We sat down with our friend Samantha Webb a few weeks back. Aside from freelance game writing, she is also mentoring young writers and we loved the opportunity to tap into her bag of tips and advice.
Read on or watch the video to see what we found out!
Articy: Hi Samantha, thank you for joining us today. For our audience who is not very familiar with your work, could you shortly introduce yourself?
Samantha: My name is Samantha Webb and I’m a freelance narrative designer. I have experience across AAA and indie studios and I also have a master’s degree in game design. And I’ve actually came across to the games industry from a business consultancy background.
Articy: You’ve helped a lot of young writers throughout your career, you’ve mentored them. Could you tell us what are some of the most often advices or feedbacks that you give. Is there something you’ve found yourself repeating to a lot of young writers?
Samantha: Yes, normally when I’m mentoring, as I’ve mentored quite a few writers who were looking to break into the industry so they’re looking for their first role, they’re all obviously writers at heart, they do a lot of work and they put a lot of work into it and one of the biggest pieces of feedback I see myself saying to most of them is around moving away from prose writing. Lots of people when they have their first portfolio it does tend to be full of short story pieces and short pieces of fiction, I think because prose is so accessible to us because we grow up reading, it’s something know naturally how to do and obviously a lot of game writing is dialogue and script based, so we have a lot of discussions about learning the basics of script writing and thinking through how they can maybe repurpose some of their short stories into a more dialogue focused piece of script writing. That’s the bigger thing that I’ve noticed and usually we focus a lot on portfolios and how to take a portfolio to the next level.
Articy: You’re currently freelancing and handling multiple projects at the same time. So my question to you is how do you manage for instance avoiding NDA mishaps or when projects overlap because one of them got delayed inevitably or changed in scope. How do you deal with all that?
Samantha: It’s something from my Business Consultancy background where I would often work with 2 or 3 clients at the same time so it’s something that I’m lucky that I had that prior experience so when I went into freelancing it came quite naturally the idea of juggling commitments and priorities. I think for me I have a clear idea, I know where my professional boundaries are, so if I do get into a situation where I realize I’m going to effectively have to put in overtime to get something done. For me personally I’d rather do 12hours day and then know that I have my weekends free. I think that understanding that about yourself: how you best work and what boundaries you’re willing to go to really helps because that way I’m able to keep a fairly healthy work-life balance even when everything seems to be crunching at the same time.
Articy: I’ve read about you, obviously and I’ve stumbled upon this gem of a project called Yokai Moon. Can you tell us a little about it, how did you end up joining the project and what inspired the Japanese themed world?
Samantha: Yokai Moon is actually a passion project that I’m doing with a couple of my friends Abby and Ashley so they actually did the majority of the design and development and the creative direction between them and then they were looking for a writer to come onboard and help them with the narrative and the dialogue bits. And I actually did my master’s degree with them so we worked on game jams, we’ve worked on projects before so when they invited me to come onboard I was just very excited to be involved and working with them again on something a lot more ambitious than what we had done before. The Japanese theme really it’s that all three of us were interested in mythology and legends, my undergraduate degree was in ancient history so if you give me a historical culture and mythology to go investigate and I’m happy. And it’s also that the three of us have grown up watching anime and playing traditional Japanese video games so we love Pokemon and we love the Final Fantasy series and Abby puts it really nicely when she says that Yokai Moon is our love letter to the games that we’ve played growing up and I think that sums it up really well, that’s what we’re doing with this project.
Articy: You’ve taken a AAA project a few moths back and my question to you is how much more difficult do you find writing for AAA as opposed to indie dev and how do you overcome those hurdles.
Samantha: I think the biggest difference between AAA and indie is the scale as AAA tends to be a lot bigger and quite often a narrative team of AAA will be bigger than the actual whole team of an indie project. So the biggest thing there is communication, is understanding who your stakeholders are and who is interested in what you’re doing and who needs to give approval on what you’re doing. And it’s not always clear, sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t, but I think if you’re on a AAA project, getting to know that early on will only help you because if you know who you need to be showing stuff to and who you need to be checking in with, that will help massively, whereas in indie I’m finding that comes a bit more naturally because there are only so many people and you know each one of them individually whereas in AAA there are whole teams that you won’t necessarily even talk to but still need to know about what you’re writing. So it is just the scale that’s really the biggest difference.
Articy: As more AAA projects come your way do you see yourself moving away from indie dev or are you passionate about indie and wish to stay there?
Samantha: It’s a really good question and I think for me I’m just happy telling stories and to be honest AAA and indie are both doing that so brilliantly at the moment that as long as I’m involved in that and involved in making the stories through games I am more than happy. I’ve really enjoyed both my AAA and my indie experiences, I’ve learned a lot from both of them and I feel like I’m still early enough in my career that I definitely want to carry on exploring both options, I’d love to write for different studios and different genres so I’m definitely not ready to go down one path or the other yet, but who knows in the future.
Articy: Suppose someone is looking to go into AAA, would you advise them to directly apply to bigger companies or maybe just try their own smaller games first.
Samantha: I think honestly – do a bit of everything! Definitely be making your own games and your own writing, that’s one of the biggest differentiators I see between people who want to be writers and people who get to be writers. The people who will get there are the ones who were working in their spare times on making Twine projects or working with some of their friends and making a little unity project. And honestly when I was first applying I would apply for anything that I was qualified for because there are so few jobs and so many people wanting them that I think it would be a dangerous thing to narrow down your search in the early days. So I definitely advise to be doing something in your own time, apply for anything that you’re qualified for and then if you really do want to write either AAA or indie examine why you want to do that, is it that you want to write for a specific franchise, is it that you want to write a specific kind of game and really understand why you want to be in a particular stream of narrative, because that will then help you know what you need to learn and where you need to be looking for the future.
Articy: If you were to give one single piece of advice to someone who is just now starting their career in game writing, what would that be?
Samantha: It would probably be don’t give up. It’s really hard: it’s hard to get jobs, it’s hard to stand out from other writers, it’s obviously a challenging job when you’re in it, writing is a very technical skilled thing and there’s always lots to learn, there’s always new challenges to meet. I think just perseverance, if you’ve been rejected 9 times, maybe the 10th time is the time you get it and if you fail at something 4 times maybe the 5th time is going to be the one that gets you there so just don’t give up, carry on going even if that means doing something in your spare time in the evening and working another job in the day, just carry on going until you get there. Don’t give up!