The video game industry can be a tough crate to smash, but would-be developers have a crowbar up their sleeve: social media.
"Find your mentors," said Ann Lemay, a 20-year veteran of the industry and senior writer with Ubisoft Montreal. "Social media allows you to reach out to people so much easier right now, and finding your mentors is the single most important thing you can do for yourself, I think."
"You'll find that people who are on Twitter that make games love talking about how they make games," she said. "And if approach them respectfully, and you're mindful of their time, and you're not angry if they tell you 'I can't right now' for whatever reason, it's a really good start towards just finding ... who can help you sort stuff out."
Lemay, who is a panelist at this year's Thundercon in Thunder Bay, Ont., got her start in the industry when Ubisoft launched its Montreal studio in 1997. Prior to that Lemay was a gamer and a writer, although Lemay points out that she wrote mainly for herself, not professionally.
"Back in the day, we didn't have gaming companies [in Montreal], and we didn't have many people who made games there, either," she said. "So they trained up an entire workforce, which happens very rarely in our industry. And it was an ideal opportunity for all of us to get into games."
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Twenty years later, Lemay has an impressive list of credits on her resume, including games in Bioware's Mass Effect and Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed franchises.
A writer's job in the industry can be a varied one. Lemay said, adding that flexibility and cooperation are vital.
"It might surprise people to hear that we don't actually write every day — far from it," she said. "Depending on the phase of production, we do different things."
'Have to diversify the workforce'
Early on, for example, writers sit in on meetings as a game's story is hashed out. They do research, particularly on games with historical or sci-fi settings.
Writers will also pitch quest ideas, write and edit dialogue or other in-game material, write item descriptions or menu entries. They may even work on a game's PR material or website, depending on how specialized their skillset is.
"It's non-linear," she said. "It's also extremely cooperative; there's a lot of teamwork."
"Flexibility and cooperation is key."
At Thundercon, Lemay will be participating in several panels; among the topics discussed will be game writing, and women in the gaming industry.
The latter, she said, remains a challenge, but progress is being made.
"There are a lot of people who play games, and there are a lot of people who play games who don't identify as gamers," Lemay said. "And there are a lot of people who don't feel welcome in playing games."
"The more welcoming we make our product for everyone, the better it is for all involved," she said. "The biggest challenge right now is we have to diversify the workforce, so the products we put out are accurate to the lived experience of all different sorts of people."
Best gift: 'I loved this moment'
Thundercon will be the first time Lemay has been invited to a Canadian convention as a guest of honour, she said, and she's excited to be participating and meeting people who have played, and been affected by the games she worked on during her career.
"That's the best gift you could ask for, it's when people tell you 'I loved this moment,'" Lemay said. "That it brought so much joy to someone, that your work has possibly changed someone's life, even, it's a pretty important thing as a creator."