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Ask the Experts: 'My Kid Wants to Write Video Games'

Ask the Experts: 'My Kid Wants to Write Video Games'

October 22, 2007 | By Jill Duffy

In the latest Ask the Experts column on sister web site, Jill Duffy talks one parent through the challenges of having a kid who wants to be a video game writer but doesn't know how to get a jump on his career. is also running this breaking-in column here -- please consult's Getting Started page for more advice on entering and progressing your career in the game industry.

Dear Experts,

My son Jerel wants to write the story line for video games but has no idea where to start. He has already written a sequel to Bully, but since he's still in high school, how can he present his idea?


-Jerel's Parent

Dear Jerel's Parent,

That's great that your son has already written a game. Being proactive like that is definitely a major part of getting into the game industry. However, what does it mean that he has "written a sequel?" Did he storyboard a new game? Did he write dialogue? Did he create a script?

Writing a video game can mean a few different things, so the first thing you and Jerel should do is figure out what kind of writing he's interested in. Sometimes people think they've written a game but they've actually designed one, and the materials they have are closer to design documents than a script. See the Resources at the end of this article for information about design documents, including an example of one.

Either way, the fact that Jerel has something to show, an example of his work, is good. Freelance writers need to have samples of their work readily available to show potential clients. One thing that caught my attention, though, is that you specified Jerel's piece of writing is a sequel to an existing game. While this is all well and good for an inexperienced high school student who's still experimenting with his own writing style and whatnot, I would encourage Jerel to write original scripts, too. In fact, in a best case scenario, Jerel would have a few scripts completely finished and polished, in more than one genre and in more than one style before looking for work so that he can show as a sample the script that is more applicable to the style of work the client is looking for.

When it comes to looking for freelance work (and getting it), everyone seems to have a different story -- so I'd rather share with you an example of someone else's story than tell you a patented way to go about it. Not long ago, posted an interview with two writers in the game industry about how they got their jobs. In that article, Anne Toole explains that she showed up at a conference, found a game company that was looking for writers, and gave them a script she had written for the television show West Wing. It took several more weeks before she got the call asking if she was interested in a project. So sometimes, it's as simple as giving a writing sample to the right person at the right time -- and being patient until they're in a position to hire writers.

Another thing you and Jerel should know is that most writers in the video game industry are freelancers or contractors, so they aren't likely to be hired into a company full-time. Working as a freelancer often means not having company benefits, not having a steady paycheck, and working on multiple projects at a time to maintain some kind of income flow. Freelancers also have to be extremely self-disciplined and highly organized because they make their own hours and manage their own books, making sure invoices go out and payments come in. Is this the kind of lifestyle your son would be comfortable in?

Good luck to you both!

Jill Duffy is editor of and formerly managing editor of Game Developer magazine. If you have a question about working in the game industry that you'd like to see in Ask the Experts, email it to theexperts at

"The Designer's Notebook: Why Design Documents Matter"
"Making a Video Game from Start to Finish: An Overview for Beginners" forum discussion with resources on game design documents
"Creating a Great Design Document," from sister web site
"Design Document: Play With Fire," an example of a design document from sister web site

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