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You Need an Editor! (Part 3 of 3)

Posted By Cameron Harris, Sunday, July 26, 2015

Adapted from my talk at GDC 2014: "You Need an Editor!" (video available to GDC Vault subscribers; slides available to all)

The first two posts in this series (here and here) focused on an overview of editing and how it helps make game stories better, then dug into non-narrative editing. This post argues for how and why to use editors across the video-game industry.

Why Use Editors?

Editors can do a lot, working all the way from story brainstorming and pre-production through publication and the transmedia ecosphere. But don't you already have people doing that?

Yes, probably. Producers or project managers own some of those tasks, but they have other duties, are usually already overworked, and may not have the skill set to do the editing side as well. Remember: an editor can often do everything presented in this series, in one multifaceted package that frees up the rest of your team to focus on their work and make it the best they can. What's more, a dedicated editor will keep their tasks alive and moving through the schedule. The work won't get lost in the shuffle, even with rapid changes during the development cycle.

Building an Editing Culture

Iteration is deeply entrenched in game development: make an initial attempt, try it out, identify what works and what doesn't, and make it a little better the next time. In an editing culture, that iterative improvement applies to narrative and non-narrative writing, just like any other feature. Authors understand that their work will go through multiple drafts, guided by an editor's perspective and support until it arrives at a place where everyone feels confident in it. They know they won't get it right the first time, and there's no pressure to do so. Therefore, they have more freedom to exercise their craft so they can try new things and get better, too.

It's not just an editor supporting those improvements; it's the schedule. In such a culture, editing is valued and planned, built into every process. Writing gets reviewed, the UI gets standardized, and so on. Of course, editing is subject to the same adjustments as any other task when project priorities shift, but fundamentally, it is not optional.

The most important part of building an editing culture is that buy-in, and it has to come from management. Editing gets funded, scheduled, and supported throughout the development cycle, just like other disciplines. Your team adds an editor, someone takes on editorial duties, or you at least have a friend read through the text of the game you're making in your spare time. If you want editing's benefits, you have to invest in it.

What Editing Gives You

And what are those benefits? Remember the four C's: a clear, consistent, and coherent game is more easily consumed, by developers when they're making it and by players when they're playing it. With editing, people understand your game better and are more likely to get out of it what you're working so hard to put into it.

Editing helps the very process of making the game. An editor can ensure that internal documents are findable and up to date and can track important tasks, as with those wikis and checklists I mentioned in the last post. Because of editors' wide scope, the way we see everything in a game, we're natural communication hubs, just like producers; and like producers, we can keep multiple teams humming along together. For example, in my time at ArenaNet, the editing team helped oversee the text pipeline for Guild Wars 2, from design and writing to localization and voiceover (VO) recording. Setting up that pipeline, with its scoping meetings and intermediate checkpoints, immediately led to less confusion about word budgets, more cooperation (and sometimes friendly competition) between teams to stay under budget, and less wasted time and money throughout the pipeline.

And money is where the rubber hits the road, right? Well, I'm here to tell you—with real numbers—that editing can mean significant savings for your project, by way of two examples.

In a script for an upcoming scene in Star Wars: The Old Republic, I noticed an actor cast for a character who would end up speaking to a character he was also voicing in a different scene. The tools couldn't catch that, only a human being familiar with the storylines. The VO producers changed the casting before we went into the studio, which saved us on having to recast and rerecord the role if we had discovered the overlap later. All told—for the actors, studio time, implementation, localization, and testing—my reading that one script in five minutes saved us about $1000… and on a fully voiced MMO, those 'one script's could add up.

The BioWare Edmonton editors saved money on past projects in two ways. First, by editing: doing that invisible refining on dialogue and non-VO strings. On Dragon Age II, the trimmed word count led to more than $100,000 saved in text localization alone. Second, by double-checking that the right strings were going out for translation, thereby preventing unnecessary exports and wasted work. For the Mass Effect trilogy, those quick checks by just a few people saved a lot of money: on Mass Effect 2, more than $450,000; and across all three games and their DLC, more than a million dollars.

Editing in the Video-Game Industry

Now that we understand editing—what it is and why it's good for a game, the developers, and the bottom line—why should everyone care? Because editing is bigger than a single video game or even a single company; it should be industry-standard.

Other media have editors in some form: books, magazines, newspapers, comics, TV shows, films. Those editors make their products noticeably better, and the prospect of creating them without editors can be daunting if not outright absurd. Video games can and should carry the same cachet, the same respectability, as those media, and editing will help them get there.

An art form evolves in the crucible of criticism, and an editor is one of the internal critics in game development. We examine a game from the inside and while it's in progress, bringing to bear our understanding of language, culture, narrative, design, gameplay, user experience, and more… and by constructively criticizing the content and streamlining the production, we support its creators to make the best art they can.

Video games stand at a crossroads, exploding in more directions—more platforms, genres, styles, stories, and audiences—than ever before. Now is the time to leverage a proven discipline for both creative and financial success. Now is the time for editors… because you need one. We all do.

Tags:  editing  gdc  you need an editor 

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