SFWA Says It Will Admit Game Writers, All Heck Breaks Loose

Writers who help create narratives for video games, table-top roleplaying games and card games will be eligible to join the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) following a membership-wide vote. SFWA will take applications for this Active-level type of membership beginning August 1.

“I’m proud to be leading an organization acknowledging the wide range of forms genre writing can take,” said SFWA President Cat Rambo. “I’m also looking forward to the expertise and experience such writers can bring to the organization.”

Games in any medium may be used for qualification so long as the game has a narrative element, is in English, and in the science fiction, fantasy, horror or related genres.

Prospective members working on games may qualify by showing a sale or income in one of three ways:

  1. By making at least one paid sale of a minimum of 40,000 words to a qualified market, or three paid sales to qualified markets totaling at least 10,000 words. Game publishers may be designated as qualified markets using the already established process and criteria used to qualify fiction markets.
  2. By showing they have earned a net income of at least $3,000 from a game that includes at least 40,000 words of text (not including game mechanics) over the course of a 12-month period since January 1, 2013. Income can be in the form of advance, royalties, or some combination of the three.
  3. If no word count is possible, such as work done for a video game, prospective members can qualify based on one professionally produced full-length game for which they were paid at least $3,000, and with credits to no more than two writers clearly shown on the work.

Money from crowd-funding campaigns can be used as part or all of the required income once the game has been delivered to backers, but the amount that can be claimed cannot be more than the net income from the number of games produced and delivered to backers (calculated by the number of backers multiplied by the minimum tier which receives a copy of the game.) Work done for salary is not eligible.

Following the announcement, Cat Rambo unexpectedly found her day monopolized – “Talk about things I did not anticipate having to spend my morning answering email about. *pulls hair out*”

She collected some of her answers in a post on her personal blog with the title “SFWA Admits Gamewriters, All Heck Breaks Loose, Film at 11”.

Q: Hey, I’m a SFWA member! Why didn’t I know about this earlier?

A: I’m not sure. We publicized the vote before and when it happened, we had a SFWA chat hour devoted to it, and we’ve been talking about it on the discussion forums for over a year, I think, including calls for people to serve on the committee and make recommendations.

Q: Where did these qualifications come from?

A. From the Game Writing Committee, which researched the question first of whether or not we should put the issue to vote and then what form the qualifications might take. We included some game writers on the committee (its members are Jennifer Brozek, Steve Jackson, Richard Dansky, Rosemary Jones, Noah Falstein, and Jim Johnson with Matthew Johnson as the Board Liaison); the SFWA Board used their overall recommendations as the starting point….

Q: Why don’t game instructions and mechanics count?

A: Because we consider them nonfiction.

Q. Why don’t multi-book contracts count?

A. Actually, they do. They are not considered “salaried” but often given with contracts w/ advances.

Q: Why have you excluded work done for salary?

A: That was built into the original set of requirements and in talking to the committee, it seems to me to be an oversight. Looking back through discussions, the original thinking was in practice salaried writers are unlikely to qualify because of the rule against works by more than two authors.

So are we re-examining this in light of the many people pointing out the issues with it? Yep! The Game Writing Committee, the SFWA board, and a couple of staff members have all been mailing and talking back and forth about it most of the day.

Do I think it will get changed? *shakes magic 8-ball* All signs point to Yes — but I cannot say definitively. We’re discussing things right now, and I’m pushing to tweak that part.

Q: Why did you put this out if it wasn’t perfect?

A: Because this is how we make it perfect, by putting it into action, seeing how it works, and adjusting accordingly. It’s what we did last year when admitting indies and that also remains an ongoing process. If you’re a SFWA member who wants to help with that process or a non-member who wants to provide useful feedback, mail me at president@sfwa.org.

Q: Will there be a gamewriting Nebula Award?

A: Not at the 2017 Award ceremony, but stay tuned for further developments…

Q: Do you, personally, support gamewriters joining?

A. Dude. I’ve been playing D&D since I was 11 and that was the ancient, original set that came out right after Chainmail. I worked in a book/game store for close to ten years. My bachelorette party was a Call of Cthulhu scenario that turned out to be Paranoia by the end. Of course I support this. I love gaming, and a good game is a work of art. I’m really looking forward to what this change brings.

22 thoughts on “SFWA Says It Will Admit Game Writers, All Heck Breaks Loose

  1. I guess the next logical step will be to add a Best SF Game to the Script. May I suggest another step or two? Best SF-Related Toys and Action Figures. Best SF animated cartoon series. Best Scientific Breakthrough Inspired by Something Read in an SF Story When the Scientist was Young.

  2. Such a tiny heck. I don’t know that it broke loose more than wandered out the door someone left ajar and came back scratching and yowling after the outdoors turned out to have no heck kibble. (not that my cats have ever done this)

    Good on Cat.

  3. Are writers of dramatic material (film, TV etc.) admitted at the moment?

    Of course, there is already a Dramatic Presentation award, though it is Not A Nebula.

  4. I don’t particularly mind Game Writers being admitted to the SFWA. I am curious if this includes video game writers in addition to tabletop roleplaying writers – because looking at her wikipedia entry, Rhianna Pratchett (for example) would have been inelgible for SFWA membership before now, as most of her writing credits were for game materials.

  5. So RPG module writing is now a valid path to SFWA membership. I don’t see the problem here. Maybe I should get to work on writing up some of my ideas.

  6. “Are writers of dramatic material (film, TV etc.) admitted at the moment?”

    Yep, and have been for quite some time.

    “I am curious if this includes video game writers in addition to tabletop roleplaying writers”

    Yep, but therein lies some of the wrinkles that will need to be sorted out. I do want to emphasize that this is a first effort and listening/incorporating feedback is part of the process.

  7. I’d guess that animated tv-shows fall under regular Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation rules for awards … but I’m not sure dramatic sales qualify for membership. Screenplays are so short you’d probably need three to add up to a novel, is that right?

  8. Here’s the criteria for Active membership for scripts, which is on our website:

    One professionally produced full length (at least one hour) teleplay (dramatic script) with credits clearly shown on the work and paid at the rate established for works over 40,000 words , credited to no more than two individuals and with a minimum pay rate of 6c/word or higher (5c/word 1/1/2004 – 6/30/2014) (3c/word before 1/1/2004);

  9. Animated television shows can be nominated for the Bradbury Award. They must be nominated by individual episode, not by series or season.

  10. For the last 50 years, I have tried to convince outsiders that science fiction was literature. Apparently, SFWA doesn’t agree. On the basis of this current decision, SFWA may be accused of racism for not including the writers of Chinese fortune cookies.

  11. Huh. I knew this change was in the pipeline, but I hadn’t read the qualification rules.

    I appear to be qualified. (On sales of a videogame. It’s text-based, so I can easily check word count — 73k of printable text. Even allowing that some of that is tutorial and credits, it’s well over.)

    Guess it’s time to look into the costs/benefits of membership…

  12. @Cat Rambo
    Good for you for taking a first step and for listening to the criticism and probably incorporating changes based on talks with additional RPG authors.

  13. Yay, My chance of getting a Nebula just got higher…
    Now I have to continue on that narrative SF game Im working on for some time…

  14. This infographic has some of the benefits. http://www.sfwa.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/06/SFWA-Membership-Benefits-10-2015-650×1200.png

    Rob’s working on the 10 Ways SFWA can Help Promote Your Work one.

    FWIW, I joined in 2005. I’ve gotten a lot out of membership, but I also volunteered, which was one of the best ways to get to know some of the under the covers stuff.

    SFWA’s still changing. Lots of cool stuff coming to join what we’ve been trying to do during my reign of terror.

  15. @Cat Rambo

    RUFP?! Why that, when RUFF (Rainbow Unicorns for Flaming Freedom) is *right*. *there*. Clearly another indicator of the pervasive influence that those anti-canine and Siamese kitty-loving EsJayDubyas have in the SFWA. This is why the Hugo’s have been wrong!

    On a more serious note, I’m not a tbeltop gamer, so I really want to see how the tweaking for video game writers work out. Most modern AAA videogames have a veritable army of writers, and even the smaller releases tend to have more than 2 writers for it – for example, these were the 2016 Writers Guild Awards Videogame Writing nominees.

  16. If any of you are coming to Gencon, I’ll be there and one of the organizers contacted me about doing a session on what we’re doing, what we offer game writers, etc. Even if you can’t make that, I’ll be trying to talk to as many people while there as I can. (But it’s also a chance to see my little brother, so I’m going to steal away a LITTLE time for that.)

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