Poor, poor Adam Maxwell. He’s a game designer who also writes. Adam bravely went forward to make a few statements on Gamasutra about the role of writers in the game industry. Unfortunately, he tripped over his own words, causing anger and dismay for many. One designer who told me he doesn’t care for game story e-mailed me after reading his article, saying, “That’s not what I meant!” If you read Adam’s missive closely, he’s really expressing frustration with game writing as well as demonstrating a misunderstanding of what good writers can do. I’ll do my best to underline what he is really trying to say and what it means for any developer working with writers and writing.
“Writers tend to make better designers.”
Thanks! That’s so sweet of you. In the interest of full disclosure, Writers Cabal offers game and content design services as well as game writing services. We are that enviable hyphenate “writer/designers.”
“Being a writer doesn’t automatically make one a game designer.” “The work of the writer is inherently linear – the work of the designer is typically not.”
Translation: “I’m frustrated that so many game writers don’t get games or don’t get interactivity.”
Very true. It’s important when hiring a writer to find one who gets the medium. On top of that, do what you can to help the writer you hire “get” your game. If you hire the right writer, you will hire someone who, as writer/designer, designs the story into the gameplay. As writer, s/he will write a story that won’t hogtie the player by giving the player non-trivial choice.
“Is any of that [characters, emotion] necessary to make a good game? Sadly, the answer is no.”
Translation: “While I’m frustrated that efforts to put in great story and characters have met with relatively little success, that’s all writers have to offer. Unfortunately, it seems like no one in the industry wants to make great games.”
Certainly, you can make a good computer game without writers, without composers, and without artists. Let me point you to one right now: http://www.websudoku.com/ I suspect the reason Adam has singled out writing is because he has tried to put in better story and character and met with little success. Auto Assault anyone?
Adam seems to misunderstand the writer’s role. The best writers don’t just throw some story and dialog over the wall and go home. Games create emotion — you can’t escape that. The developer’s job is to identify what emotion the game should elicit, then use every tool at his/her disposal to get there. If you want the player to feel heroic, you can design it in, draw it in, write it in, sing it in, or all of the above. This is what great writer/narrative designers can do: help you create this emotion across all disciplines. After all, are you in this industry to make okay games, or to make great games?
“I would rather have another designer than a writer.”
Translation: “I would rather have a co-worker that has more than one skill.”
I agree, as do many developers. People love artists who can program, designers who can build, and programmers who can use more than one language.
“I met with our writer [. . .] it was also a 3-4 hour event [. . .] During that time, I was not balancing weapons [etc. . . .] which was what my job description actually called for.”
Translation: “I don’t like managing writers, but I don’t actually want to write the script myself because I’d rather balance weapons.”
Remember the top five excuses for not hiring a writer? If there had been no writer, poor Adam would not have had time to balance even one weapon, since he would have spent all his time getting the script ready. Hiring a writer allows designers, programmers, producers to focus on what they do best. Professional writers save time by working faster than someone for whom writing is not a main skill.
Managing outsourced writers can be a challenge, which is why we keep this blog. There are plenty of ways to streamline the process, including hiring the kind of narrative designer who interfaces with writers, much like an art outsourcing manager.
“What do you do with the writer when the story is done?”
Translation: I live in a fantasy world where games aren’t an iterative process.
Okay, now I’m just being mean 😉
Translation: “I’m not a producer and don’t realize that this question plagues developers with regards to any employee, from writer and QA to core designers.”
This industry is inherently volatile — when a game project ends, not every company is equipped to keep everyone on staff. Hiring writers on contract is a good option. Hiring writer/designers on staff is another. A good producer or product manager will decide what works best.
Now that I’ve translated Adam’s thoughts, I have to agree with him on many points. Yes, a writer with a designer mentality who “gets” games is better than one who doesn’t. Yes, it can be frustrating that more developers aren’t striving to create great games that appeal to all kinds of players. Yes, finding the right staff and outsourcing partners for your game project can be challenging. Fortunately, Adam and developers like him are not alone. You have us!
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