5 Simple, Expert Tips for Breaking Into the RPG Industry

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“…Ideas are fundamentally worthless. Everyone has good ideas… people need to turn them into tangible assets.” -Walt Ciechanowski

Work sucks when you aren’t having fun. Yeah, you have to do something to make money, after all, those board games and conventions aren’t going to pay for themselves! But, spending a chunk of your time and energy in an industry that you aren’t interested in is a crappy way to go through life. Even if you like your job, work is not fun ALL the time, but it helps when you are achieving your dreams and using your creative talents. There are a ton of ways to combine your geeky passions and talent to build a cool career, but it’s not always easy, especially if you are trying to break into a tough industry like gaming.

Last month, gaming industry veteran Darren Watts dished out advice to attendees at (Re)GenerationWho (a Maryland-based Doctor Who convention) about his experience as a writer, producer, and artist. Darren recently co-wrote the Fifth Doctor and Eighth Doctor sourcebooks for the Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space roleplaying game and has been in the industry for over 15 years. Darren was joined on his panel by Walt Ciechanowski, a staff writer for Cubicle 7 Entertainment who has written for several game lines including Dragon Age and DC Adventures.

Here are a few of their best tips for upping your chances at gaming industry success:

Freelance Your Way In

Like most industries, one of the best ways to test the waters and see how the industry functions is by doing freelance work. Freelancing is a great way to earn extra cash and build credibility as a gaming writer/artist. Walt says to pitch ideas for major publications that are not too esoteric; however, they still need to be a unique and sellable. Darren also warned freelancers to avoid “handshake deals” with publishers, and make sure ALL contract questions are answered before anything is signed. Quality freelance work can establish great networking connections and lead to more projects or a potential permanent gig.

Tighten Your World-Building Process

Game designers who are looking for their big break will need to make sure they manage the fine line between building a compelling world and going into left field with too many ideas. According to both Darren and Walt, the world-building process needs to be boiled down to the absolute core of the game. Designers must place themselves in an editor’s spot and ask themselves what would be included in an “elevator pitch” description. Think about the basic questions that need answers:

  • What is the core mission?
  • What is the crux of the game?
  • What do the players do?

Build everything based on answers to those questions. Darren recommends continual playtesting to see what works and what needs to be fine-tuned before presenting ideas or doing a demo.

Hit Up Your Local Cons and Beyond

This tip is a given, but it’s a great reminder! Conventions are a networking haven and a way to discover the latest industry buzz and see what other people are doing for success. GenCon and PaxEast were two of the larger conventions named by the audience as great places to connect with others, but Darren recommended local conventions because it is easier to get up close and personal with publishers. And, smaller cons would be more open to allowing newbies to run scenario games.

Approach Open Source Market Places with Caution

Dungeon Masters Guild and similar platforms are another vehicle for developing skills, getting questions answered, and networking, but they may not be the best place for marketing efforts. Both Walt and Darren said the pool of talent lessens a person’s chances of being noticed by publishers. It’s still a great way to fine tune skills and prep for the daunting tasks of submitting directly with publishers. And, creators have an easy platform to publish and get their work in front of a ton of people who can purchase/review their material.

Stay Professional In All Ways

Professionalism counts. Always! Darren and Walt warned everyone to not be “that” guy (or girl). You know, the one who trolls online boards, misses project deadlines, and is just an overall pain in the butt. Most writers/artists in the industry will have to work assignments that won’t fill them with glee, but it’s necessary to find their footing, so they need to keep an open mind and give positive vibes. Walt says a solid website with pertinent information and excellent clips is a must for success. And remember, the gaming industry is smaller than most people think and word travels fast, so make it a good word!

What are some tips you have for breaking into the gaming industry? Share them in the comments below!

Image Credit: Justin Ladia | Flickr

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