Next Generation just threw up an article about how cheesy game dialog is and the poor quality of stories in games these days. How offensive! How callous! How true! We’re not here to defend writing for games. We’re here to understand why.
The Next Gen article points out that much of game writing has been perpetrated by developers without writing experience. Now don’t get your hackles up, developers. I’m not saying you’re inept at writing. However, writing can fall to “least important” in production priorities, especially when there’s still fatal exceptions in the code! And even when developers have the foresight to hire writers, managing those writers can fall by the wayside. These recommendations help, but wouldn’t it better to work with experienced game writers who already “get it”?
Secondly, Vivendi producer Peter Wanat blamed producers, who get no love in this article: “Every time you get a bad developer-created storyline, you can point to a producer at the publisher who should have put his foot down.” This statement assumes, of course, that the producer didn’t actually come up with it him or herself. However, other factors are at work, not the least of which is internal politics, egos and the lack of “fresh eyes.” How easy is it for a producer to completely destroy a story developed by someone they work closely with? How easy is it for anyone to realize that the tiny changes in the story that happen every day has changed a gem of an idea into a morass of cliches? Navigating politics and getting a new perspective are two great reasons to hire outside writers — with thick skins.
Finally, the article blames our poor players, claiming that the industry won’t change unless players stop buying poorly written games. Okay, fellow gamers — stop buying games right now unless they’re Shakespeare! Can’t do it? Neither could I. I’d rather wade through sludge — or play lots of Civilization with no story at all — then have to give up playing just so the game companies could get a clue. The fact is, there are many games with good writing, who have made a market for themselves as such. Clearly, game companies have to take the first step to create compelling stories combined with good gameplay. To steal from Hollywood (this is games, after all), if you build it, they will come.
This article spent a good deal of time pointing fingers — know anyone else they can blame for the quality of writing in games today? You can post anonymously!