Demystifying the Outsourced Game Writing Process
For anyone working in an artistic or creative medium, the creative process is often seen as holy ground. It’s thought of as something that needs an auteur’s careful eye, something that needs to be nurtured and pained over. That feeling is no different in the games industry. And why should it be? Your game is your baby, you want the best for it. But creative support is there when you need it!
Many developers working in games, even today, believe that working with an ‘outsider’ like an outsourced collaborative partner to create a game’s narrative, plot, or dialogue slows down the creative process or makes the end product less ‘authentic’. While this can be the case with an inexperienced team, bringing in the right outside writing talent can do the exact opposite! It can do incredible things for your project: lend an objective and experienced fresh eye to breathe new air into stories, bolster team size to speed up the writing process and help meet tight deadlines, or simply help navigate issues in scale and budget to keep your bottom line tight.
To help clear up the taboos and misconceptions around working with a third-party team, let’s explore how the writing process works with an outsourced writing partner!
Pre-Production & Collaboration
A huge barrier for collaborative projects is the question “But if I don’t write it, how is it really my story?” It’s this first phase that ensures the story developed is truly your own.
Just like in any other creative process, the collaborative process in outsourced game writing projects starts off with an intensive pre-production cycle. The incoming team go to great lengths to get to know you and your vision for your new masterpiece.
Discussions between a developer and their new team will typically revolve around a few core things: what the story should be, who the character is, what your vision for the game is, style and tone, overarching or individual character arcs, and style bibles. If none of these exist yet, the team will work closely with you to flesh out anything necessary.
If this feels invasive, it should. It’s is how a team get to know your project intimately. The beginning phase of the project is designed to be about openness and free collaboration. Connecting on the core points about the creative vision for a game is how a team integrates to the point that they don’t feel like an external team, they gel with you and your creative ideals to operate going forward as if they were your own in-house writers.
After the intensive creative fact-finding process, the team will work with you to draw up plans, deadlines, and milestones to help set a roadmap for how and when the project will be completed, along with giving you a transparent overview of exactly how your team will work for you.
Building Strong Foundations: Storyboarding & Character Creation
For projects where the team is creating a story and cast from relative scratch, this step is crucial in setting the creative tone and direction of a project. Working hand-in-hand with you and your production team, the writers map out the plot, themes and recurring motifs, and tone for your game. Creating comprehensive story bibles as constant ongoing reference points.
Next, of course, comes character creation. Developing the personalities that will bring your story to life onscreen and in the imagination of the players. Each key character (and supporting character, depending on the scale of the project) will have their own unique reference materials to help keep track of their arc and as a guideline for writers when introducing them to a scene, outlining how they are likely to react or to conduct themselves in any potential scenario.
Once the basics above are in place, the team set about creating the storyboards and scene plans that will eventually make up the core of your game. As the developer and main project owner, you will be invited to be as hands-on in this phase as you can be. Close collaboration with you in this phase, allowing you every opportunity to inject your thoughts and ideas, is how your team ensure the world they are building is exactly the one you had in mind and that your story really is your own.
Putting Pen to Paper
The best writing teams are always the ones that shatter the expectation that an outside writer couldn’t possibly know what they’re doing. Outsourcing teams are often built around industry-veteran talent who have learned their trade and cut their teeth on countless creative projects industry-wide, sometimes over a span of decades. More than that, a smart partner will pair you with a team of writers who have proven success in games similar to the genre, themes, or goals of your project.
The actual writing phase of the process tends to be seen as the romantic part for many people. It conjures images of dark rooms filled with writers typing furiously, surrounded by balled up pieces of paper crumpled in frustration. But for the most part, it is the most conventional or ‘boring’ part of the whole process. What happens here is exactly what you would expect: the writers write!
We try to demystify the process a lot here. Our goal is to shatter the image of the writing process as a sacred rite that ‘takes as long as it takes’. In reality, that’s not how things work. Though the process can indeed vary from weeks to months, the turnaround time is far more influenced by a game’s genre or length than it is by waiting for a lone, reclusive writer to come up with some divine inspiration.
With set milestones, a staggered scene delivery schedule, and the game’s framework already mapped out during the storyboarding process, the team’s mission at this stage is to make sure scenes make it to you on time and at intervals that are manageable for you. Batch deliveries often allow teams to run initial drafting and redrafting/feedback rounds in tandem, cutting down on time and cost in the long run.
Depending on the game, additional reference materials can also be created in this phase. For example, in-game lore or mythos texts to help flesh out your world or build on an arc or backstory.
Feedback & Redrafting
While the initial writing process is the romanticised one, experienced storytellers know that this final phase is where almost 90% of the real work happens in any game writing project.
Any team could easily sit down and write you a story start to finish and deliver it uninterrupted. But that is how you get a story that isn’t your own. The perfect-fit team deliver content regularly and consult closely with you to ensure the tone, focus, and unfurling of your story are going in the right direction, are 100% consistent across the board, and correspond to your vision on every level, from telling the overall story of the game right down to how individual lines flow and should be delivered.
Intense feedback and redrafting sessions are the meat and potatoes of the outsourced writing process. One-to-one feedback and creative input from you is built into how a good team should work, allowing you to guide and mould their workflows towards shaping your content to your vision. Just think of yourself as the creative director!