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Subject: A market for rulebook writing? rss

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Peter Sharpe
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I thought I would post this in here as it seemed the most appropriate place.

I was wondering if there is actually a job title called "rule book writer" or if it is just done by the designer with some input from a graphic designer.

The reason I ask is that I am looking at going freelance and my background is in technical documentation (government contracts, specifications, reports etc)especially distilling difficult concepts into easy-to-understand, readable statements.

I was playing a GMT game last night and was struck by the formal nature of the rulebook, which uses a lot of the principles I have seen in other documents.

Plus, I know one of our pet hates is unclear rulebooks.

Is there (to anyone's knowledge) a market for this kind of work?

Thanks
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upandawaygames.com
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Probably there's not enough money in the industry to support that, much though it needs it at times.
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Many manuals in the board game industry are written by the designers or their friends. The manuals they produce are almost always awful. Sadly, most smaller companies do not feel it necessary to hire professional writers to produce their content. It's foolish but it's sorta the way things go in tiny industries. Everyone thinks they can write, so they produce their own material and then wonder why there are dozens and dozens of pages in the rules section of BGG. Thankfully, the bigger the hobby gets, the more likely we are to see quality writers writing quality material.

There is no job title called "rule book writer", although that would look hilarious on my resume. The actual title is "technical writer", although some people in the field are calling themselves "information architects" and other resume-bloated nonsense.

I've been a technical writer for awhile now and I enjoy it a lot. I'm employed at a hardware security company but I do like doing a bit of freelance work for people now and then. I'm currently doing some work on a board game manual right now for someone who asked (after I insulted their work, no less!).

There is a market for technical writing. There will ALWAYS be a market for technical writing. The problem is you might not be able to make a comfortable living writing exclusively for board game companies.

I think a day will come when a writer will get a good buzz in the industry through word of mouth and be known as a dude who can produce some quality work. Will you be that dude!?
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Selim 'Selim' Talat
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Maybe it would be more prudent to go for 'rulebook smoother' rather than writer

People write their own rulebooks because their games are their pride and joy. Rather than expect them to hire the task out to someone who charges by the hour, it would be more realistic to ask to help out with what has already been written: offering serious critique, edits and the like.

I'd happily do these things for minimal rates (I actually enjoy a couple of hours a week of editin'). If only I could find people who were interested

p.s. 'information architects' will make me LOL until the universe itself comes to the end of its life-cycle >_<
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MannyFandango wrote:
Maybe it would be more prudent to go for 'rulebook smoother' rather than writer

People write their own rulebooks because their games are their pride and joy. Rather than expect them to hire the task out to someone who charges by the hour, it would be more realistic to ask to help out with what has already been written: offering serious critique, edits and the like.

I'd happily do these things for minimal rates (I actually enjoy a couple of hours a week of editin'). If only I could find people who were interested

p.s. 'information architects' will make me LOL until the universe itself comes to the end of its life-cycle >_<


I once worked for a medical equipment company with robotic engineers and doctors writing manuals for surgeons. I am not an engineer. I am not a surgeon. The stuff I produced for them was miles beyond anything they could have done themselves.

You really wouldn't need to know the game better than the designer to produce a better product; however, you're right, many people would be reluctant to hire outside assistance (going back to the 'everyone can write' argument).

I think the reason technical writers are trying to find new words to define their craft is because it has moved beyond writing. Hell, most of the work I do is producing corporate videos that are half marketing and half instruction.

I think if a person is serious about wanting to write manuals for a living they need to go to school. I'm willing to bet most colleges have technical writing courses. They probably offer a work placement that can do wonders for your CV. Alternately, you would need to hire yourself out for almost nothing until you can build up a respectable portfolio.
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Peter Sharpe
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It's good feedback and confirmed a lot of what I was thinking. There is a need for better design and clarity and GMT do it very well with their house style. However, games are a personal thing and the designers may want control of the final product.

Maybe more research is needed. I did have an idea of going to Essen or something similar and just asking each company what they did and if their thought there was a gap for that kind of thing. But with the rulebook being a fairly big part of how much a game is enjoyed (especially ones translated from other languages) there is certainly a case for getting a professional in.
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Sharpey09 wrote:
It's good feedback and confirmed a lot of what I was thinking. There is a need for better design and clarity and GMT do it very well with their house style. However, games are a personal thing and the designers may want control of the final product. It's tough to prove that your work can result in more revenue but it can and if you have a gift for words you can help them realize this fact.

Maybe more research is needed. I did have an idea of going to Essen or something similar and just asking each company what they did and if their thought there was a gap for that kind of thing. But with the rulebook being a fairly big part of how much a game is enjoyed (especially ones translated from other languages) there is certainly a case for getting a professional in.


You have to develop a pitch that makes the publisher understand that you're a necessary component to their success. One of the first things I had to realize when I started was that there were people that did not think my craft was essential.

I couldn't count the amount of software engineers I had to deal with that thought their release notes were some newly discovered Fitzgerald masterpiece. After establishing the documentation department, the amount of customer complaints and questions became almost nonexistent. Who knew people who dedicated their life to a specific skill were better than individuals that dedicated their life to a different and unrelated skill?!

You know what you should do? Go over some of the games you own and find the worst manual. Rewrite the entire thing and post it here on BGG. Say that you had trouble understanding the manual and you wanted people to easily access a game you love and enjoy and you hated the fact that the original manual acted as such a horrible barrier. See what people say. Listen to their feedback. Add it to your portfolio if it's good.

It's hard work and it can be really disheartening when you're confronted with someone that thinks your work isn't as good as what they can do on their own. Stay confident. Stay motivated. Establish a portfolio. Start networking. Do all these things and you too can live like me, surrounded by adoring fans in a bed filled with money, drugs, and beautiful women. This is the life of the technical writer.
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Peter Sharpe
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That's a good idea. I may well do something with War of the Ring, which is an awesome game but has an awful manual.

Are the adoring fans also the beautiful women?
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Jeremy Lennert
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Tangential question: when you're hired to write a manual, how do you typically learn the information that needs to appear in the manual? That seems like kind of a chicken-and-egg problem to the extent that the designer/engineer still has to figure out how to communicate all the relevant details at least once.

Speaking for myself as a game designer, I'd be happy to have someone else write the manual for me (provided they're good at it), but I wouldn't be comfortable until I'd personally reviewed it for errors. (I've had past experiences involving someone "rewording" my rules in a way that changed their meaning in some subtle but important way.)

And that doesn't necessarily mean that there's money available to pay them...
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Antistone wrote:
Tangential question: when you're hired to write a manual, how do you typically learn the information that needs to appear in the manual? That seems like kind of a chicken-and-egg problem to the extent that the designer/engineer still has to figure out how to communicate all the relevant details at least once.

Speaking for myself as a game designer, I'd be happy to have someone else write the manual for me (provided they're good at it), but I wouldn't be comfortable until I'd personally reviewed it for errors. (I've had past experiences involving someone "rewording" my rules in a way that changed their meaning in some subtle but important way.)

And that doesn't necessarily mean that there's money available to pay them...


It depends on the material.

Sometimes I'll get something that resembles a manual. It's somewhat organized and written well enough that I can understand what they are trying to say. I'll probably start editing it and then just rewrite the whole damn thing because I know I can turn their 30 page manual into a 15 page manual without losing an ounce of clarity.

Sometimes I'll get post-it notes and emails as my source material. I'll conduct a few interviews and learn the product as best I can and then I'll start the writing process. I'll send off an email now and then to clarify something, all while making sure to finish a first draft as quickly as possible so the engineers (or designers or whoever) have time to give it a glance to make sure everything is accurate.

Whatever the situation, yes, some work will be required from the designers; however, it's a lot less work for the designers to leave it to a professional. In the end the designers have a manual that will guide the players through the painful process of reading an instruction book as quickly as possible so they can get to enjoy the designer's pride and joy.

We all have our skills. Working in groups and harnessing those skills is much better than attempting to wear too many hats.
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Jeff Quick

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There's not much of a market for this kind of work. I am a project manager at IELLO, and have been a writer and editor in the games field for a bunch of years at several different companies. Writing/editing rulebooks is part of my job, but I do several other things as well.

I think that's how you make a job out of it -- bring half a dozen hats, and make rules writer one of them.
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Jeremy Lennert
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broken clock wrote:
We all have our skills. Working in groups and harnessing those skills is much better than attempting to wear too many hats.

Letting people act as specialists generally makes them more productive, but it increases the minimum organization size necessary to produce a given product, which comes with its own set of problems.
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Jefftyjeffjeff wrote:
There's not much of a market for this kind of work. I am a project manager at IELLO, and have been a writer and editor in the games field for a bunch of years at several different companies. Writing/editing rulebooks is part of my job, but I do several other things as well.

I think that's how you make a job out of it -- bring half a dozen hats, and make rules writer one of them.


The smaller the company, the more hats people have to wear. Jack of all trades, master of none.

Antistone wrote:
Letting people act as specialists generally makes them more productive, but it increases the minimum organization size necessary to produce a given product, which comes with its own set of problems.


Well, it's not just about productivity. Someone who specializes in one particular field is going to produce better work than someone who is working on eight different things at once. That's a fact.

To the OP: If you want to be a technical writer and you want the most money: work for the software industry. That's where the money is. Most software developers understand that having professional writers is essential and they pay handsomely for it. Board games is a tiny market and like I said, it's going to take a lot of ground work to convince publishers that your price is worth it. I've done freelance for tiny companies before. They are a pain in the fucking ass. You're going to get you work undervalued. But, hey, if this is a passion for you, go for it and good luck, hommie.
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Joe Pilkus
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Peter,

You've received quite a bit of excellent advice, thus far, and I'll simply echo what many have said with regard to the fact that designers should not write rules. Very often, they're far too close to the game in question to provide that overarching, unbiased rule-set which is accessible to the new player.

As to the position, I'm a developer for several designers, and in that capacity, I serve as the technical writer/proofreader/editor; lead play-tester; and the one who organizes blind-play-tests. It's more of a labor of love than a job. First, there's no payment...simply credit on the myriad games to which I've provided assistance. Second, you select the games you want to support and in doing so, you'll maintain your enthusiasm and excitement throughout the process.

Cheers,
Joe
 
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Peter Sharpe
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I have indeed received some really good advice. Thank you all.

I have been inspired to sign up to an accredited Adobe indesign course at my local college and I may ask on here if there are any designers who I could do a rulebook for as part of my portfolio.

Thanks

Peter
 
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