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"Staff will often sacrifice much more than should be required of them. While the team might work well together and find the work highly satisfying, if the work/life balance isn’t healthy, they will naturally grow to resent the dynamic."
- Former Microsoft exec J Allard, speaking to Gamasutra about why so many devs leave the game industry after 3-7 years.
This week Gamasutra published a feature examining how and why so many game devs leave the industry after just a few years, and nestled within it was some interesting perspective from ex-Xbox frontman J Allard about some of what he sees as the core game industry issues that lead to burnout.
Most notably, Allard (who left Microsoft in 2010 after being a face of Xbox for years) cautions devs against the long-term negative effects that can come from repeatedly "digging deep" and doing the sort of passion-fueled overwork that the game industry is infamous for.
"While the team might work well together and find the work highly satisfying, if the work/life balance isn’t healthy, they will naturally grow to resent the dynamic," Allard told Gamasutra, noting that the industry's shift towards "live" games has only increased the strain. “Sure, actors need to do a few TV interviews and appearances during lead-up to a film’s release, but Matt Damon is doing two to six months of principle photography and then he is ‘done’. There’s no equivalent ‘done’ for the Halo team."
He goes on to point out that game developers (especially programmers) can often find less demanding, much better-paying jobs in other fields, putting the onus on game companies to compete in terms of job security and work/life balancec without sacrificing the creative hunger that drives many devs.
"Average programmers hopping from VC-backed failed start-ups can be making $250,000 a year without having ever shipped a successful product to market or sticking with one team for more than two years," Allard said. "Just contrast those earning alternatives to above-average 15-year game creators...[but] creatives love the cutting edge, and the cutting edge in the games business is risky, unpredictable and generally, financially unrewarding. This all leads to burnout."
While Allard himself left games to work in another industry (he's currently chief of bicycle tech company Project 529), he says it wasn't due to burnout; it was more about just making time to do something else.
"I wasn’t burned out, just not the right person to get excited about Kinect, Windows gaming and VR,” he said. “I’ve seen too many situations where founders stay on ‘too long’ and didn’t want that to be the case with me. Plus, somewhere along the way, the agenda shifted from changing the world through software to ‘selling more Windows’. It was time for me to go. There were plenty of people that were excited by that challenge. And, hey, they’ve sold more Windows…”
For more of Allard's comments, along with more interesting perspectives on game industry burnout from former devs, check out the full feature on the great game industry exodus.