Being employed sucks... big time! Even in the game industry. Maybe even more so in the game industry. Actually, working as a game designer was the worst job I ever had. I'd much rather go back to delivering pizzas than to get another job in the game industry (ok, I don't think it's true but mostly because being a designer pays much better than delivering pizzas).
Yeah, I know, the game industry is so glamorous, games are so great, it's a creative industry, surely what I'm saying is non-sense. It MUST be great to be a game designer! Well... tough luck kid. It ain't. Here is a few reasons why:
Working like a dog
One of the most important questions you will be asked when being interviewed for a game industry job is if you are willing to do overtime. If you really want the job, answer « yes, I'm willing to sleep under the desk whenever it will be necessary! ». This automatically adds a hundred points to your interview's score. To be fair, quality of life is a big issue in the game industry and it's being worked on. I've heard a lot of new studios manage things better and rarely rely on overtime but good places like that are still rare.
Not so creative
Projects are long, teams are big, employees are specialized. There is a lot of space for ideas and decisions in creating games but most decisions are taken at high level, sometimes in committees or through focus groups. Even lead designers on small projects are not free to make all decisions. In fact, I've had to cope with several crappy decisions taken by an oversea producer I've never met. It CAN be a creative job, but you have to earn trust through the years, and even so, you are always a victim of market trends (unless you are called Shigeru Miyamoto or Will Wright, then you can do whatever you think is good).
Low employment security
It's a volatile market and it's moving fast. Studios rise and fall, they get bought by behemoths like EA and Ubisoft, projects are cancelled and people get fired by the dozen when the shareholders require it. Nothing is carved in stone so if you are looking for a secure job, go work for a bank. For some it's a boon though, they can get hired in other studios and diversify their experiences. If you don't care about security, than proceed.
Hierarchy and peer pressure
This is, for me, the worst part. This is not related to the game industry alone but to being employed at large. You have to submit to a hierarchy for all your actions and not only does the bosses make you feel bad for what you do « wrong » but you peer makes you feel it too. When we entered crush time on a project and I decided to go home at normal hour, my team barely looked at me the next morning. When the project was extended into my planned vacations and I refused to cancel them, I was a monster. Gee, great! Make ME feel bad for the bad management!
But... I still want to make games!!
You want to work at your own pace on creative game projects you are passionate about? You refuse to live under the fear of losing your job and the stress of hierarchy? Well screw this whole game industry shtick! Head for the Flash game industry, it's a booming market! :)
(and what better place to get you started than here)