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No Consoles For Old Men: Ageism In The Game Industry
by David Mullich on 08/22/14 10:24:00 am   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

Last week I read that a game I had produced for Activision 10 years ago, Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines, had been picked by readers of Empire Magazine as one of the 100 best games of all time.  This was just the most recent of good news this year about games I had produced.  Earlier in the year, Ubisoft held a week-long campaign celebrating the 15th anniversary of Heroes of Might & Magic III, Disney released with much fanfare a “remastered” version of DuckTales, and the good folks at Extra Credits tweeted that I Have No Mouth, And I Must Scream, which Computer Gaming World had one listed as one of the 150 best games of all time, was still available for sale.  All in all, I was feeling pretty good about my career as I celebrated my 35th year working in the game industry.

However, just a couple of hours after reading the good news about Bloodlines, I received an email from a major game studio rejecting me for a producer position I applied for.  This was just one out of perhaps a hundred rejections I’ve received for game producer positions in the past five years.

Now, don’t feel sorry for me.  I currently enjoy teaching game production in the evenings at The Los Angeles Film School, which I supplement with contract design and production work during the day.  However, I am always interested in exploring new opportunities and certainly would give up my consulting work for the right challenge.

Yet that afternoon I was struck by irony of having several of my games considered being among the best of their time, and yet no game studio or publisher seemed willing even to give me a phone interview.  So I decided to express my chagrin in a Facebook post.

To my surprise, I received almost 100 comments to that Facebook post from friends and colleagues.  Obviously I had struck a nerve.  About the only times I had received such a response to Facebook post was when I posted about the need for greater gender or sexual orientation diversity in the games industry.  After reading the first few posts, I learned the exact nature of that raw nerve: someone suggested that the reason why I was having such problems finding a job despite my successful career was ageism.

Ageism.  Discriminating against someone because of his or her age.  This was not something I had seriously considered before.  Despite being in my mid-fifties, I think of myself as young.  After all, I still have pretty much the same interests, tastes and capabilities I had when I was in my twenties.  Old people don’t play games or ride roller coasters for a full day or go to midnight premieres of fantasy films. Do they?

Apparently they do.  Many of my friends who are in their forties and older, posted stories of the difficulties they were finding getting work because potential employers considered them to be too old to work in the game industry.

One friend, who had once been an executive at a major game company, told me the story of recently interviewing at another major game company.  After several phone and in-person interviews, the company flew him and his wife to their location, put them up in an expensive hotel, and conducted a final interview.  However, in that interview he was finally introduced to the person who would be his immediate supervisor, someone twenty years younger.  The next day, he was told that he was no longer a candidate.  He suspected the reason was that his would-be supervisor was put off by the idea of managing someone so much older than him.

Now, there could have been a number of possible reasons for him being rejected for a job – but when you are at a point in the hiring process where your spouse is brought along to help do house-hunting for a relocation, the cause must be something dramatic.

It’s very rare that I’m told the reason why I’ve been turned down as a job candidate, but I looked back at the times where I have been rejected to see if ageism is a possible explanation.

“You don’t fit in with our culture.”

When there is a group of like-minded people working in a company, they form their own culture.  The culture may be fast-paced or slow-paced, professional or casual, family-like or cutthroat.  It’s very hard to be successful in a company if you don’t fit in with that company’s culture.

Unfortunately, I was told that I didn’t fit in with a company’s culture after a single phone interview, in which I mostly discussed my lengthy career in the game industry.  Was it because that most of the people working in this company was younger than me?

Possibly, although I never quite understood that thinking.  At a company I worked at a couple of years ago, most of my co-workers were thirty years younger than me.  I got along with them great – much better, actually, than the guy who was the same age as me and ran the company.  Why?  Because they were gamers.  I’ve found that interests and values bonds people more closely than superficial things such as age and race.

However, my friend who believes that he lost that job opportunity because his would-be manager was so much younger than him thinks that the young manager was intimidated by my friend’s much vaster experience.  The young manager, perhaps, was worried that a more experienced employee would make him look bad in comparison.

This, if true, is the sign of a poor manager.  To my way of thinking, a manager seeks out people who have more or different experience to be on the team.  A talented and successful team makes the manager look good – if that manager is wise enough to be a facilitator that listens and learns rather than a boss who is fearful.

“He seemed like he was burned out.”

I once interviewed for a job that I had no doubt I could do very well because I apparently came across as being “too arrogant” to the management.  So, at another job interview, I decided to act a bit more humble.  That turned out to work against me, because I got turned down for appearing to be “burned out”.

Now a lot of people get burned out in the industry.  According to the most recent IGDA Developer Satisfaction Survey, 15% of people who quit the game industry do so because they are burned out.  However, I’m not one of them.  I can’t imagine doing anything with my life other than making games.  I’ve been doing it for thirty-five years, and if I’m lucky, I’ll be doing it for another 35 years.

I could make that argument to a potential employer, but what if I was wrong about why I came across as being “burned out” in that one interview.  Although I’m fortunate enough to always have looked younger than my actual age, I have to admit that my eyelids are heavier than they used to be, and sometimes I look sleepy even when I'm at my most alert.

I can imagine some employers thinking that an older employee being slower or more prone to illness than a younger one.  Well, I’ve always been a Type B personality: low-key and thoughtful.  Luckily, I’m like the tortoise in The Tortoise And The Hare in that, for me, slow and steady always wins the race.  As for the stamina required in crunch time, age doesn’t seem to have slowed me down.  These days I’m usually up by six or seven am, do errands or contract work in the morning, head to school after lunch, teach until 11:30pm and am home by 12:30pm.  How many young people can do that consistently?

Illness?  I can well imagine that older people have more medical conditions than younger people (although I’m lucky enough that I only suffer from a yearly cold).  But consider this!  We older people don’t have young kids that we need to take to doctor’s appointment or stay home sick with.

“Only young people have innovative ideas.”

Someone posted this as a comment to my Facebook post, but I’m sure some employers believe this to be true.  There is popular conception that people make their greatest achievements when they are in their twenties, and I have to admit, I was only twenty-one years old when I designed and programmed The Prisoner, which I consider to be my own greatest creative achievement.   However, I can also tell you this:  Will Wright at 54, Sid Meier at 60, and Shigeru Miyamoto at 61 all seem to be going strong.

Admittedly, not all of us are a Shigeru Miyamoto, but how many of us in game development really need to be?  Most of us are responsible for implementing and supporting the innovations of the few people on the team who are responsible for the innovation.  And to be honest, how many games published each year are truly innovative?  Most good games, even most good AAA games, are more well crafted than innovative, and one hones their craft through experience.  I certainly know far more about the craft of game design and production than I did when I was in my twenties.

The question is, can older workers adapt to innovation?  The stereotype of older workers is that they are slow or reluctant to learn new ways of doing things.  That might be true for the average person, but I would argue that those who are attracted to the game industry are inherently drawn to innovation.  The game industry is very different now from when I started, and I’ve learned to embrace such innovations as agile development methodology, mobile gaming, downloadable content, free-to-play business models, and gamification.

“You can't identify with our audience."

I've not actually heard this one, but I know many think it.  Rather than combat the fallacy that you need to be young to think young, allow me to point this out:  According to data collected by the Entertainment Software Association, the percentage of people over 50 years old playing games is slightly higher than the percentage of people under 50 playing games.  We ARE your audience.

“You’ll leave for a better job offer.”

When I had problems finding work as an executive producer, I tried applying for positions as an associate producer but with not much better results.  One large company actually called me back to explain at length how they were reluctant to higher me for a lower-level producer position out of fear that once the economy picked up, I would leave for a higher paying position befitting my experience.  Of course, I explained that money was not my only motivation for the jobs I take, and that if they hired me, perhaps I might prove myself valuable enough to them that they might be interested in some day promoting me to a higher-level position.  However, I could not assuage their fears.

Conclusion

Of course, this all is merely anecdotal evidence of ageism in the game industry.  Still, the latest IGDA Developer Satisfaction Survey shows that only one percent of people in the game industry are fifty years old or above.  Is this just because the industry is growing in size and so younger people fill most of its ranks?  Are older people dropping out of the game industry because they really have burned out or found a better lifestyle in industries?  Or are older people having too difficult a time finding jobs with developers or publishers willing to hire them?  Are many, like me, finding positions in education or tangential industries because they can’t get work making games?

The game industry press has published many articles about the industry’s need for greater diversity in gender, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation.  But few people are discussing potential ageism, despite it being a great concern, if responses to my Facebook post are any indication.

Therefore, I’ll be proposing a talk on the matter for next year’s Game Developers Conference.  To prepare for that talk, I’d love to hear from you.  Have you been denied jobs in the game industry because of your age?  Have you been reluctant to hire people out of concerns about the problems that age brings?

Please post your comments below, or write me at david.mullich@gmail.com.  Feel free to post or write anonymously, if you like.


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Comments


William Volk
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Excellent article.

The sad thing is when you attend these "post-mortem" sessions at GDC and elsewhere, often the mistakes that are made are the same mistakes we've seen for decades. There's a benefit to experience and too often the industry doesn't get that.

Tim Lang
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I wonder if there's a salary issue there also David....older game developers with more experience typically command higher salaries than younger developers. I was once one of the lead candidates for a designer position at a startup...and during my second interview, they told me they were undecided whether to hire someone with all the knowledge, experience, and expertise they needed, or go with two (or more) extremely junior guys at much less pay than they would have had to offer me because of my experience...

John Ardussi
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Many junior programmers have no idea how to finish a game. You can hire 50 junior programmers and never finish or two senior programmers and finish in six months. You need experience to close out a project or you get caught up in feature creep. Or they write unsupportable code and keep putting a band aid on their cancer. I have several times had younger people want me to try something their way because they think it will work when I already know it won't. They think their idea is new because they just thought of it.

But knowing the right thing to do has little to do with success in this industry. Many of the top people have major failures that were totally their fault. The industry is not fair. You just have to find a path to success knowing that.

Ian Richard
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In my experience, older devs are just as likely to screw up a project. SOME I've met refuse to try new things because, and I quote "This is how we've always done it"... yet they wonder why their projects constantly go overtime and they get poor reviews.

Incompetent coders come in all shapes and sizes. Experience is a good thing, but it can lead to overconfidence that is equally destructive.

sean lindskog
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re: "This is how we've always done it"

9 times out of 10, that's actually a pretty good argument. Although actually the quote should be something like "we tried it other ways, and this works best".

For many games (particularly complex, large budget games), a solid recipe for success is to take an established design/tech, and figure out an interesting piece to heavily innovate on. For all the stock-genre stuff, you don't want to reinvent the wheel across the board.

Remember, the experienced, older devs were young once too. They've been through the "working from a clean slate" development mindset of a younger dev. Any conclusions they've come to on how to do something is usually through doing it wrong a bunch of times before. They have good reasons for their opinions. It ain't arbitrary.

Ian Richard
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Older doesn't always mean wiser.

I've worked with some fantastic older developers and I've worked with some amazing young ones. But sadly... I've worked with both lousy older people and lousy young people too.

It wasn't their age/gender/race/religion/etc that determined their worth... it was their personality, teamwork and dev skills. I don't judge ANYONE by their cover.

Gary LaRochelle
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I was working at a studio where four twenty-something year old programmers spent a month trying to figure out a problem with a level. It was getting to a point where they were going to drop the level completely because of the problem. I happened to need to talk to one of the programmers about a different level we were working on together. I noticed the problem that they were having. I asked them two questions and then told then to make one adjustment. Bingo. Problem solved.

The studio spent a moth's worth salaries on four programmers to fix a problem they still couldn't figure out. Then an Old Fart comes by and solves the problem in less than thirty seconds. If you spend the money on the right personnel, you can save a bundle.

David Navarro
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I've seen that happen many times. There's just no substitute for having seen all the ways in which things go wrong... Not saying things don't find *new* ways to go wrong as well, of course.

John Maurer
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@Ian Richard

Of course you judge a book by its cover, everybody does, there is no honest stance one can take to exonerate themselves from this on any level.

The only saving grace to this very base survival instinct is to have the wisdom to investigate and the discipline to allow your observations to override you initial impressions.

Most have neither

John Ardussi
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I have experienced this myself. Many young people in the industry think that by a certain age you should have found a stable place to land and should not be looking for work. And surprisingly some think that age is in your early 30s. If you don't, I have been told "There must be a reason." They don't take into account that many game studios close. Even great ones. I once had a job where the company ran out of money 4 months after hiring me.

Most people in this industry are with their current employer for less than five years. For a twenty something, that may be their entire career. So they cannot imaging being on their third job by age 35. But chances are they will be if they stay in this industry.

This is not true of all places, but it is true of a lot. Rather than fighting this battle over and over, I started my own company. If that goes well, I expect to not have to apply for a job ever again. But chances are that I will.

John Szeder
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Great article, David.

Michael Joseph
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you forgot:
"Old people don't make good crunchers..."

Assuming this problem won't be solved anytime soon, younger developers should be thinking about the steps they need to take to ensure they'll still have a future in the industry 15, 20, 25 years from now...

Really it's just another good reason to make your own games on the sly and always be thinking of an exit strategy.

Jason Bentley
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"Old people don't make good crunchers..."

This might be true!

But, mostly because, the older you get the more you know that crunching is the fastest way to destroy moral and get less done over time...

Robert Schmidt
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A young person on his best day may be able to write code 2x faster than me but due to his/her inexperience writes 10x more than they need to. I have never had any of my younger team members write more finished code faster than myself and I'm not even talking by a close margin. Efficiency and planning, derived from experience, outpace fast fingers and endurance every time.

Elizabeth Olson
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Great article, David, and some really valid arguments as to why experience is a good thing. But if you think age is bad on the dev side, it's even worse on the PR, Marketing & Press side Alas, I'm no longer that young, cute & perky thing in a short skirt, but I'll match my rolodex against anyone's any day of the week.

Mark Zelis
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Thanks for the article. I think there is something to be said for the fear about *"You'll leave for a better job offer."* This says volumes about the organization, I think. They are afraid that you don't really like them; aren't really committed to them. That may be why there is a penchant for the yo'ths. It's similar to how one may find themselves in an abusive relationship if they don't consider "is this healthy for me," and "what is this relationship going to look like in 5, 10 years?" If the answer is based on financial gain then the organization is loosing a battle here. Money doesn't satisfy only mollifies. Organizations need to learn the value of the people in which they invest. That makes a good cultural bond.

It's a reality that businesses are having trouble with their culture and they know it. That's why you'll see perks like free 'coffee/redbull' and 'dog friendly' in the job description. It's a way to instantly make a culture and say "we get you, man! We're progressive." May work for some but all I want is dental and vision care.

Gary LaRochelle
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"...he lost that job opportunity because his would-be manager was so much younger than him thinks that the young manager was intimidated by my friend’s much vaster experience."

A smart manager will always hire people smarter than himself/herself.

Dave Hoskins
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Young game developers tend to think they're entitled to their jobs with a naive us-and-them attitude, without understanding the workings of a company as a whole. Plus, they're on social media all the time!
8| Oh wait, now I'm being ageist! :D

Andrew Austerfield
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David, I was going to post on FB but never got the time to do so.
Not everything in life is down to an 'ism'. If you have the skills and experience and you're consistently not getting interviews then you need to objectively look at your resume and work out why. If you're giving them the ability to tell your age from your resume, then you're making a mistake right there. Same applies to the phone screen and the interview for real.

You cite cases in your article where 'it could have been' ageism but it 'could' also have been that the candidates were unsuitable. You also mention an exec and his wife in final screening with a younger manager, it could have been ageism OR it could have been a huge gaffe by the interviewee and a reluctance to admit that.

I've just been through the laid-off, interviewing and thankfully hired loop myself. I took a lot of interviews. Maybe the ones I didn't get were put off by my age, or maybe I was selling something they didn't want to buy?In general, experience is an advantage, but the reality is no one likes to be told they are doing something the wrong way.

Just my 2 cents..

Michael Joseph
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RE: Not everything in life is down to an 'ism'.

Not everything but a hell of a lot is. We humans are so damn irrational and too often afraid to consider worldview shattering revelations preferring willful ignorance. Some comments above are an exercise in rationalization - rationalizing the irrational practice of not hiring the most qualified most experienced folks available in a field where experience can yield massive dividends. Isway isthay opictay abootay? Like the forty year old undergrad sitting next to you in class... it is too darn obvious.

RE: "you need to objectively look at your resume and work out why"

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Mullich

What would you recommend he do to fix it?

RE: "If you're giving them the ability to tell your age from your resume, then you're making a mistake right there"

In this industry and in this day and age if you have a lot of experience, you cannot hide your age. The man has his own Wikipedia entry. And why should he have to? You're kinda shifting the blame when you say it's older people's responsibility to hide their age. (and older folks do this to a certain degree anyway... they _know_ what the deal is.)

One would hope games would be substantially different than other careers, and maybe it is, but in general, ageism in the workforce is real. Talk to headhunters in just about every industry, and they will tell you who their ideal candidates are. And the irony is, it's twenty somethings lacking in real life experience who are making judgements about people twice their age.

RE: "experience is an advantage, but the reality is no one likes to be told they are doing something the wrong way."

Where does that come from? Again you are suggesting it's everything David is doing that's the problem.

"Make no judgments where you have no compassion."
-Anne McCaffrey

Andy Lundell
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"If you're giving them the ability to tell your age from your resume, then you're making a mistake right there. Same applies to the phone screen and the interview for real."

Are you serious? He's making a mistake if they can guess his age during an interview?

How do YOU do it? Do you show up to interviews with a bag over your head?

Andrew Austerfield
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Sorry Andy, poorly written sentence on my part. I was trying to say don't give away your age on your resume and if you're not getting past phone screens and then interviews try and work out why.
I'm not saying that ageism doesn't exist, if you could be subject to it then you need to polish your counter-arguments and points you want to make. In just the same way that you'd have points you want to make about a gap in career history for instance.

Eric Bullington
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>I was trying to say don't give away your age on your resume

I signed up for an account just to respond. Andrew, I specifically *want* them to know my age when I apply because at 40, I no longer have the patience to go through the interview process if they're just going to rule me out for my age at the end of the process, after I've already invested endless hours. Including hints to my age is the way *I* screen *them*.

>and if you're not getting past phone screens and then interviews try and work out why.

Well, he has, and this is what he's come up with.

TC Weidner
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"If you're giving them the ability to tell your age from your resume, then you're making a mistake right there. Same applies to the phone screen and the interview for real."

So what happens when you get to face to face interviews? You wear a mask? This makes no sense.
Second of all is he suppose to not list all his major accomplishments in the industry which sort of dates him also?

Ageism is REAL. The guy has a resume to die for.

Andrew Austerfield
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Michael, in a few short months I'm 50 myself and have been in the games industry for the last 20 years. So, I do have both compassion and empathy. I've conducted hundreds of interviews over the years and have never sat on a single panel where someone didn't get hired because of their age, and I don't EVER recall anyone even mentioning the age of a candidate in a negative way.

Hiring 'famous' games execs can be a double-edged sword. You can get publicity and attention when you do it but it can be very negative when they leave.

BTW, age is a protected status. If anyone has real evidence that it's the reason they didn't get a specific role then they have legal recourse.

Michael Joseph
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"...If anyone has real evidence... then they have legal recourse"

Well I wouldn't expect anyone to say something like that aloud even behind closed doors. Similarly I wouldn't expect to hear them specifically mention a persons ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation as a reason for disqualification.

Proving discrimination at the workplace (let alone in hiring) is notoriously difficult as I'm sure you're aware.

And with all due respect, life is not a Perry Mason episode so I don't expect any folks in a position of hiring to suddenly come out and confess to something they did or witnessed that would open them or their friends up to civil liability. Anyways, this is all starting to sound more personal than I intended. I'm just disagreeing with your view that ageism isn't a significant problem in the games industry.

Marc-Andre Jutras
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Since when experience became a bad thing?

Oh... yeah... Cheap labor.

For a brain-less repetitive position, I can understand hiring someone younger who can follow simple instruction. However, in a lead/creative/direction position? Hiring someone with less experience will only means slower production, or even errors that could have been avoided. Experience in invaluable!

Paying 10-20k more for someone of experience will often means much more money saved down the line. I can produce features with almost a snap of my fingers while newbie will scratch their heads for days because they never encountered that particular problem before. I simply don't make the mistakes I once did, and my knowledge means I know what to do and how to do it.

Now consider this... Have you ever seen a large corporation hiring outsiders in their 20s-30s for their CEOs/top direction position? Of course not! They would say that someone at that age simply doesn't have the experience needed for such huge responsibility. So why such important position is experience-dependent, but a producer role isn't?

Andrew Austerfield
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Marc-Andre you make my point. I've never found that people don't want experience but more and more it's becoming very specific experience and it has to be current too. The producer role in Mobile is more and more being advertised as a Product Manager role. The emphasis is very much on numbers. As a producer this is not my favorite part of the job, but if I go into an interview with that perspective i"m unlikely to be successful. The other option is to become super-selective and wait for the 'right opportunity' to come along, BUT by that time my experience may be a little more dated in what is a fast changing industry.

No disrespect to David or anyone else who made games in the eighties, (I loved the Prisoner), but what you achieved 35 years ago is of minor interest to what you've achieved in the last 12 months. This I would say is a truth for most industries. The rule is the same no matter your age, stay current or die!

Geoff Ellenor
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(I kinda agree with Andrew re: last 12 months. It's about what you bring NOW.)

I think about ageism (age-ism? age.. thing) pretty often, usually in the context of asking myself "When do I need an exit strategy from this industry?" But to be clear: it's not because I think it'll be discrimination -- I think it's going to be legit.

My professional 'brand' is that I'm a passionate multiplayer designer, so I mostly make co-op and adversarial games, and the culture around these games is kinda "you don't ride, you don't get a vote" (netflix binge SoA sorry). I'll likely not stop working until I'm 65, and at some point before 65, it seems likely that I will literally be Too Old to be credible as a multiplayer designer of console games, because I'd be the guy who can't get frags, can't stealth the objective, or can't break your combo.

And, there's a certain amount of visibility, too. If you're applying for a leadership role in games (directors, leads, producers) you're a marketing asset. If people think "Grandpa" when you walk on stage at E3, that's a problem.

So: I KNOW at some point I'm gonna be too old, at least for AAA. And it won't be ageism. It's going to be a fact that I'm not credible either to the team, or to my consumer audience.

But I'm going to fight that moment with every coffee-slurping, early-morning fitness pumping, deathmatch practicing fiber of my being. :)

sean lindskog
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lol on the SoA netflix binge. :P

I can maybe agree with the "It's about what you bring NOW" thing. But only for certain disciplines. If you are a graphics engineer, use of modern tech is pretty essential. And for all the guys in the trench, it's helpful to have experience with whatever game engine is being used by the company.

Still, I'd argue there's a lot of experience which isn't so easily dated. Take a guy who has worked with C++ professionally for 15 years instead of 3. All other things being equal, the experienced guy is going to be massively more efficient, and write cleaner, more maintainable, and more bug-free code.

I'd also take a designer who has designed and balanced gameplay over a long history of projects over a guy who has only been through it once or twice.

And I'll trust a producer who has ridden through many storms as the guy who will keep a cool head and calm hand on the rudder when the going gets tough.

There's no doubt you want to stay current. But I place a lot of value on the experience as well. Ultimately, I think the best team is one with both vets (leadership, experience, efficiency) and greenhorns (enthusiasm, cheap), with a healthy collaboration between the two.

Roxanne Skelly
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Well, multiplayer gamers ain't gettin' any younger themselves.

And who knows what the industry will be like in 20 years. There may not even be AAA titles anymore.

IMHO, the key isn't actually what someone has done in the last 12 months. It's what they can learn in the next 12. You look for someone who can adapt, and adapt quickly.

Nice thing about older folk...their resume will tell you if they can adapt. Look for people who've worked in a number of different areas and technologies.

Younger people, well, it's more of a risk. You don't know if they'll be flexible.

Andreas Ahlborn
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As long as this industry is comfortable with bleeding out their talents and making permanent crunch a kind of rite of passage, most studios will look at 40somethings with questions like:

-Is he/she physically able to go 70+ hours a week?
-Is he/she comforatble with puting the company before his family/mental health?
-Is he/she a risk in criticizing our culture/ricilous worklflows and endangering us to showing us that we could have better long-term solutions by not crunching at all?

Roxanne Skelly
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And a good studio should ask things like...
-Has (s)he learned that any work done after 60 hours a week a step backwards.
-Has (s)he learned that stress-related mental health issues result in physical sickness, poor decision making, and mistakes.
-Has (s)he learned skills for diplomatically introducing the less experienced people to effective ways of managing risk, and ways of improving focus and performance.
-Has (s)he matured to the point where (s)he has nothing to prove, and won't demoralize other people by being difficult to work with.

Unfortunately, as you implied, this doesn't seem to be common in tech-related industries.

Florian Putz
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I think most of the time people actually mean your're too expensive and you won't take sh***, not too old, they just don't say it openly. Lately I realized that 35 is already considered old, sometimes too old. There's a youth craze going on lately - even though people get older and older and could easily work till they'r 75. I recently considered doing the science thing again - but actually I think I can forget about it - there are no PhD programs or scholarships for people over 35. Everything is tailored towards the young. If you decide a career change or change of your field by later than 30 - well bad luck u should have though about that earlier, no one will support you, people will just tell you that you're crazy - which is actually completely nuts considering you have probably only lived a third of your life yet. That's at least how I experienced it.

Adriaan Jansen
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Great article!
As a young manager, I have to admit, ageism is a thing here. I think there are 3 things that really hinder young people into accepting more experienced workforce. First, the culture thing is just true. It's intimidating to feel like "friends" with someone who is 1.5/2 times your age. That's an important reason, which is both stupid and human.

The price of experience is also daunting, and something that young managers can have troubles valuing it.

Lastly, and most importantly, is that people are very loss averse in regard to authority. Authority is a zero sum game, and everyone likes to have people under them and under control. If I hire a 20 year old talented rookie, I will feel much more confident that I'll be able to manage the loss of authority than if I would hire someone 5 years older than me. This goes especially for jobs which have a authority issue, like game designer or producer. You must be very, VERY, secure of your position and talent if you're willing to hire someone more experienced than you. I'm very guilty of this myself: even though I partially own the company, I'm still afraid that if I would hire a more experienced producer or designer, I will lose my authority. I simply don't have that level of confidence yet.

I think putting families first/crunch etc. is not that big of a deal as people think, it's really the struggle for authority that hurts.

Gary LaRochelle
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"It's intimidating to feel like "friends" with someone who is 1.5/2 times your age."
Imagine if Luke Skywalker felt that way towards Yoda.

I have worked with people half my age and it was a blast. They were eager to learn the things I have figured out over the many years I have been in game development.

Throughout time, people who have learned a craft want to past what they have learned onto the next generation. That will to pass on knowledge is what keeps most crafts evolving to the next level. You should jump at the chance to work with someone who has many years of experience.

Adriaan Jansen
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Don't get me wrong, I think these feelings are very irrational and I personally try to get over them. But they're very real human feelings. Also, there is a very real difference between mentor-student relationships (where the mentor is clearly the higher authority) and a leader-mentor relationship(where the authority is vague). I would love to work under Sid Meier, but if I have my own project for which I have strong feelings, would I hire him? His experience and authority will certainly attack my confidence in being able to pull the strings in case he doesn't agree with something. Hiring someone better than you makes you vulnerable, and people don't like being vulnerable.

Andrew Austerfield
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You're in the intelligence business, managing intelligent people of any age is tough and should never be done on the basis of well 'I'm the boss!'

Roxanne Skelly
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I do think a number of older people discount the experience of those who are younger. Not all though. While I may have a bazillion years of experience, I'm very aware that someone with 2 years experience has 2 years of unique experience that I don't have.

Relationships are a two way street regardless...

And personally, when I'm in a management position, I think it's my job to help my direct reports become better than me. And honestly, I think that individual contributors should work to make their peers better as well.

Ian Richard
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Even then... age isn't always experience. I'm a reasonably young guy but I started programming 20 years ago. It's pretty much been my life.

I know other people who grew up in software families who are exponentially better than their age would show. I've seen people half my age do amazing things because they grew up in an environment that supported their skills. (They make me terribly jealous)

I also know people that started to program in college. Some have grown into good programmers, while others fell flat.

Skills don't magically grow as you get older... it all depends on where you spent your time and efforts.

Mikail Yazbeck
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Good to see someone writing about this. I have been declined jobs for "having too much experience" even though the job description didn't say anything specific about experience. And the hilarious part is I only have 5 years of experience.

Sad that some companies don't appreciate or are frozen by your experience.
Guess it's time to make a new company with people in your situation?

Brandon Kidwell
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Great post, I believe this goes both ways. I'm young and I have worked on a few games but because I'm young and "lack experience" I too cannot get a response sometimes.

I feel that the game industry is too close minded when it comes to just having a discussion. I don't believe that hiring someone instantly is the best course of action, but I feel that taking the time to talk to people who apply to a position is necessary. I bet a lot of people hiring would be surprised at some of the talent they are passing up by not doing so.

Alexandre Daze-Hill
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Omigod Omigod Omigod! Heroes3! You sir know that you played a major role in where I stand now? I must have played this game a couple of thousand hours. And this game played a major role in where I stand right now as my first game was an RPG Maker that would explain the existence of the "Heroes" back when I was entering high-school. The project still exists in an altered universe that would not connect to the HoMM lore and it would be called "Angelic Alliance".

Okay, now that the fan in me expressed itself. I believe companies would be advantaged to hire more experienced people in lead positions that would be supervised by younger people. If these people were to be open minded and not stubborn (it would be hard to get) they could have technical know how and good predictions for forward-thinking mechanisms and principles. But this is merely an opinion, anybody cares to correct me?

Jay N
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This is such a catch 22 – in an industry where mass-layoffs are not only common, but routine, it should frighten everyone how porous age is and will become in the equation, especially when coupled with short-sighted management practices.

Hopefully you'll find an outfit that does right by you, David. All the no-names in the industry, however, should, as Michael Joseph said, always have an exit strategy.

David Paris
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Since no one will every tell you why you didn't get a job, it is very hard to know if this is what the fatal problem is or not. I've suspected it more than once, but then, how can you know for sure?

The other issue is that generally speaking, with a bunch of experience in hand, the roles you become ideally suited for are increasingly rare and generally not available to someone outside the existing team. I am an amazing Project Director / Vision Keeper, but how often do you hire that guy externally?

Usually you don't. Instead you use whoever is in your current group that you think gives you your best bet. Which means that when I'm interviewing, I'm rarely interviewing for the position where I actually contribute best, but rather, for whatever position might provide an inroad to someday get there. Because the real job that I want, isn't ever going to show up on your external hiring at all.

Anna Tito
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Awesome article! I am trying not to get all ragey about some of the reasons :) do people actually think that "Only young people have innovative ideas"?!?! I have often dealt with people who think they have innovative ideas, but this is generally because of their lack of experience and cultural awareness. Ideas are cheap, if you cannot execute them well it is irrelevant. I have worked in companies with a higher age average and one with a lower age average, given a choice I would choose a higher age average 110% of the time. I prefer to work with developers who are competent, work hard, get results and have no desire to do the puffy chest I am the biggest dude in the place thing. So this is a thank you for the article and a trying not to be ragey at the people who gave you such silly reasons. :D

Benjamin McCallister
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Its not the game industry in particular that has this problem. ANYONE who gets older and is looking for a salaried position based on experience deals with this. In my late 30s with more than 17 years of experience, I already am seeing it. The jobs are few and far between.

Also, as someone who has hired, I certainly see the other side of the coin. You have to do what is best for the company, and usually gambling on a prospect is not in the best interests of the company.

That said, imo, you should get funding and set up an "old fogeys" game dev company. Have it be entirely telecommute. So you can all sit on your front porches on your acrage or in front of your pond, and code, and use your experience and wisdom to put out something that has never been seen before.

I think good ideas don't just come from new people, but from new situations. Put two white guys in a room, they get one idea. Put a white guy and a guy from brazil in a room you'll get a different idea. Two young guys vs a young and old, etc, etc.

A group of older, experienced gamers who have seen and done it all could bring something REALLY cool to the industry.

In short, from one olderish fogey to an older fogey, I'd back that kickstarter

Gary LaRochelle
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If I recall correctly, someone in Austin has already started a studio called "Old Fogey".
Their logo is a Victrola. ; )

I agree with you that it seems like us old fogeys, who want to keep on developing games, will just have to work together on our own indie games. I know I have no intention of stopping.



Please excuse me, I have to go. Those damn kids are playing on my lawn again.

Eyal Teler
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Ageism is a problem for all software developers, not just in games. Some HR agencies automatically reject candidates over a certain age.

I'm sure that in many cases there are individual reasons, and they are valid to an extent, but they still often boil down to age based discrimination.

Emeka Enubuzor
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I was always under the impression that the industry was filled with older people.

Iain Howe
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That perception will change as you get older. ;)

Jeremiah Conlon
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Thanks for posting this article David. I remember the Heroes 4 team being diverse in terms of age, and it was one reason I wanted to get back into games again this year. Based on this, I will work to develop diverse skills, but keeping focused and motivated in the months ahead.

Paul Marzagalli
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It's a problem in many industries. As noted, expectations that a more experienced/older candidate would command a greater salary is the cause of many closed doors.

TC Weidner
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just look at who is making their own games via Kickstarter etc, its like a Hall of Fame of game developers. Garriot, Fargo, Roberts, and many many more.

I totally agree that much of the problems come from mid management insecurity. They have self doubts whether they ( the midmanagement) are even capable of doing their jobs ( which in fact a vast amount of them arent). The last thing they want to do is to bring in a true game maker who will expose them for being the charlatan that they are.

Hell the reason so so so many games that come out suck is many people in this industry arent that good, the last thing they need is for someone more knowledgeable, talented, and experienced pointing it out to upper management and the world.

Ironic thing is, the older you get the less ego you have ( since you have been through lifes up and downs) and the more willing you are to accept and embrace talent. But game devs cant enjoy this wisdom if they themselves dont think anyone over 45 is worthwhile.

Suits can be old, but the talent cant, it makes no sense.

Ian Welsh
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If the guy who made those games, especially Bloodlines, does a Kickstarter, I'm in, and so are many others.

Go for it! What's your dream project that can be funded by the amounts reasonably raised at Kickstarter?

Robert Grant Stanton Sr
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Interesting comments/complaints. But "As it was in the past, so shall it be in the future...." I 've fought the so called youth requirement for over 50 years ( Yes, Virginia. There were games 50 years ago, although only one recruiter in the industry. ) The irony that I now encounter involves individuals that I placed 20 years or more ago under the 3 to 5 years experience mandate of the time, being cut/released/laid-off/reduced/resized ( No one gets fired anymore ). The cycle continues and unfortunately, the game industry discards many more than the Garriots, Fargos, Hawkins, etc. that they retain.

Lewis Pulsipher
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"Hell the reason so so so many games that come out suck is many people in this industry arent that good, the last thing they need is for someone more knowledgeable, talented, and experienced pointing it out to upper management and the world." Exactly.

The prevalence of crunch illustrates that video game studios tend to be poorly managed. Combine that with the "cult of the new", a part of the Triumph of Capitalism (in this case, worship of youth), and the result isn't surprising. (I'm 63, by the way.)

This is exacerbated in video games by a supply of wannabe workers who will work cheaply, not have a life, and be thankful for it. In that situation, it's hardly surprising that workers are treated poorly. And, as many have noted, why pay a lot more for an experienced worker when you can get new workers so cheaply?

alex miller
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haven't seen anyone mention family yet in this discussion. i dont think it's a matter of whether an older employee will fit in with culture, or understands the audience, etc. i think a big part of the lean towards younger employees is they don't have families yet and will therefore be more prepared to devote all of their time to the company (and in many cases at a far cheaper rate).

i've definitely seen this at startups before... when the expectation is you'll be at the office until 2+am every night, they can put that on young employees with very little resistance. but if someone has a family (as well as experience) that often becomes a point of resistance towards the poor management that is pushing every one to work frenzied nights (and justifiably so). i've known a fair amount of marriages that the industry has ended when people try to keep up with those hours and have families...

happen to have any feedback from peers that are older but do not have a family they support?

Sterling Reames
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I think it can go both ways. I've missed out on opportunities due to the "lack of experience" out of school. It took quite a few to finally get someone to give me a chance. That was 5 years ago, and it's much more difficult for young talent now.

On the hiring side, I have passed over candidates that were older. If an older candidate's work isn't already at the level it needs to be, chances are it's going to be very tough for them to get it there. With a younger hire, the probability that they are going to vastly improve after being hired is much greater. Is this true in all cases? Probably not, but the odds will always work in favor of a younger hire.

Then you have the whole money issue. Companies have to pay for experience, and not all want to do that. There is such an influx of new young talent that most game companies can get away with taking advantage of green, hungry, and broke game devs. They keep them on for a year or so, then dump them off and start the process over again.

It goes both ways, but yes, in an ever growing industry, it is harder to convince employers that you are still getting better even though you may be over the hill. I have not had this problem yet, but I'm sure down the road I'll have to deal with it. Hopefully the industry will change by then. :)

Jeff Wesevich
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I think I would be very, very careful before I started attributing successes or failures in my career to outside factors. Very careful. In my experience, as long as you can add value to a product; can work with a wide variety of people, and don't price yourself out of the market, you can be any age and still be in demand in games.

stephen morris
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If you are a programmer maybe - but as a producer? really?

Eric Adams
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I actually worked with David during my time with Activision. I have experienced many of his rejection reasons/concerns. I am also up in years in terms of age for this industry. I've shipped well over sixty games on multiple platforms, including four AAA games, but have found that this wealth of experience has little weight with potential employers - even established publishers.

Frankly getting clear and transparent reasons on being rejected for a position that you are perfectly qualified for and one for which you interviewed well for is very rare indeed. In my mind, I ran through scenarios ranging from I am too old, I am too athletic, I want too much money, I didn't use Trello, I don't play LoL, etc...

I have found from those recruiters or HR reps willing to share, that a company's view on the required experience is very narrow (for Production). It is not the breadth of your experience, but the depth of the experience in the discipline they are after. You won't win many rejection arguments that project management is that same across platforms and genres and that it is the fundamentals that matter.

I also found that once you out of console production even for a limited time period, you are usually of out it for good. Console game production reminds of Mount Olympus, once you are cast out, returning to the summit is nearly impossible. :-)

A few years ago I really wanted to work with a Publisher in Mobile, I had a terrific onsite interview. I was sure I would get the offer, but was passed over for a candidate who had only shipped two games (ever) on mobile. However, that candidate had F2P game experience. I tried to counter with the recruiter that my experience dwarfed that candidate, but in the end, the only job requirement that really mattered in the employer's long list of requirements for the position listing was shipping a F2P game.

What I have seen over the last ten years in the industry is the requirement demands for a position has tripled in scope. Honestly if you look at the required skills for a Producer today, the skill and experience list is daunting. You would assume that that position would pay handsomely and that the hired candidate would be a skilled industry veteran. I'd bet you'd be wrong on both counts in the majority of cases.

It can be maddening. As others have mentioned, it is incredibly hard to really prove age discrimination. However, I think the underlying reality here is that game industry employment is that it has been a buyer's market for the last ten years. There is a surplus of young and old production/designer talent in this industry looking for work. When that is the case, the employer has the luxury to select their talent using its own (sometimes illogical and frugal) prerogative.

So to all my fellow out guard looking for work (I have recently joined that storied group), I leave you with this quote. "Perseverance, secret of all triumphs." - Victor Hugo

stephen morris
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I feel you pain mate - I was at activision at the same time as you guys. I just popped in to say it matters not one jot if you have free to play experience - its if your face fits, in my case I've got a good 10 years on the interviewer. Its sad but it does seem to be down to age or alternatively a critical mass of people I've pissed of being a producer over the years!

Thanks for the quote - I've been looking for almost three years now (did have a 6 month break working for MAQL) if anything else comes along I will take it.

Andrew Austerfield
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I'm in the mobile F2P space. To be honest as a production role it's mostly the same as making any game, however a lot of the publishers who are hiring don't believe that to be true. That means to land a position you have to have the appropriate experience.

Masaru Wada
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Keep in mind this cuts both ways. As a linguist I've been rejected multiple times for "lack of experience" and in one case explicitly because I was too young (this was in my early twenties, and yes, in the game industry). This is despite growing up in a bilingual household and having attended language schools since I was five years old. Do you really think the 30 something year old who started studying in his twenties has more experience than I do? That their proficiency is better? In one case they were even amazed by my test scores and told me the results were outstanding, and STILL told me that I "lacked experience." People tend to be a lot less sympathetic though when it's young people being discriminated against (for instance the Fair Employment and Housing Act of California only applies to those older than 40). I guess it somehow comes off as more justifiable. *sigh*

stephen morris
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There are some mealy mouthed words here, if it were sexism or sexual orientation or the colour of someones skin would you be so complacent? No, I hope you wouldn't. This is real and its happening now and companies are blatant about it. People are afraid of them, if you call them out on it, then you'll not work again.

First a bit of background, almost twenty years experience, last F2P game got over 100 million downloads, one before that 35 million. Yet I couldnt get a Senior Producer position at SONY SOHO on a contract free to play gig on Singstar because? NOT THE RIGHT CULTURAL FIT! I've had this and 'too senior' and other age related bollocks ever since I became on the wrong side of 40. I'm not alone, Im a member of The Chaos Engine and the number of threads that have I've been told I'm too old, is a stain on our industry. It beggars belief that studios like Creative Assembly cannot find staff in the UK and are actively lobbying to get more foreign labour when that experience exists right here.

Well, what can you do about it? If you live in the UK you can hit them with this: the freedom of information act - gather evidence. We can moan about it or do something about it.

David, if you are interested in doing something about this shameful practice then email me. Its time we started naming, shaming and praising the ones with good HR practice.

That's it I could go on about it but I'd rather do something. As for games despite excellent track record and references I have look for a job outside of the industry.

William Volk
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I've seen a situation where the 'seasoned' guy would be reporting to someone with only a few years of experience, and what's more ... someone who's making BIG MISTAKES.

My advice to the seasoned guy? Don't say anything during interviews about the obvious errors going on because Mr./Ms. Boss will figure out that his/her bosses will also figure out who should be running the show.

Markus Krichel
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Thank you for this great article! I can tell you from personal experience that ageism is prevalent in the games industry. After almost 2 years of trying to land another position I have left the industry (after 24 years) altogether and went into a different field. I can't tell you how much I miss making games for a living, but I had no choice. The upside is that for the first time in a long time I work regular hours, and I use part of my newly acquired free time to make my own games just for fun.

Kevin Hsu
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As a person looking to get into the industry myself I have found I've often been alienated because of lack of experience.Despite being devoted to getting the job done. I know companies can't always afford to hire budding talent but giving some people who don't always have the initial qualifications a chance can turn out to be a boon. Hell I'd take a non-paid internship just to get some experience. I get turned away from those as well.

I think this article is well written but, also lacks the insight to say there just aren't enough spots to fill these days. In the larger scope a lot of big budgeted companies want to cut costs and so will hire 4-5 younger people with less experience because hey they figure 4 minds better than one. It takes a well balanced team to push out a good game something the industry has really been lacking these days. I think japan embraces the older work force the best, so perhaps this is more a cultural thing?


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