Sponsored By

Read the first chapter of this debut book on the ins and outs of getting onto the games narrative career path.

Anna Megill, Contributor

May 23, 2023

12 Min Read

The following excerpt is from "The Game Writing Guide" by Anna Megill. The book was published May 22, 2023 by CRC Press. Available for purchase on Routledge. A sample PDF of Chapter 1 can be requested here.


I wrote this book in fragments across a decade, although I didn’t know I was writing it. It began its life as a short Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) post on my personal website. I posted the FAQ out of desperation when I got buried by requests for information about game-writing: What’s the job like? How do I break into games? What skills do I need? Do I need a degree? Emails pleading for advice arrived every few days, until I was overwhelmed trying to answer them all. I wanted to help, but there was no way I could respond to all the messages individually. So instead, I sat down and scribbled out some high-level advice. I covered the basics of the job and offered some general tips for breaking into the industry. I posted it and pointed hopefuls in its direction. They got help; I got my time back. Everyone was happy.

That basic FAQ served its purpose well, and I was delighted when it became a standard online reference for aspiring game writers. I added some information about pitching games and internships here and there, but otherwise the post remained unchanged for ten years. In those ten years, a lot happened. The games industry changed and grew, and my knowledge and experience grew along with it. I noticed gaps and flaws in the old FAQ, and I realized that many of my answers had become outdated. Students and new writers needed help with topics my basic post didn’t cover. It became painfully clear that it wasn’t serving its purpose anymore.

So, I decided to write a new, expanded post. I compiled the notes and reference materials I’d bookmarked for years. I planned sections for international work, applying for jobs, negotiating contracts, switching studios, and a wide range of other topics. The role of game writers had evolved, and I wanted to discuss what that evolution meant. Narrative design had gone from being another term for “game writer” to a complicated pastiche of interconnected roles. Companies were recruiting game writers for interactive movie series like Bandersnatch. There was so much happening in the world of game writing, so much new information to add, but I could never find time to update the post. And as the days slipped past, I stopped trying.

But the pleas for advice kept coming. One message in particular touched me. It was from a young woman in Minneapolis who’d been cobbling together infor mation about game writing from pages scattered all over the Internet. What little help she’d found was often vague and confusing to someone who barely knew the industry terminology. I was sad to learn that my ancient FAQ was still one of the best resources for aspiring game writers out there. Only a few other game writing career references existed, and they were woefully incomplete. In her message, and the others I received, I felt a deep hunger for guidance that nobody was providing. I had to help, so I decided to update my FAQ. I thought I’d add a paragraph here, a short Q&A there, and give the entire post a brisk edit. But once I assembled my proposed changes into one giant, daunting list, I realized what I was actually looking at: a book. I was writing a book. To provide the level of help aspiring writers need, it had to be a book.

A cover image of The Game Writing Guide.

So, I talked to a publisher and here we are! This is the book. There’s a terrible, perhaps apocryphal, statistic that the average game devel oper’s career lasts only five years. That timespan is even shorter for women and other marginalized devs. My goal with this book is to break that cycle and keep talented people doing what they love. It’s not a book about game writing as a craft. Shelves of those books exist already, and I don’t need to toss my thoughts on that pile. Instead, my book will talk you through the unspoken rules and expectations of life as a game writer. I’ll offer practical advice in plain language. No unexplained jargon, no dry academic tone, and no insider knowledge required. Anyone who wants a career in games should be able to pick up this book and understand what it says—even complete beginners.

My book is designed to help working writers, too. Most game-writing advice I’ve seen is only useful up to a point. Books offer general, high-level information about the industry, but don’t give the detailed breakdown that most new writers need. Or they’ll offer help finding a job but not keeping it. This book won’t leave you hanging. I’ll walk you through the hiring process step by step, from finding job posts to acing onsite interviews. And I won’t abandon you once you’ve secured work. I’ll show you how to make a long-term career out of writing for games. I’ll teach you the essentials for surviving as a game writer, how to work in a writing room, and how to put together a team as a narrative lead. I’ll explain how game studios are organized, how to navigate hierarchies and negotiate role changes, and how to work your way up to your ultimate dream job. I also have advice about the specific obstacles that marginalized developers encounter—like what to do when you’re the only person like you on the team. Where my own experience isn’t sufficient, I’ll provide insights from working professionals who know exactly what it takes to succeed in the games industry. I interviewed dozens of game developers, hiring managers, and recruiters for this guide. Every one of them was eager to share their wisdom and expertise. Collectively, we’ll be your career mentor.

An interview with author Anna Megill

But before we get started, I’d like to introduce myself and explain why you should listen to what I have to say. If you bought this book, you might already know my work. If not, hello! I’m a game writer and narrative designer. I’ve been in the games industry for nearly two decades now, working for companies like Ubisoft, Arkane, Remedy, Square Enix, Nintendo, and ArenaNet. My projects have taken home many, many awards, including a few Game of the Year and Best Narrative wins. I’ve spoken at major game conventions around the world about everything from emergent narrative to crafting an interactive portfolio. I’ve moved all over the continental United States and Europe for jobs and uprooted my life several times—with two international moves in 2014 alone. Right now, I live in the English countryside, working as the narrative lead on Fable at Playground Games. I’ve been from one end of the games industry to the other, from small independent titles to huge, tentpole AAA1 projects, so I have a holistic view of the game-development ecosystem. All this to say that I’m a working writer who knows the modern games industry. I know the challenges you’re going to face. I know what studios want in a game writer. As an industry veteran and manager, I’ve been on both sides of the hiring process. I know how to land a job, and I know what studios look for in a hire.

But I’m more than my credentials. I’m someone who cares deeply about making the games industry a better, healthier place. I want more people to know the unique joy of writing games. To know how it feels to create a story, craft it with a team of talented colleagues, and then load into the world you built and live your story with players. There’s no other feeling like it, and that joy should be accessible to everyone who wants it. Beyond that, I want to be the mentor I never had. I always wished for someone to show me the ropes, warn me about problems, and offer me advice. But while I met plenty of smart, caring people in the industry who helped me along my path, I never found the right fit for a mentor. Making the right connections is tough when you’re starting out. And even if you find the perfect experienced dev to be your mentor, they might not be able—or willing—to take you on. The number of hopefuls reaching out for help these days is over whelming. Who has the bandwidth to mentor thousands of new writers while keeping up with their own projects and goals? The honest answer is nobody. That’s another reason I wrote this book: to reach writers that I don’t have time to mentor individually.

This book offers advice for navigating the games industry as it currently exists, with its myriad flaws and deep-rooted problems. I absolutely believe that we can make games a better, safer, kinder, fairer environment for developers, but it’s going to take time and work. I’m committed to making those changes from within, and I encourage others to improve what they can, where they can.

Hopefully, the games industry will be a utopia someday, and I can write a book that focuses solely on “How much is too much salary?” But until then, we have to face the realities of the industry and deal with the systems currently in place. Yes, it would be wonderful if every job offered remote and work-from-home options. And if neurodivergent devs didn’t have to endure open office spaces. And if crunch and burnout didn’t exist. But right now, that’s part of the industry. If you’re someone facing one of the many -isms, then this book can show you how to cope with those issues. I want to be clear, however, that this book is not a tell-all expose of the games industry. There’s no “name and shame” in my advice, and I’m not interested in calling out any studios for bad practices. My advice isn’t based on any one person’s experiences at a specific studio. Also, to be very clear, nothing in this book is drawn from my experiences at Playground Games. All advice and anecdotes come from the shared knowledge of the people I interviewed. I won’t pull my punches when it comes to the problems in this industry, but my focus is on how to solve them and thrive.

The developers I interviewed spoke on the record when they were comfortable, but to get the honest advice and insight that will really help you, I offered the protection of anonymity in certain cases. It’s hard to talk honestly about problems at a studio if you’re worried about backlash or violating your NDA.2 Happily, there were few occasions when people felt they couldn’t speak openly. But when you see language like “an anonymous game dev says” or “one recruiter noted,” understand that it’s there to get at the truth.

This book focuses on the AAA games industry in North America and Europe. Mostly because that’s my area of expertise and because those regions are a dom inant force in AAA development and publishing. The games industry is not a monolith, however, and Japan, Mexico, India, and South Africa, among others, have different business cultures than the United States and Europe. I recognize that some of my advice won’t apply globally. And, of course, there are places in the world where industry opportunities are almost nonexistent. Wherever feasible, I sought out voices from those regions to hear their perspectives and understand their needs. Studios might be scarce there, but people still dream of making AAA games. I want this book to help them, too.

I wrote this book in the third year of a global pandemic with fascism on the rise and human rights endangered around the globe. It often felt like I was writing in quicksilver, the words sliding off the page into obsolescence as fast as I could dash them off. The world I’m describing in this book might not exist soon. And the people I’m writing this book for might soon lose access to the opportunities I’m describing, as they fight for survival. Sometimes, I wondered why I was giving career advice when the world’s burning down. But every act of creation means something. It’s a shout of defiance into darkness and a hand stretched across the abyss. It’s an offer of hope.

My original goal was to help the widest possible audience become game writers. I wanted to make my advice accessible, practical, and personal so it could open doors for nontraditional hopefuls. But now, I’ll be happy to help even one person catch their dream. As game writers, we create new worlds for people to escape into. We write dreams into reality. Maybe it’s all code in a machine, but it lives inside people’s hearts and minds. The letters I’ve received over the years telling me how much my stories mean to someone—that’s real. And that connection to players has fed my soul and kept me in the games industry.

To get the most from this book, we need to work together. I’ll be honest about how tough it is to break into the industry, how many obstacles remain once you’re in, how tedious the work can get—and how it’s still absolutely worth it. In return, you need to be honest about what you want and how hard you’re willing to work for it. I’ll show you how to pick a role and prepare for it, find ways to shine, and fight any dragons you encounter, but you’re the one who has to do the work. This isn’t a standard school textbook with exercises and a quiz at the end of every chapter. Instead, I’ll challenge you to take concrete steps toward your goal. You’ll come out of the resume chapter with a solid document to submit to studios. You’ll come out of the networking chapter with new game writing contacts. And you’ll come out of this book with a clear path to your dream job. But only if you put in the work. Are you ready for that? If you are, let’s get started.

About the Author(s)

Daily news, dev blogs, and stories from Game Developer straight to your inbox

You May Also Like