Writer’s Guild Of America Explain Themselves

By Quintin Smith on February 4th, 2011 at 12:37 pm.

I wish my office was as furnished and opulent as this one.

In the last few years the Writer’s Guild of America’s Best Videogame Writing Award has gone to some curious candidates, to say the least. In 2007, the first of these awards went to PSP title Dead Head Fred. In 2008, a year which saw the release of GTAIV, Left 4 Dead and Fallout 3, the award was granted to Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. In 2009, Uncharted 2: Honour Among Thieves was the winner, which actually made sense, but last month the 2010 nominees were unveiled and are as follows: Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, Fallout: New Vegas, God of War III, Singularity, and Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II, with Mass Effect 2 or Red Dead Redemption conspicuous by their absence.

Just what is going on over there? Are the guild members all simply too busy hobnobbing and gingercrunching to play games? Not so. As a result of GI.biz’s own interview with Mary DeMarle, lead writer on Deus Ex: Human Revolution yesterday (you can reads ours here), some answers have come to light.

It started with DeMarle expressing frustration on the subject of whether the Writer’s Guild of America were supporting her field, which I’ll quite rudely quote here.

“Personally, I kind of get mad about the WGA writing awards because, rightly so, to be a part of that guild you have to pay membership fees. So what they’re actually doing is they’re supporting their membership by putting in a reward for writers that are members of their guild. If you have worked on a game and you want to submit for a writing award from the WGA, your writers have to be members of the WGA. And if they’re not, then you can’t be considered.”

In response, GI.biz received and published an editorial from the chair of the Writers Guild of America’s Videogame Writers Caucus, Micah Wright, most famous for claiming to be a United States Army Ranger Sergeant in the introduction to his book, You Back the Attack, We’ll Bomb Who We Want, when in fact he’d never served in the military.

Anyway, in response to DeMarle’s comment Wright responded with the following:

“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.”

It’s true! While being a member of the Guild itself means a percentage of your earnings go to supporting the guild, joining the Writers Caucus merely involves a yearly $60 fee (a fee which also gets you a subscription to the guild’s own Written By Magazine among other benefits). So, one of the reasons your favourite games might not be appearing as nominees is that the writers didn’t cough up the money. Wright continues:

“…if a game does not have a credited writer, it’s not eligible for our award. The first year, several 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 honour the workers who made their game.

“…we need to see a script with a list of writers’ names on it. For one thing, we need to know WHO wrote these games: we’re not clairvoyant… we can’t magically peer into some Developer’s internal business structure and divine who wrote what. Because of this requirement, however, some game studios have refused to submit a script, even though we’ve gone to great lengths to make it easy for them to do.

“Bioware, for example, 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… Similarly, Take Two Games refused to submit a script for Red Dead Redemption. Why? We don’t know.”

Right. That would also be any Valve games out of the running, since nobody at Valves has anything resembling a job title and their games are simply designed, written, scored and so forth by “Valve”. It also makes me wonder what the case is when a script includes writing from a dozen people. It sounds like every name on the submitted script would have to paid-up member of the Writers Caucus, hardly making submitting a script an “easy thing to do”.

Is it too much to ask that the Writer’s Guild of America just plays the games? Yes, says Wright.

“Some people in the games press 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 sit down and buy and then devote 80 hours to playing every videogame that comes out at retail… not when they’ve got jobs and lives to lead and they can read the entire script in 2 hours or less.”

So there you have it. We can do that here in the UK, because our output is pathetic. Also, the members of the Writers Guild of Great Britain aren’t professional, working videogame writers? News to me!

Incidentally, the Writers Guild of Great Britain awarded their best videogame script award to Red Dead Redemption this year. Tomorrow night is the Writer’s Guild of America’s own ceremony. I can hardly wait.

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129 Comments »

  1. Optimaximal says:

    We can do that here in the UK, because our output is pathetic.

    Sorry Quinns, but they didn’t say that – they just said ‘there are less British-written games, ergo playing them all from start to finish is less of a task’.

    • Quintin Smith says:

      Right. But our guild is also smaller, with less of a budget to throw around, no?

    • Optimaximal says:

      Maybe, but where did the WGA equate our output as ‘pathetic’? Or does pathetic mean the same thing as small now?

    • Starky says:

      It did to my ex-girlfriend.

      Ba-dum-ching!

    • 7rigger says:

      *edit*

      No need to be nasty to fellow RPS’ers, so I edited my reply

      Basically, I know what they said, and what Quinns said. I can read it. They didn’t say pathetic, you are right.

      But I feel that what they said is, frankly, an insult to the British writers guild. ‘You can do it because you make less games, but we’re too busy rocking out and snorting coke off of jet-ski hookers, you bunch of game playing losers’*

      *You’ll notice that they didn’t actually say that.

    • thurzday says:

      Also, note the grammatical error in the sentence Optimaximal quoted. I don’t like being a grammar nazi, but when your job is writing, I expect you to know what you’re doing.

      Edit: To clarify, “less” vs “fewer.”

    • Ryn Taylor says:

      How can a story that was written to exist within a game be judged on pieces of paper. Shouldn’t it be judged within the context it was meant to be? Surely, judges for the Academy Awards actually watch the movies, not just read the scripts. And at this, I don’t care how much time it would take to do it another way, reading a script just isn’t an acceptable shortcut.

  2. Robert says:

    “I can’t demand that our judges sit down and buy and then devote 80 hours to playing every videogame that comes out at retail…”

    Then don’t give out rewards.

    • MrMud says:

      Yea, its that simple isnt it.

    • Urthman says:

      Actually, it is really ridiculous to look to anyone besides a videogame-centered organization (like PC Gamer, Eurogamer, RPS, or something) to give out videogame awards, because no one else plays enough games.

      Anyone here want to argue that Red Dead Redemption actually had the best writing of all videogames released in 2010? Or was it just the most popular game that had pretty good writing?

      Too me, WGA giving an award to Fallout: New Vegas or WGGB giving it to Red Dead Redemption are equally uninteresting. Would either of these groups have noticed Planescape: Torment the year it came out?

    • Agrona says:

      Traditionally, such an organisation wouldn’t require the judges to pay anything, instead hooking them up with either comp copies (and if you’re too cheap to purchase _those_ yourself, require them along with the submission).

    • elmuerte says:

      Call those 80 hours of reading as research in the competition. A game developer that doesn’t play the products of the competition is a shitty game developer. A writer that doesn’t experience the output of other writers in his field is a shitty writer.
      Besides, it’s not like a game requires 80 hours. 10 hours should be enough for most games to either complete them or experience the overall tone/style of writing.

  3. Phoshi says:

    The fact that anybody would even list SW:TFU2 for a writing award of any sort immediately invalidates the entire thing for me. The only award that could ever even be listed as a possible entrant to is “Laziest sequel”.

  4. Bhazor says:

    “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.”
    “Incidentally, the Writers Guild of Great Britain awarded their best videogame script award to *Read* Dead Redemption this year.”
    Two professional writers, ladies and gentlemen.

  5. Deano2099 says:

    I do wonder how this works for other mediums? Do they judge film and TV stuff purely by reading the scripts/screenplays too?

    TV is certainly interesting, as they nominate entire series. If they have time to read the script for every episode of The Daily Show and Colbert Report (not to mention a year’s worth of your average US Drama is 15 hours) then I don’t see why they don’t have time for games. Or maybe they should just get some people on the panel that play games.

    • Premium User Badge RaveTurned says:

      Even a US series with 18 hours of content (24 x 45mins once adverts come out?) is substantially less time than a decent game provides (let alone Fallout, Red Dead, Dragon Age). TV is usually more dialogue heavy than games, with even the more talkative game being at least 50% exploring/shooting/interacting with the word rather than characters. I don’t know if they rate TV based on scripts or the shows themselves, but I can see how working with game scripts would cut down the time to rate the writing dramatically.

    • ScubaMonster says:

      @Deano2099 – The problem is you are comparing playing games to reading scripts. Playing the game would take a lot longer than reading a script because of exploration, fighting, talking to NPC’s, dying and retrying, etc. Pretty much everything that makes a video game last a while. You don’t have to do that with TV or movies. You just sit down and read the script. That might take some time as well, but it’s still far easier than playing through an entire game just to read the script.

  6. amandachen says:

    Rhianna Pratchett has done some good stuff. What’s she working on now?

    • Optimaximal says:

      I don’t think she’s been involved with games much since Mirror’s Edge, although I’m not sure how much of her writing ended up on the cutting room floor.

    • Bhazor says:

      She made the two Overlord games, co wrote the script for Heavenly Sword and did localization for Risen. She is now working on her first feature film.

      So basically she dabbles.

    • bob_d says:

      Hasn’t she been working with her father to help him get his latest books out?

    • obscura says:

      Shes working on various secret projects, including games. I’m sure we will hear more soon!

  7. mondomau says:

    So basically, “if you’re not in our club, you’re not eligible for one our awards because you’re not a real writer”.

    I know that’s a bit of a simplification, but the rest of the arguments presented by this delusional fantasist / outright liar, are spurious at best.

    I do agree more games should credit writing though, even if it’s teams rather than an individual. Same with Art direction.

    • kwyjibo says:

      No, it’s more like “if you’re not in our club, you’re not eligible for one our awards because it is a club award”.

      It’s not like the WGA pretend it’s anything different.

    • DJ Phantoon says:

      Obviously only people in that club should care about the award, then, as it’s about as useful to get as a reward for masturbating to pictures of your own sister.

      Well, that’s not fair, there’s probably more people eligible for that award.

    • kwyjibo says:

      Well, game writers care so little that they can’t even be bothered to submit their games. So obviously, they don’t give a shit.

      But journos aren’t allowed to pass off any opportunity to legitimise the games industry. It’s art I tell you! ART!

  8. John P says:

    I think that fellow has some reasonable points about the reality of the situation, as well as the sad fact that many game companies don’t properly credit their employees. What comes through most strongly, though, is a clear sense that the awards are completely meaningless, which we all knew already.

  9. crooon says:

    This is funny because it’s hilarious.

  10. Kidmonkey says:

    This seems like a very exhausting way to sell some magazine subscriptions

  11. Kazang says:

    Yeah british games are so few in number and people like Rockstar are such amateurs, they never put out anything with a high quality of writing….. oh wait.

    Basing an award on the script for the game alone and not how the script ties in with the actual game is such a joke.

    • brog says:

      Because writing for a game is a quite different task from writing for a book. How the writing ties into the game is at least as important as the quality of the prose itself. And if it needs to branch depending on player actions (which it should), then it is really important that it makes sense in relation to said actions.

      It’s not about whether the game is good as a game, but whether the writing is good in the context of the game.

    • Nidokoenig says:

      The point is that the writing in a game is supposed to influence and respond to the player’s motivations and emotions. Mass Effect 2′s dialogue would make a pretty decent book or film, but the fact that it rejects and sabotages the goals of any player who would never work with Cerberus diminishes its worth. Similar problem with Fallout 3, which is written for a lawful good daddy’s little boy and simply does not work for anyone who resents his arrogance or stupidity, or who has a radiation-immune companion to neuter the final dilemma. These scripts would have made for a pretty decent blockbuster, but once player agency gets involved, they’re fucked.

    • Resin says:

      -1. WGA should stay out of gaming awards, based on the fact that they do not recognize the difference between game writing and other forms of writing. In movies you should show rather than tell, in games you should let the players play not just show. So just reading the script is completely irrelevant, sorry WGA.

      -2. Not crediting your writers does flat out suck, and is the only good point this WGA guy has.

    • lokimotive says:

      I was thinking the exact same thing. One would hope that they are evaluating the scripts with at least a marginally different eye. It would be silly to judge the quality of writing in a screenplay the same way that you judged the quality of the writing in a novel, or certainly the quality of writing in a novel compared to the quality of writing in a poem.

      But still, I feel that in order to judge the quality of one aspect of a whole, you have to take into account at the context that the other parts produce. If Super Mario Bros Galaxy was written by Dostoevsky, it wouldn’t be a well written game, it would be surreally inappropriate. To me, in order to judge the quality of writing you have to take into account the tone of the rest of the game, and to really understand how those elements work together, you have to play the game.

  12. vanarbulax says:

    “Read Dead Redemption” Freudian slip or intentional pun?

    Not that I know anything about videogame script writing but I would have thought that including a labelled and itemised script for something so branched as ME2 or especially RDR would be a massive pain, especially if it includes all the non-direct story dialogue, menus, backstories etc. etc.

    • John P says:

      True. I wonder if the ‘script’ would include things like RDR’s newspapers and the like. If not, that’s a lot of writing that’s not being judged, but which is important to players.

    • Quintin Smith says:

      Would you like to see a picture of Deus Ex’s script? This is it. No joke.

      http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/images/11/feb/scipt.JPG

    • CMaster says:

      @Quinns
      Did you manage to sneak a photo of DX:HR’s script?

      Edit @ JohnP
      I know that, seen the photo many times. Was just asking (and I know the answer will be no).

    • John P says:

      That’s Deus Ex 1′s script. You can tell by the age of the equipment on the desk. ;-) (And the Ion Storm sticker on the monitor.)

    • Bhazor says:

      It looks impressive but there’s only a single letter on each page. Some one made a mistake and printed it off as a birthday banner.

    • bascule42 says:

      Wow a cassette! Not seen one of them lying around since, ohh, before some of you were born.

    • crooon says:

      This is exactly what I was thinking too. You can’t compare game scripts to movie scripts simply because they’re not linear. You’d need an awful lot of crossreferencing I don’t even know how to solve in paper form, maybe SQL queries and some sort of frontend. Sure, God of War and the likes (I’m not knocking it, it’s great) is linear and might have a comprehensible script, but a lot of games don’t.

  13. jmswallow says:

    I’m one of Mary DeMarle’s co-writers on Deus Ex: Human Revolution, I’m British (but not currently a WGGB member, although I know many folks who are) and I just thought I’d weigh in on this point:

    “Our judges are all members of the VWC, and thus, professional, working videogame writers. I can’t demand that our judges sit down and buy and then devote 80 hours to playing every videogame that comes out at retail… not when they’ve got jobs and lives to lead and they can read the entire script in 2 hours or less.”

    I’d like to point out that the judges of the WGGB awards are *also* professional, working videogame writers who have got jobs and lives to lead.

    Also, if you’re a member of the WGGB (and thus eligable for the WGGB games award) you also automatically qualify for free membership of the WGA East – although as that is a seperate entity from the WGA West, I’m unsure as to how eligable that makes you for the “WGA” award.

    Just sayin’.

    • 7rigger says:

      Thanks for the inside info :)

    • bob_d says:

      No one I’ve worked with in the industry is a member of the guild, as far as I know, so I’m curious what the benefits are of being a member – do your co-workers ever discuss why they joined? I know what the benefits are for film/television writers, and they’re fairly substantial, but very few of those benefits seem to be applicable in the game industry. (That may explain why the people I’ve read of that are part of the guild usually come from a film/television background.) As long as they’re focused on film/television and the issues of those industries (strikes? residuals? re-aquiring scripts?), I can’t see many video game writers joining up.

  14. TheGameSquid says:

    Hold on, hold on… I can sympathise with the people who have complaints with the way this award is handed out, but are some of these writers suggesting that GTAIV, Left 4 Dead, Fallout 3, Uncharted 2 Mass Effect 2 and Red Dead Redemption are/were good candidates for the award? I’m not a writer (Hell, I can barely write a readable line of English), but these games barely contain a decent script. The only game that had relatively good writing was ME2 and perhaps RDR (disregarding some hideous parts in the script), but GTAIV and Fallout 3 had some embarrassingly bad writing.

    That being said, handing out a reward for best writing to Dead Head Fred isn’t a whole lot better…

    • Starky says:

      GTA4 may have had some poor plot writing, but it had some fairly brilliant character writing at times. The plot itself wasn’t horrid, but it got sacrificed on the alter of gameplay and open worldness. For a open world sandbox game with a branching mission structure and a big fat dose of satire it did fairly well in parts.

      Granted it was no West Wing, or Sopranos – but as far as video game writing goes it was pushing boundaries.

      It is a simple truth of video games that the more open (as in less linear) they are, the less cohesive plot you can tell. A good story usually walks hand in hand with railroading the player.

      Fallout 3 I agree with you on, it was bad – but it was B-movie bad which I can forgive, but I have a love for horridly written cheesy B-movie trash.
      I’d never call it good writing, but I can enjoy it despite that.

    • DarioSamo says:

      I fight the good fight with my voice!
      [intelligence] Ah, so you fight the good fight with your voice, eh?
      I can see that you are very smart.

    • Premium User Badge FriendlyFire says:

      I’m sorry but I think Uncharted 2 had something very few games do: believability. The script felt natural and casual, something people would actually say and do and not something rigid or otherwise unfitting. It was a breath of fresh air and, combined with the excellent voice acting, made for a great little piece.

      I’ll agree on Fallout 3 though.

    • Buttless Boy says:

      Oh man, THANK YOU. I thought RDR was for the most part pretty well written, but those other games were embarrassing, pathetic attempts at storytelling. Gamers get so excited when a game strings a plot together that doesn’t revolve around explosions and tits that they forget what good writing actually means.

      Mind, you, when a game revolves entirely around explosions and tits, that can be good too. Man am I excited for Duke Nukem Forever.

  15. Premium User Badge The Sombrero Kid says:

    I don’t see what the beef is tbh, you’re not required to value their awards.

    • Starky says:

      This.

      Though I expect the “value” comes from the fact that the TV and film equivalents ARE valued in the industry, and seriously do net future work – possibly as much as or if not more than winning an Oscar.

      I know that with film especially their is a fair level of prestige in winning the writers guild award, and for screenwriters is often viewed as more of an achievement (and career boon) than an Oscar.

    • djbriandamage says:

      I agree with the OP entirely. Screw awards. I’m more interested in my trusted journalists’ day-to-day opinions than those of the would-be conclusive determinations of some group of stuffshirts on tiara-wearing day.

    • Enikuo says:

      Yeah, I don’t get the outrage either. It seems to me these awards are only relevant in the context of promoting the writing profession within the industry. So, they’re not actually important to companies that don’t hire writers. And, they’re definitely not important to gamers. So, who cares? Further, it seems reasonable that the guild would only want to promote writers who they believe are themselves promoting the profession by belonging to the professional group whose purpose it is to promote the profession.

      Okay, now I’m dizzy from writing that.

    • bob_d says:

      @Starky: Yeah, it makes sense for film and television, since all the writers there are part of the guild, what with those industries being heavily unionized (the guild really helps writers there). So it’s an award that means something when all the writers are weighing in. There are damn few video game writers in the guild, and I’m not sure what the hell the guild does for its members in this industry – given the state of the writer’s position, I’d say not much.

    • ScubaMonster says:

      Yeah really. It’s a club-only award for their own club.

  16. Voidy says:

    Why WGA give out awards for the medium they don’t understand or care about is beyond my comprehension. However, I don’t think anyone really understands videogame writing. It is a genre unto itself. It is hellishly complex. It is science, technology and art rolled into one. And, as we’ve seen in this article, comparing it with more traditional forms of writing hardly does it any justice.

    Also, I would very much like to own a New Vegas script in hard cover.

    • Premium User Badge HermitUK says:

      EXT. FORT MCCARREN – DAY

      COURIER SIX walks slowly toward the terminal building, due to being over encumbered. As SIX passes a group of NCR TROOPERS, they speak.

      TROOPER 1: Patrolling the Mojave almost makes you wish for a nuclear winter.
      TROOPER 2: We won’t go quietly, the Legion can count on that.
      TROOPER 3: Patrolling the Mojave almost makes you wish for a nuclear winter.

    • Premium User Badge HermitUK says:

      In all seriousness though, the quality of a script is often in the delivery. Plenty of games have fairly basic stories, but those stories are made much more engaging to a player thanks to their own involvement in the story.

      Likewise, this script-reading means you entirely ignore games that try to tell stories in a different way – L4D doesn’t have a singular script, for instance, rather you pick up hints and clues from random conversations and the environment itself. And I’d love to see this cope with a LEGO game, which are usually pretty good at telling a story (Though one the player already knows, granted) without any words at all. Not sure the great Silent Comedies of yesteryear would be as funny on paper…

    • D says:

      “Encumbered” is sufficient. Or overburdened.

    • Man Raised by Puffins says:

      Tell that to Bethsoft.

    • D says:

      I am telling it to EVERYONE.

  17. Deano2099 says:

    Any argument based on time and the fact that video games are more time consuming that other media would apply equally to *any* sort of video game awards surely?

    • ScubaMonster says:

      Well, video game awards aren’t for writing only. They might include writing sometimes, but they still judge all the games based on various things. Also, if your profession is only writing, versus being a video games journalist, I think there’s a clear distinction there.

  18. JamesP says:

    On one hand – the WGA have a point, that crediting in games tends to be really bad. Of course it’s a massive collaborative process, but at the end of the day, there is still going to be one or more people responsible for actually writing that script. Whilst Valve’s wonderful communist utopia of alphabetical listing recognises the fact that they operate as a team – it would be ridiculous to claim that the game industry was unique in how collaborative the process is and that everyone who worked on the game contributed equally to all elements of it.

    On the other hand, the insistence on having a written script is ludicrous – and totally ignores the area in which games genuinely are different from other media in their ability to tell stories interactively.

    On the third hand you can’t claim to be finding the best of anything if you’re only going to be awarding it to people who cough up $60 – especially because the justification for the fee is to to pay for someone else to have a party at San Diego ComicCon!

    • Pijama says:

      “Wonderful communist utopia”, YES, I KNEW, VALVE IS PART OF THE RED MENACE. ; )

      Most companies with some degree of workers’ self-management or some type of post-guild association tend to credit all their members equally in such cases because without the collaboration of one, another isn’t able to do his or her work. I believe that is one highly laudable attitude.

  19. Bilbo says:

    It’s just Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, actually. As for the task at hand, yes, it’s pretty frustrating that these people offer up awards because there’s a danger somebody might take them seriously. Luckily we’ve got stuff like the Baftas to give credence to, so we can comfortably ignore the WGA.

    • Dismus says:

      The BAFTAs are just as bad, though. The nomination lists are very much “games people played” rather than “good games”, and their genre-based category system is outdated at best, and nonsense at worst.

      I can’t really say any more since this year’s nominations aren’t public yet, but it’s not spoiling anything to suggest that any awards ceremony that considers Black Ops and Heavy Rain to be the same genre of game doesn’t really inspire faith.

  20. Pijama says:

    So the bastards are doing one of those mistakes we were talking about in the storytelling post, rite?

    Come on. This has to go both ways – developers can’t treat their games clouded by perception of other art forms, while critics that are NOT from the field and such have to stop treating games as part of their expertise: I am sure that Writer’s Guild can do an outstanding job evaluating a BOOK, but this is a GAME, and requires a totally different attitude towards critique and analysis.

    • bob_d says:

      This isn’t necessarily getting into the story vs. storytelling issue. I don’t know the WGA process, but one could recognize the excellence of, say, dialog and/or background exposition, that is, the actual bits of text used in the game, regardless of whether they appeared in linear cutscenes or as parts of complex interactive story-telling systems. That is, evaluate the writing independent of any fixed plot or story (or lack thereof).

      Of course, the more complex and interactive those story-telling systems are, the less likely you’d be able to extract the text into the sort of independent, readable script form that the WGA demands.

  21. bascule42 says:

    I find it sad that a writers guild spokesperson, (of all people), would use the term “many fewer”. I mean WTF?

    “The Guild” sounds like a self congratulatory mutual masturbation society to me. Well tissues and thank you’s at the ready for the ceromony then.

    • Enikuo says:

      Actually, I think it might technically be correct, despite sounding awkward. Google it. It makes for some interesting word nerd reading.

  22. DiamondDog says:

    Makes me wonder about the validity of awards like these. I’m not sure about other media, I can imagine the big movie awards have some kind of fee for submitting your film. I had a quick look and was surprised to see the IGF awards require $95 to enter your game for consideration. It seems strange that a celebration of indie games would have a fee restricting entry. There must be some people coding in bedrooms thinking $95 isn’t worth it for the chance of some exposure. Is the fee just for covering costs? Surely there are other ways to raise money so that absolutely anyone can have a go at entering their games. I admit I’m pretty ignorant on the subject.

    Still, I think you end up with a similar thing to the Mercury Prize where I’m sure the record label has to stump up a fee in order to have an album considered for the award. You end up with plenty of great albums being left out and people wondering why they aren’t acknowledged. Should we expect the judges to have listened to every single album released by a British artist to make sure the list is perfect? It’s like, lets celebrate all this amazing music, apart from the amazing music we weren’t allowed nominate.

    WGA have to change the title, really. WGA Award For Best Game Writing Out Of The Ones That Were Submitted, So Keep That In Mind.

    • Premium User Badge RaveTurned says:

      It strikes me that “Writer’s Guild of America’s Best Videogame Writing Award” is pretty ambiguous. I suspect I am not alone in reading this as “WGA’s award for Best Videogame Writing”, but their interpretation of “award for WGA’s Best Videogame Writing” also fits.

    • brog says:

      The IGF really struggles to judge the 400-odd games entered each year even with the fee. The existence of a fee prevents EVERYONE entering EVERYTHING they make, which I’ll arbitrarily estimate at about 2000 games a year. There’s a hell of a lot of people making games in their bedrooms, most of which are pretty awful (which is ok). Having a barrier to entry limits the judges to only having to look at the games whose creators think they have enough of a chance to be worth the fee.

      The only thing dropping the entry fee would do is make it even harder for them to find the “diamonds in the rough”, and the finalists would even more just be games that are either shallow and super-accessible, or already famous.

    • Jad says:

      WGA have to change the title, really. WGA Award For Best Game Writing Out Of The Ones That Were Submitted, So Keep That In Mind.

      But in many ways, that’s how most awards really are. When RPS made their “Advent Calendar of Games”, they did not need to explicitly specify that the awards were going to go only to PC games, and to games that the writers of this site actually played, because that’s taken for granted.

      The IGF has an “Excellence in Visual Art Award”, not “Excellence in Visual Art Out Of The Ones That Were Submitted, So Keep That In Mind Award”, are they wrong too?

  23. Berzee says:

    Well I never heard of this guild before.

  24. Premium User Badge Big Murray says:

    It’s obvious really … they don’t understand video-game writing. The concept of a game which is written by a group of people who are also creating the game, no single one deserving more credit for the writing than another, is something they can’t get their heads around. And as a consequence, their “award” is ridiculously out of touch with the real world of gaming.

  25. MadMinstrel says:

    What this guy is missing is that many games simply DON’T HAVE scripts as such. They have design docs, where dialog, level design, game design, etc. are intermingled. A script would have to be a specially prepared document that would be prepared after the development was finished with all of the other irrelevant stuff stripped out. Also, unlike movies, games sometimes evolve organically, with stuff being added and removed as needed, at multiple points in the process, by many people. My point is, there is no other way to judge a game’s writing other than by playing it. If they can’t do that, they shouldn’t be giving out awards, since an award given for a game that is selected from a severely limited subset of the games that have appeared is quite worthless.

  26. Premium User Badge Stellar Duck says:

    Isn’t Uncharted 2 called Among Thieves and not Honour Among Thieves?

  27. Tetragrammaton says:

    The notion that you can judge something without experiencing it is absurd. But then that is ultimately irrelevant as nobody cares two shakes about these toss-bags and their little chunks of engraved plastic.

    • D says:

      The counter point is that you probably can’t objectively judge the story and writing quality of, let’s say Dead Space, when you’ve been playing it, because all the well designed gameplay elements (and scaryness) will bleed into your opinion. Reading the script, you don’t get influenced by the atmosphere of the environment, of the actors performance, etc.

      If they just want to judge the actual writing, as opposed to having a “Best story” award, reading manuscripts is probably the scientifically correct approach.

  28. Vinraith says:

    In 2008, a year which saw the release of GTAIV, Left 4 Dead and Fallout 3, the award was granted to Star Wars: The Force Unleashed

    I’m confused. Are L4D2 and FO3 supposed to be examples of games with good writing in that sentence? Don’t get me wrong, I love FO3, and briefly enjoyed L4D2, but I didn’t think the writing in either was particularly strong. I’ve never been able to make it far enough into GTA IV to be able to comment on that one.

    • stahlwerk says:

      I think it’s safe to say that in comparison to the actual winner, most games released that year would have been a better choice.

    • Vinraith says:

      @stahlwerk

      I wouldn’t know, but that’s not really the point.

    • Tubby McChubbles says:

      its left 4 dead 1. I thought the writing in FO3 was average, but to anybody who really tries to dig deeper, the writing on l4d is phenomenal.

    • Collic says:

      I’d agree that the writing in left4dead is great. The graffiti in the safe houses tell a story that helps add context in a unique and unintrusive way. Dialogue between the four characters is also sharply written and funny, though it takes many play throughs before you’ve come close to hearing it all – particularly some of the specific context-related quips (like the various responses to the ‘god is dead’ graffiti).

      The story is presented in a very non-traditional way, and I think it should be recognised for how good it is. It wouldn’t be possible to do what left4dead does in anything other than a video game.

    • Vinraith says:

      Ah, misread that, L4D1 then. What writing is present in L4D1 is, as you say, pretty good. There’s not much there, though. I find it difficult to believe that a multiplayer shooter with virtually no plot is really on the top list for writing awards, and if it is that’s a sad statement indeed about the state of a number of other genres.

  29. pipman3000 says:

    give all the rewards to braid

  30. reticulate says:

    This is sort of interesting, because I’m pretty sure Red Dead does have credits.

    As in, about five seconds of google-fu shows the following writing credits for Red Dead Redemption of Rockstar San Diego:
    Sam Houser
    Michael Unsworth
    Christian Cantamessa

    So that argument is well defenstrated, and we’re left with the excuse that they didn’t provide a script. Well fuck me if videogames aren’t largely immersive and built on player experience rather than unavoidable exposition like film or books are. The same argument applies for Mass Effect, and the WGA knows it.

    Not that I care particularly for the awards themselves, but the justification rings like a hollow request for the proverbial phat cash. At any rate, we’ve got enough contentious Game of the Year type awards going around in the gaming press to be concerned with those awarding “real” arts.

    • Collic says:

      They aren’t able to see the names if they don’t appear on an itemised invoice though….

  31. Masked Dave says:

    God, is this story going to keep coming up every year?

    The WGA have an internal award, which a lot of game developers could potentially submit scripts to for a very minimal cost/outlay, but they choose not to do it, thus the selection is small.

    Therefore we should just ignore the WGA games writing awards as irrelevant.

    • Jad says:

      Yes agreed. RPS could have a “Commenter Of The Year Award*”, and it would be silly if some Kotaku commentators got up in arms that one of them were not chosen. It would also be silly if Kotaku wrote an article about an award internal to another site like that.

      *I’m sure Tei would win.

    • Berzee says:

      And Wulf would be disqualified because we are a small operation and don’t have time to read his full posts.

    • bob_d says:

      It keeps coming up because the WGA name means something… the problem is, they don’t mean anything in the videogame industry. Clearly, they’d like to, however. I suspect the WGA has been drawing attention to the awards each year in a vain attempt to make themselves relevant to game writers (and failing). So every year, people have to ask, again, “is it actually relevant this year?” with the answer being, “no.”

  32. Jimbo says:

    Can you really judge ‘videogame writing’ by reading a script? What if it reads well but feels totally at odds with every other aspect of the game when you experience it all together? How your work (as a ‘videogame writer’) resonates with the rest of the project is as important as the writing itself. Good writing can still be bad videogame writing. I don’t think you can judge one aspect in isolation like that.

    Fallout New Vegas happens to be a pretty good shout, but some of the best lines in that game wouldn’t have half the impact if you were just reading them from a script.

    • ScubaMonster says:

      I also wonder how this would translate to something like a MMO? Submitting a script for that would be an encyclopedia collection. And if a MMO has good writing, the delivery is typically terrible.

    • D says:

      “What if it reads well…” Stop. Then you are a good writer. That’s what this award is for.

  33. Jahandar says:

    If they are overwhelmed by the number of the games, they should outsource the nomination process to a credible source like PC Gamer, who can provide them with nominations, then they’ll know which titles are worth playing.

    • ScubaMonster says:

      But… but they’d be relying on an outside source who isn’t a part of their guild!! Heresy!

  34. Kryopsis says:

    I can’t help but imagine the following on a Game of the Year Edition of Red Dead Redemption:
    “Best written game we never played!” – WGA

  35. Alaric says:

    Whenever any organization’s name has a word “Guild” in it, you can be sure that they are as corrupt and evil as is practically possible. Kind of like when a country’s name includes words such as “Free Democratic People’s Republic” you know it’s a giant concentration camp.

    With that said, you redcoats blew this “pathetic output” thing entirely out of proportion. Don’t be so freaking insecure, and hate the WGA for their real transgressions, not for imaginary ones.

  36. brooklyn67 says:

    I agree that this is sort of a non-issue. It will clearly become less an issue each year, as an award is only as important as its track record and the WGA seems intent on awarding itself into oblivion. But, a couple points:
    #1) Allowing someone known almost exclusively for lying to be the spokesman for an award shows how seriously the WGA as a whole take the award themselves.
    #2) I understand it is impossible for someone to play through every game that comes out in a year, but some googling leads to estimates that around 100,000 English language prose novels come out every year and yet PEN seems able to choose award winners for novels, many of which require a considerable time commitment.

  37. garyd says:

    I thought it was pretty well known that Marc Laidlaw is one of the lead writers on staff at Valve Software. He’s well known in the SF community and is a member of the Science Fiction Writers of America — so I’d be surprised if he’s not also registered with Videogame Writers Caucus. As for script distribution I’m not surprised to hear that some publishers are unwilling to distribute those for any reason. Can you imagine how soon those would be all over the Internet?

    • RQH says:

      It’s not just an unwillingness to submit a script. Can you imagine what a Bioware or Obsidian script looks like? Judging from the conversation editor that came with Neverwinter Nights, it’s its own beast entirely and not as simple as a nice WGA-friendly word doc in screenplay format. Even for games that have proper scripts, it seems that, as someone pointed out above, the incidental writing that fleshes out the world would not easily fit into script format, and for some games, that’s the bulk of the writing, or at least, some of the most interesting writing.

  38. Keith Nemitz says:

    I can speak as a WGA nominee and an independent game developer. Dangerous High School Girls in Trouble! was nominated for the 2008 award. Despite its silly title, the story is a satire on the challenges of feminism in 1920s America. I paid my $75, at the time, to join the caucus and entered our script. Every game critic who’s played the whole game knows it’s a worthy contender. Their reviews say as much.

    For an independent, the WGA offers an incredible opportunity. Consider for most games, especially AAA games, the stories are still stuck in juvenile power fantasies. Yes character development has improved. I enjoy Bioware’s games. But their stories are hardly better than pulp. Fuck Citizen Kane. Where are our ‘Requiem for a Dream’, our ‘The Social Network’, our ‘The Apartment’, our ‘Adam’s Rib’, our ‘Wages of Fear’? (actually, Citizen Kane is an awesome story :-)

    Game story telling is in a pathetic state, and I blame the corporations who marginalize the importance of stories in games. I don’t see it getting better, from them. Bigger guns and tits are what sells, or used to. Now its Skinner boxes with loot drops and viral sharing. Story? maybe someday.

    Independents have produced a couple great stories, so far. Not all of them are written. (for all it’s story’s impact, the prose in Braid reads like it was written with a purple baseball bat.) Game stories without text are probably impossible for the WGA to judge. So again, there’s a terrific opportunity for small developers to outshine more expensive games, with written storytelling.

    I heard a rumor that the WGA game caucus may disallow independents from entering in the near future and beyond, and that would be a terrible waste, as some of the best movies come from independents. [rumor squashed! see Propagandist below]

    I only hope we can ship ‘arcada mia’ before such an embargo takes place.

  39. Jeremy says:

    It seems like the WGA want to be treated like the Oscars of video game scripting, but they haven’t quite hit the mark yet. They’re not in a position to demand that companies put together gigantic scripts and credit every person.. they need to meet the developers at LEAST half way. If they want Mass Effect 2 to be a nominee, don’t make the barrier to entry so great.

    The WGA, in my opinion, are the one’s missing out on a big opportunity here, not the other way around.

  40. Propagandist says:

    Hi, Micah Wright here, subject of the smear piece above, and the current elected chairman of the WGA’s Videogame Writers Caucus.

    First off, I responded to gamesindustry.biz’s writeup today. They took a LOT of my quotes out of context, and eliminated essential information from other quotes, so that’s distressing, and caused some confusion. Obviously, space is limited and people have short attention spans, but context is essential.

    Secondly, there’s no insult intended NOR GIVEN to the Writers Guild of Great Britain. All I was pointing out is that because they limit their awards to writers who come from Great Britain, it means that they have far fewer games which are in contention for their yearly award. This isn’t an insult to the games industry of Great Britain (hell, I recently applied for a job in Blackpool, so I sure -hope- I don’t secretly hate Great Britain), it’s simply an acknowledgment that the population of the United States hovers around 350 million people and the population of Great Britain is somewhere around 62 million. Frankly, given the size differential, it’s incredibly impressive that there are so many great writers and so many excellent game development studios that hail from Great Britain. People here are reading WAAAAAY too much into the excerpted and out of context quotes from my original article. No insults were meant, nor written.

    Thirdly, it’s incredibly insulting that everyone here seems to think that the WGA/VWC are a bunch of spoiled Hollywood types too stupid or lazy to turn on an X-Box. One can only join the VWC if they have a verified writing credit on a released videogame. Most have several. I have over 30 games on my resume. To stay current in developments in my field, I play a LOT of games. Not everything, naturally (who could these days?), but a LOT.

    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 a 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, and we don’t want to give people awards because we casually browsed the first twenty minutes of a game. 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 five 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?”

    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 complaints 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. Is it difficult to generate a script for a game like Dragon Age? Yes, but we have specific rules that 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) so they won’t submit a script. Some companies 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.

    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.

    I’m glad to see Keith Nemitz commenting above. He’s a great example of the kind of game that I like to play, and we were all delighted when he submitted his game and it made it into the final round of nominations. BTW, Keith, we are NOT going to be changing our rules to discriminate against Independently developed games. We would NEVER do that. Personally, I believe that similar to how independent films are the more creative alternative to mainstream studio product, so are independent games are the better alternative to the constant stream of “Space Marine GunKill MurderSlash 6: The Extremening” type games so favored by the megacorporations that control the mainstream games industry.

    Finally, I’d just like to point out that the GOALS of this award are slowly 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, over two dozen 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. Clearly Publishers and Developers are recognizing that they need to credit their 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 and even by entertainment executives. Plus you get a cool statue for your cats to constantly knock off your mantel!

    The WGA respects games. The WGA plays games. More importantly, the WGA Best Videogame Writing Award is judged by professional game writers, and is the only award given out for the quality of game writing that’s open to anyone in the world… even to people who hate us! :)

    Micah Wright
    videogame writer/narrative designer
    chairman & steering committee member, WGA Videogame Writers Caucus

    • Keith Nemitz says:

      Micah, Thank you for squashing that rumor! Whew! I worried only because if indies swamped the WGA with submissions, the noise to signal ratio might turn bias against them.

      One decent thing about the big game developers is, they currently hire professional writers. And in the last few years, increasingly experienced game writers are coming on-line. I do expect their story quality to grow, (obviously, it already has) but it will continue to be hindered by bad planning on several desks: marketing, product planning, creative control, blah, blah, blah, insert more whining here.

      I am pretty surprised at the continued belief that the WGA award process doesn’t know games. The judges are all game writers. Last year, I was a judge. I’ve been working in the game industry since the early 90s. I know the differences between how Braid tells a story and how Passage tells a story and how The Sims tells a story and how most AAA RPG/FPS games tell stories. I personally don’t think the WGA should be judging the first three, because so much of their stories are in the gameplay. That’s what DICE and BAFTA are for. They have fine Story awards. Nobody but the WGA has a writing specific honor.

      Saying that, I’m not even sure my next game is really a good choice to send to the WGA, because the written parts are greatly connected by the gameplay parts. I will submit it. I expect the WGA to consider emergent storytelling beyond simple branching plot trees. But at some front, between prose and gameplay, they’ll have to draw a line. With luck it’ll be a very fuzzy one.

      btw, BEST STATUE AWARD GOES TO WGA!!! It’s wing-ed smooth.

    • RangerGeneral says:

      Sgt. Wright, fancy meeting you here! Do you ever have flashbacks of wars you were never in? Do they involve large-scale destruction? (Of credibility.) Just curious.

    • Phydaux says:

      It’s always nice to hear both sides of the argument.

      Although it’s not my place to say this, thanks for posting on RPS Micah. People from the games industry taking the time to post here is one of the reasons I love reading RPS.

    • 7rigger says:

      Yes, thanks for posting. I apologise about my earlier remark, as you say the quotes were taken out of context.

      Still, I can’t help but feel that only reading the scripts would give a rather incomplete view – like simply reading the sheet music and awarding a grammy based on that (Ok, the grammy is not a writing based award – I get that)

      Still, it’s your reward and your perogative on how to award it. I am glad to see it working well for those who are passionate about it.

  41. Inglourious Badger says:

    Haha! Guilds. So these groups only exist in an MMO right? Or am I missing the point?

  42. DoucheMullet says:

    Red Dead Redemption.

    Good writing.

    Oh Quintin, you are hilarious.

  43. Eukatheude says:

    “Woah, woah, woah, i can’t demand that our judges sit down and buy and then devote 80 hours to reading every book that comes out at retail!”

  44. 7hm says:

    Maybe just me, but this article (editorial?) reads like an angry blogger on some nothing personal website spouting his personal views with no attempt at journalism in any sense of the word. Sorry to see this on RPS.

    You could make a *bit* of an effort yeah?

  45. ScalyWg says:

    fcol – “…most famous for claiming…”?…yada yada, cite dada (or somethat like thing) and move on…
    Surely most famous for writing the absolutely sublime masterpiece
    “Stormwatch: Team Achilles”
    Now there’s some ip worth plundering.

  46. hurleybird says:

    WGA makes fools of themselves for awarding The Force Unleashed a reward for writing.

    Game Journalist proceeds to make an even bigger fool out of himself (due to the fact that his behavior is ironic) by mocking the WGA while at the same time putting forward Red Dead Redemption and Fallout 3 as examples of “good” writing.

    • 7rigger says:

      Well maybe not fallout 3 (water purifier?)

      But what problem could you have with RDR? I thought it was very well written, and captured the old west cowboy movie feeling better than any game before.

      Still want it on pc, even after all this time

  47. terry says:

    It’s not a real guild if it doesn’t have elaborate hazing quests.

  48. Juiceman says:

    I’ve never heard of these people, let alone care about their opinion towards video games.

  49. JackShandy says:

    The comment on Valve’s company structure/ ethic made me wonder just how informed the writer’s guild is about the structure of a video game developer. Perhaps a writer is also involved in design, or something more specific as such as narrative design. Suppose creative direction was drawn from the team at large. Suppose a game’s story could have been less about its plot, and more about the way the narrative is delivered ala Half-Life 2. I think they’re failing to assemble appropriate candidates here because they don’t understand that the story is not simply a singular element of the game, and thus are ignoring those who are involved in the creative direction, then blame the industry for burying its writers in a shallow grave after the game is released.

  50. Jason Moyer says:

    The quality of a game’s script has nothing to do with how good the game is (or even how good the writing is) so I’m not really surprised to see a pile of crap nominated here.

    • DSVella says:

      Do you honestly believe in what you’ve just written?

      I find it hard to believe that any game can survive on pure mechanics alone. Imagine something like Mass Effect with worse writing. Much of the game was made up of both direct written dialogue (as in the conversation trees that you use in the game) and ambient dialogue (enemy chatter, the things are you hear in the background, even things like billboards or articles if you see in game).

      Much of the appeal of these games lies in their writing and that is entirely down to the games script..

      @Jeremy
      I fail to see how it can be a problem for a video games developer to be able to credit their writers with the product they’ve made. Also, if what is written above is correct then I don’t think that the barrier to entry for this sort of thing would be quite large. As far as I can understand, it’s only asking for a magazine subscription.

      Although I have to agree with you that if the guild were to get this right I think they would be in a very good position to not only promote themselves and their members but the developers as well.

    • Nick says:

      “I find it hard to believe that any game can survive on pure mechanics alone. ”

      Really? People play .. say.. Mario for its storyline do they? Just one example of countless.