Last Wednesday, Brian McDonald and I hosted another Screenwriters Salon for the Seattle International Film Festival. This one was called Writing the Video Game.
Here in Seattle we are right across Lake Washington from Microsoft (home of the Xbox) and Nintendo’s HQ. Consequently, we tend to hear about their successes, failures and needs. The mantra for video games right now is that they are in desperate need of good writers. There are too many games that go out where the dialog stinks and the information that is doled out between battles is incomprehensible. Or so they say.
It’s funny. They say the same thing about Hollywood movies. “We need better writers,” they say, usually followed by something like, “quality will win out,” which is their blanket way of saying they have no idea where quality writing come from so everybody should give it a shot. (They know how we all believe we write quality scripts; it’s other people who write crap!)
So video game producers have begun to hire screenwriters to work on their games. That’s how our panelist Matthew Obst got involved. He was teaching a screenwriting class at the Northwest Film Forum when a video game company contacted him. He applied for and got the job. Of course, it helped that he has been playing video games all his life and keeps up with current trends.
Just so you know, our other panelist was Mark Terrano, Founder and Design Director of Hidden Path Entertainment , who had also worked for Xbox and on the game Age of Empires. He gave a fun and informational history of video games and video game genres.
The biggest difference between writing for film and writing for games is the fact that in a screenplay you are responsible for plot twists and describing scenes, while when you write for a game you are responsible for dialog and every piece of text that appears on-screen, like billboards and building names. It’s better to think of a writer on video games as a Script Doctor, a person hired to improve the dialog and punch up any text.
The other big question was: How’s the market for video game writing? As it turns out, not good. Or rather, it tough. Just like Hollywood, even though they say they need more and better writers it’s incredibly hard to break into writing for video games. You need to be well-versed in game trends, you may need to work for free (as an intern) to meet the right people, or you need to know somebody.
Then again, because screenwriters are used to facing impossible odds like these, it sounds like a match made in heaven.