Why virtual collaboration is not for you

[ Warning:  Sarcasm Alert ] Friends, gamers, countrymen.  I come to bury virtual collaboration, not to praise it.  Outsourcing, virtual collaboration, remote workers — the buzzwords of the game industry these days.  But it’s not for everyone, and here’s a few reasons why it’s not for you.

1.  Outsourcing only works for art

Certainly, we have seen many companies outsourcing art both near and far, but the benefits end there.  In fact, most best practices on outsourcing come only from art.  No one has actually applied them in other arenas, such as in this article on writing.

2.  Your company culture will get hosed

You are all about getting together and playing ping-pong after work with your co-workers.  If people don’t show up at work, all that jolly team spirit will disappear.  Sure, building remote systems into your company culture, such as playing games, meeting virtually, and having fun mailing lists, do work, but not for you.

3.  Remote workers don’t actually work as much as in-house workers

When your artist is sitting at his desk, you know he’s working and not surfing MySpace.  When your designer is at the office until 10pm, you know it’s because she’s been grinding on that design doc, and not spending half the day goofing off.  On the other hand, as soon as they go home, who knows what they’re up to.  And evaluating results rather than hours worked as many suggest in this article is really not the best plan for you.

Clearly, if you need to see your workers working, only believe art outsourcing has been successful, and believe your company culture will dissolve if workers only come in once a week or year, then virtual collaboration is not for you.  However, maybe, just maybe, with a bit of a designer’s mentality, you can create an environment that makes it both fun and productive to work remotely.  But that’s up to you.

What are some other great reasons why virtual collaboration is not for you?  Comment with your answer!

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Published in: on July 31, 2008 at 12:14 pm  Comments (4)  

Comic-con 2008 and the quest for new IP

Think the intellectual property (IP) you choose doesn’t have a big impact on how your game does?  According to a recent Gamasutra article, lack of first-party IPs explains slow sales of the PS3.  Namco is ramping up its development of original IP.  So which IPs are the one to go for?  Well, you’re in luck.  At comic-con last week, I joined a feature creative exec in search of new intellectual property. 

I spent most of Thursday going from booth to booth, checking out the trends in comics.  The exec’s mandate was simple: no aliens, superheroes, or supernatural.  Not surprisingly, that was just about everything out there.  The descriptions all started out the same: “Joe is a mild-mannered X,” then the second sentence would be something about aliens.  If you’re developing original IP, you’ll be up against a heap of competition if you play in these types of worlds. 

No matter what IP you buy or develop, make sure to get out of the way of your fans.  As Will Wright said at comic-con, eventually your players are going to entertain you more than you entertain them.  You want to give them the tools to do so, then get out of their way. 

With the alien/sci fi, supernatural, and superhero genres covered in comics and games and the war genre pretty much covered in games, what storytelling genres do you think are underserved in games?

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Published in: on July 29, 2008 at 11:12 am  Comments (1)  

Narrative design drama you might have missed

While I’m off at comic-con, I thought I’d make sure you’re up to date on current trends in narrative design.  First off, if you haven’t, read Sande’s great feature on creating emotion and drama in games beyond writing: Towards More Meaningful Games: A Multidisciplinary Approach.  If you just can’t get enough, check out the other articles on narrative design that have hit a nerve over the past couple months.

Redefining Game Narrative: Ubisoft’s Patrick Redding On Far Cry 2
Brings back memories of Lee Sheldon’s game writing approaches as seen in his 2004 book Character Development and Storytelling in Games.  Modular, non-linear storytelling comes of age.  Who says it can’t be done?

GCG Op-Ed: Writing Off Game Writers
On a related and oddly well-timed note, check out Lee’s article on how games writers are unsung and ignored in game development.

The Problem Of The Cutscene
This article comes not to bury the cutscene, but to praise it.  This rather wordy article says cutscenes haven’t been cutting it because of inappropriate pacing, generic execution, and bad timing.  More surprising, check out the cutscene love-fest in the comments.

Innovations In Character: Personalizing RPGs, Retaining Players
Adults tend to like characters with distinct personalities and backgrounds.  Developing these characters may have an impact on the bottom line.  This article and a few of the comments highlight a few approaches to developing, or allowing your player to develop, these types of characters.

Is Gameplay As Narrative The Answer?
Yes.  Basic take-home with this article: Don’t straight-jacket your players with narrative.  Avoid having your players’ choices be irrelevant in the game story.  If you can, make your AI sophisticated enough to take into account player actions without making the game no fun.  Good example: City of Heroes.  After you save people, they sing your praises in the streets.

Sometimes narrative as narrative is the answer
A rebuttal to the above article, again saying — hey, maybe if you get good writers to collaborate with the designers, players won’t experience a disconnect between story and gameplay.

Ready to hire your game’s narrative designer?  Drop us an e-mail at anne (at) writerscabal.com!  Otherwise, comment on your biggest sticking points when it comes to designing narrative in a game.

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Published in: on July 23, 2008 at 11:56 pm  Comments (1)  

Written Well AND Delivered Well

As a colleague pointed out to me at a recent IGDA meeting, game dialog can be written well but not delivered well.  Even if the dialog is out-of-this-world, poor voice-acting, engine limitations, or mismatched animation can hamper the performance.  Many game developers do send the writer to the voiceover session, but how many think it’s important for the writer to interact with the programmers and artists?

Nowadays, game development is a collaborative process.  Large games need teams of specialized workers. As we discussed in our SXSW Interactive session, story design shouldn’t be separated from the other disciplines.  Story can go beyond ‘just the words.’  Instead, a dedicated narrative designer working with programmers, artists, and sound designers will know how to convey story in an interactive experience.  To do this well, a narrative designer should be considered part of a multidisciplinary team.

For more on this topic, please read the article on Gamasutra“Towards More Meaningful Games: A Multidisciplinary Approach.”

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Published in: on July 22, 2008 at 6:21 am  Comments (5)  

Where video games and animation meet

Anne will be speaking on a video game panel for Women in Animation tonight. We will highlight what video games can learn from those with a background in animation, and how animators can get involved. If you’re in LA, you’re in luck — you can see it in person. If not, you don’t have to miss out (see below).

Who:
Lance Powell, Electronic Arts
Tim Trzepacz, softegg.com
Bill Kroyer
Anne Toole, Writers Cabal, of course!

What:
Women in Animation

When:
Thursday, July 17, 2008, 7pm

Where:

DreamWorks campus

1000 Flower Street

Glendale, California

RSVP and for more info:
Women in Animation

Got any questions for the panel, but can’t make it? Drop your questions here. If you’re there, come say hello!

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Published in: on July 16, 2008 at 9:30 pm  Comments (2)  

Yes, I am running for president

Okay, the game’s finally up.  You may have seen the reports that I’m running for president.  Here’s the latest at News3Online.  Check it out, and let me know if I have your vote!

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Published in: on July 14, 2008 at 3:27 pm  Leave a Comment  

Top 5 misconceptions about hiring a game writing team

So you want to hire a game writer.  Congrats!  Whether adding to your staff or outsourcing your game writing, you’re not alone.  Apparently, most companies that hire writers, just hire one.  But have you considered a team of writers?  Before making your decision, read on to see if you’re struggling with any of these misconceptions about hiring a game writing team.

1.  Won’t two people cost more than one?

Quantity of work and the time you need it done in set the price for game writing more than the number of people doing it.  You could pay one person for two months to get a project done, or a team of two one month to get it done.  Either way, the costs are the same.   

2.  Can’t one person deliver the same as a writing team?

The above example assumes that all else is equal.  But not all things are equal.  You also pay your game writer(s) for quality, which as we all well know varies greatly in the game industry.  With an extra person looking over the writing before submitting it, you get higher quality work from a game writing team than a solo game writer.  You’re getting greater value by hiring a team.

3.  Won’t two writers just disagree a lot?

Yes, thank goodness!  It’s in these disagreements that the writing actually gets better.  Sande and I have worked together long enough that we can discuss an issue until we reach consensus.  This week we were working on a game pitch, and, based on our assessment of what the client wants, we decided to go with the classic 3-act structure.  We spent quite a few minutes discussing “midpoints,” of all things.  In the end, our conversation yielded a stronger, more organic story than if we’d just agreed to get along.  On the other hand, some clients — and maybe you’d be one of them — want a plurality of options before they decide to move forward, so our different perspectives come in handy.  

4.  A writing team can’t work individually.

I confess I don’t quite understand this misconception in game writing, but I’ll dispell it anyway.  While Sande and I collaborate on just about everything, with large projects we often split the work.  In the event that one of us is ill or occupied, the other one steps up and works alone.   

5.  I need my writer to come into the office, and it would be too hard to bring in a team.

Good for you!  It’s always a brilliant idea to bring your writer in to work, see the builds, and eat lunch 😉  That said, we have had cases where the client only had one of us come to the office at a time.  Since Sande and I are accustomed to virtual collaboration, we can easily communicate any information we learn to each other. 

So, let me have it.  What else is nagging you about hiring a writing team?  Send me an e-mail at anne (at) writerscabal.com, or drop a comment to this post!

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Published in: on July 10, 2008 at 12:53 pm  Leave a Comment  

Ranch Rush game released!

Nothing more fun than a quick game.  And by quick game, I mean a rush job.  Check out our fastest game writing job so far — Ranch Rush!  It’s a time management game featuring a character with a bit of sass and a lot of energy!

1) Download and install the Ranch Rush trial from freshgames.com.
2) Launch the game and click on “Buy Now”.
3) Play.

I believe you can play a trial version — but watch out.  It’s addictive!

Post script — I’m pretty geeked out, now that I notice they’re using some of our dialog lines to market it!

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Published in: on July 8, 2008 at 4:15 pm  Comments (2)