The role of game writers: examining their talent, creative process, and addressing structural challenges

“After all, this is a problem that has accumulated over the gaming team and the industry, and there is no way to solve it all at once.”

Some time ago, a post on a social networking site discussing game copywriting attracted a lot of attention. The poster complained that game copywriting was underpaid, not valued, and was “at the bottom of the company.”


“Copywriting has always been the bottom layer of game companies”

This is not the first time that a similar view has been raised. Its various variations have been circulating in the gaming industry for many years. We can often see copywriters complaining about the various constraints they encounter: in many cases, this position is more like “doing odd jobs”, coupled with differences in review, salary and creative concepts, which makes many people who enter the industry because of their love for writing and games feel discouraged.

But from another perspective, as far as domestic games (including both highly commercial service-oriented mobile games and some independent games and buyout games) are concerned, it is also a common phenomenon that players are not very satisfied with the copywriting. To put it mildly, few domestic games can rely on text-based narrative experiences to surprise players. Many old players still remember the game plots and texts from the “Xianjian” and “Xuanyuan Sword” series. In recent years, when the industry has tried to produce “content-based games”, especially two-dimensional games and games for women, they have frequently been criticized for their copywriting because of their service nature.

Even if we put aside these “difficulties in personal taste”, we can still see very basic flaws in the copywriting of some games, such as typos, incorrect sentences, and misuse of punctuation. The practice of some manufacturers of “recruiting proofreaders” has even become industry news.


What happened to domestic copywriting? With this question, we found three practitioners – Zuan Ka, the head of a medium-sized mobile game manufacturer, Qie Zi, the producer of the independent game “Taiwu Painting Scroll”, and Mo Zhu, a copywriter who has worked in different companies in the industry for many years and has multiple positions, and talked to them about the “awkward” situation of game copywriting.

They broke down this general question into different aspects: Is copywriting really not valued, or is it valued in the wrong way? Is writing the most important skill for copywriting? Is the current structure of game companies fundamentally unsuitable for people who are really good at writing?

Copywriting as “Packaging”

Before she started making mobile games, Zuan Ka was a writer. Her company’s works place great emphasis on the construction of the world view, and the plots of several of its games have gained very good reputations. In the industry, her team is regarded as a “strong narrative team” and often receives requests to help other products supplement their world views.

Zuan Ka's attitude towards “narrative” is: not all games need a world view, and not all games need to focus on the plot. She calls the world view, plot, and character design, which are usually handed over to copywriters, “packaging”, and the purpose of packaging is to allow players to accept core gameplay such as numerical competition in a “non-painful” way – for example, a noble lady has to change her clothes to win respect in the upper class. The main purpose of using world view packaging is to make the player's gaming experience more immersive and more engaging.

The problem is that this type of packaging is difficult to measure directly with data. Although good packaging can indeed bring some data improvements, it is difficult for manufacturers to determine how much payment and retention are affected by the packaging effect. This “abstract feeling” that is difficult to describe and judge with data makes many companies very distressed when making decisions, or simply ignore packaging.

Mozhu also experienced something similar when she first entered the industry. She started writing fan fiction and online articles in college, and initially came into contact with outsourcing projects of game companies, and then officially entered the game industry. In the past seven or eight years, she has been exposed to many types of work and has served as the main planner of a project, but her main identity is still a copywriter. “At least seven years ago, the industry did not pay much attention to copywriting,” said Mozhu. “At the time, there was a saying, 'Copywriting and art bring people in, and numerical calculations are responsible for taking out the money.' I have seen many project teams with only one copywriter, or even no copywriter at all. As an outsourced writer, I directly connect with the numerical calculations and systems, which is equivalent to being responsible for all the text parts myself.”

In Mozhu's eyes, there are only a few texts that can arouse discussion among players. “(Through the text) what players want to discuss is actually the plot and characters.” She said, “There are also a lot of texts in games that are not discussed at all. For example, some SLG games have a grand world view, including those domestic SLGs with the theme of the Three Kingdoms. The text quality is not bad, and even has a literary style and cultural heritage. But among the SLG audience, the proportion of players who care about the text is very small, so naturally it will not cause any discussion.”

Not many SLG players pay special attention to game copywriting

This phenomenon is not limited to mobile games, online games and other highly commercial products. Qiezi gave his own observations in the field of independent games. He believes that the phenomenon of manufacturers not paying attention to copywriting does exist, and it is a problem of cultural accumulation.

“In our game industry, most development teams are still at the stage of imitating the gameplay of Japanese, Korean, European and American games. That is to say, once a gameplay has passed the market verification and players like it very much, many game teams will quickly follow suit.” Qiezi said, “But in comparison, many teams do not have much experience in building a world view, or in other words, 'what kind of complete experience should be provided to players.'” This experience includes not only the story, but also what kind of culture and ideas a game can carry.

During the communication with some independent game teams, Qiezi found that many developers did not consider this point. Someone once mentioned that he wanted to make a “Metallica” game. When Qiezi asked, “What kind of feeling do you want to give to players with this “Metallica” game?”, the other party thought for a long time before answering, “It is to give players the feeling of a “Metallica” game…”

In a model that focuses on gameplay, copywriting, as a part of describing and delivering the experience, naturally seems less important. Some development teams will even hire a few outsourced personnel to fill in the gaps after building the entire framework. As a result, both the quality of the finished copywriting and the treatment given to the copywriters are quite low. “Some of our players may not have been mature enough before, thinking that having gameplay is enough. But as everyone's aesthetic taste improves, they will require the game to provide a more unique experience.” Qiezi said.

The situation is indeed changing. The top mobile game manufacturers have begun to pursue content-based games, trying to get players to “pay for content” – this may include a vivid world view, a rich plot, and distinctive characters that can generate emotional connections. So now, at least in theory, manufacturers are paying more and more attention to copywriting.

In a 2021 column discussing worldview construction, Zuan Ka explained this: Even though packaging is difficult to directly link to data performance, because it is the easiest to perceive, manufacturers are eager to make achievements in this field. Therefore, they began to try to pursue an industrialized and controllable content packaging process. In other words, they hope to find a model for efficiently producing popular worldviews and personalities.

For example, the two-dimensional games and female-oriented games that have appeared in large numbers in recent years all claim to attach importance to worldview and copywriting. Mozhu said that this type of game has an inherent limitation: the more non-key characters are designed, the more “wasteful” it is. Because in essence, players' attention to copywriting is attention to characters. Apart from characters, other aspects such as background and worldview are much less discussed.

“When the plot and important characters you write are expected to be linked to payment, then players actually have fixed expectations for what you write.” Mozhu said that this is the inevitable result of trying to commercialize and industrialize creations.

The exploration of this business model has also gone through several stages. At the beginning, manufacturers looked for Japanese teams and young teams; Mozhu personally experienced the period when manufacturers introduced a large number of “985” talents, and later they flocked to find online writers and ACG enthusiasts, hoping that they would “generate electricity with love.” “To put it bluntly, it's about spending money. After spending money, the boss will feel valued.” Mozhu said.

However, in fact, high-salary recruitment has not helped manufacturers find the right packaging direction. According to Qiezi, a project should clearly define the experience and feelings it will provide to players from the beginning. If the boss is unclear about the content direction he wants to make, it is likely to cause employees to “fight on their own” or produce awkward works that are similar to popular works in terms of content style.

A more obvious example is that after the release and success of “Disco Elysium”, some domestic games tried to imitate the melancholy and obscure text style in copywriting, but because the core did not match, they were criticized by players as “not speaking human language”.

Many games imitate the text style of Disco Elysium, but they can't imitate its core experience.

This creates a paradoxical situation: “The boss does care because he has invested money”, but “the boss himself may not know what is truly good content”. In the end, the copywriters either write homogeneous works at best or step on the audience’s sore spots at worst.

At present, it is indeed difficult to find talents who are really good at copywriting in the game industry. Mozhu believes that “talents cannot be forced to grow by giving money”. People with strong writing skills may not necessarily become good game copywriters, nor may they be willing to enter the game industry. Practitioners believe that this is due to both the dual contradiction of copywriting as a creative activity and the dual contradiction of the company structure in the industry.

A position full of contradictions

Before Taiwu Painting Scroll, Qiezi had been writing his own copy as a producer. As a fan of martial arts novels, his writing style has a strong “jianghu flavor”, which is very consistent with the gameplay and worldview of the game. After the scale of the work grew, it was difficult for him to continue to be responsible for all the texts by himself, and he had to divide the work among other copywriters. He said that currently “70% of the planners in the studio are copywriters.”

In order to ensure that the copywriting is on the right track, Qiezi's method is to “teach slowly by myself”, because people with both solid writing skills and game production experience are rare. “This is a problem of industry accumulation,” he said, “we can rarely recruit such talents directly.”

He prefers to recruit people with a Chinese major or experience in novel writing to be copywriters, to ensure that they have a certain level of writing skills. But writing good words does not mean that the game is fun to play. Qiezi believes that the most important thing for game copywriting is to have a sense of communication with players, rather than just telling a story on your own like writing a novel, or describing a lot of details.

“After all, in a game scenario, players will not read every word as carefully as they would when reading a literary work. When playing a game, there are often interruptions in the story, such as fighting monsters or upgrading equipment. Therefore, after experiencing a plot, players rarely go back to watch it again and analyze the context.” Qiezi said, “Therefore, the copywriting should try to present the complete meaning at the time when the player reads it, and grasp the key points and incorporate what the game designer wants to convey into the text.”

Qiezi believes that in addition to recruiting people with strong writing skills, the main creators also need to have a clear set of methods to lead them into the game creation rules and truly use these people. The premise of doing this is that he has a very clear concept and requirements for his own game. This is better than some bosses who “don't know what effect to present”, but it still cannot solve the natural contradictions of the copywriting planning job.

“If the main creator has no idea of ​​the experience they want to create, and the copywriter writes something different from what their superiors imagine, then they can’t work. But if the main creator is very sure of the world view, they basically won’t ask the copywriter to write more important things. They will only give an outline and let the employees below fill in the details. This will in turn make it difficult for copywriters with ideas to make a difference in the team, and they can only do what they are told.”

In his column, Zuan Ka described this contradiction as “good ideas must be authoritarian.” Therefore, copywriting and packaging have become the most difficult parts of the development process to be industrialized.

“There is no solution. The industry has not accumulated enough experience and we don't have ready-made talents to use,” Qiezi concluded. “We can only wait for batches of practitioners to mature.”

Mozhu has a similar view. From the perspective of “a less successful online writer in the past”, she believes that the current dilemma facing game copywriters is that truly high-quality authors do not need to enter the industry, and they will achieve more outside the game industry. For example, the domestic online writing industry is very developed, and if an author can make a name for himself, the income will be much higher than working for a game company – this is exactly the opposite of the star scriptwriters of Japanese AVG. In Japan, the income from the game industry is higher than writing light novels. Another example is the film and television industry, where screenwriters often work with various crews as independent individuals rather than working specifically for a certain company.

The model of using star producers and star scriptwriters as selling points like Japan does not work well in the domestic market.

In other words, the most successful creators tend to choose higher-level business opportunities, such as selling their IP, rather than writing for game companies; and manufacturers are not inclined to hire such well-known authors for a large sum of money – they may have too much say in the content. At present, only a small number of domestic manufacturers will cooperate with well-known writers on copywriting, but a stable model has not yet been formed.

Copywriters who enter the game industry will face more problems: compared with freelance writing, fixed jobs have less risks, but if they only work hard on their writing skills, they can easily be marginalized in the company, which is the “bottom layer” complained by the poster at the beginning – for various reasons, many project teams do not attach importance to this position from the beginning, resulting in many grassroots copywriters taking on multiple duties, such as coordinating system planning, numerical planning and other jobs, and it seems that they “often do miscellaneous work.”

And I want to know, if, as Qiezi said, in an ideal situation, a project plans the experience that the work wants to convey from the beginning, allowing the copywriting team to intervene as early as possible, rather than passively filling in content, handling and coordinating other matters after the gameplay is set up, would the copywriter be in a better situation?

“This is fundamentally a matter of survival,” Mozhu explained. For stand-alone games, the experience that the copywriter wants to convey can be planned at the beginning of the project, all positions can work together, and then the good content can be sold in a “one-shot deal”. However, it is difficult for long-term online games and mobile games to plan what kind of plot to write in three to five years in the early stage, because many contents will change with the operation status. According to this logic, the key factor that determines the status of the copywriter is not the time of joining the project team, but having a say in “what kind of experience the game brings to players” and independently planning what to write.

If you want to have a say in the company and be able to participate in decision-making on the direction of the project, the copywriter cannot only be good at writing work, but also needs to have some understanding of planning and systems. In a sense, this is the meaning of “doing odd jobs” – Mozhu started as a copywriter and took on a lot of planning and system work in 7 years.

“Then, when you finally have a say in the project, you will find that your writing skills have deteriorated. This is very likely to happen to people who initially entered the industry just to write something,” she said. “This is a structural problem of the position, and it is difficult to solve it through personal efforts.”

The writing of Fate: Grand Order is closely related to other types of work. Such works are hard to come by.

“Good copywriting” and “bad copywriting”

Although the role of copywriting in the overall gaming experience is difficult to measure, and the criteria for judging quality are often very subjective, in fact, relatively unified standards do exist. It’s just that the criteria for judging game copywriting are different from those for judging literary works.

The common point between the two is the basic writing skills, at least there should be no typos, grammatical errors and other hard flaws. Once such problems occur, it is easy for players to criticize the level and attitude. Mozhu explained that the presence of hard flaws does not mean that the level of copywriting is necessarily bad, but more exposes problems in the work process.

In the traditional publishing industry, after the author submits the manuscript, the editor will review and proofread it. Similarly, after the game script is completed, it will be submitted to QA testing along with other parts of the game. Correction of typos, incorrect sentences and other defects will be carried out in this stage. In principle, the error rate will not be higher than that of the traditional publishing industry.

But in actual work, the game's construction period often changes unexpectedly. “For example, if the animation team wants to make the effect better, it will take more time, and the time for other types of work will be compressed. If the final product has changes in design and other aspects, the copy must also be changed accordingly.” Mo Zhu said, “The most extreme case is that when it comes to QA testing, all the copy is still a placeholder of “Aaaaaa”. In this case, there is no time for proofreading, and the actual installation is likely to be full of typos.”

The difference between the two is that, compared with the quality of the text itself, game copywriting pays more attention to the adaptability to the overall experience. This is also an important criterion for the game industry to measure “good copywriting”.

Qie Zi's games have a large amount of text, and the quality has been recognized by players. However, a game with less text does not mean that the copywriting quality is poor. “For example, the popular 'Soul' series games are very small in text, but the processing is very mature.” Qie Zi said, “Many people talk about their 'fragmented narrative', but I think this statement is not very accurate. Because in this type of game, the whole world is broken and lost, so only a few words are left. The fragmented text adapts to the fragmented worldview and creates an emotional effect that matches it.”

Sometimes, just a few words can convey enough emotion

Coincidentally, some business simulation games do not have much text content except for the teaching part, but the occasional witty prompts can bring enough feedback and fresh experience to players.

Whether or not to use dubbing will also affect the writing style of the game. Mozhu gave an example, saying that when writing dialogues, if Chinese dubbing is used, the copywriters will try to make the writing style as “human-speaking” as possible; but if Japanese dubbing is used, the degree of “human-speaking” of the dialogue style can be reduced. This will involve some “mother tongue shyness” issues and localization issues, but they can be roughly handled according to similar standards. Of course, if dubbing is not required, you can write some relatively cumbersome content to make the copy look more “riddler” or more “stylish”.

In addition, many practitioners believe that as the trend of project type segmentation becomes more and more obvious, this will also affect people's judgment criteria for game copywriting. For example, the copywriting of otome games usually has a lot of narration and the writing style will be more refined; if it is a TPS game or FPS game, the copywriting planner needs to compete with the depth of “military geeks”, throw out more “stalks” and weapon descriptions that the audience can understand at a glance, and get higher evaluations.

“I think that game writing is not only not so compatible with novels and movies, but sometimes it may not be so compatible even if you change companies.” Mozhu concluded, “The difference in evaluation standards between subcategories may even be greater than the difference in media carriers, so naturally different evaluation standards will be adopted.”


In the eyes of practitioners, players’ dissatisfaction with game copywriting may not be complaining about poor writing, but the overall poor content experience. Therefore, the low quality of copywriting and the poor situation of copywriting planning reflect the weakness and incoherence of the overall content of the game in a sense.

“It is easy to imitate gameplay or expressive things, just like opening a factory to learn how others make products is easier than learning how others write poetry. Our game industry lacks accumulation beyond gameplay, and lacks the accumulation of experience and culture delivered in games.” said Qiezi.

It is difficult to solve this problem with one or two people or one or two outstanding products. In fact, if there is no capable team support, this kind of individual charm may become short-lived because it cannot be implemented. Some established game development methods may not be suitable for the emergence of such talents, or it may require the team leader to pay a lot of costs to cultivate them – this cost refers to more than just money.

“After all, this is a problem that has accumulated over the gaming team and even the industry, and there is no way to solve it all at once.” During the conversation, Eggplant kept emphasizing this sentence.

(All characters in this article are pseudonyms.)

Advertising Statement: The external jump links contained in the article (including but not limited to hyperlinks, QR codes, passwords, etc.) are used to convey more information and save selection time. The results are for reference only. All articles in Gamingdeputy contain this statement.