dragon Age, Mass Effect, and the Witcher. I'm aware that I'd be unable to take on anything that big without making it a career, but I'm curious if anyone has any thoughts or suggestions on how I could be involved with a smaller project as a writer. How do indie game writers find visual and technical people to work with? Or is it basically impossible to just be the writer for a small game?
posted by Calicatt to Writing & Language (6 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
With any luck (we should find out this week), my wife will soon be starting a job writing for a company that produces game-based educational software. She's getting into this with a lot of experience as a writer and marketer, but fairly modest tech credentials (Wordpress end user, some HTML and CSS). Which is all to say that it's definitely possible to judge into the field, even if little educational games are a different beast from story-rich RPGs. Although once you're in the field, lateral moves might be possible.

In her case, it was just a matter of seeing an interesting opening on Craigslist and jumping on it. Having a pretty extensive online presence helped her, as did having the right personality to mesh with the people at the company.
posted by COBRA! at 10:08 AM on March 1, 2014

You could offer your free services to anyone posting to various game dev help wanted forums like reddit's gamedevclassifieds, TIGSource, gamedev.net, etc. I'd also suggest reaching out to developers posting help wanted ads for other roles, but be aware that most game projects never reach release, so there's the potential for frustration there.

Few, if any, indie devs will pay for writing, since budgets are tight so money is reserved for essential things. If you offer to do other writing besides dialog and story, devs may be more receptive. Writing help dialogs, press releases and marketing blurbs are things that many devs would be happy to let someone else do.
posted by justkevin at 10:28 AM on March 1, 2014

How do indie game writers find visual and technical people to work with?

It's often through social networks. "Hey - there's a guy I know that you should talk to". So get word out amongst your friends in techie circles. In some places there might even be regular informal hangouts where indie games devs meet each week - if your networking will eventually get you hanging out with devs discussing projects, then you're in the right place and maybe will be there at the right time.

These days, tools are getting pretty good for making your own small projects without having to be very technical. (GameMaker for 2d games, or "Interactive Fiction" systems for just pure writing, etc.) Don't unnecessarily rule out the possibility of creating your own game. And if you don't want to do it all, these tools make it easier for you to assemble a small group of people yourself - you might not need to find experienced devs (though that super-helps), just people with an itch to try it, like yourself.

How do indie game writers find...

This thing doesn't really exist. Indie games are small teams, so each person wears multiple hats. Eg, they typically won't have an artist and an animator, they'll have an artist who is also doing the animation. They won't have a writer, they'll have a designer who is also doing the writing.
But indie is flexible and experimental. Just because others aren't really doing it this way doesn't mean it won't happen or that a group wouldn't want you.

And perhaps to turn it around, maybe you can be the project's game writer who is also doing the [fill in the blank]?
posted by anonymisc at 12:16 PM on March 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seconding that game writers on smaller titles are usually also the game designer. A former professor/mentor of mine that I did game studies with freelance writes for Big Fish games. You might check them out or similar companies.

I would also suggest being open about little bits of techhie stuff. Programmers appreciate it when you can understand code or an XML sheet well enough to not have to bug them every time you need to update something or fix a typo. ;) You don't need to be fluent, just have dipped your toes in a bit.
posted by jorlyfish at 3:36 PM on March 1, 2014

Seconding anonymisc's advice to look at writing your own game. The Twine engine is well-suited to making interactive fiction games and requires little to no programming skills, and probably a great start for doing something with a writing focus.
posted by Aleyn at 5:04 PM on March 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'd love to see more RPG games with vivid characters and writing, so best of luck.

If you don't mind starting small, there's likely 1000 different projects you could join. I just googled "i'm writing a game" rpg and saw a bunch of hits, multiple ones from forum.rpg.net.

I will nth the idea of maybe writing your own. You can learn one of the interactive fiction tools. Even a short IF story would improve your credibility if you wanted to sell yourself to an established project.
posted by mattu at 9:41 AM on March 2, 2014

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