Sylvia Feketekuty and Luke Kristjanson: Writing for Video Games part 2

And now, for the not-so-encouraging part two of my experience at the talk by Bioware writers Sylvia Feketekuty and Luke Kristjanson. I find myself procrastinating on writing this just because I don’t want to face the crushing reality that is how hard it actually is to get a job as a writer for a video game company, according to some of the things these two writers had to say.

Firstly, and maybe most importantly, there was a discussion as to whether or not positions as full-time writers actually existed in big studios (which is pretty much a dream job, in my opinion). The impression I got was that, no, there aren’t really a lot of companies that will just hire you off-the-bat as a writer. It’s much more likely that you’ll have to work in some other faculty and then be asked (or volunteer) to write for the game you’re already working on. Already this demands a set of skills that veer away from the ones I already have: I can write, I can imagine stories, I can build characters, but designing, programming, play testing: these aren’t really anything I would call myself “skilled” at. I won’t lie, my heart fell a bit when I heard them talk about that sort of required multi-tasking ability. However, there was a good deal of talk about being a freelance writer and being hired on contract to write for a game in progress.

writing_pen3This idea lifted my spirits a bit, until the conversation took a turn for the worst and the writers started talking about how, often times these freelance writers would be handed a very difficult, seemingly impossible, situation where they have to write the story for a game that already exists, yet doesn’t have any story to speak of. Think about it: imagine walking in on a bunch of randomly designed levels and characters and having to make up a cohesive, enjoyable story and background for what’s going on. Now compare that experience to being on the ground floor of a game’s development cycle, writing the story alongside a group of dedicated writers who are all in communication with the programmers, the designers, and the testers. Which one sounds more appealing? Of course, it’s the first one, the one that I WROTE TO SOUND MORE APPEALING. THAT’S WRITING, PEOPLE. More and more, I’m starting to understand how writers are often kicked around in the game-making industry, jumping from project to project while being treated as people who are so desperate for work that we’ll do anything just to be noticed (see: I’ll write your biography if you’ll give me a couple retweets) or to “build your portfolio.” I’m beginning to relate to @forexposure_txt more and more.

Another discouraging topic that we covered, this one a little bit off the subject of writing: getting into the gaming industry in any capacity at an entry-level position. One young boy, in the Q&A section, asked how he could get a job as a video game tester. Now, I should preface this by admitting that I thought for a long time that, if I wanted to get into making video games, I could just become a video game tester, no problem. Just walk into EA, slam a blank resume on the counter and demand they show me to my desk. The answer to this poor 10-year-old’s question was somewhat crushing: video game testing is not an easy job to get. What? Even the dumbest, simplest form of work isn’t easy to get into? Nope, to both of those claims.

testsTesting is not an easy job, something that I definitely did not realize until I started actually looking into it about six months ago. Luke, when talking about what kind of work Bioware’s quality assurance team does, claimed that “If you make a game, these guys can break it.” Testers, he went on to say, don’t just play games and report what they felt about them. They have to make sure, through exhaustive means, that nothing in the game will break when the player is going through it. What’s more, he said that, when you find a glitch or bug in a game, it’s very likely that the developer’s are aware of it, but time or programming constraints just make it impossible to fix, meaning the testers found it, reported it, and it STILL wasn’t able to be fixed. When you start to think about what kind of work must be involved in testing a game that thoroughly for problems, it really is mind-blowing.

Imagine: you have to walk into every corner, access every option in every menu from every avenue available, shoot every object, talk to every person, interact with every enemy in every possible way. My daydream of living some halcyon dayssipping Long Island iced teas while casually playing the latest Call of Duty game is now effectively shattered. Instead, the image is more like sitting upright in front of a computer, notepads full of notes beside me, second monitor full of bug reports, empty pizza box cast aside three hours ago cause it’s past eleven on a Sunday and I’m still here so that the game can ship on time. No thanks, not for me. Probably not the answer that poor kid was expecting.

Anyhow, now that I’ve purged myself of these few depressing hurdles, I still feel a little optimistic about what I can do to get into this industry. First of all, keep writing. These posts are practice, tweets are practice, even leaving notes on the fridge so my wife will remember to pick up my favourite chips. Keep writing, direct your writing, present your writing: three things I’m continuing to work on and appreciate more and more each day.


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