Early in Abigail Tyson’s career, a boss listened to her pitch an idea about an interactive blog tour for an author she was representing. Her boss replied, “I don’t understand that at all, but go for it.” And she did!
Now a narrative designer, Tyson is passionate about reading, writing and playing games–which is a good thing. Because all three of those make up the bulk of her job duties at Arkane Studios.
The only downside to having her career overlap so closely with her favorite hobbies, is “turning off her work brain” while playing video games in her free time.
Even though she was disillusioned by her experience working in publishing for Young Adult readers, it ultimately put her on the path to her dream job. In fact, she states that everyone she works with took a different path to get into the industry–including vastly differing educational backgrounds.
Now her day to day life involves creating content for video games, which is perfect for someone who describes herself as a writer at heart.
Abigail still loves reading Young Adult books, and feels strongly that it’s the teenagers who need the stories the most–not the adults who also read the genre. Something many publishing professionals don’t seem to understand.
Background of a narrative designer
Whether you play video games often or infrequently, you likely have an appreciation for well-rounded storytelling and impressive virtual environments.
Abigail Tyson is one of many talented narrative designers across the globe that brings the gaming community the experiences they look forward to enjoying every day.
Abigail’s career began in the world of book publishing.
She was an assistant publicist with a focus on Adult Contemporary and Young Adult (YA) fiction literature.
After working in the literary field for a year, Abigail decided it was time for a change. She had always wanted to work in the video game industry, but didn’t know where to start.
With the help of a good friend Megan, Abigail landed a QA contractor position at Adult Swim games.
Abigail was community manager for Bethesda Softworks at one time, a role she found to be a lot of fun. She has worked on various titles throughout her career so far, including Elder Scrolls and Death Loop.
Abigail graduated from school at Hampshire College with a focus on young adult psychology.
Pursuing a career in video games
The gaming industry is as diverse as it is fun. How do you choose the field that’s right for you?
If you have a programming background or are technically minded, you might excel in developing games.
The heartbeat of any game worth playing originates from its underlying code and the developers who wrote it.
As a video game developer, you are responsible for bringing a story to life and ensuring gameplay mechanics are smooth.
A background or degree in computer science and game design will work in your favor when applying to jobs in the video game industry.
You’ll want to know how to work with the different programming languages like Java or Python and have some level of familiarity with game engines like Unreal Engine.
While formal education is certainly valuable, many successful game developers are self-taught.
Utilize online resources, join forums, and participate in game development communities to learn and network.
Consider building a portfolio and showcasing it on a personal website or forum for visibility.
If you love writing or telling stories, a career in narrative design might be for you.
You’ll benefit from being a gamer yourself – Narrative designers are the architects of a game’s plot, characters, and the overarching world.
Having some level of familiarity with what modern gamers expect from gameplay and the actual storyline will go a long way.
Photo by cottonbro studio
Remember too, a video game’s story may not be exactly linear.
Oftentimes, players are given a number of choices as a response or action – These choices can result in different gameplay outcomes for different players.
Due to this level of player agency and choice, narrative designers must create flexible and branching storylines that adapt to each player’s decisions.
Narrative designers build the overall story structure, determine key plot points, character arcs, as well as all the various possible outcomes that arise from player choices.
Narrative design is all about creating a living, breathing story that reacts and evolves based on an individual player’s actions. No easy feat, to be sure.
When it comes to prerequisites, a background in creative writing or literature will come in handy. Understanding the fundamentals of storytelling is also crucial.
As a narrative designer, effective communication within a team setting is key.
You will need to convey ideas in a convincing way, cross-functionally,in order to gain approval from stakeholders and further develop the story.
If you haven’t already, consider taking a course on creative writing and narrative design in the gaming industry.
If you can put together a solid portfolio of small game narratives as well, even better.
Marketing and Community Management
Marketing isn’t just about selling a product; Marketing teams bridge the gap between actual player’s needs, wants, expectations and the game developers’ strategy.
Marketers and community managers are also responsible for cultivating excitement and curiosity around an upcoming game, DLC, or new feature.
If you’re purely a marketer, you’ll be responsible for crafting campaigns that not only highlight the cool features of a game but encourage the gaming community to play it.
A deep understanding of the various gaming genres and emerging trends go a long way when crafting campaigns.
On the other hand, community managers specialize in building and nurturing relationships between the game developers and the player community.
Community managers ensure communication between the studio and community flows smoothly and that players feel heard and valued.
On an average day, you might disseminate information about updates, expansions, or events.
You will also actively engage with the community through forums, social media, and other channels.
Successful community managers make their communities feel supported and valued. They often shape the success of a game, because after all… What’s a good game without a community who’s passionate about it?
If you’re considering pursuing marketing or community management, some formal education or experience in marketing and communications is crucial. You’ll also want to be well-versed in social media management.
When it comes to creating a successful game, Quality Assurance (QA) testing is the unsung hero.
QA testers meticulously ensure that the final product delivers a seamless and polished experience to players.
Photo by MART PRODUCTION
QA testers identify and help rectify any potential issues that might disrupt the player’s immersion.
Early on, QA testers may focus on unit testing where individual components are examined to identify and address any code-level anomalies.
As development progresses, integration testing ensues. The interaction between different game elements is tested for potential conflicts or glitches.
The final stages involve system testing and acceptance testing, where the entire game is rigorously assessed to ensure it meets predefined standards of functionality, performance, and player experience.
If you’re interested in QA testing, you’ll need a keen eye for detail as well as the ability to identify and report bugs and issues promptly.
Many people start their gaming career in QA testing, which can serve as a stepping stone to other roles within the industry.
A day in the life of a narrative designer
As a female in the video game industry, Abigail generally feels respected and equal to her male counterparts.
However, she does face some nuances in how she navigates industry events.
There is a need to ‘be safer’ as a female at industry events.
Abigail is thankful for her supportive coworkers, who understand that some days, meetings are not the vibe.
Beyond pixels and storytelling, you may find Abigail enjoying a game of Dungeons and Dragons with her partner, or playing a board game.
Abigail enjoys a variety of different games like JRPGs, regular RPGs, action RPGs adventure games, puzzle games, mystery games, and more!
She loves to bake too. As Abigail puts it, who doesn’t love blending a bunch of ingredients together and getting a yummy treat out of it at the end?
If you’re a developer interested in entering the gaming industry, be ready with a solid portfolio showcasing your skills. You will want to reflect how your technical proficiency translates into storytelling.
For storytellers, narrative design might be your calling. You’ll want to have a knack for writing and creating engaging and diverse storylines likely with multiple outcomes.
For those who love chatting with people and excel in communications, consider pursuing community management.
If you don’t know where to start, QA testing might be the perfect field for you. QA testers are a game’s lifeline. They play a huge role in ensuring market entry success.
Abigail Tyson is a passionate and creative narrative designer who found her calling in the gaming industry.
Whether your passion lies in coding, storytelling, marketing, or quality assurance, there’s a place for you in the world of pixels.