Video Games Create New Markets for Writers and Composers The Buzz


If you're a fan of video games and you're also an aspiring writer or composer, a whole new career field may be opening up for you.

Maybe you'd like to write scripts for today's complex video games. Or perhaps you're more interested in creating music for them. Either way, with the popularity of video games continuing to grow, it's a promising market.

Analyze Video Games

As in any field, you need to have the skills as well as a love for what you do. Matt Toner is the lead designer for an entertainment company. He writes video game scripts. He says it's important to study how video games work before you start planning a video game writing career.

"Play games," says Toner. "But do more than that. Analyze how game play elements are used. If you play a game once through for sheer enjoyment, play it a second time and concentrate on the details.

"Try different options and take note of how the game now flows in a different direction. Develop a spreadsheet to record your observations across a number of games, in a way that makes sense for you. After a few weeks, you'll start to understand the underlying mechanics."

Writing Scripts

It is also important to simply write as much as possible. This is what Jessica Tams recommends. Tams is a director of partner development at an entertainment company, and has designed video games in the past.

"Anyone interested in getting a start in creating video games should not be afraid to start creating content with the skills they have," she says. "For example, those with excellent writing skills can write reviews and stories in their spare time and publish them on the Internet."

Toner agrees with Tams. And while it may be appealing to think about writing a simple "shoot 'em up" video game, he also stresses how similar writing for games is to writing serious fiction.

"Well, as Leonard Cohen once said, blacken your page," advises Toner. "Writers need to write, regardless of the genre: this is most important. Game writing is most akin to dramatic writing. Students would do well to focus on that part of the craft. Story, character, dialog -- these are the building blocks."

He also says that as people who grew up playing video games get older, the demand for more mature plots is out there.

"Game audiences are getting older, suggesting that their tastes are becoming a little more sophisticated. Less blood and gore, more story."

Composing Music

If your fancy is more towards songs than scripts, there are opportunities in that field as well. Jack Wall writes music for video games. He has written for Disney and Sony, among others. He says that networking and having the right attitude are important.

"Well, the job market in composition, specifically in video games, is quite broad. But you still need talent and contacts," says Wall. "The industry is very large and there are lots of opportunities for people with passion and desire to write [music] for games. The key is passion and having a good personality with a team-player attitude."

Wall believes that writing music for video games is definitely a solid career. "Yes it is, for those with a healthy mix of talent, drive and decent business sense, or the ability to learn it."

Education and Networking Skills Required

Tams also says that this is a promising field. She stresses the need for education.

"Careers in the entertainment industry are a viable and stable career option," she says. "Despite downturns in the economy and outsourcing, consumers have proven to have an appetite for entertainment content created by those who understand popular culture.

"Students should focus on obtaining a solid, well-rounded education," Tams continues. "While in school, they should focus on learning as much about the gaming industry as they can.

"But they should not make games their only focus. After graduation, those looking to get into the gaming industry should not be opposed to jobs outside of the industry. There they can gather more experience while looking for a job in the games industry."

Toner agrees that education is important, but he also stresses networking.

"More so than other industries, the game space is still about connections," he says.

"So you need to meet people -- not always an easy thing to do. For a student, one of the best ways is to attend a post-secondary school that offers a credible program in game design. A few years ago such places didn't exist, but there are good alternatives available today."

Industry on the Rise

Understanding popular culture is important. Enjoying and keeping up with video games is half the battle. Of course, being able to write or compose is the other half.

Toner points out that having writers for video game scripts is a relatively new concept.

"Not that long ago, game writers were an almost unknown breed," Toner explains. "Writing was done usually by the game designers themselves, who were generally tasked with many other assignments.

"I've heard stories of producers at one company literally walking down a hallway and asking people to write 10 lines of dialog each. Of course, with a process like that you aren't going to get very good results, something that was often masked by the nature of the games themselves."

Whether it's creating the tunes or crafting the script, the video game writing field is a market that is on the rise. And it's only getting bigger, says Toner.

"Games aren't going away. They are now a huge industry that actually dwarfs Hollywood, depending on how you calculate revenue.

"Games are now seen as a necessary extension of conventional media properties from film and TV. If you want to be a writer anyway, game writing is a reasonably good income stream."

Links

The Art of Making Games
Keep up with news and events in the video game industry

Game Developers Conference
Dedicated to showcasing upcoming conferences, including those for video game writers

Game Audio Network Guild
Lots of resources relating to the musical aspect of video games