Firstly, tell us how you’ve come to found Sidelines.
Sini Downing: We found that there was a need for it. A lot of projects coming in for recording projects were asking ‘By the way, do you have any writers you can recommend?’ So there’s always been that gap for what people wanted. Plus we’ve also seen a growing need for a better quality of game writing.
What are the services you are offering to the games industry?
SD: It’s a source for games developers or publishers to come to and say ‘We need a writer’. Whether they need a totally original story, a writer to work all the way through a project or if they just want something fixed. Anything to do with game writing. We’ve already started helping getting writers together with studios. It’s been a fairly organic process in putting it together as well.
What has the reaction from studios been like so far?
Justin Villiers: The reaction so far has been hugely positive. A lot of people are talking about needing better scripts for games and wanting better quality.
SD: Plus, a good script is something to talk about. It’s much easier for consumers to grasp the concept of a game having a story, and who might have written it, than it is to know what the technology is. And it’s also an extra thing that can be used to sell the game.
Are you having to tell studios that story is just as important as technology?
SD: We’re not necessarily having to tell them that, but we are trying to push the message that the earlier they can get a writer involved the better, just because we can all then work together. It’s not necessarily that the story rules over all, but that it has to be a part of the design that gets a lot of attention at the right times.
So how does the operation work on a day-to-day basis?
SD: We have a core group of UK-based writers we call on. But if we can’t meet a client’s needs with that group we also go out and seek out writers and represent them. Sometimes developers want a high-profile writer, and we can approach them as well. Also, as an agent, we can approach other agents to draw writers in. We’re always looking for more people, to help us cover more genres or satisfy the demand when a developer is looking for a particular style of writer that we don’t yet cover.
Is there much of a relationship with sister company Side?
SD: Sidelines is an independent company, so our team is focused solely on scripts and the writing. But our relationship with Side means we have a great background in terms of writing for and dealing with actors, plus also knowledge of things like script formatting.
You mentioned high-profile talent, and in previous years the writer position on a game was often just a ‘famed comic writer’ or similar called in to contribute early on, but really just tick a marketing box. Does that still happen?
SD: There are some people who still request writers ‘in the style of’, but people are starting to trust that there are good games writers out there. One of the advantages of being an agency is that we have a vetting of games writers – because that hasn’t happened in the past there are people writing in games and people assume they must be good just because they have worked in the field. But in setting up an agency we are able to make sure the quality is high.
Are you hoping that Sidelines can raise the overall quality of the average game script?
JV: There are some brilliant game scripts out there – but some awful ones too. And a lot of that has to do with the fact that the people writing them aren’t usually writers – but the industry is progressing past the stage where they just use ‘Johnny who works in the art team’ to write the words. Sidelines will help encourage that and get the right people in to write game scripts.
Can you give any examples of when that hasn’t been done right?
JV: There are no specific examples, but one thing we’ve seen is that there are often too many people at a studio, such as the head of the studio, and the CTO – people who shouldn’t really be involved in the story process – getting involved, which just creates a problem in that you end up with multiple versions of one game’s script or story.
So for the process of game writing to get better it demands that the writer become someone who can fight for and maintain the creative narrative vision throughout the production?
SD: Simply, the earlier the creative decisions are made the better your story can be – and they can help inform things like the game’s environment. We talk a lot about working as a team because it’s important the writer on a project is included in a collaborative sense, rather than just always fixing things or having to change things last minute.