Monday, March 21, 2011

On being a freelance game writer/designer pt III

In my project management career we have a saying. It's a saying the game industry probably knows all to well, even if they don't use the exact phrase.

OBE - Overcome by events.

Or, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.

Such is what finds me a month from my last blog and in many ways describes how not to get your foot in the door. In Part II I talked about your public presence and how that was a critical factor in working for a game company. To be honest it applies to any job. I wrote a project management blog  in a similar vein after the NPR public relations disaster of two weeks back. In Part II I promised to go into making the jump from a volunteer (playtester, fact checker, etc.) into writing. Better late then never, here we go.

First off, don't let yourself be overcome by events. When the chance comes along, it is usually a brief little window that may or may not present itself again. Jump on the chance and run for it, because it may not come around again. And that's what I did. I was one of the few fact checkers who took part in the, then, super secret The Blake Document review. Some of the promo material used to promote the book were in universe marked up copies of units from FM:Merc Supplemental Update. Uncle Chandy's right hand man was reviewing possible candidates for hiring. I saw an opportunity to further promote the BattleCorps website and get a chance to write. So taking the leap, I wrote a pitch to Herb to include a bio on the Battle Corps' commander in the Biographies section of the book.

But what if he said no?
I don't recall where I learned the lesson, but it's one I've lived by for a long time and one any aspiring writer absolutely must believe in.

"You will never get anything, if you don't ask for it."

So I asked and then I pitched.


Yes. If you are submitting a story to BattleCorps, you provide an complete story. It's different when pitching into a continuous story game line. Unless you are Herb, Ben or possibly Randall, you don't know the entire story and the entire plan. So spending your complete labor of love on an idea that, while great, doesn't fit the universe can be very much a let down.

This means nine times out of ten you have to pitch your idea at a higher level. Provide enough detail for the developer to understand what you are pitching and your style. Not only does this keep you from spending months on the perfect LAM rules, when they were written two years ago and are just waiting for the right book, but it also can help protect the company you hope to work for. Who owns an idea can be a very touchy issue in game designing and writing. This is a huge part of why unsolicited designs from people not already under NDA ends up in the document not being opened and quickly round filed. The last thing a game company wants is to be accused of stealing someone's idea. They may have already been working on rules for sentient computers, but if they opened Jo Bob's rules (which involved memory chips made out of chocolate chips) they could put their entire plans at legal risk.

So nine times out of ten, when you pitch an idea, you pitch the concept. Then you wait for a reply and a contract (or at least a written go ahead).

That's what I did with my first foray into the writers credits of Catalyst Game Labs. I pitched my idea to Herb and he said "Ok" (no really, that was pretty much the sum of his first response. Herb's a man of few, but powerful words).

I guess I did something right, because when the next sourcebook came out I was one of the people it was sent to for open submission. But that's a whole other kettle of fish and isn't about becoming a freelancer, but about being one so I'll talk about that sometime in the future.

I got paid a whole $20.00 for that submission. It was the best twenty bucks I'd ever earned and I darn near never cashed the check.

Several years later I've definitely made more than that first twenty, but I still mark that point as the first time I realized maybe there was something to this hobby of mine.

Until next time,
Writer, Explorer, Learner

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