The Game Writing Guide: Get Your Dream Job and Keep It by Anna Megill is a wonderfully practical guide to understanding how to build and maintain a career as a writer in the games industry. Her advice — which is based off interviews with dozens of writer mentors, as well as her own experience writing for games such as Fable, Control, and Dishonored, among others — runs the full gamut, from job hunting, writing resumes and cover letters, building a portfolio, and interviews to moving up within the company once you have the job and leadership roles.
All of this advice is delivered in simple, well-organized, and straightforward manner — with little dashes of humor sprinkled in — making the book easy to ready and follow. Where Megill is less confident in her commentary, she admits so upfront and presents insights of other mentors or other avenues for seeking this information.
With so many folks vying for writing jobs at the moment, I thought I’d highlight a few of the takeaways I found particularly helpful thus far. Each of these bits of advice are primarily on the job hunting side of things (as opposed to the job keeping side), since I’m still at the stage of looking for full-time work in games.
When you starting talking with folks in the industry about becoming a game writer or narrative designer, one of the first things almost everyone will note the importance of networking in breaking in and building a career. Megill provides some great insights into how to network. Approach the process by being yourself and trying to meet new people — but the most important element in treating game developers and writers with respect. She notes:
A lot of well known devs, the ones you’re likely to follow at first, deal with some eccentric and abusive behavior on social media and are wary of people they don’t know. They can’t tell if you’re joking around or if you’re a dangerous person who’s going to show up at the studio with an axe. (Yes, that happened.) I’ve watched fans get blocked by the creators they love on Twitter because they treat it like a chan or WhatsApp chat. It’s not. I want you to understand that the games industry — especially the game-writing corner of it — is tiny. If you’re rude or abusive to one game writer on social media, a thousand eyes are watching you.
Megill emphasizes the importance of research during the application process. She notes that the applicant should investigate the company to learn about their project(s), company culture, and salary and benefits expectations, as she explains here:
If you’re lobbing the same application materials at every studio without doing any research, then you’re already at a disadvantage. You should find out everything you can about the project and studio and tailor your application to match what they’re looking for. Jump on your favorite search engine and start digging up information.
Megill nots that resumes “are for facts.” Much debate has been and continues to be made on what type of format is best for providing these facts when applying for game writing jobs — classic or deconstructed. The classic format presents the applicant’s past work experience in a reverse chronological order, while the deconstructed format breaks the applicant’s work history into groups of key skills, showing “what they can do rather than what they have done.” Megill breaks down the pros and cons of each these formats, but points out that most of the recruiters and hiring managers that she spoke to tend to prefer the classic and similar formats — but whatever format you choose, you need to provide the key information. She explains:
Across the board, the golden rule was “make it easy.” Make your resume easy to ready and easy to understand. Make the reason they should hire you easy to see. . . It doesn’t have to be experience doing that exact job or even be work in the games industry, but you need to demonstrate how your skills apply specifically to the role you want.
After reading this chapter, I immediately began revamping my resume — and I will continue experimenting with the language and format to make it work for my needs.
After considering whether it’s even worth writing cover letters in this day and age, Megill looks at what to include should the applicant choose to write one. She notes that the writer should consider who their audience is when writing the letter and use the space to clarify aspects of their work history or experience and highlight additional skills that might be valuable. Notably, the letter should not just rehash what has already been said in the resume. She also notes that the cover letter is an opportunity to dazzle (as long as you don’t go entirely off the rails, since the “dazzle” can be a risk), as she explains here:
the best cover letters act as audition for the role. I’ve seen two cover letters recently that changed by mind about the candidates. One started out “Holy shit, you’re making my favorite game!” and told the story of the applicant’s personal relationship with this beloved game series throughout their life as a writer. By the end, I believed they had a unique insight into the series lore and was ready to see their samples. The other compelling letter was a standard “why you should hire me” note, but it was structured so well and told with such wit that I skipped the candidate ahead to the writing test without seeing their samples. In both cases, they used the cover letter to show me what they could bring as writers.
Samples and Portfolios
As with cover letters, when compiling your portfolio, Megill notes that the applicant should consider who will be reading the work being submitted. This includes understanding the project (if public information is available) and providing samples that are in line with the project requirements, such as similar tones and themes and other characteristics that match the type of game being developed.
In addition to putting together curated samples for specific job applications, Megill suggests that writers put together an online portfolio to showcase their story as a writer. Using her own portfolio site as an example, she explains:
My strongest work is at the top of the page, so it’s the first thing people see if they start randomly scrolling. It’s not entirely in chronological order, although it could be. My work has definitely improved over time and my strongest work is my most recent work. But do whatever feels right to you. It’s okay to express yourself!
The Game Writing Guide is a book that I will be returning to again and again as I continue my path into writing for games. After reading the chapters in this book, I immediately began thinking about my resume and cover letters in different ways and began to revamp how I approached them both.
The bits and pieces of advice I’ve presented here are just a small fraction of excellent insights from with the pages of this book — which I will be recommending to everyone even vaguely interested in game writing from now. If you can’t afford to purchase the book, hopefully it’s available at your local library.