Video Game Writer: Professional Profile & the Process of Crafting a Gripping Storyline
It was back in the day when I booted up my PS2 to eagerly play the brand-new Final Fantasy game, Final Fantasy X. I was shocked to see how beautiful and stunning the visuals were.
On top of that, even at a young age, I recognized that there was beautiful video game writing involved. I still cite that game and its writing as an inspiration and influence on my writing and how I approach video game stories. Ever since those days of the early 2000s, we have been blessed by games with absolutely beautiful writing, stories, and characters.
Video games have easily worked their way up the totem pole of visual mediums to become valuable and memorable story-telling devices. Well-crafted stories and writing simply stick with the player long after they have turned their console off.
But how do you go about writing the story to a video game? What is the process of crafting a gripping storyline?
I am going to lay out the basics to give you a glimpse into the world of video game writing and how to become one yourself.
Background, Player Preference, Metal Gear Solid
A video game writer is a member of the creative team for a certain game that, drumroll please, writes aspects of the narrative. Characters like Geralt of Rivia, Cloud Strife, GLaDOS, and John Marston all have great video game writers and a team of creatives behind them.
The video game writer is responsible for a myriad of things regarding the game. They can be involved in pre-production, pitching ideas, and dialogue crafting. There are no definite constraints for a video game writer, as they can juggle many different tasks within a single project. Depending on the title, the writing may be more intensive.
For example, the writing team behind the Witcher III probably had more writing goals they had to hit and narrative devices rather than the newest Mario game did. Writing all of that exhaustive lore based on the novels by Andrzej Sapkowski requires a team in and of itself to pare down into an actual playable game following Geralt’s adventures.
However, this does not lessen the writing efforts of Nintendo. A good video game story is also based upon the preferences of the player. Maybe playing Mario is exactly what a certain player wants in terms of story. Someone who doesn’t want to get pulled down into the molasses of another world; they just want to get Bowser!
Likewise, for Hideo Kojima’s games, known for their notoriously long cutscene length. This is fine if that is what you are looking for in a game, but if you just want to have fun, maybe you want to stay far away from Metal Gear Solid 4, known for having over 8 hours’ worth of cutscenes.
I think that some of the writing Kojima does is great, and if you are a Metal Gear Solid fan, chances are you enjoy at least a majority of the cutscenes. But again, that is a personal preference based on the player.
Good video game writing can come in many different forms, and it is dependent on many variables.
What You Need to Write a Video Game Story
Okay, so you want to write. Where to begin?
It seems obvious, but you need something to help you write! Whether this is a laptop, desktop PC, or a yellow legal pad and a nice pen, you need to be able to write and eventually transfer that information to a computer’s hard drive.
Knowledge of Gaming
This also seems a bit obvious, but again, it is important. The more games you play, whether they be role-playing games or first-person shooters, it helps to be familiar with how their story dynamics work. This helps you become familiar with the process, as well as helping you draw story aspects from influences you may have.
For me, my influences lean more toward role-playing games like the Final Fantasy Series, Metal Gear Solid, or Fallout: New Vegas. Although branching off into some truly bizarre creative territory, Hideo Kojima is a great example of a video game writer developing over the years.
From 1987 to 2015, he was the writer for all of the Metal Gear games. They started as military stories, but as the years went on, they became serious reflections on the nature of the conflict, the roles of soldiers, ethics, and conspiracies. Culminating in Metal Gear Solid V:
The Phantom Pain, Kojima painted the picture of a punished, tortured soldier that is forced to do what he knows best: engage in conflict.
This one can be a bit malleable. You do not need to be a published writer, but you should be able to express yourself creatively, competently, and satisfyingly.
How Do You Write a Video Game Story?
I wish it was as simple as just sitting down in front of a computer and typing away! However, there are a few hoops you need to jump through.
Depending on whom you are working with, you may have a limited role; it all depends on the proposed storyboard. You as a writer need to craft a masterful story to transport gamers into your game world.
Games like Far Cry 5 are perfect examples of mixing great writing with immersive gameplay. Both the open world and story aspects of the 2018 Ubisoft title complement each other greatly.
In it, you are a deputy in Montana tasked with bringing down the enigmatic and sinister Seed family, who have created a dangerous doomsday cult that has taken over the county.
The writing was so good in this game that I truly felt like I was part of the story in whatever I did: piloting a helicopter, hunting, and more. All of those activities felt like I was partaking in a larger whole of the game’s story. Now THAT’S good writing.
But how do you go about creating a perfectly synthesized story and the world? Here are the basics:
I know, I know, you have already taken notes a hundred times for school, but this isn’t a boring class, this is game development, your passion project. This is crucial not only for the story but for making the whole process easier.
Outlining any form of work makes it cleaner, easier to process, and helps communicate ideas to others. This is an important process that should be undertaken after you decide on your game story. Will it be an RPG like Baldur’s Gate? Or is it more of a Call of Duty warfare drama? It is up to you, but you need to make a comprehensive outline for everyone’s benefit.
This is my favorite aspect of the writing process. Your options are unlimited here.
Is your game going to take place in an already established game world like Forgotten Realms or present-day America? Or to go one step further, creating your world.
This is what happened to the ill-fated 38 Studios, the developers of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. They spent an amazing amount of time world-building, employing the expertise of R.A. Salvatore, the writer of the Drizzt Do’Urden novels in the Dungeons & Dragons universe.
Unfortunately for 38 Studios, they went bankrupt, but not before contributing thousands of pages of backstory and creative world-building for their RPG.
Part of what makes Far Cry 5’s main villain and his henchmen so scary is a very nuanced and ominous character background. Joseph Seed experienced loss and it drove him to religious zealotry, brainwashing many others to his views on the end of the world.
As a writer, you can focus primarily on one person like Joseph Seed, or you can flesh out many different characters. It is up to you, and it depends on the game genre.
If it is an FPS, Call of Duty type game, chances are you will only be writing serious character development for the main character or villain. If it is an RPG, you will probably be in for the long haul, fleshing out stories for a colorful cast of characters. Use your gaming inspirations and influences to help you through these two steps.
The Direction of the Story
After the fun you’ve had with creating the aspects of the characters and world, the next step is to create a progression. This is best used in the form of a flowchart or bullet points. Show others the progression of your story and where you want it to branch off, and ultimately end up.
More linear games follow a very basic flow; point A to point B, telling the main story along the way. However, in more open games, the player may move from point A to point C before B, choosing to unlock story elements at their leisure.
Utilize your story outline to accomplish the flow chart and progression to the best of your abilities. Consulting with others on this step can help you out in the end.
This is it, the moment you have been waiting for. This is when you buckle down and start writing the story. This is where your writing skills will be put to the test. Things like descriptions, dialogue, and major plot points will be explored here.
At this point, the flowchart should have given you a great framework to work with, making the writing flow better overall. Get ready to flex your creative muscles. The cutscenes, the backstory, the characters; all of them will come to life through your writing skills.
This refers to all of the different aspects you may want to add to the story afterward. Things like side quests, unique NPC dialogue, and different scripted events all should come after the main story is fleshed out.
This is also where you can offload any creative ideas that didn’t make it into the initial story, giving you a little more freedom to write. This should also include more detailed aspects of things already in the story.
Make sure to be as specific as possible when describing things like important quest items, facial expressions, and atmosphere.
How Much Does a Video Game Writer Make?
Okay, now that we have the process out of the way and you are still here, let us explore one of the most important aspects of the profession: the salary.
How Much Do Video Game Writers Make in a Year?
Based on PayScale, a video game writer on average can make $67,500. This is based on the range of about $49,000 to $90,000. Many other sites report much the same, give or take a few thousand dollars in salary.
This isn’t a bad salary for a writer, and as you grow in experience, you could be making serious bank doing what you love.
How Much Do Video Game Writers Make an Hour?
Again, based on PayScale, it is reported that video game writers can usually expect to make around $19.65 per hour. Again, not bad at all. This sure beats waiting tables!
Where to Find Video Game Writing Jobs
Okay, this is fine, but where are the jobs? Where do you begin to look?
Well, the internet has a plethora of opportunities and searches for game writing jobs. Places like Indeed, Zip Recruiter, and LinkedIn all provide great starts for trying to break your way into the industry.
If you go to school for a game-related field, you may have valuable connections that can point you in the right direction. Use your connections, don’t be afraid to network, and hit the ground running.
Now you know the basics of game writing. This is a field where you get to flex your creative muscles. By creating a vast world, good characters, and an addictive storyline, there will be no creative project you cannot involve yourself with.
How To Become a Video Game Writer
For video game aficionados, there are quite a few intriguing career options to consider. Video game writers combine their skills in fiction writing and coding to create a unique position. In this article, learn what a video game writer is, see what a video game writer does, review the average salary for a video game writer, understand how to become a video game writer and read answers to frequently asked questions about video game writers.
What is a video game writer?
A video game writer is part of the overall video game design team. They write the storyline and character backstories that accompany the gameplay, graphics and other technical elements of the video game. Often, video game writers also have some background in coding or software development to better understand how the other game designers will use their language in the context of the game.
Video game writers can work as freelancers and accept individual projects or work for a large company that creates several video games and works on internal projects with a small team of writers.
What does a video game writer do?
A video game writer can have a variety of tasks and responsibilities depending on the type of game they work for, their auxiliary skills and the size and makeup of the overall design team. Common video game writer job duties include:
Researching plot ideas
Collaborating with other designers
Developing the video game’s plot
Writing character dialogue
Overseeing recording sessions with voice actors
Editing and updating the script as needed
Testing the game to ensure the narrative meets the needs of the gameplay
For smaller or less narrative-driven games, video game writers may also play a considerable role in the coding and designing aspect of the physical gameplay. Larger, more narrative-driven games usually hire writers who exclusively work on the story with few other responsibilities.
Average salary for video game writer
Since most video game writers are primarily writers rather than technical designers or coders, their salary is very similar to the national average salary of writers, which is $51,131 per year
. Those writers who work as employees for a company, usually receive benefits like health insurance in addition to their salary. Those who freelance have perks like working remotely or from home and choosing the projects they work on.
How to become a video game writer
If you’re interested in writing the storyline for video games, follow these steps to develop your career:
1. Get your high school diploma
Most positions require a high school diploma at a minimum. Focus on developing your writing skills while in high school through your traditional English classes and any elective creative writing courses. If your school offers coding or other software design classes, consider taking those as well.
2. Play video games
Knowing how video games function is vital to work as a writer. The writing style and story approach are very different from traditional styles of writing, so familiarity with the medium is vital. Consider keeping notes as you play the games to remember which have excellent stories, weak plot lines and interesting characters to help you develop your own writing style.
3. Practice coding
Take the time to practice coding. While not every job will require or expect you to have a background in coding or technical game design, having some experience and skill can only benefit you.
4. Earn a degree
Some companies expect their video game writers to have college degrees while others are okay with self-taught writers. Consider earning a Bachelor’s Degree in English, Creative Writing or a related field to further your skills and experience.
5. Publish your writing
Write prolifically and work to get your writing published. With a published short story, novel, essay or another type of writing, you’ll show prospective employers that you have recognizable writing skills and the talent to write publishable material.
6. Establish your credibility
If you hope to work as a freelancer, you’ll need to establish yourself as an authority on video game writing. Consider working with a coder to create your own video game that you can show prospective clients to demonstrate your writing and design skills.
7. Apply for jobs
If you prefer to work as a full-time employee for a video game design company, apply for writing positions with those companies. Prepare for any interviews by gathering writing samples and preparing to talk about your favorite video games and storylines.
Frequently asked questions about becoming a video game writer
Review these common questions about video game writing if you’re interested in learning more about the job:
What degree do you need to be a video game writer?
While not every video game writer has a college degree, many do. Most video game companies want writers with college training, and they tend to hire writers with bachelor’s degrees. The most common degrees for video game writers are creative writing and scriptwriting, though other English and literature-based degrees are useful when paired with coursework that includes fiction writing, conventions of storytelling and use of narrative voice.
Do video game companies hire writers?
Yes, many video game companies hire in-house writers to manage the narrative design of their games. Large, well-established and prolific gaming companies may hire a team of writers who work together to develop story ideas, write narratives, create characters and assist with editing and adjustments.
How do you write a game story?
Every writer and every video game maker will have a slightly different creative process for creating a video game storyline, but many follow this basic structure: