Game Design Occupations Explained: Editors (Pt. 1)

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Game Design Occupations Explained

This week we have three guest authors. Each is an editor with a lot of experience in the RPG industry, and they’re here to tell us a bit about what editors do for your manuscript. If you thought editing was just the process of finding typos (don’t worry, you wouldn’t be alone), you might want to pay attention.


So you’re designing a game, or maybe you’ve already designed a game, or you will be designing one. At some point that means you’ll be writing it all down, whether it’s a world guide, an adventure, a bestiary, or something else. You might be the most inventive designer and accomplished writer since [insert your favorite RPG superstar here], but rule #1 is that everyone needs an editor to look over their work. Even editors who write need other editors. Of course, there are different kinds of editors, and editing RPG material can be different from editing fiction or nonfiction.

Types of Editing

Do you know what kind of editor you need? They’re not all the same. Some may do it all: a full-service provider of editing services from beginning (developmental) to end (proofreading). Others may concentrate on a specialty—just copy editing, say, or just proofing. Let’s look at the three main types of editing.

Developmental Editing (Content Editing)

This stage is the big-picture edit of a rough draft. Think of it like building a house—it’s a lot easier and more productive to start with a strong foundation than it is to tear things down later when you find underlying problems. For fiction, developmental editing addresses characterization, point of view, plot, resolution, voice, dialogue, and so on. For nonfiction, it focuses on organization, structure, transitions, clarity of expression, strength of argument, and the like (some of these areas also apply to fiction).

For game text, a developmental editor (possibly called a developer) will help you with the basic content: clarifying rules, fleshing out bits of your world, or suggesting a cool new ability for your monster. Now, we’re not talking about major writing or rewriting here—if you want that kind of service, bring on a fellow designer to help you get the basics in place first—but a good developmental editor will help you with the areas mentioned in the previous paragraph.

This stage is also where the editor puts on his or her “traffic cop” hat to make notes or suggest changes to a manuscript that’s in a shared-world IP (intellectual property). The editor will address issues of continuity with previously existing materials in a setting owned by another entity. And even if you’re writing in your own world that doesn’t play in someone else’s sandbox, you still want to maintain solid continuity between and within products.

Copy Editing and Line Editing

This stage is the kind of editing you want when your manuscript is in its final draft. You’ve written and rewritten and re-rewritten the thing, and you’ve finally whipped your prose into shape. The foundation is solid. Now a copy editor will dig into it line by line to fix spelling, grammar, punctuation, usage, sentence structure, and other mechanical errors. The editor will make the text clear, consistent, and appealing without changing the voice that makes the writing yours. Many copy editors will create a style sheet that shows how they handled various style issues such as numerals, capitalization, abbreviations, spellings of unusual words, and so on. For worldbuilding game text, a style sheet is essential so that you can remember how to spell Hlatch’uul, that the plural of Ogdech is Ogdei, and how to handle all the other wonderful terms you’ve invented.

Line editing isn’t the same as copy editing, although people use the terms interchangeably. A copy editor generally does less rewriting than a line editor, focusing more on the “nuts and bolts” of grammar, usage, and mechanics. A line editor does all of that, plus considers the flow from sentence to sentence and paragraph to paragraph. She may rewrite (or suggest that you rewrite) sentences to vary the structure, to make reading more enjoyable in addition to clarifying your concepts. A paragraph built entirely of “The noun verbed the direct object” is very dull reading. Line editors might combine sentences where it makes logical sense, or break them up if you have too many very complex ones in a small space. All the while, they ensure that it’s still your voice in the final product, not their own. They work to understand what you want to say as much as what you actually say, and then massage the text until it says what you wanted in the best and clearest way possible.

It may or may not be important to find out if your editor uses one of the major style guides to determine how your work will appear on the page. For RPG publishing, this tends to be the Chicago Manual of Style (the go-to for books that aren’t academic or scientific in nature) in combination with a “house style guide” that’s put together by the company’s staffers for issues like “always use the term ‘magical item,’ never ‘magic item.'” This works in tandem with the style sheet mentioned earlier. It’s not unusual for every project to require its own style sheet.


This stage is the final quality check before your work is released into the wild. It takes place after your manuscript has been laid out or typeset in its final format, ready for publication. You’ll provide a PDF file (or something similar), and your editor will proofread it relentlessly to make sure that no errors or typos have slipped through. He or she will also check things that are important to creating a professional-looking publication, including line breaks, word spacing, line spacing, headers, footers, widows and orphans (single lines at the beginning or ending of a paragraph that get separated from the rest), placement of figures, captions, and page number references. If the proofreader is not the same person as the copy editor, give the proofer the style sheet that was created during copy editing (if any).

If you’ve worked with a particular editor enough to have built up plenty of trust and confidence in him, you might even give him access to the layout file (such as an original InDesign file) and let him make corrections directly. That saves you the time of having to go over the corrections and incorporate them in your file, but it also means you can’t see or check what he’s changed—unless you proofread the whole thing over again yourself.

Special Concerns with RPG Editing

Game text adds another layer or two of editing. During this phase, the editor checks that the rules are correct, the numbers and statistics work out with no math errors, things are balanced (codifying what you wrote with the larger frame of the setting so you don’t, say, blow up the moon if you’re working in someone else’s IP), and of course the most important factor of any game: is it fun?

If your manuscript has maps, artwork, or tables, the editor will check the text references to all those things for accuracy. Maps, especially, need extra attention to be sure that the areas make sense and are labeled correctly.

This kind of editing is usually very helpful to game designers. However, if the text is in such bad shape that the editor has to focus on making it readable, he won’t have much time to give to these RPG considerations. So do your best to make your writing as polished as possible before handing it over to your editor. You might think that would eliminate the need for the editor, but on the contrary, it will allow him or her to help you take the text to the next level (er, no RPG pun intended).

Next Week…

By now you should have a good understanding of what editors do. Next week, our guest authors return to discuss what it’ll cost you and why hiring a good editor is worth every penny.

About the Authors


Ray Vallese is a freelance editor. You can reach him at or

Karen Conlin is a freelance editor. You can reach her at

Steven Schend is a freelance editor (sensing a theme yet?). You can reach him at




This post also appears on Indie+ and is covered by the Indie+ Community Standards.


Indie+ Logo

Series Navigation<< Game Design Occupations Explained: Layout and Print DesignGame Design Occupations Explained: Editors (Pt. 2) >>