Personally, I kind of get mad about the WGA writing awards because, rightly so, to be a part of that guild you have to pay membership fees. So what they're actually doing is they're supporting their membership by putting in a reward for writers that are members of their guild. If you have worked on a game and you want to submit for a writing award from the WGA, your writers have to be members of the WGA. And if they're not, then you can't be considered. So I think you end up getting games nomination and everyone's "why was that nominated but this game wasn't?" The reason is that the writers weren't members of the guild. They have a right to do that because they are a guild and they are recognised in the work of their members. But to tout themselves as "this is the award that you want to get if you write in games, that is not true, because they're not recognising all the games that exist it.
The WGA isn't the only one who has writing awards, and I think more magazines often do things like that. I think there's still a lot of work that has to be done to push writing in games, but I have to admit that after working in it for 12 years I'm not exactly sure how to do that.
My own personal struggle when I started in the industry, I started working on a title – it was supposedly well known for its story and its writing. I'm not going to mention names here, but we were a license, and the people who'd created the original were the ones who were recognised. So we had a meeting with them, and the company president was there. We were going around introducing everyone, and my producer says "this is Mary, she's the writer." The president looks at me and goes "you're a writer?" I say "yeah." There's an uncomfortable pause, and then the producer starts to introduce the next person, but he interrupts with "but... but... you're a writer?"
So I reply "yeah... I'm Mary, and I'm a writer." Then he says "but... what do you do?" [Laughs] He really didn't understand, because their company had never hired a writer, and they didn't understand that writers could have a role. And that was 15 years ago. So for 15 years my journey through it was first to get people to understand that they need writers, and then make them realise that you need different writers than screen writers because of the different sensibilities. Now it's about educating writers themselves to say "we write something different and we have different edicts that we have to follow because we're writing in a different genre." So it's been an interesting career. I definitely think that things are lot different now than they were 15 years ago, and the struggles that writers are facing are a lot different – but I still think we could always go farther.
When you're writing something that has such a loyal fanbase... games are very personal, and that's the other challenge of writing for them. As I said before, you as a writer, you don't own that story. A lot of people own that story, and the people who play it own that story. They get very passionate about it and it becomes their story, so they get very upset if you make the slightest change to their story. So you always have to be very aware of that, and always do what you can to assure them that you care about it too. At the same time, some things you have to block out because it's very difficult to write something that's going to suit everybody. So you have to follow your passion, do what feels right about the story and the characters, and then hope that you've made the right decisions. Hopefully you'll do a good job of pleasing most people.
I know that when they announced the pre-order exclusives there was a huge backlash from the fan forums because everyone was saying "oh, you're making us pay for extra content." I was shocked, but I thought differently – I saw it as the main story that we created for this game was exciting and good on its own. And here we're giving you a chance to go even deeper with it, so to me it was surprising that there was that backlash. I saw it from the glass is half full perspective...
I think that, as a writer, I'm always trying to do the best job that I can on anything, and I'm not going to short-change someone who didn't pay the extra money to get a good extra bit. I'm going to make something that it is as satisfying for those people. Their experience is their experience, and it's important that they enjoy it. They won't' necessarily feel the lack, they're not going to sit there and feel the lack, think something doesn't make sense – they're going to enjoy it on their own and then I'm going to work extra hard for those who do get the extra content to make them feel that what they got was worth the additional value.
Mary De Marle is lead writer at Eidos Montreal. Interview by Alec Meer.