The Writers' Guild of Great Britain is staging a computer games industry forum in September, to debate the future of games narrative. The event's taking place at the BAFTA building on Piccadilly in central London, and the Guild is inviting developers, publishers, scribes and all those within the games industry to attend [see more details here].
Among the questions up for discussion: Many publishers and IP brand managers now require professional writers to be involved in projects, but how can you get the most out of your writers? Can writers be a help or a hindrance? How do you find a writer? What does a writer expect from you and what should you expect of a writer? When in the games development process should a writer be employed?
My experience of writing for computer games is relatively limited, but I feel the sooner developers gets a writer involved, the better. Having a professional scribe on board when IP is being initially created and developed can help bring out the best from an idea. I get the impression [and I could well be wrong] that too many games get a long way down the road before they realise their initial inspiration only gets them so far.
They need somebody to put words into the mouths of their core characters and NPC, somebody to help propel the story. But by that point inherent flaws in the story have been built into the game that would be too expensive to retroactively eliminate - flaws that might have been avoided with the involvement of a good writer. As the redoubtable Jim Swallow pointed out to me yesterday, writers work differently from games developers. [He should know, he's contributed to a book on the subject - available here.]
You need a writer at various stages during a game's development, but you don't need them hanging around 24/7. Getting a writer in at the 11th hour to inject some character into your game is akin to hiring an architect to do your interior decorating after the building is finished. Sure, they can make it look better inside, but the basic structure may be fatally flawed - and it's too late for them to help fix that.
You get the best from a good writer by involving them early, not as an afterthought.