Because I work and write in a number of different fields, I often get questions about how to break into them. Video games are a huge and growing field for creative expression these days, and a lot of writers would love to know how to make the leap from writing novels or short stories to putting words in the mouths of characters in their favorite games instead.
First, play games. Love them. Play more of them. Figure out which ones you like and why.
There’s plenty of competition to become a game writer these days. The companies aren’t waiting around for a talented storyteller to come in and show them how to do it right. They have people beating on their doors and begging for those jobs.
If you can’t speak the language of a gamer—if you don’t know the difference between FPS and RTS, if you don’t know why the Tea Party founders calling themselves Teabaggers is funny—then you’re too far behind to get started. Go back and do your research first. Learn what you’re getting yourself into. (Hey, it’s fun. You get to play games and have a great excuse for writing them off on your taxes!) Then come on back.
Once you’re ready, the best way to break into video game writing is the same as it is for any other profession: networking. Sit down at your computer and do some research. Figure out where the people you want to work with have their offices and do what you can to meet the people there. This used to be a hard nut to crack without picking up stakes and moving to a new city with no promise of work, but fortunately today we have other resources, including the internet.
Take advantage of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA). Dues are only $48 a year ($30 a year for students or $25 if you’re unemployed), and they have dozens of chapters in cities around the world. You can also join the IGDA’s Writers SIG, which has an excellent mailing list. Subscribing to the list is free, even if you’re not a member.
If you can make it to a Game Developer Conference (GDC) event, do so. The main one happens in San Francisco in March, but they also hold events in Austin, Europe, and China. The Austin show—GDC Online—isn’t as big as the one in California, but it has a special track for game writers.
If you can manage the time, volunteer to help out with the show. This helps cut your costs (an all-access pass is over $2000 at the door), and it gives you a good reason to interact with people at the conference and show them how useful, friendly, and intelligent you are.
None of that, of course, will get you a job, but it wedges your foot in the door. Employers prefer to hire people they like. If you’re going to be in their offices, they want to know you’re someone they can get along with, and networking gives you an opportunity to prove at least that much to them. Then, once you get that far, you can dazzle them with your skills.
Matt Forbeck is the author of thirteen tie-in novels, most of them having to do with Dungeons & Dragons or Blood Bowl. Just this month, Angry Robot published his first original novel—Amortals—and his second—Vegas Knights—is due out this spring.