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What you really think about working in the game industry Exclusive GDMag Exclusive
What you really think about working in the game industry
March 21, 2013 | By Staff




As part of Game Developer magazine's recent quality-of-Life survey, which aimed to discover how satisfied game developers are with their working conditions, participants were offered space to leave an open comment about the state of the video game industry.

A huge number of thoughts and feelings about topics ranging from working as a self-employed indie developer, to being bought out by a publisher, were offered by those surveyed.

Here are over a dozen of the responses received, spanning a wide range of the issues and criticisms brought up, as well as comments from people who are happy exactly where they are in our industry.

"Console game development has always been great. But the social/web space I now work in sucks -- I only do it for the money :-("

"I've basically stepped out of mainstream game production into indie games and education. I've taken a pay cut but I work at home and really enjoy the people that I choose to work with. The projects are rewarding and I'm learning new things. I believe that education is a great way to stay in touch with the new generation of people entering the industry and a perfect way to keep in touch with the wonder of working within an incredible industry."

"I'm not sure this survey fits self-employed indie devs. I'm not sure I'll make it as an indie dev but after half-a-dozen work-induced mental breakdowns at a triple-A developer before being made redundant and left unfit for full-time/proper work I don't have much choice anymore. I'll probably be dead in 18 months. Thanks industry. Thanks a bunch."

"Been wanting to get into the industry since early high school and it did not disappoint. I love this industry."

"I co-own and manage production for a studio that does not have ongoing forced overtime. We successfully deliver projects on time and on budget, so it can absolutely be done without the workplace hostility, harassment by management, and lack of basic project management skills I've seen at previous studios."

"My current title is game designer. I got into this after years of art and animation work. I'm a pretty creative person. Recently I've been tasked with gathering data, analyzing the data, creating graphs, reports, scheduling tasks, and tracking work. I have no fucking clue what I'm doing. Somehow my job description and task are not in sync, and the work I'm doing is well outside of my skill set. Yay for my job."

"When I look around the office and notice that there are no older people working at the company, it's easy to understand why. The pace at which we work is going to burn you out until you either have a heart attack or leave."

"Let's stop the crunch and the abuses."

"My company hasn't had a real crunch in two years, a testament to better working conditions through good management."

"I would attribute unreasonably long work hours, over many years, to the recent onset of multiple, serious health problems for me. This includes incredibly painful repetitive-stress injury to both my hands, as well as back and neck problems that will require surgery."

"Got bought by a large publisher. The Eye of Sauron has moved and now we have producers everywhere making us quantify everything. I'm very concerned that this will stifle creativity and push 'polish' out so far it gets cut."

"While my work demands aren't high, the product is served to a very base audience who doesn't expect anything. A large part of my office's work is in free online gambling. It's very frustrating providing a product to a user who is solely interested in winning money, and has no interest in the content you're trying to provide."

"I would like to see improved maternity benefits for women in the game industry. It would be a good way to reach out to the female minority."

"It would have been nice to have an industry mentor growing up."

"This is a hard job."


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Comments


Patrick Khuu
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Where do I sign up?

Michael Joseph
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So many voices that sound like they are at the mercy of their employers.

Pat Rowan
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The ninth comment scares me a bit. As someone who already has wrist and back problems in college, I don't think I'll reasonably be able to work long hours during a crunch period. I'm looking into Indie development now since I'm learning more and more that my current weakness will be the end of me at larger studios.

Jay Anne
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Indies crunch. Nongame software developers crunch. Hell, even Skyrim gave me RSI. Your best bet is to adopt RSI best practices.

Kevin Reese
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I recommend a standing-desk environment to you . Sitting for extended periods can literally kill even an otherwise healthy guy. A standing desk is just plain better for the overall health of almost anyone.

Isaiah Taylor
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So, job security?

Eric McVinney
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You're joking, right? (Not meant to be rude)

Kaitlyn Kincaid
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I have the best security I've ever had*

*not specifically with my current employer, but overall in the industry. As a generic business app developer, I was in a pool of thousands, tens of thousands of devs in my area. I lost my job in 2009 and it took 13 months to find a new one. When I was laid off from my last game development position I had a new one lined up half an hour before the end of my last day.

TC Weidner
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reminds me of:

Bob Slydell: Would you bear with me for just a second, please?
Peter Gibbons: OK.
Bob Slydell: What if - and believe me this is a hypothetical - but what if you were offered some kind of a stock option equity sharing program. Would that do anything for you?
Peter Gibbons: I don't know, I guess. Listen, I'm gonna go. It's been really nice talking to both of you guys.
Bob Slydell: Absolutely, the pleasure's all on this side of the table, trust me.
Peter Gibbons: Good luck with your layoffs, all right? I hope your firings go really well.
Bob Porter: Excellent.
Bob Slydell: Great... Wow.

Bart Stewart
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Was the "I wound up doing design and have no idea what I'm doing" remark selected for this piece before or after the brouhaha around Richard Garriott's recent comments about game designers? ;)

Also, regarding industry working conditions, I'd be interested in hearing how many of those with criticisms have had experience in companies that don't make computer games. That's not to dismiss their complaints -- it would be useful for understanding whether there's a particular problem with the game development industry, or if working for non-game companies might be even less fun for creative types.

Jay Anne
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Yea I suspect a lot of criticisms about the industry are not exclusive to this industry. I re-read all those comments as if they came from various non-game software companies and they all still hold up.

Christopher J
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Creative types got into this industry for the same reason that athletes go into sports. Asking creative types to do something outside of his natural skill set (which he has invested his life perfecting) is like asking an NBA player to balance your stock portfolio. Now mind you, some can do it. But it’s an idiotic expectation that’s trending in this industry.

The gaming industry was and still is sold as Fun, Exciting, Creative, Colorful blah,blah, blah… That’s what it Used to be 10 years ago. But now, especially in larger studios, it’s ALL about Packaging, Branding and sucking as much money as possible out of customers while making the product as cheaply as possible. That means only hiring Contractors, Outsourcing EVERYTHING overseas, and squeezing your fulltime employees until their heads pop off. Innovation is just a buzz word. All of which makes since for short term profit growth, but always ends in disaster in any industry at some point.

If we wanted to deal with this type of work environment, I’m sure we would have choosing different career paths. With that said, I think for creative types, working at large studios is probably about as satisfying as working 60hours weeks as a telemarketer. I know it is for me.

Adam Bishop
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Speaking only from my limited personal experience, the working conditions I've experienced writing code outside the gaming industry are definitely much better. But I'm also in a union, which tends to help in that respect.

Marc-Andre Caron
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I'll paraphrase here what I wrote in there:
"The recent switch to metrics, freemium, and online content is based on good fundamentals. However, people in finance and marketing have used this opportunity to highjack every last part of the creative process. Now, executives in many places have chosen put a gun to their team's heads, pretty much asking them to make management's job. It's no wonder that the dream of most veteran is to start or join an indie studio."

Jay Anne
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That is one way to know the game industry is becoming more like every other industry.

Gary LaRochelle
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Metric Think:

Metric Guy #1: "Say, everyone in the US likes ketchup. They put it on everything."
Metric Guy #2: "And everyone likes ice cream, too"

Both Metric Guys: "Ketchup on ice cream will be the next big thing."

Yea Metrics!!!!!

Oscar Gonzalez
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I love to work in games and I love the industry. What concerns me the most is the job security. Is there a job security anymore in this industry, if ever was? The idea of jumping from one studio to another scares the crap out of me, and I can't imaging a developer with wife and kids. So far, once a project is done, you either be let go or the studio closes if the game didn't sell well. It's a scary thing to think on moving across the country or have to move far again. I haven't had this experience but I know tons of people have.

I would like to hear some of this experience if you don't mind sharing

Ali Afshari
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I've been laid off 7 times in a row and this was years before I realized I wanted to get into the game industry. It would be awesome to have a job where you never question if you'll be employed the next day. I think it comes down to doing what you love. If you want to be in the industry, you'll make things work out as best as possible. Unfortunately, job security is a myth :)

Dave Smith
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travel light and dont own a house.

Eric McVinney
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@Dave Smith - The story of my life...

Mathieu MarquisBolduc
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I dont think we had layoffs in ever (10 years plus?). Its one of the advantages of a big studio working on multiple projets, there is always work for someone capable, and one profitable project can compensate for an unprofitable experiment.

Jonathan Jennings
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I've been in the industry for a year, i've been laid off once and my job contact ends shortly . granted I work in the mobile games sector so everything moves a bit faster anyway but really from what i understand if you are a developer- creative basically anyone that contributes to the development process and isn't just an executive . job security is next to nonexistent .

how often do you hear about mass executive layoffs?

Kaitlyn Kincaid
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as I posted above, I have the best security I've ever had*

*not specifically with my current employer, but overall in the industry. As a generic business app developer, I was in a pool of thousands, tens of thousands of devs in my area. I lost my job in 2009 and it took 13 months to find a new one. When I was laid off from my last game development position I had a new one lined up half an hour before the end of my last day.

Gary LaRochelle
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"When I look around the office and notice that there are no older people working at the company, it's easy to understand why. The pace at which we work is going to burn you out until you either have a heart attack or leave."

"It would have been nice to have an industry mentor growing up."

Speaking as one of the old farts in the industry (17 years), I am not burned out. I love this work. It does not seem like a job. I look forward to many more years of developing games.

Unfortunately, the industry does not seem to want seasoned veterans in their studios. Either it's the fear that experienced developers will want/expect/deserve more pay than a n00b to the industry. Or it could be that the studios want to keep their "we're a hip, youthful" studio attitude. "We can't have anyone over 40 working here. They won't fit in".

There's been times I've been working with people who have very little time in the industry. Even though they were very talented in their chosen fields, they just didn't know the little things that could make their lives at work so much easier. For example; I saw four programers struggle over a problem for a week (at the time I was unaware that they were having the problem). I went over to talk to one of the programers about a level we were working on. I noticed the problem and knew it could be fixed with a small adjustment in the editor. Bingo. Problem fixed in ten seconds. And all of the programers learned something that would help them in future projects.

Every studio should have at least a couple of veterans just so their experiences can be passed on. It could also help prevent crunch times.

Now, if you'll excuse me, there's some kids playing on my lawn.

Jason Bentley
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I'm only just entering my second decade of experience and I've noticed the same thing.

Carl Chavez
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I have also noticed this (going on 18 years!). One of the worst experiences I once had was a few years ago when I took a five-week contract along with two flashier, but less experienced, programmers. They knew some cutting-edge stuff that I didn't, but when the grind of the architecture and programming the systems that tied everything together started, they hit a wall in experience, their quality of work collapsed, and they eventually abandoned the project to me to complete. The company lauded my veteran experience, my accurate estimates of hours, my loyalty to my contract, and my ability to complete the difficult, boring work... yet that company and their ilk still continue to prefer hiring younger "code ninjas" and "rock stars" who continue to underestimate their hours, get stuck on simple problems, and then stab the companies in the back by leaving before they're finished so they can get to the next cutting-edge project.

Albert Meranda
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Senior talent leaving the industry is one of the single biggest problem in game development. Most other problems stem from this; it's why so many projects feel like Groundhog Day, where you see the same mistakes made over and over again.

Dustin Chertoff
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But is it any better on the indie side of things for studios founded by industry vets? Have any of these indie studios that Kickstarted their way to funding implemented any of these quality of life practices, whether it's through better project management or recruiting more senior personnel to prevent repeated rookie mistakes?

Or for that matter, why haven't any of the long-term vets gotten together to put together a "100 things you rookies need to know to save yourself crunch" book/blog/guide/etc.?

Gary LaRochelle
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@ Dustin

That's because there are over 10,000 things rookies need to know (actually, many more). Each varies with the different game engines and editors being used. Some problems can be solved by simply knowing a few keystrokes. Other problems can be prevented by knowing what is coming up and not making choices that will hinder the project ("let's add XXX to the game"). I think it would be impossible to list everything you need to know.

I'm all for helping out my fellow developers. If I see someone I can help with a few suggestions/tips/tricks, I will. But I don't know what problem you're running into until I see it. I come from the art side of game development. If I sit down with a rookie artist and watch them work with Photoshop for less than an hour, I could probably come up with 10 short cuts/tips/tricks that will greatly speed up the rate at which they work. And these artists will be able to use that info for the rest of their careers.

Just hire me and I'll show you.

Michael Joseph
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http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1378422/Ten-years-desk-
job-doubles-bowel-cancer-risk.html

it's the daily mail. Is that a tabloid? I have no idea.

still, odds are you're not getting paid enough for making money for your owners.

Take care of yourselves. Say no to the free junk food during crunch. Demand some quality food. If YOU are not looking out for number one, nobody else is going to.

Set up an excercise timer app that gets you doing 5 minutes of jumping jacks or whatever (mix it up) every hour with a 30 minute walk or jog halfway through your day. "Work" is too big a part of your life to not also be apart of wellness.

Take care of yourselves folks.

Kevin Reese
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The games industry seems a lot like the film industry -- just without any of the strong unions that support the members of the latter.

Some of you guys who work over a 10 hours shifts on the regular should calculate, just out of curiosity, how much you would have made over the year if you were getting reimbursed the legally required amount for your labor.

Hey if it's an indie game, or a product you just feel strongly about, or a team you love, then go for it. But if its none of that, and you are expected to work more than 10+ hours a week unpaid while the parent corporation owning your studio is making $100's of millions profit annually, well, then in short, you are getting screwed.

Jose Nieves
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I went to a "video game design school" (The Guildhall) after graduating, well, while I was studying I found a job at a local mobile game developer studio, and while at first it was cool (maybe because I was all giggidy for finally working making games) it quickly went down to hell because of bad management and awful planning, and most of the validation, or reassurances that I got from management was "well, this is the game industry so get used to it and suck it up or leave", yeah, I chose to leave.

Crunch happens everywhere, I worked as a system developer for 7 years before going to the Guildhall and several times I had to put in the hours to be able to complete a deadline and that was completely fine. What I'm not fine with is working 100 hours a week because there is no project management going on at all. That experience left a very sour taste in my mouth so I decided to go back to IT and develop games on my spare time. Hell, if I'm putting all that time on to something I might as well do it for me.

Michael O'Hair
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"This is a hard job."

Oh, wow. Try saving the world sometime. Now "salt the fries" and make something a child would enjoy.

----

But really, the masochist culture of entertainment software development needs to stop.
You are not curing cancer.
You are not ensuring world peace.
You are putting bits together to so that a boy or man-child can pretend he's killing green monsters for a few hours.
You do not need to put your relationships and health at risk for this.
Find better ways.
If there are none, make some.

Eric McVinney
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I hear what you're saying, but the businessmen only understand the opening and closing of your wallet, the % done on a project and the numbers that must add up.

Jonathan Jennings
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I think a very small number do it because that's what they want to do , these are work practices managers, and owners expect and therefore schedules employees have to follow unless we strike out on our own which alleviates some issues but piles on several others.

Christian Philippe Guay
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There are good things to say about working in big studios, but if you are truly passionate about video games, there are far more negative things to talk about.

Big studios are awesome, because we have the opportunity to work with a lot of different people with different point of views, experience, understanding, knowledge, style, ideas, technical skills, etc. But when it comes to make video games, most of the overtime I've done was due to poor management, no understanding of how to make games in smarter ways, they didn't even care either and people at the top were unqualified and unable to take extremely basic decisions. At the top of that, big companies fight each others to hire the talented developers, but what are they doing with it? They usually put them on projects that might not even take advantage of their talent, skills and experience. It would be more productive if the games were designed around the strengths of the development team and that would also give more value to each employee.

But if you are there thinking that ''yeah, I just want to work on games and don't really care wich one and don't really have a preference'', then the big studios might be exactly what you are looking for.

Jonathan Murphy
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Houses, wives/husbands, children, community, and friends. These evils must be slain if you are to work the long cold hours in the Game Industry. Or you can work for Blizzard.

Eric McVinney
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Got a friend or two working at Blizzard, and I hear nothing but good things :)

Rebecca Richards
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As someone who got completely screwed over on an indie project that repeatedly expected us to give the same amount of work as a desk job except without any pay (we were even expected to put money into our own Kickstarter!), I feel safe in saying that as rotten as big studios are, indies are a lot more prone to the snake oil pitches. I'm kind of tired of people selling indie development as a panacea - it's very freeing for some people, but there's also even less accountability for a much higher risk.

Jose Nieves
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You have to be careful where you end up at too, a no paying job should send red alerts to all your senses.

Rebecca Richards
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Indeed. Honestly, at the time I was unemployed and doing the work for the sake of continuing to work until either it paid or I found work that did. There were people on the project that were giving up significantly more than that on promises that we were totally going to make money and we were totally about to crack the mobile market and there were all these investors lining up...etc, etc.

I've also known people who did work that was supposed to be paid, but the indie startup would renege on the contract and leave them no resources to get paid for the now-free work. They usually sell it on the promises of the wide-open market.

It's not that I haven't had my share of nastyness inside the studio system, but it seems if indie wants to be a better alternative, we have got to hold ourselves to higher standards regardless of where we are.

Sylvain Vanderhaegen
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In any other creative field, crunch time means that your project manager did not do his job properly, and designers still get paid. If your company does otherwise, change company.


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