What is the first thought that comes to mind regarding a video game technical writer? Usually these are separated into just video game and technical writer, where people often think about cool interactive special effects for the former and boring, but extremely useful, user guides for the latter. Interestingly, it’s not too common to think about these two topics together, when in fact, they go hand in hand. While developers, animators, audio engineers, and pro gamers are more known career paths in this industry, tech writers are just as instrumental in the game development process, if not more important.
According to recent studies, by 2026 the gaming industry will exceed almost $300 billion on a global scale. In the U.S. market alone, the value is already $90 million, and it’s expected to reach $100 billion by 2024. Similarly, as technological advancements continue to boom and influence the gaming sector, the need for technical writing will only increase. So, let’s explore the responsibilities of a video game technical writer.
What is a Video Game Technical Writer?
A video game technical writer creates a variety of clear and readable technical documentation to help lead management and key personnel understand how each gaming feature will work, and how to use them throughout the game development process.
With the help of SMEs, a technical writer may contribute to the game’s storyline, script, characters, visualization, quality assurance, and so on. Furthermore, they are responsible for keeping all documentation up to date for team members across all departments, making it easier for developers and designers to organize, analyze, and manage gaming components. They also maintain existing documents for revisions to accurately reflect the functionality and meet the goal of developing the video as a whole.
What Do You Need to Know About Video Gaming Writing?
While some gaming organizations may focus solely on the technical side, some organizations want writers to produce a wide range of content as well. This may include blog posts that cover the latest industry trends, gaming platforms, gameplay reviews, and other topics. As for the technical content, one of the most important documents tech writers will create is the Game Design Document (GDD). Moreover, this document will outline, describe, and organize every aspect of a video game to ensure it is completed as planned. Here are eight basic parts of what a GDD should include:
1. Game concept/storyline
Video games come in all shapes and sizes, all standards of production, and counts of pixels. But, what is most important when first developing a video game is the initial concept or story idea: that three-sentence elevator pitch that is crucial for getting any idea off of the ground. What a video game technical writer can do for you at this point is help smooth over the rough edges of the initial idea and transcribe it from your head neatly to paper.
Not all games need a highly technical or plot-driven story to be made. Tetris has survived for decades upon decades because of its simple yet enticing design, but even then someone had to lay the groundwork and try to sell the idea that stacking rows of misshapen four-square long blocks would make for great entertainment value. However, if your game does follow a fairly complex story, then it is a good idea to record the most important beats of the narrative and setting so you can build off of them later.
Speaking of Tetris, this step does not quite fit its mold. This is more for story-driven games or those with at least a character that the player will be controlling. In the case of such games however, good characterization is essential. Similar to the prior part, a video game technical writer takes details from the creative side of the development team and then sorts through them, taking their best care to make sense of how the production team wants their character, or characters, to act.
The main character has to be nailed down correctly. They are the surrogate for the player after all, and you can’t alienate your player base, otherwise, you made a game for no reason. Whether they are a plucky, adventurous good guy who is destined to save his kingdom or a sympathetic anti-hero on a quest for revenge, making sure that their actions are understandable and within the perimeters of their character arc ensures a happy consumer.
Also, don’t forget the existence of side characters such as friendly non-playable characters (NPCs), enemies, and bosses. Part of what makes your main character endearing to the player is how they react to the setting and the world around them, which the above three are a part of. It’s important to know exactly who these side characters are to be able to give the game purpose. It does not need to be complex, but it is nice to know why the big bad guy has summoned a horde of minions to subjugate the people of a small, sleepy village that you are about to liberate.
3. Script: Dialogue and other in-game text
Similar to characterization, part of the process that a video game technical writer needs to complete in order to make a GDD is dialogue and text. While spoken dialogue is not in every game, and more than not is cut from independently produced games to save on costs, developers count on the textual dialogue between characters to help push the story along the plotted path. Again, Tetris has no use for this, but that does not mean that text is not involved.
Instructional non-diegetic text, or text that is not being communicated to any of the characters, is imperative for every game as it tells the player how to play the game, gives the player updates on their progress, and warns them about the condition of the character they are playing as. All of this information needs to be organized in order for the development leads to be able to see the bigger scope of the whole game-making process. Thus, this falls on the video game technical writer.
Now that you have story beats, characters, and dialogue figured out, the next step is figuring out what the game should look like. There is such a wide variety of resolutions and art styles to choose from that this can feel daunting, but once you find your vision it should be a fairly simple process. For example, if you were looking for a retro vibe, you might stick to 32-bit or 64-bit resolution and stick to the color schemes of original Nintendo games. Otherwise, you might go for the over-the-top style of newer AAA titles and render the game in 4K and with a diverse color palette.
5. Music Production
On a similar notion, how will you deal with music? All great games have a memorable main theme, if not a whole soundtrack to back it up. A video game technical writer can help keep you on the right track when considering these things, calling back on past decisions to inform new ones. A massive AAA title might contract a symphony composer to create scores with a wide range of instruments, or a 32-bit title might limit themselves to the bit tunes that were released when bit games had first come out to feel more authentic. You don’t want to give your audience culture shock.
You should also think about the setting and genre. It would be a bit tone-deaf to add in a cheery pop song in an intense chase sequence in a horror game, or death metal during a complicated and stressful procedure. A game’s music should fit the atmosphere it’s set in so as to not alienate that precious, precious player base.
6. Development cost
Alright, now that you have all your basics down, how much will it set you back? Like any production, there is a cost for everything, including the above items. Some might cost you more than others, but if you had that video game technical writer helping you keep track of everything in the first place, then it should be easy to look back at what you want and add up the charges.
The dream is to build the perfect game, but sadly dreams come with costs. If you are a big developer then this might not be an issue for you, and you can make your game as pretty and wonderful and hire as many people as you want to work on it. That being said, if you’re just starting out, then you might have to budget a bit, which is why GDD is so helpful!
Part of the development cost is the testers, who are vital to ensuring the game is good. Similar to Hollywood’s test screenings, playtesters will play mostly finished demos of your game in order to see how it runs. They find and report on bugs, comment on the play style, and overall relate whether or not the game is any good. A GDD will keep schedules of when testers are allowed to play test the game and which versions of it they are given.
8. Marketing strategies
Congratulations, the game is finished! Now you just need someone to buy it. Part of any good technical writer’s repertoire is implementing marketing strategies, which gives your video game technical writer at least on more job. The basics are, of course, knowing who your audience is, but you need to know how to get the word out.
The internet is the most basic solution, where a company can pay for an official Instagram account or a YouTube ad to appear in front of potential customers. TV ads are also viable as well as billboard space, but it’s important to remember who you’re trying to sell the game to. Understanding your customer is vital.
In conclusion, technical writers are needed throughout the process of developing a video game. At first, it may seem logical to have the developers write the documentation. However, they already have enough responsibilities, and their skill set may not include writing. A better choice would be to employ a technical writer. Here at Essential Data Corporation, we can help you find the perfect person for the job.
How EDC Can Help
Whether you need a team of consultants to produce a complete line of documentation or a single technical writer for a brief project, Essential Data’s Engagement Manager will lead the project from start to finish. At Essential Data Corporation, we guarantee the quality of our work. Contact us today to get started. (800) 221-0093 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Written by Kimberly Jones