Narrative designer — Kate Fanthorpe
Kate studied both the BA English Language and Literature, and the MA Creative and Critical Writing at the University of Sussex before finding her way into video gaming. She now works as a narrative designer for Creative Assembly (CA)
Why did you decide on a career in gaming?
I stumbled upon a career in gaming somewhat by accident. After my MA, I was looking for jobs that could put my love of writing to good use. I ended up working in editing for a finance firm where, on my lunch breaks, I started writing game reviews to get more writing experience.
Through reviewing and eventually expanding into all areas of games journalism, I became completely enamoured with games development, which at the time seemed to me an almost magical process (I'm a bit more realistic now). All I knew for sure was that I wanted to work with game developers. I didn't ever think I'd become one myself.
How did you get your job with Creative Assembly?
Having dedicated two years to games journalism around my full-time work, I knew I wanted to join a games company. However, I wasn't sure what role would fit me best.
I spotted that CA were looking to fill an entry-level marketing role, and that seemed like the most natural place for me in the industry, matching the experience I'd had so far. Through interviewing and learning about my journalism experience, this role ended up being pivoted into a communications role, where I was able to work closely with development every day.
Over the course of two years, it became clear to me that narrative design was the area I most wanted to move my career into. Very luckily, this skill and desire was recognised by my development team too, and I was given the opportunity to take on some narrative design work part time. This has led me to the full-time position I have today.
What qualities are important for a game designer?
A great game designer is creative, a problem solver, and able to collaborate and communicate expertly with others.
They also have to be comfortable with getting a bit vulnerable. A lot of game design work involves presenting your ideas, usually before you're completely happy with them, and then letting those ideas be shaped and changed by the team you work with. A talented game designer can take on feedback and criticism, and make their ideas better for it, all while doing the same to help others in their team in the same way.
Tell us about some of the games you've been working on…
I can't tell you much at this stage because of our famous game dev NDAs (non-disclosure agreements), but I do work on the Total War series. On a day-to-day basis I tackle the narrative challenges of creating memorable moments within a sandbox strategy game.
What's a typical working day like?
My days can vary wildly between lots of meetings and collaborative communication, and very quiet and focused days where I'm getting through my sprint tasks.
On an average day, I'm usually designing and thinking about how to get the most narrative potential out of a planned feature, sometimes writing examples of in-game text to get a sense of how the style and tone might work or chatting through ideas with the team. This is usually interspersed with a good deal of research, which always sparks new avenues of thought.
What part of your job do you enjoy the most?
I really enjoy the process of iteration that comes with stretching and developing an idea over time. Game design gives you the creative space to come up with very fun ideas, and through testing you can either come out the other side with something better than you'd hoped, or great learnings from a failed idea. Scrapped ideas usually lead to new ones, so nothing is ever really wasted.
It's this creative process that I really love, especially when it comes to creating new and engaging methods of delivering narratives to our players.
What are the challenges?
Without a doubt, the main challenge is keeping everyone aligned. We're all creative people and we don't like to be tied down. But making sure we're all working toward the same vision is a crucial part of the job.
How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions?
In the year that I've been doing narrative design, my role has evolved massively. I've been able to learn a huge amount, and now find myself able to look back at older designs and see how to improve them in ways that I didn't see previously.
Moving full time has allowed me to dedicate my whole brain to narrative design work and process building, giving lots of room for bringing different departments together to collaborate on evolving the narrative of our games.
From here, my career ambitions are to learn all I can about narrative design and grow within the discipline. I just want to tell stories all the time.
What advice would you give to those looking to get into the UK gaming industry?
Learn as much as you can about the ways in which development teams work and the disciplines they're made up of, to get a clear view of the area you want to get into.
With this knowledge, you can focus and hone your skills for that area and begin to produce work that will showcase to recruiters how serious you are about working in the industry. This could be any manner of small proof of concept, like a video, concept art or a short script, but being able to show your thinking and working toward the industry really does set you ahead.
As with most creative industries, you have to be your own champion. If this is what you want, you need to weather the hurdles that might come your way before you get into the industry but stick at it as you will get into it eventually.
Find out more
- Explore the roles of a game designer, developer and writer.
- Consider careers in the video game industry.
- Discover more about Creative Assembly.