Would you write IF for a living if you could?

I concur.

I’ve actually dipped my toes into the waters of commercial IF a couple of times. I applied for the role of
Senior Writer / Narrative Designer at Failbetter games in 2020 and got as far as the first interview. The role was taken by Bruno Dias and I applied to him for a less senior role two years later; I was not considered.

In 2021 I applied for a role at a company called Greenheart games, and though they told me I was a strong candidate, I was not interviewed.

Last year I was approached by a Chinese company called Century Games to do some writing and actually did a couple of small jobs for them. I hoped to be writing dialogue, but instead I was asked to come up with English language names for their mobile games. The names had to be two words long so there wasn’t much scope for creativity. That work dried up pretty quickly, and I strongly suspect that it’s now being done by an AI. I wouldn’t blame them if it was.

I suspect that my interests and influences as a writer are not a good fit with the zeitgeist, which is understandable given my age (53). I get the regular email bulletin from Choice Of Games and most of their output doesn’t appeal to me at all as a reader. As a writer I like to have a strongly-defined, motivated main character, so the idea of letting the player define every aspect of the PC is singularly unappealing to me. This alone means I wouldn’t be a good fit for CoG, but I have considered writing for their Hosted Games range.

So unless I’m approached by a rich patron or benefactor, a Medici or a Peggy Guggenheim, I think it’s unlikely that I’ll ever get to write IF full time.

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Not an expert, because have yet to be employed by the industry (cough), but have ran the whole “marathon” for years in hopes to get hired for a narrative designer/writer position (whilst experiencing some fairly questionable practices; plus have had some insights from other devs later on, some who worked in AAA).

Which brings me to my question of, What’s your portfolio/CV look like? How’s it structured, etc. Have snooped a little-bit around your website, and have not seen anything mentioning writing, or something that could be close to it; was eagerly looking for an IMDB style bulletin, listing all the projects you’ve worked on (especially if you’ve been reached out to before, and was informed about the hiring process), etc. But more so because you think that:

While this may be true in certain situations and may or may not require some forms of flexibility from your part (e.g., they’re looking for a YA author, as in who can communicate well with teens), it’s more likely that your resume has failed to tick their “requirements” that has nothing or very little to do with writing. Not sure how much you know about these things, assuming you do, if not could elaborate more on this (as a lot goes behind the scenes). Because, can say it with great certainty that if people enjoy your art, there’s no such thing as simply “you’re a strong candidate”; that’s just BS from HR (excuse my language).

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Hi Aaron, thanks for taking an interest!

Years ago my website used to have a bunch of different pages for all of my interests, but these days employers are looking for a clean, single page site that looks good on a mobile phone. So I’ve removed anything that isn’t related to my professional work, and I’m a motion graphic designer not a writer.

The closest I have to an IMDB page for IF is my IFDB page, and I sent a link to Failbetter when I applied. The person I was applying to was Emily Short, so she knew what she was looking at. We’ve also met numerous times IRL so I’m sure that helped with my application.

I created a CV or resume with samples of my writing, quotes from reviewers and links to the individual games. That was kind of fun to do, because suddenly I was looking at my hobby in a completely different light, and I was very grateful for all the lovely things reviewers had said about my games over the years, I’m sure they helped.

I’m sure I could write for young adults and I could certainly adapt my writing style for different audiences. I’m writing a Gruescript game for my nephews who are 12 and 9. But I don’t know how you prove to an employer that you have that flexibility. They’re always going to choose someone who’s already written for their target audience over someone who hasn’t.

I do actually have two IMDB pages (I’ve never been able to work out how to amalgamate them). I’m credited as Jason Guest for The Christmas Candle (2013) and as J. J. Guest for Everywhere & Nowhere (2011) and Storage 24 (2012).

Incidentally, Storage 24 has the rare distinction of being the second lowest grossing film in history.

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This is quite interesting, and impressive to see, had no idea (especially comparing to my “achievements”, which are just self made projects), which just further raises questions and could ultimately be responsible for the feeling of “what else is there to prove to be taken seriously”.

What jumps out from the get go is that you even have an inside connection (this is perplexing really), so surely they must’ve given you some tips, or warned you about certain things, because your situation, the transitioning from one industry to another (within entertainment) comes up on the regular on dev forums; mostly because some of the skills involved are transferable, or at least leverage the fact that you have something to do with creative arts (and not just some random person deciding this career transition at a whim’s).

On a side node, had a roller-coaster with Failbetter if remembered correctly, way back when, when was applying to a choice game company, with a community project; which was fun and “fun”

So, without seeing your actual CV (no need to send it :slight_smile: ), one could assume a lot. Was about to start typing some unsolicited advice–the behind the scenes knowledge, and points on this and your work–but was immediately reminded that it might be overstepping some boundaries, not yet permitted to. Not mentioning that those may or may not be useful for you, or may cause more harm than good.

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I’m not sure that any of my professional skills are transferrable, except that I have done a bit of screenwriting. I wrote and directed a short live-action film in my thirties and I’ve also written the screenplay for an animated pilot which got made but didn’t go anywhere.

My motivation for going into the animation industry was same as my reason for writing IF - I wanted to tell stories that made people laugh. I studied animation at college and I really should have listened to my tutor when he told me that my strength lay in my writing and not in my drawing and animation skills. In my mid twenties I left home to live in London and found work at Uli Meyer Studios, a traditional animation house owned by one of the animators on Who Framed Roger Rabbit? My first proper, paid job was putting drawings of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck under the camera as a line tester on the original Space Jam film.

I very quickly realised that I really didn’t have the drawing skills to be a professional animator, so I drifted into the digital side. I was in the right place at the right time, because the old hand-painted cel animation process was giving way to digital ink and paint. I worked on dozens and dozens of breakfast cereal commercials, mainly for the American market. When CG began to predominate and that sort of work dried up I learned Adobe After Effects, and eventually became what is now known as a 2D motion graphic designer. This was about as far from my goal of telling funny stories as you can get - most of my work these days is either corporate films or moving typography for Instagram ads. I do occasionally get to do some character animation though. You do what you need to do to keep paying the bills.

So my thwarted ambition found another outlet. Around 2002 I began to wonder if there was anyone out there who remembered the old text adventure games I’d enjoyed in my teens. A quick search for “text adventure creator” lead me to ADRIFT, and the rest is history. In the early 2000s the age of commercial IF was a distant memory and I never for a moment imagined there’d be opportunities to do it professionally again. There aren’t many, but I’m very happy for the people who’ve managed to turn their hobby into a profession, and good luck to them.

I’d be happy to send you my writing CV in a PM, if you’d find it useful.

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Hehe, I had almost exactly the same thought train today. Basically because – this ‘bring out your ghosts’ jam made me take a glance at something of mine I never started. And suddenly I thought, ‘Hey, this looks better to me than ever.’ But it’s not a parser game. The closest fit in the commercial sector is probably CoG, and then came the thought train. Anyway, my hands are full with my WIP.

-Wade

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I see. The reason why not going on listing things that probably had a huge role in choosing you and for future reference, was simply due to the fact that the realization at the end of the road might not be welcoming (however, it seems that this isn’t a priority for you, so it may be better just to leave it as is). Personally, when this all crystalized for me, have had to come in terms with the fact that how things are current and for the foreseeable future, chasing a career as a writer, and the video game industry as a whole is just way out of reach and possibly will never happen (there’s only one way of doing it by going solo); no matter the work, the projects, the passion, the hours put into it.

I’m not sure that any of my professional skills are transferrable

One is that you’ve worked in entertainment before (and continue to do so), which translates to the fact that you are perfectly aware of the working conditions: Tight deadlines, sporadic work, late payments, handling stress, etc. On top of having real production experience in film; which is a good thing to have, although better for animation/vfx than writing. So there are a lot of overlapping, or at least comparable skills and expertise that you can and should leverage at an interview (on top of having a solid motivation for your art, which is really important, because you’ve an “agenda”, and can answer the question “What are your goals or Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”).

I’d be happy to send you my writing CV in a PM, if you’d find it useful.

Apart from the usual, how to format your CV, the “make sure it’s on point”, “make sure it’s short and only references relevant info”, has little to do with this; well has some because most companies these days scan docs before a human touches them and reject/filter those accordingly if certain keywords are missing, am certain that most of the things are simply not there that would strongly suggest a hire (as you technically shared your entire CV above, by sharing your work).

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Things have changed to such an extent that I haven’t given any serious thought to going professional as a writer since I made those applications. The UK economy is on its knees and I’m in survival mode. I’m getting just about enough motion graphics work to get by, and now doesn’t feel like the right time to shift focus. Plus, I’ve become a bit of a pessimist regarding the environment. I’m always wondering if this is the year we stop worrying about how many likes our Instagram stories are getting and start worrying about where to find fresh water.

Yes, there is that, and I did make a point of drawing those comparisons in my cover letter. There are certainly parallels between the two industries.

That’s definitely true of large companies, but I don’t think it’s necessarily true of companies as small as Failbetter. I can’t fault their application process. Not only was their rejection letter personalised but they also offered feedback. They were delightful to deal with on the whole.

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Reading the exchange between JJ and Aaron above, I want to underline that the original question and, relatedly, the desire to be hired in the game industry can vary wildly depending on the personal situation of people.

It’s very different to want to “live from your art” when you’re barely making ends meet working night shifts at a MacDonald’s than to look for a career change while making a 6-figures salary in the finance industry.

It’s also very different to apply to a new type of job/career when you’re 22 out of college and when you are 45 with experience (something I’m just starting to comprehend approaching my 40st birthday).

And lastly, the question can also about what you’d sacrifice to “live from your art”, especially when you’re old enough to have created a standard of living for yourself, your kids etc. I have many (N≈6) younger friends who work in AAA that accept things that I wouldn’t for (not even the tiniest part of) all the gold in the world.

In the end, my job actually pays for the time I can write IF on the week end and during my paid vacations, without the constraints of deadlines, bossy producers or anything :slight_smile:

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Indeed. However, the likelihood of getting a position other than AAA, excluding the handful of small websites/studios that solely operate by story driven games, it’s mostly outsourced work for HR which means a great deal of auto filtering, combined with seemingly never ending waiting lists and ghosting.

The UK economy is on its knees

Yeah, that’s a funny situation. Not sure how long, or how many companies have you tried to apply to, but historically speaking, you’ll never find an abundance of writer or narrative designer positions. One reason being that “everyone thinks they can write, an write good”, and it’s mostly handled by senior developers. This is also the reason why medium or small companies don’t even bother creating a separate job position, because it can be taken care of. Second is that only in recent years it has emerged that “maybe” writing should be an actual job title, as in considered a profession (you can find a lot of game writers on twitter ranting about this), because before this nobody thought about that angle (as if you couldn’t get a degree in it, which you can, is a pretty archaic mindset and is telling how much they value writers or writing for that matter). So at any given moment, there’ll be only a couple of open positions, of which people from the entire globe will fight for. And this is only one part of the problem, not the biggest, as ludicrous it may sound.

worrying about how many likes our Instagram stories are getting and start worrying about where to find fresh water

This may never change, only get worse, as the general audience for video games doesn’t read much, if they read at all. The overarching majority of games have very little to do with text, even the ones that do (mostly) hide behind gorgeous art and aesthetics, because writing is a feature, a nice to have (but never the sole carrier of any game). Books are there for this very thing. Generalising here of course.

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They don’t even drink fresh water either, so they may never notice it disappearing !

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Well, per that list that’s just the US box office - sounds like you did OK in the UK!

The number one movie on the list is a very weird coincidence, though - it’s apparently something called Zyzzyx Road!

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That’s pretty cool actually. I watched Storage 24 a while ago and never even realised you were in it.

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I’m not in it! I designed the opening titles. It got terrible write ups but it’s not a bad little b-movie. The director, Johannes Roberts, is a really nice guy. Clearly he went on to better things - his 2021 film, Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City grossed $42 million worldwide!

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Ah. Probably just as well because I don’t recall it being any good. When I heard about its unfortunate box office take, I remember thinking it was about what it deserved.

It is what it is, which is a very low budget horror movie! As Mike pointed out, it didn’t do badly in the UK, but Citizen Kane it ain’t.

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Sounds lovely. I’m assuming it’s contract work, because otherwise the late payments wouldn’t be legal?

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And if you’re approaching 40 without a viable career anyway?

Even it that case, it can be for an innenumerable number of reasons.

My point was more along the lines of “giving general career advice to someone you barely know on a forum is pointless”

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Possibly pointless? Largely agreed, but the advice could be helpful, there’s just no way to be certain it will.

I wouldn’t want to pour cold water on something that might be helpful when often the alternative is no advice at all. What many would consider the best option, personalized and professional career and life coaching, is firmly out of reach for most seeking this sort of help.

As someone always seeking advice, I
I’d sure hope folks with experience would allow us advice-seekers to determine if the advice is applicable rather than predetermining it likely isn’t and keeping it to themselves. Besides, I sometimes find actionable advice in unexpected places.

Besides, you may very well fail to give useful advice to the person who asked, but it is a forum. Certainly someone reading the thread got something from it.

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