When in need of a writer, most developers turn to the small community of game writers who started as designers, or have worked at studios and understand the processes, the language, of game making. Others call contacts in agencies’ digital media or interactive departments. If they’re looking for writers who already have game experience, digital/interactive agents may already have the perfect person—or be able to find them.
If developers want an actual screenwriter, the digital agent may need to consult his colleagues in TV or feature lit. “Ironically, [traditional lit] agents don’t understand video games and don’t really want to send their clients in,” says one video game exec. “You spend a lot of time educating them on our process,” and it usually takes a digital media agent to “explain why their client should do this.”
The digital agent, just like lit agents, returns to the developer with a list of writers. Often, the developer begins by asking about the writers’ levels and pay scales. “Well,” the agent may say, “they’re all on AAA-level budgets exceeding some thirty-odd million dollars.” If the game developer is interested in a big-name writer, a Marc Guggenheim or Zak Penn, the agent will cut right to the chase: “Here’s his quote. How much time do you need? Here’s his availability. Are you interested or not?”
Because video game execs, unlike film and TV execs, don’t spend their days reading and working with writers, most are unfamiliar with many screenwriters’ work. In these cases, agents—just like in film and TV—send over writing samples, usually screenplays or television scripts. Some developers also ask writers to write a sample for free, a practice that rankles writers and agents alike (not to mention the Writers Guild). “This is not wise,” says one exec. “[Developers] should be able to take a script someone has written, read it, and understand what kind of writer that person is. But they don’t have that skill, [which is] why the industries are very separate.”
Game developers usually peruse samples from about ten writers, then meet with their three favorites. Unlike in the movie world, writers don’t go into these meetings pitching their take on the game. In fact, the last thing a game developer wants to hear is an original take! “We’re pitching them our take,” says one publishing exec, “but what we are really looking for is someone who is enthusiastic. A lot of times, writers come in very skeptical, thinking, ‘This is a frivolous industry’—kind of like how the outside world views entertainment. [Or] they know it will be cool for their kids if they say, ‘I’m writing a video game,’ but they don’t really ‘get’ video games. So that meeting is important to figure out how passionate this person is. Ideally, they have some connection to the property. [Maybe] they’re gamers or understand something about games. [Or] if you are doing a Call of Duty, the guy comes in and says, ‘I wrote a script [like this] . . . and I did [a ton of] research.’”
Unlike in film or television, however, it’s rare for game developers or execs to share too much about the project they’re working on. Because studios and publishers develop so few projects at a time, they’re extremely protective, letting out no information until they’re ready for a public announcement, and usually making writers sign a Non- Disclosure Agreement (NDA). “When I went in for the meeting [on Wet],” says Demetrius (Major Crimes, 24), “they already had their characters. [They said] ‘we have a female bounty hunter.’ They knew they wanted her to be named Rubi Malone, they knew they wanted her to be a Pabst Blue Ribbon-drinking, lives-in-a-desert-trailer-type, as opposed to Lara Croft, who lived in a mansion and had all the toys. This woman had a gun and a sword. They knew they wanted to have it set in San Francisco and Hong Kong, and they knew they wanted these three or four villains: one named Tarantula, one called the Collector—the guy who can do the sword, this woman who can climb the wall. They would ask my opinion on certain things . . . but, for the most part, they had what they wanted.”
Often, these introductory meetings are less about writers auditioning for the job and more about developers convincing the writer to come aboard. As Demetrius says, “The guy basically said, ‘We like your sensibilities. We saw what you did with [24: The Game], we know what you can do writing-wise. We know, based on the other video games you did, [you can do] twists and the turns,’ which is exactly why they wanted me for this. I was going into that meeting thinking, ‘I have to make them want to hire me.’ And, it turns out, they wanted to hire me before I even arrived.”
After the meeting, the writer’s representation kicks into agenting gear to get the writer the job. If it’s a screenwriter, the agent usually calls the developer and applies some pressure—“You guys want him or not? If you want him, we need to get on this right away because he’s about to get busy with a film project at Universal. So get me the paperwork and we’ll kickstart this thing.” The developer then sends over a contact, and negotiations begin!
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Excerpt from How to Manage Your Agent by Chad Gervich © 2013 Focal Press an imprint of Taylor & Francis Group. All Rights Reserved.