Story Time!

When I was interviewed by Wizards of the Coast in 2000 for a possible design job, I’d already been freelancing for a few years. I had a few articles in various magazines, and was working on two big game manuscripts (which were never published by the companies that paid me for them). The WotC interviewers asked me dozens of questions. How did I go about outlining a project? What were my experiences as a DM? What did I most like to write? What did I think of The Phantom Menace? How would I handle getting art back for a project that didn’t match what I had written? This process took a few hours.
At no point, for some reason, did anyone ask me how fast I could write. I had, of course, finished the Design Test, which was roughly 1500 words of an encounter, with map, in 3 days. That was the minimum to even be considered for the job. And I had slaved and struggled and pulled all nighters to do it. It was the most I had ever written in 3 days, by a huge margin.
But I was hired, and WotC moved me out to Seattle, and I started to get introduced around on my first day. In the hallway my manager ran into a senior designer in the department, and asked how his most recent project was going. The designer commented that he was going to have a long weekend, because he had to write 60,000 words in 2 days.*
I honestly believe that is as close to having a heart attack as I have ever come in my life. Because my NORMAL game writing rate was about 1,000 words… per week.
I managed to maintain consciousness, and asked my manager if we could go talk in his office. We did, and I explained that no one had ever gone over the rate at which I was expected to write, and I was afraid I would be too slow. The manager revealed the average would be 22,000 words in 4 weeks… or a little more than 5x my normal pace. I explained my concern about by 1k/week schedule, and my manager got a bit pale.
Luckily, as a new junior developer, I was expected to take some time to get up to speed, and within 3 months I was hitting 22k/4 weeks just fine. I have even done 60k in 2 days more than once in my career, though I am mostly not up to the kind of caffeine-infused craziness that requires anymore.
But it IS something I have remembered for 15 years, and keep in mind anytime I am talking with new writers and big projects.

*Since it’s come up in the comments: The designer who said this wasn’t intentionally messing with me – but he also wasn’t expecting to actually hit said goal. He was offering what it would take to be done by the original deadline, while well aware that wasn’t going to happen. I believe he actually did 20k words over Friday, Sat, and Sun of that weekend, because I checked with him later.

And while I HAVE done 60k words in 2 days, it was 48 hours nonstop, and I only did it because a publisher asked me to, as an emergency. That was never *ever* normal, and I doubt I could do it at all anymore.

About okcstephens

Owen K.C. Stephens Owen Kirker Clifford Stephens is the Starfinder Design Lead for Paizo Publishing, the Freeport and Pathfinder RPG developer for Green Ronin, a developer for Rite Publishing, and the publisher and lead genius of Rogue Genius Games. Owen has written game material for numerous other companies, including Wizards of the Coast, Kobold Press, White Wolf, Steve Jackson Games and Upper Deck. He also consults, freelances, and in the off season, sleeps.

Posted on March 11, 2015, in Adventure Design, Retrospective. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Wow. Great lesson. Very professional of you to have talked to your manager about your concerns.

    For a second there I thought you were going to tell that story about your interview and the guy in his fast-food uniform.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: