One of my absolute favorite things about what I do is the chance to interact with game writers at the start of their careers. I generally find that's true of many of the more senior industry folk I know. Everyone has to get their start somewhere, and if we can be helpful to someone on their path, it's very rewarding.
I also know it can be a frustrating industry to break into and that it often doesn't seem like there are all that many entry-level roles available.
I think there are a couple of beliefs that underpin this tendency
- There isn't enough time
- . Unfortunately games rarely go to plan, and even in crunch-free working environments (they do exist), schedule pressures arise. I've seen teams slip into the mentality all too easily that what they need RIGHT NOW is someone with a lot of experience who can hit the ground running. Philosophically, they might be more than eager to invest in the future, but in the moment, they fail to see how they can afford to train a junior.
- Juniors are a gamble.
This belief is secretly related to the above. Yes, juniors are a gamble because they don't know what they don't know. (This is true of mid-level folks as well. In my experience, one of the marks of burgeoning seniority is finally knowing enough to recognize how little you know about your craft.) Some entry-level writers are so talented, self-motivated, and quick to pick up on the cues of how those around them work that they seem to almost train themselves, but they're the exception. Others require guidance and mentorship, and that requires time, skill, and a bit of patience. Teams that are not good at doing this will have more misses than hits hiring in junior people.
When advocating for a team to take on junior writers, I don't try to change those beliefs. But I do try to point them toward different conclusions.
- We invest time now to save time later.
- If we only think about time in terms of what we need right now, we fail to invest in the long-term health of the team and the project. Just as we might invest upfront in technological innovation to make the game better, we have to invest upfront in people too. It will be difficult, in the long run, to keep a top heavy team together, as seniors will inevitably want to advance and move on to new challenges. There is always time for what we value most, and if that's well-balanced teams that give writers of all skill levels a chance to learn and grow, then we have to build our schedules accordingly. This also requires that we think of staffing not just in terms of what tasks need doing today, but in terms of overall capacity: what capacity do we have left over once the anticipated, known work is done? Is it enough to put out fires, to reflect and research, to train and mentor? If it's not, then you are understaffed, even if all of the work appears to be getting done on time.
- Juniors are what you make of them.
There are, unquestionably, times when what a team needs is a mid- or senior-level writer. When there are complex, specific problems that need solving or when additional mentorship and people management support is needed, that calls for a senior. But if the main need is for someone who can deliver pre-defined work, that's the perfect time to bring a junior on board, and a junior writer may take less time to on-board than a senior, who might want to pull the project in different directions. A junior writer that you grow within your team becomes mid-level pretty quickly. One that you fail to train or teach will most likely struggle. But if you can't train or teach your writers of any level, you're going to have much bigger problems in the long term.
Finally, for all you aspiring entry-level game writers out there, don't give up. A lot of companies that are open to hiring junior writers won't list the role as junior, but as a mid-level role. I encourage you to still apply, but to make sure your portfolio is as good as you can make it. I'll have some tips for how to do that in next week's post.