It’s Not All Fun in Games Editing

It’s Not All Fun in Games Editing

“It’s not all ‘fun and games’!” says Kate Unrau, a veteran game editor in Toronto, ON. “Seriously, though, I think editing games is more specialized work than people realize.”

“It’s difficult, technical work!” says Joshua Yearsley, another game editor who specializes in games and technical materials. “I actually find it more challenging than much of the scientific editing I’ve done.”

“I do find it really enjoyable, but it’s as intensive as editing anything else,” Unrau says. “You can’t let the content distract you from the basic editorial things, and you also have to understand the moving pieces involved and ensure that everything works together.”

“It’s not all ‘fun and games’!”

Kate Unrau

What Needs Editing

“Gamers want to spend as little time as possible reading the rules and as much time as possible playing the game. So a lot of editing is geared toward that goal,” Unrau says.

“All the text elements need editing. Instruction books are the bulk of the editing, but often game components, such as cards, tokens, a board or a play mat, have text on them too, and that text needs to be correct and consistent. Some game books, particularly for role playing games (RPGs), are really long. Euro-style games have grown in popularity, and their rulebooks can also be quite involved,” according to Unrau.

giant pawn leaning over another chess game piece

“The rulebook is the most important part,” Yearsley says. “With a poor rulebook in their hands, players literally won’t play the right game, and that’s if they don’t give up in frustration first. Plus, if it’s a roleplaying game, then the rulebook is basically the entire product. If it’s a board game, then you’ll also need to edit the components: cards, reference sheets, and so on. Even if the components just use symbols, as the rulebook editor you might need to check that any appendices in the rulebook match the components themselves.”

How to Know If Game Editing Is for You

Unrau calls herself “a nerdy, nerdy gamer. I spend almost as much time on Board Game Geek as most people do on Facebook,” she says. “And I have more Euro-style games on my shelf than I care to admit. I’m constantly watching reviews of new games, discussing them, and trying them out. When a game editor posted a contract proofreading opportunity (on Facebook!), I jumped on it, and it’s expanded a little from there. For me, it’s an obsessive hobby turned into a freelance opportunity, and I really enjoy it!”

Yearsley, on the other hand, saw an opening and made a move: “Kickstarter was just revving up during this time, and tabletop games were really starting to succeed, so I figured, why not see whether these independent designers need help with their rulebooks? I made some cold calls (well, emails, really) and told people about my science editing experience and my obsession with games, and some bit. My first rulebook edit was for a hard sci-fi roleplaying game, and I actually won the designer over partially on the back of my scientific background!”

“An editor who has played Settlers of Catan a couple of times and really loves Scrabble may not yet be prepared to edit games.”

Kate Unrau

“An editor who has played Settlers of Catan a couple of times and really loves Scrabble may not yet be prepared to edit games. But if gaming is something you’re really into,” Unrau says, “it’s a worthwhile niche to explore. But then, that’s my advice for any freelance editor: edit your strengths. Whatever it is you’re excited about, there’s usually a way to leverage that and bring it into your freelance portfolio successfully.”

Common Errors in Games

 “On the simpler end,” says Yearsley. “Terminology mixups are common, things like ‘token’ versus ‘marker.’”

“Consistency is a big factor for games,” Unrau agrees. “For example, once an element is identified (a card, a token, an action), it must be referred to and styled the same way every time it appears. That includes on the board, on the element itself (as applicable), and everywhere it appears in the rules. I also strive for consistency in directions: ‘take a card’ versus ‘draw a card,’ for example. Within a set of rules, it’s better to use the same wording. There are also styling elements and conventions (use of bold, capitalization, headings) that are fairly standard in games and that make instructions easier for a gamer to scan quickly when she wants to check a rule.”

Beyond the Style Sheet

“Clarity is critical in the instructions, for obvious reasons,” Unrau says. “I’m also looking for sensible flow through the information. There’s a certain logic to laying out rules so that the reader learns what he needs to know in the order that he needs to know it as he progresses through an instruction book. It’s a little like a recipe.”

“I think of [this] as the rhythm and meter of rules.”

Joshua Yearsley

“I see lots of errors and vagueness in what I think of as the rhythm and meter of rules,” Yearsley says. “Who does which things, when, and in what order. If you get this wrong, everything about the game falls apart, so it’s important to get right.”

“Some of the most pernicious errors, and the ones I fear most, are extra and missing rules. It’s important to develop an instinct for when something doesn’t look quite right, when a rule doesn’t directly contradict another one but seems extraneous or out of place,” Yearsley says.

What You Need to Know

“As with all niches, there’s a lingo,” Unrau says. “And with board games there are certain mechanics and constructs that gamers become familiar with. In editing or proofreading for a game, you really dig into the material and figure out how the package works as a whole. If you don’t have a fairly wide knowledge of how an assortment of fiddly, complicated games work, you’re not going to recognize a good one or be able to make effective suggestions for improvement.”

The Market for Game Editing

The revenue of the board games market for 2023 is around $3.39 billion.

Florence Desiata in “Surprising Board Games Statistics to Look Out for in 2024

“Relative to other markets, it’s probably on the smaller side,” Yearsley says, “but the market is growing at a ridiculous pace. More board games were published from 2010 to 2016 than from 1900 to somewhere in the 1990s, industry sales are growing in the double-digit percentages every year, and we’re not sure when it’s going to slow down. It’s almost frightening.”

“The market for games is growing all the time,” according to Unrau. “But from an editorial standpoint, it doesn’t seem like a huge area. With the prevalence of KickStarter (and similar), it’s easier for indie gamers to try to launch a product, and there are some editing opportunities there if you are part of the scene. But it seems to me that it’s a fairly small field. I feel lucky to have a little piece of it, and I hope to grow that area of my freelance portfolio.”

Further reading

Writing With Style: An Editor’s Advice for RPG Writers, by Ray Vallese.

Editing the narrativce in video games.

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