Remember: most video game agents don’t rep writers; they rep development studios, and “we’re approached every week by studios” looking for representation, says Minton. “We’ve frequently had publishers call us up and say, ‘Hey, we just had this studio come in and pitch us. They have most of their stuff together, they’re just not quite in sync. [But] if they had an agency like you who would help them, they could be rock stars.”
On infrequent occasions, video game agents may represent a particularly high-profile writer, but this is rare—although not for writers’ lack of trying. Many agents are approached by writers with ideas for story-based games, and agents have to discourage them from pitching. First of all, most writers fail to understand that video games aren’t about story, they’re about gameplay. And unless the writer has invented a new technology—or has the technological know-how to engineer a groundbreaking technique—a simple story-based idea isn’t usually sellable. If you’re Christopher Nolan or J.J. Abrams, you can get some meetings, but unless you have a name that’s a marketable brand, you’re probably not getting through the door.
Second, just like TV studios want to buy ideas from show runners who can produce and deliver an entire series, publishers want to buy games from organizations or companies capable of designing and making an entire game—and most writers, unless they have a solid background in designing or programming, can’t do that.
Lastly, even when a passionate writer convinces an agent he wants to pitch an idea, the writer often ends up bailing. Here’s how this usually plays out: a writer, often someone who’s had enough success in film or television to believe he has some street cred in the game world, tells his agent—or his agency’s video game department—he wants to pitch a game. The agent tries to talk the writer out of it. The writer insists. The agent offers to set the writer up on some general meetings with publishers or development studios. The writer goes to the meetings, upon which he learns how much time game-writing takes, and how little it pays, and he opts out. When a video game writer does find representation, he’s usually been working successfully in video games for several years and has proven he can write other kinds of material. Christian Cantamessa, for example, had been writing and designing games since 1996 before signing with CAA and selling his screenplay Wake Cycle to Boss Media in 2011.54 Other times, a screenwriter may be able to find video game representation if he’s reached a stratospheric level of success—like WME-repped David Goyer, who wrote Call of Duty: Black Ops and Call of Duty: Black Ops II.55
In addition to having professional game-producing experience or a marquee-value name, video game writers must think differently than traditional writers. Screenwriters and TV writers tell linear stories, but video game writers must think non-linearly. This doesn’t necessarily mean “non-chronologically”; it means you must be able to tell a story that can diverge and branch into a myriad of permutations and storylines. Each storyline must track perfectly, even as it intersects with and affects other storylines, creating whole new interactions and permutations.
So if I Dream of Becoming a Video Game Writer, How Do I Break in?
Whether you want to write for other people’s games or happen to get invited to pitch your own ideas, “what you need to do is become an expert in the style of writing” you aspire to, says DDM agent Joe Minton. “Study how games are written so you’re not handing someone a short story, pretending it would be a good example of a game script. Look at how dialogue is broken down; begin learning the cadence and how it’s done, which you can do from simply playing games and paying attention. [Write] your own game storylines [then post them] online. [Start] your own blog about writing and video games. Review different writers and games from a writer’s perspective.”
Another great way to break in is to get a job with a development studio. This could mean getting an entry-level Quality Assurance job or an unpaid internship, or even offering to write some games or lines for free! “If you can write and speak, you can get a QA job,” says one veteran game maker. “The way you move up the ranks in QA is by playing the game and looking for problems. If you’re able to articulate [problems you find], especially on paper, you will move up the ranks until you jump into the production realm, which is the AP (Associate Producer). [From there,] you just move up the ranks, but it’s a long haul, and a lot of it comes from understanding how video games are made.”
Fortunately, video game studios, unlike most movie studios, aren’t confined to Hollywood. Zombie Studios (Special Forces Team X) is based in Seattle, WA; Armature Studio (Batman: Arkham Origins) is headquartered in Austin, TX; Disruptor Beam (Game of Thrones Ascent) is in Boston, MA. You can even find studios in foreign countries, like Finland’s Bugbear Entertainment (FlatOut), Iceland’s Gogogic (Godsrule: War of Mortals), and Spain’s Tequila Works (Deadlight). Also, unlike many movie and TV companies, game studios tend to post available job opportunities on their websites, which are much easier to find and navigate than those of networks and studios. “Going to work for a developer is like being crew on a movie—you have to have some kind of specialty,” says one video game executive. “Either you’re a programmer, an artist, or a designer. So unless you have some kind of specific production skill, you’re not going to get a job at a developer. You’re going to have to go to a publisher where there are marketing, PR, and finance [departments].”
The good news: numerous colleges and universities now have programs offering degrees in video game design. So in a medium where the interactive experience is more important than story, it behooves writers to train themselves in something other than storytelling—whether it’s game mechanics or writing code.
Another great way to begin your entry into the world of video games is to attend industry conventions where you can rub shoulders with designers, publishers, writers, and artists. “One great thing about the video game space is that somewhere between ninety and ninety-five percent of the people who work in it are really terrific,” says Minton. “They’re happy to talk and give their time. They’re not arrogant; they’re not surrounded by handlers and protectors, and there’s none of the star thing that happens in Hollywood. In fact, I know a guy right now whose been trying to break in as a writer. He spent his time networking, and he’s now up for a very key writing job in the industry— all through simply talking to people at shows, going up to the booths, finding out where the writers are. It’s not easy doing that, but that’s the only way.”
You can also network or job-hunt through professional industry organizations which host special events, celebrations, and opportunities. Some of the biggest are the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences (www.interactive.org), the International Game Developers Association (www.igda.org), and the Entertainment Software Association (www.theesa.com).
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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.