Bioware, Rockstar "refused" to enter WGA writing award

"The idea the WGA is getting rich off $60 fees from game writers is laughable"

The Writers Guild of America has hit back at criticism concerning a widespread perception that only full guild members are eligible for its Best Videogame Writing Award. Instead, games writers must pay a $60 fee if they wish to be considered for nomination.

In an editorial published on today, the chair of the Writers Guild of America's Videogame Writers Caucus Micah Wright claims that "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." VWC requires a $60 annual fee, which also entails access to free film screenings and a subscription to the WGA's Written By Magazine.

"The WGA is a Guild primarily supported by the mandatory union dues of our film and television member-writers. A writer who works on, say, Pirates of the Carribean 4, will contribute 2% of their salary to the union, which in the case of a film like that might be in the range of $100,000.

"The idea that anyone thinks the WGA is somehow getting rich off of $60 fees from videogame writers is laughable."

The award does have further requirements, however. "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.

Studios electing not to participate included some big names: "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. Maybe they hate unions, or maybe they just hate winning awards, or maybe they have enough statues on their mantle.

"So another game gets what would likely have been their nomination. Are we happy about it? No... but rules are rules and our rules are clear and very fair."

In regard to criticisms that what is perhaps the most renowned award for games writing has too narrow a scope due to VWC membership requirements, Wright argued that "Some people in the games press say that we should simply play all the games and make our judgments that way. 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."

Although the Writers Guild of Great Britain does play all relevant games, "only British writers are eligible for that award, and there are many fewer British-written games than there are American-written games."

Wright was responding to concerns about the award expressed by Eidos Montreal's narrative designer Mary De Marle yesterday.

"If Mary De Marle wanted to submit the Deus Ex script for our award this year, she could have, and we would have loved to have her... and she might have even won it since the guys who wrote Red Dead Redemption took themselves out of consideration this year."

Related stories

Anthem delayed to 2019 - Report

BioWare devs tell Kotaku the studio is feeling the pressure of EA's expectations and YouTubers' anger

By Brendan Sinclair

Dragon Age creative director Mike Laidlaw leaves Bioware

The world of Dragon Age is "in good hands" as Laidlaw brings 14 years at Bioware to an end

By Matthew Handrahan

Latest comments (20)

Waqar Ali Studying Games Design and Production Management, University of Abertay Dundee7 years ago
That's shame really. Bioware for one have consistently good writing and I always thought that writing in games should get more recognition in itself.
It'd also help promote computer games as an art form, which is always good.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Martin Mathers Copywriter/Journalist 7 years ago
"The idea that anyone thinks the WGA is somehow getting rich off of $60 fees from videogame writers is laughable."

You're still essentially charging them money for the chance to win an award though, which in itself is laughable. Essentially, you're running a lottery - 'Hey, buy a ticket! You might win!'. True talent deserves to be rewarded for being talent, not because it stumped up an entrance fee. This comment:

"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."

is you basically saying, 'Well, they could have had a prize, but they weren't willing to pay us to read it." Ridiculous.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Geraint D'Arcy Writer / Poet 7 years ago
Why bother with the WGA anyway? Wouldn't it be better if they won awards for writing in their genre? eg. Mass Effect could easily win a Hugo or a Nebula on the writing alone (though the same can't be said for the spin off novel).
And. . .
"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"
. . . Why not just submit a review copy instead of paying $60? Then they can be distributed to different judges who only play a few and shortlisted like any other presigious writer's award.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Show all comments (20)
Farhang Namdar Lead Game Designer Larian Studios 7 years ago
This truly is bullshit, I think writing needs to be judged in a game as part of the composition of the entire product. We go to great lengths to say the right things at the right moments, how the hell will I describe a line that occurs after a 20min puzzle in a manuscript. The only thing this award is good for is linear gaming interrupted by scenes, Uncharted, Batman, Assassins Creed etc. But remember boys and girls games aren't sad ripoffs of films, they actually require people to play. And when you write the right lines during the right actions that shit is awesome! Too bad their judges can't play games...
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
James Prendergast Research Chemist 7 years ago
@ Martin Mathers:

I totally agree. Maybe the Nobel Peace Prize could adopt a similar approach.... I'd love to win that and have it on my CV for doing nothing more than entering for a small fee. After all, i'm a very peaceful person!

@ Farhang Namdar:
I agree with your point as well. I'd specifically like to award extra points to games that, when you fail, don't subject you to the same patronising (and often highly repetitive) dialogue during fights and after dying and being shunted back to a save point before some verbose "action".

Edited 1 times. Last edit by James Prendergast on 4th February 2011 12:58pm

0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Mazeltof Conceptual Imagineer 7 years ago
Uh oh. Someone mentioned the 'U' word.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Panagiotis Karanikolis Developer Account Manager, Intel7 years ago
Like he said, it's laughable to think that the $60 is the actual reason. Did you really think Bioware or 2K wouldn't spare 100 times the amount for some extra publicity? The problem here is the requirment of the script which I would find ridiculous if I was Bioware. Gaming is a unique experience, combining the quality storytelling of a good movie with elements of gameplay and customisation that are just impossible to put on a script.

How exactly do you script an RPG with 10 NPCs when you can have 2 or 3 with you at the time? How can you express the connection a player feels with an NPC after learning his history, spending 20 hours playing along side him, heard his random rants and warcries. Mass Effect 2 had brilliant storytelling but I doubt there is an actual script for it or a way to make a script that would do it justice.

The requirment of a script is just an archaic way to think about "writing" in general. It's close to trying to judge songs based on their lyrics.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Panagiotis Karanikolis on 4th February 2011 3:25pm

0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Mark Ashton Producer, Nice Tech7 years ago
But you know that you have to pay a fee to enter your game for a BAFTA right?
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Martin Mathers Copywriter/Journalist 7 years ago
Not saying that's better, Mark - in fact, that's worse given the prices. Might as well buy your own award... it probably wouldn't cost as much and you'd DEFINITELY win.

Then again, most award ceremonies like this are little more than cash-stuffed back-patting opportunities. I could point fingers, but... well, some are renowned in the industry for being utterly pointless beyond offering a chance for everyone in attendance to get slaughtered.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Lots of egos around the table. Meanwhile the movie guilds are doing just fine with much higher price tags and very specific rules.
Everyone has a valid point, but at the end of the day the guild is running the show for their award, and they're not asking for the moon quite frankly.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Paul Gheran Scrum Master 7 years ago
"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."

Read: All writing is judged out of context.

If the membership dues don't go to pay the judging staff for services rendered, what is happening with the money?
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Andrew Wearring Studying Arts, University of Sydney7 years ago
Anyone else think it's slightly worrying the spokesperson for the Writers Guild spells mantel "mantle"?
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Micah Ian Wright Game Writer 7 years ago
Hi, as the Chair of the Writers Guild of America's Videogame Writers Caucus, I'd just like to address some of the criticisms here and see if we can’t clear up some of these overly persistent urban legends.

First off, YOU DO NOT HAVE TO BE A MEMBER OF OUR GUILD TO WIN OUR AWARD. Yes, 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. The WGA is a federally supervised union of film, television, and videogame writers which provides portable health and pension benefits for professional writers. You can't just "join" the WGA, you have to work under a WGA contract first. The VWC, on the other hand, is a working group of professional writers dedicated to raising the profile of the videogame writer, improving the working conditions for all development crew, and setting industry standards as far as work and payscale and deliverables for game writers. The VWC is a volunteer organization made up entirely of working videogame writers.

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.

There’s a constant conspiratorial whispering on the internet about “the WGA is charging people in order to win an award.” Well, sorry, but every scriptwriting contest that I ever joined charged me money, and when you’re nominated for most awards shows (even the televised ones), you still have to buy a ticket to get into the theater and win your award. Sure, Sony buys Brad Pitt’s ticket for him, but money’s still changing hands. We are NOT charging writers for the opportunity to win an award, we’re charging them for their membership in our group. They get something for their money. When we ask writers seeking to nominate their games to join the VWC, they are asked for a nominal $100 yearly fee (I misspoke yesterday when I said $60). This immense sum covers their subscription to Written By Magazine, the official magazine of the WGA, and helps fund the work that the VWC does, such as sponsoring the Game Developers Conference in Austin, throwing three annual parties for all videogame writers (not just members of the WGA or the VWC) — one at San Diego Comicon, another at GDC Austin, and a third at the WGA Building when we host a yearly panel of all the best writing nominees (which we held last night). For someone not in the Guild, a yearly subscription to Written By magazine alone costs $100. Anyone complaining that they’re not getting their money’s worth out of a magazine written by and featuring the best writers in the entertainment business hasn’t read the magazine. Additionally, members of the VWC can attend most WGA events, such as screenings of films with discussion groups afterward with the film’s writer, writing seminars given by our non-profit branch, and can even take themselves and a guest to see free movies during the nominations & awards season just by showing their VWC membership card at the box office. Again, take your spouse to go see three free movies in a year, and you’ve more than paid for the $100 yearly fee. Hell, I’m pretty sure the prize statue alone ( ) costs more than the entry fee. Generally a hundred dollars isn’t a big sum of money to most videogame professionals. It’s about .02% of what the average beginning game writer earns a year.

There are also intangibles that one enjoys as a member of the WGA... such as getting face-to-face interaction with other working professionals in your field. Two nights ago at our yearly nominees panel & party, the writer of Die Hard was sitting in the front row. Your opportunities to meet, network with, and learn from such accomplished professionals goes up exponentially when you join the Guild. You also get access to the Guild’s legal staff, which can be quite helpful, such as a case I had to deal with sometime back when a French developer refused to pay me for services rendered. The Guild was able to reach out to the French Writers Guild on my behalf and they made a few calls, and voilá, my check appeared a week later. It’s nice to have friends who have friends, and the WGA has a lot of friends. And lawyers.

I suppose the biggest measure of the value of our whopping $100 entry fee, though is this: do game writers feel that they’re getting their money’s worth? Most of them must, because our retention of prior entrants year-to-year is very high. Even after they’re no longer up for an award, most VWC members continue to pay the yearly fee and to come to events and meetings.

Now, yes, we do have some rules, and those rules can tend to limit who gets nominated for our awards, but not for the conspiratorial reasons which float around in the blogosphere. First off, we’re not giving an award for “Best Videogame of the Year!” — if you want that, go watch the Spike Game Awards. We’re honoring the specific craft of writing for games.

Some people 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 devote 20-80 hours to playing even only 5 videogames each.... not when they’ve got jobs and lives to lead and they can read the submitted script for a game in 2 hours or less.

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 the 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. 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 5 300-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?”

Last year Bioware released some fascinating statistics about Mass Effect 2, including the revelation that only 50 percent of players actually finished Commander Shepherd's mission to stop the Collectors. If people who paid $60 to purchase a game can’t be bothered to complete it, how am I supposed to demand that of my judges? That’s ridiculous.

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 this theory 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. We have rules that specifically 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). It’s our award, and our rules require you to submit a script. Some people 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.

Finally, I’d just like to point out that the GOALS of this award are 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, several 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... down from over two dozen who weren't eligible due to no writing credits four years ago. Game Developers are recognizing that they need to credit the 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. Plus you get a cool statue for your cats to constantly knock off your mantel!

All in all, I think we have a pretty fair and clear set of rules. $100/year for all the benefits of being a member of the Videogame Writers Caucus seems quite reasonable to everyone who’s ever paid it (most other games industry awards are FAR more expensive to submit for and you get nothing other than an entry form for your money). Most importantly, however, ANYONE is allowed to submit for our award... and we encourage every writer to do so, if only so we can meet them and help one another make this a better world to work in.

Micah Wright
videogame writer/narrative designer
chairman & steering committee member, WGA Videogame Writers Caucus
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Richard Gardner Artist, Crytek7 years ago
What caught my eye is you have an 'entrance fee' for games and the union takes a percentage of peoples earnings, but you don't 'have the time' to play through a game experience that is longer than reading a script? With all these charges and union fees where exactly does all this money go? As what your basically saying is your not going to play through a game as its not in your best interest?
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Stephen Northcott Senior Consulting Engineer 7 years ago
Dear WGA, if you are so desperate to include these companies in your awards wave the $60 fee - for everyone. Simple.

It seems that you're the ones making the fuss and not these companies.
No amount of whinging, moaning or justifying changes the basic fact that in order to be considered you have to pay $60. Something which people have a right to find irritating, or not.

Could it also be be that perhaps they just don't give a damn about your awards?

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Stephen Northcott on 5th February 2011 10:38am

0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Alejandro Alberich Blanes Programmers 7 years ago
If they don't have time to play the whole game them they can always watch a playthrough on youtube, that way they can skip pure gameplay segments while getting most of the context of the script.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Neil Hughes Managing Editor, Expansive DLC7 years ago
Is this a similar reason to why Rockstar have not put Red Dead Redemption forward for a BAFTA?
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Peter Strauss Studying New Media, Ryerson University7 years ago
A little late here, but I'm curious what a script of Fallout New Vegas would look like. It has no definitive pacing to it, the player roams freely and the plots and characters develop around that. How would you be able to read that and get the same impact? If you make a decision in the game that makes a certain character suddenly hate you, how would simply reading the script allow you to understand the humor, anger, irony of a characters reaction to your decision on a separate quest that effects them through faction alliance or personal reasons?
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Osma Ahvenlampi CTO, Sulake7 years ago
Out of all the huff and puff of the comments here, @ Peter Strauss seems to ask the relevant question. What does the script of a free-roaming game like Fallout look like? Not that I'm a writer, but if I was one, or studying to be one, I would most certainly like to be able to read the script (or whatever takes its place) and learn. Film scripts aren't easy to come by, but you can find them and learn the craft by study. How does one really learn to become a great game writer?

As a gamer, as well as someone who works on the tech side of things to make games work, I would certainly like to see more games have good writing in them, even when (especially when!) they do not have a linear storyline progression.

I would hope that WGA/VWC wants to further that goal, and @ Micah appears to communicate that in his comments. Crediting writers matters, and so does their writing.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Kirill Yarovoy Game designer / Narrative designer / Writer 7 years ago
LOL why you guys trying to talk to WGA here?)
Just as non WGA members cant win their awards, non GI.BIZ users (aka not game developers) cant read all our comments at this site) Funny coincidence ? No, we just belong to separated industries, so whatever.

Also despite my love to ME 2, RDR and DAo, their scripts are LAUGHABLE for MOVIE INDUSTRY standards, because all listed games have nothing but big pack of cliches and scenes ripped-off many movies, and scripts of all 3 games are absolutely secondary.

ME2 starts with scene ripped off 5th element, continued with Cigarette smoking man ripped off X-files, entire story shows you Star-Wars kind of ship and characters (their look, names, and even their planets names are so Star Wars) + a some Dune rip-offs (council base is equal to design of Dune space\spice-ships from mini series) a little of Farscape and few more Sci-fi series and movies, and its all ends with BIG TERMINATOR at ALIEN hive, and yeah dont forget that main character of game Looks like main character of LOST series and even have same surname.
And im not saying that entire script structure is always the same in every BioWare game since Baldur's Gate.

Do you think this could have any chances to win in WGA? Oh, c'mon! This game could only win at some BLAHBLAH GENERIC GAME INDUSTRY AWARD founded by industry insiders, and it could win only with help of dumb players who vote for games like ME2 because they never watched classic movies and never reed classic books to understand where all the "original ideas" came from.
In Movie industry ME2 script is equal to B-movie trash.

What was next in list, RDR or DAO?

RDR, it have funny characters just as any GTA, good gameplay, but generally story is plain and washed out by "side-quests" and im not even in a mood to mention whole list of spaghetti-westerns it ripped off.

And DAO, its story is so classic Fantasy cliche

"Spawns from hell opened a gate\tower and started to destroy living lands... blah blah blah + dragons + might + magic + blah blah blah ... only lonely hero and bunch of his retarded friends with help of magic sword\ring\whatever can infiltrate main tower\gate of evil, kill big ugly hell spawn and bring peace to northerlands"

so its not even funny anymore. Its story just makes an illusion of reach story with help of characters and their dialogs, but in fact its same old fantasy which makes most of people puke because of "originality" of story.

If you ask me what was the most original and genuine Fantasy story in games last 5 years, i can tell you 2 games that really could win WGA awards - Dreamfall: the longest journey, and The Witcher.
ME2, DAO and RDR stories totally dull and predictable comparing to these 2.

So they did not have a chance, and i suppose thats the real reason why they missed this award, because BioWare and Rockstar guys knows for sure truth about "originality" and "ideology" of their scripts.
So they just preferred to stay away and let us think that they could win if they want, instead of losing in every nomination.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Kirill Yarovoy on 7th February 2011 11:17am

0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply

Sign in to contribute

Need an account? Register now.