Writers Guild Executive Explains Game Writing Awards

Andy Chalk

One Flag, One Fleet, One Cat
Nov 12, 2002
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Writers Guild Executive Explains Game Writing Awards


Micah Wright, the chairman of the Writers Guild of America Videogame Writers Caucus, said there's a simple reason why Red Dead Redemption [http://www.amazon.com/Mass-Effect-2-Xbox-360/dp/B001TORSII/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1296838960&sr=8-4] aren't up for Videogame Writing Award consideration: BioWare and Rockstar refused to submit scripts.

In an interview with Deus Ex: Human Revolution [http://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2011-02-03-deus-ex-franchise-evolution-interview?page=2] lead writer Mary De Marle said she was "kind of mad" about the WGA game writing awards because of the requirement that nominees must be Guild members. "To tout themselves as, 'This is the award that you want to get if you write in games,' that is not true, because they're not recognizing all the games that exist," she said.

Her comment elicited a rather lengthy response from Wright, who emphasized that non-Guild members are in fact eligible to compete. Entrants are actually required to join the Videogame Writers Caucus, "a volunteer organization made up entirely of working videogame writers" that costs $60 per year to join and does not have the federally-supervised contract requirements of the WGA. Nominated games must also have a credited writer, which Wright said was part of the group's effort to force developers to recognize the importance of the work.

"As a guild of professional writers, we're not about to give an award to either a mystery person, or to a company which can't be bothered to honor the workers who made their game. Last year only two games were denied entrance due to this requirement... down from over two dozen who weren't eligible the first year we gave out the award four years ago," he said. "Mission accomplished!"

More to the point for gamers who wonder why Take Two Games [http://www.amazon.com/God-War-III-Playstation-3/dp/B000ZK9QCS/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1296839345&sr=8-1] refused to submit a script for Red Dead Redemption. Why? We don't know. Maybe they hate unions, or maybe they just hate winning awards, or maybe they have enough statues on their mantle. No way to know. So another game gets what would likely have been their nomination. Are we happy about it? No... but rules are rules and our rules are clear and very fair."

Wright also said that the Writers Guild would have happily welcomed De Marle's Deus Ex script and even suggested that it had a good shot at winning, although he managed to work a little bit of a backhand into his compliment. "Anyone is allowed to submit for our award. If Mary De Marle wanted to submit the Deus Ex script for our award this year, she could have, and we would have loved to have her," he said. "And she might have even won it since the guys who wrote Red Dead Redemption took themselves out of consideration this year."

The 2011 Writers Guild Awards will be handed out tomorrow, February 5, at events in Los Angeles and New York.


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aashell13

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Jan 31, 2011
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I wonder why Bioware would hold out on something like this. Good writing is what they're known for, isn't it? That said, this article does explain how a few games with less than stellar stories managed to win.
 
Apr 28, 2008
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Oh man, that Stolen Pixels will never get old.

Also, Force Unleashed 2 is up for an award? But that game's story was crappy!
Which is kind of funny, considering how good the first one's story was...

Developers, submit your scripts. So games with crappy stories don't have a chance at winning an award for good writing.
 

sir.rutthed

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Nov 10, 2009
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So their excuse for nominating Force Unleashed 2 is that Bioware didn't want to play? Seems to me there's quite a few games better written than FU2, if not as good as ME2. "Well, we couldn't get Kobe to join our basketball team, so let's get Hellen Keller instead! That's the next best thing, right?"
 

DTWolfwood

Better than Vash!
Oct 20, 2009
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so they have to jump through hoops to get nominated i c.

ah well, pretty funny finalists nonetheless.
 

Onyx Oblivion

Borderlands Addict. Again.
Sep 9, 2008
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I know that I hate unions...

But yeah, submit your scripts! $60 isn't anything to AAA game development studios.
 

Delusibeta

Reachin' out...
Mar 7, 2010
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DTWolfwood said:
so they have to jump through hoops to get nominated i c.
I doubt this article doesn't illustrate quite how many hoops as Rock Paper Shotgun's [http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2011/02/04/writers-guild-of-america-explain-themselves/] take on it. Also included: a quote in which Wright pisses over the UK branch of the organisation.
 

DTWolfwood

Better than Vash!
Oct 20, 2009
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Delusibeta said:
DTWolfwood said:
so they have to jump through hoops to get nominated i c.
I doubt this article doesn't illustrate quite how many hoops as Rock Paper Shotgun's [http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2011/02/04/writers-guild-of-america-explain-themselves/] take on it. Also included: a quote in which Wright pisses over the UK branch of the organisation.
well they wouldn't be american if they were actually tactful XD

Guess they don't really care about their image for nominating sub-par writing. even if they want 5 nominees and only got 6 submission, it doesn't have to be 5. especially when everyone on the outside will laugh at their choice.
 

Andy Chalk

One Flag, One Fleet, One Cat
Nov 12, 2002
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Delusibeta said:
DTWolfwood said:
so they have to jump through hoops to get nominated i c.
I doubt this article doesn't illustrate quite how many hoops as Rock Paper Shotgun's [http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2011/02/04/writers-guild-of-america-explain-themselves/] take on it. Also included: a quote in which Wright pisses over the UK branch of the organisation.
The RPS column strikes me as a little reactionary. That there are far fewer games eligible for the British writing award than the American is a fact, not an insult, and clearly put forward as just one reason why a different organization might, you know, do things differently.

Furthermore, the crack about having to "cough up the money," as though the WGA is extorting funds from dirt-poor writers, is way off-base since the fee could and obviously would be paid by the studio. Even if that wasn't the case, 60 bucks is a fair price for some fairly prestigious PR for the game, the studio and the writer. The Valve comparison is also facile; just because Valve doesn't use job titles in public doesn't mean that there aren't specific jobs assigned to specific people. Somebody wrote the script to L4D, so put his name on it (or their names on it) and send it in with your 60 bucks.

Not everybody is going to be happy with the WGA awards, anymore than everyone is happy with the Spike awards. But to suggest that there's some kind of conspiracy or blackmail at work is taking things a bit far.
 

Andy Chalk

One Flag, One Fleet, One Cat
Nov 12, 2002
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http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/comics/stolen-pixels/8286-Stolen-Pixels-241-The-Gaming-Afterlife [http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/comics/stolen-pixels/8286-Stolen-Pixels-241-The-Gaming-Afterlife]
 

Nazdakka

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Feb 4, 2011
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What would a script for a Bioware game even look like? The dialogue branches, so they'd either have to submit a whole bunch of different versions, or supply all the underlying logic and stuff.
 

Trogdor1138

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May 28, 2010
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Pfft, as if guys like them even need to justify their work with awards. This is all utterly pointless in the end and all it does is try to make games look like films, we don't really need more awards shows with bullshit rules and such. The Oscars do that enough every year.

They didn't bother submitting because they don't really care.
 

Mechsoap

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aashell13 said:
I wonder why Bioware would hold out on something like this. Good writing is what they're known for, isn't it? That said, this article does explain how a few games with less than stellar stories managed to win.
It would properly be 5 Romans filled with tiny words to have each moment in it.

OT: What is the actual award?
 

Leperous

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Feb 4, 2011
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Hi, as the Chair of the Writers Guild of America's Videogame Writers Caucus, I'd just like to address some of the criticisms here and see if we can?t clear this up.

First off, YOU DO NOT HAVE TO BE A MEMBER OF OUR GUILD TO WIN OUR AWARD. We ask that all entrants join the Videogame Writers Caucus (VWC), but that is NOT the same thing as being a member of the WGA. The WGA is a federally supervised union of film, television, and videogame writers which provides portable health and pension benefits for professional writers. You can't just "join" the WGA, you have to work under a WGA contract first. The VWC, on the other hand, is a working group of professional writers dedicated to raising the profile of the videogame writer, improving the working conditions for all development crew, and setting industry standards as far as work and payscale and deliverables for game writers. The VWC is a volunteer organization made up entirely of working videogame writers.

The reasons we created the WGA videogame writer award are threefold: (1) we wanted to honor the craft of the game writer/narrative designer, (2) We wanted to encourage game companies to fairly credit the writers on their games, and (3) we want to know who all the best game writers in the industry are are so we can sit down with them and find out what their concerns and ideas about improving work conditions in the games industry are... and then to implement those ideas. Asking that entrants join the Videogame Writers Caucus in order to be eligible for the award is no different than, say, the Academy Awards, which requires that nominees join the Academy.

There?s a constant conspiratorial whispering on the internet about ?the WGA is charging people in order to win an award.? Well, sorry, but every scriptwriting contest that I ever joined charged me money, and when you?re nominated for most awards shows (even the televised ones), you still have to buy a ticket to get into the theater and win your award. Sure, Sony buys Brad Pitt?s ticket for him, but money?s still changing hands. We are NOT charging writers for the opportunity to win an award, we?re charging them for their membership in our group. They get something for their money. When we ask writers seeking to nominate their games to join the VWC, they are asked for a nominal $100 yearly fee (I misspoke yesterday when I said $60). This immense sum covers their subscription to Written By Magazine, the official magazine of the WGA, and helps fund the work that the VWC does, such as sponsoring the Game Developers Conference in Austin, throwing three annual parties for all videogame writers (not just members of the WGA or the VWC) ? one at San Diego Comicon, another at GDC Austin, and a third at the WGA Building when we host a yearly panel of all the best writing nominees (which we held last night). For someone not in the Guild, a yearly subscription to Written By magazine alone costs $100. Anyone complaining that they?re not getting their money?s worth out of a magazine written by and featuring the best writers in the entertainment business hasn?t read the magazine. Additionally, members of the VWC can attend most WGA events, such as screenings of films with discussion groups afterward with the film?s writer, writing seminars given by our non-profit branch, and can even take themselves and a guest to see free movies during the nominations & awards season just by showing their VWC membership card at the box office. Again, take your spouse to go see three free movies in a year, and you?ve more than paid for the $100 yearly fee. Hell, I?m pretty sure the prize statue alone ( http://www.geek4tv.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/wga-award.jpg ) costs more than the entry fee. Generally a hundred dollars isn?t a big sum of money to most videogame professionals. It?s about .02% of what the average beginning game writer earns a year.

There are also intangibles that one enjoys as a member of the WGA... such as getting face-to-face interaction with other working professionals in your field. Two nights ago at our yearly nominees panel & party, the writer of Die Hard was sitting in the front row. Your opportunities to meet, network with, and learn from such accomplished professionals goes up exponentially when you join the Guild. You also get access to the Guild?s legal staff, which can be quite helpful, such as a case I had to deal with sometime back when a French developer refused to pay me for services rendered. The Guild was able to reach out to the French Writers Guild on my behalf and they made a few calls, and voilá, my check appeared a week later. It?s nice to have friends who have friends, and the WGA has a lot of friends. And lawyers.

I suppose the biggest measure of the value of our whopping $100 entry fee, though is this: do game writers feel that they?re getting their money?s worth? Most of them must, because our retention of prior entrants year-to-year is very high. Even after they?re no longer up for an award, most VWC members continue to pay the yearly fee and to come to events and meetings.

Now, yes, we do have some rules, and those rules can tend to limit who gets nominated for our awards, but not for the conspiratorial reasons which float around in the blogosphere. First off, we?re not giving an award for ?Best Videogame of the Year!? ? if you want that, go watch the Spike Game Awards. We?re honoring the specific craft of writing for games.

Some people say that we should simply play all the games and make our judgments that way. That?s what the Writers Guild of Great Britain does, these people complain. Well, first off, only BRITISH writers are eligible for that award, and there are many fewer British-written games than there are American-written games. Our judges are all members of the VWC, and thus, professional, working videogame writers. I can?t demand that our judges devote 20-80 hours to playing even only 5 videogames each.... not when they?ve got jobs and lives to lead and they can read the submitted script for a game in 2 hours or less.

Each of our judges only judges 5 games in the first round of competition, but that?s still up to 300 hours of gameplay to experience the full story of the game ? and because this is a WRITING award, we most definitely NEED to see the ending of the story to judge the writing. Game stories have beginnings, middles, and ends, after all. Additionally, some of our members are older and can?t button-mash like they once did, and others have physical disabilities which prevent them from playing a game like, say, God of War III. Should we discriminate against our less-physically capable members when choosing judges? One of the best videogame writers I know has a physical disability which prevents him from playing most of the games he writes for a living. Should I tell him ?Sorry, although you?re a great writer and have kindly volunteered to read 5 300-page-long scripts, I?m going to have to force you to instead play 300 hours of console gaming which you?re physically incapable of doing??

Last year Bioware released some fascinating statistics about Mass Effect 2, including the revelation that only 50 percent of players actually finished Commander Shepherd's mission to stop the Collectors. If people who paid $60 to purchase a game can?t be bothered to complete it, how am I supposed to demand that of my judges? That?s ridiculous.

Does that mean gameplay doesn?t get taken into account? Of course not, like I said, we?re all working videogame writers and most of us play as many games as we can to stay current on our industry, so our experiences playing these games inevitably come into our decision-making processes when we?re judging the scripts, but we do focus on the game's WRITING when judging.

As for this theory that our award only honors linear games, well, that?s just false. Fallout 3 was a final nominee, and Fallout: New Vegas is a nominee this year. We have rules that specifically address this concern. Even still, though, Bioware refused to submit a script for either Mass Effect 2 or Dragon Age this year, and that?s too bad, because both games would have likely been finalists. Bethesda, on the other hand, DID submit a script for Fallout: New Vegas, and now they?re a finalist and might just win the award on Saturday night. Then what will the complaints about our award be? Probably that Red Dead Redemption should have won, but I?m told that Rockstar Games inexplicably consider the scripts for their games to be ?trade secrets? or some such malarky (how the script to a product that?s for sale in stores can possibly be ?secret? is beyond me). It?s our award, and our rules require you to submit a script. Some people refuse, even though we?ve gone to great lengths to make it easy for them to do. Are we happy about it? No, but rules are rules and we enforce ours.

Finally, I?d just like to point out that the GOALS of this award are coming true. For example, if a game does not have a credited writer, it?s not eligible for our award. The first year we gave it out, several multi-platinum high-profile games which people believed SHOULD have won our award were not eligible because the Developer didn?t bother to credit the people who wrote those games. That?s an insult, and as a guild of professional writers, we?re not about to give an award to either a mystery person, or to a company which can?t be bothered to honor the workers who created their product. This year only two games were denied entrance due to this requirement... down from over two dozen who weren't eligible due to no writing credits four years ago. Game Developers are recognizing that they need to credit the writers in order to be eligible, and have begun to do so. Mission Accomplished!

Secondly, we have succeeded in raising the profile of our game writer nominees and winners. When Hayden Blackman left LucasArts earlier this year to start his own company, every article about his departure mentioned that he had won our award, and several of them used the WGA's press photo of Hayden holding up his award for "The Force Unleashed" as the image they ran with those articles. Other companies have run advertisements touting that their game was "Nominated for a WGA Best Videogame Writing Award" or "Winner of the WGA Best Videogame Writing Award." An award like this, bestowed by the largest group of working professional writers in the world, raises the nominated writers' stature and provides career access that they might not otherwise have, both in the games world and in the film & TV industry. It's DIFFICULT to win a WGA Award, and it's considered a major achievement by other writers. Plus you get a cool statue for your cats to constantly knock off your mantel!

All in all, I think we have a pretty fair and clear set of rules. $100/year for all the benefits of being a member of the Videogame Writers Caucus seems quite reasonable to everyone who?s ever paid it (most other games industry awards are FAR more expensive to submit for and you get nothing other than an entry form for your money). Most importantly, however, ANYONE is allowed to submit for our award... and we encourage every writer to do so, if only so we can meet them and help one another make this a better world to work in.

Micah Wright
videogame writer/narrative designer
chairman & steering committee member, WGA Videogame Writers Caucus
(I'm not an "Executive" of the Guild, I'm not the Guild's spokesman, I'm just the guy elected to head the videogame writers caucus, so don't blame the Guild for my bad jokes and misspellings, blame me)
 

Dectilon

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Delusibeta said:
DTWolfwood said:
so they have to jump through hoops to get nominated i c.
I doubt this article doesn't illustrate quite how many hoops as Rock Paper Shotgun's [http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2011/02/04/writers-guild-of-america-explain-themselves/] take on it. Also included: a quote in which Wright pisses over the UK branch of the organisation.
That reads like a random forum post. I especially like the bit where he says "Also, the members of the Writers Guild of Great Britain aren?t professional, working videogame writers? News to me!". Reading comprehension is at an all-time low.

Leperous said:
People on the internet do not like to read. This could've been a lot shorter while still getting your point across. It's very unlikely that anyone reading this here care about the specifics. Also you should probably cut down on the huff and the veiled threats (like "It's nice to have friends who have friends, and the WGA has a lot of friends. And lawyers.") It may not have been intentional, but it looks bad.

I understand perfectly fine why you have the system you do. The rules, the fees and the restrictions are perfectly reasonable since your mission is to promote the profession of Writer. The scripts themselves aren't as important to this award as promoting the people who produced them, but of course you have to judge professionals on their craft.

Try again I say. If you are in fact a good writer you shouldn't find it too hard to produce something that is both concise and diplomatic.
 

Andy Chalk

One Flag, One Fleet, One Cat
Nov 12, 2002
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First, thanks to Micah for dropping by and commenting personally on the matter. It's always nice to have the people who are actually involved in the matter at hand taking part in our little conversation.

I had a feeling that the "executive" title might have been a bit off the mark technically but the truth is that the sizes of our headlines are pretty tightly constrained, so getting in "Writers Guild of American Videogame Writers Chairman" along with any actual useful information was out of the question. I gave thought to "Game Writer Dude" but that seemed even worse.

(And I wouldn't lose too much sleep over what "people on the internet" like. For most of us, reading isn't a problem.)

So, open to questions?
 
Aug 25, 2009
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Maybe Bioware know that their writing is good and don't feel a need to be affirmed by an award show that from what I gather doesn't seem to be exactly prestigious or even cater to decent games?

Seriously, I know awards are nice and getting accolades is good, but for all my previous bitching about Bioware they seem to me to genuinely care more about their fans than they care about levelling up their internet cocks.