Updated: Jul 25, 2021
Yesterday I spoke to a twenty-year-old university student who had a promising portfolio but didn't know how to "break in" to the industry. He asked where devs, particularly story-focused devs, chatter online. I told him unequivocally, "Twitter."
The look of bewilderment was clear, "Huh. Okay, interesting."
This isn't the first time someone has thrown shade at Twitter. In fact, game devs throw shade at themselves for using Twitter all the time. For many up-and-coming devs, it feels like an outdated social platform.
However, devs use it, and they use it a lot. Some studios, including those in AAA, ask for your handle on their application forms. If used deliberately, Twitter can be a treasure trove of information. It’s also free. However, it has thorns too.
Below you'll find a breakdown of the pros and cons I have seen using the platform:
There are many benefits to Twitter. Here are some ways I have used it in the past:
To read and converse with other devs about best game writing or narrative design practices such as “How to write barks,” or “Choices in branching conversations.”
Learn about events such as conferences, talks, workshops, or Q&As with game writers and narrative designers.
Access to other voices in the industry to inform my writing and design. I've learned so much from accessibility advocates like Steve Saylor or Latinx in Gaming. I've also read how other disciplines in game dev create solutions to problems we share on a project.
Learn about new job postings.
Network with developers at other studios.
For help with writing or design tests, preparing for interviews, or writing cover letters. I look up the profiles of the writing team at the studios I’m applying to, read any advice they've already posted, and make sure to follow it.
If you want examples of the value you'll find, take a peek at a few threads that I've appreciated over the last few months:
These threads are just a small sampling of the information you might find on the platform daily. Sometimes that information is specific to game writing and narrative design; sometimes, it is more general. Regardless, these voices contribute to an active conversation in real-time about our discipline.
As expected, there are drawbacks to Twitter you should consider before launching a profile:
It is still a form of social media and comes with all the baggage that entails: privacy issues, trolling, impacts on mental health, etc. Twitter is not an exception.
The game industry on Twitter is not immune to bad actors and manipulative people. Don't disclose private information you're not comfortable with the world knowing, and be careful with who you trust.
Along with hype comes criticism. I love how game dev Twitter can rally and celebrate the announcement of their projects for the first time, finding new jobs, etc. But there's also a fair amount of criticism about the games themselves from gamers and devs. When you've poured a lot of heart into a project or portfolio piece, that negativity can feel awful, even when warranted. It doesn't help when it feels like a pile-on all at once, or the opposite extreme, utter silence.
Twitter can create a false sense of competition. Regularly seeing others getting jobs, promotions, announcing cool projects, etc., can leave a person feeling inadequate. I've spoken to prominent, successful devs who privately admit to feeling insecure because they think their follower or like count is too low compared to what they see others have. While that may seem silly and elitist, it speaks to a genuine fear – our industry relies heavily on networking. It's not difficult to see how these devs feel that they have to maintain an online voice to remain relevant and employed, especially in the wake of layoffs or studio closures. All people are susceptible to comparison, and Twitter can easily magnify that feeling.
Also ... Twitter Can Get Pretty Real (as it should)
Before I sign off on this post about Twitter, I want to mention something I don't see as a positive or negative about but an important part of what happens there.
Twitter is a great resource to assist with game writing and narrative design, but it can also serve as an education about the game dev industry as a whole, both in culture and practice. When looking for work and learning how to navigate the industry, certain conversations about the darker side of our field are critical.
At times these conversations can be heavy and overwhelming. Topics such as discrimination, a lack of diversity and inclusion in studios and games, crunch, racism, sexism, homophobia, management retaliation, inadequate pay, etc., are all online. And there's more to that list I didn't mention.
These conversations circle back every few months, particularly when news of a studio or dev acting badly is exposed. They can even occur when a much-anticipated game doesn't meet expectations. These conversations are often contentious, and they are occasionally posed as an exhausting negative to Twitter.
However, I find them necessary, even if they're difficult to read. Many devs don't have access to these conversations otherwise, and the voices of those who have been hurt deserve to be heard. While Twitter isn't the ideal vehicle to generate conversations about such vitally important topics, sometimes it is one of the few avenues of recourse devs have.
That being said, I can acknowledge that these conversations can feel like a lot to soak in when you're first starting out.
Now that you have an overview of how Twitter can help or hinder you, the question of whether you should use it is a personal one. If you personally judge that it's not for you, that's okay. There are plenty of other resources available.
However, if you forego Twitter, you'll want to ensure you find other ways to network and gain the information you need to be successful long term. I have seen veteran and junior devs learn to make games and get hired without a Twitter handle.
In the meantime, good luck!
In my next post, I'm writing about a far less tricky topic – podcasts.