Why getting a job as a game designer sucks

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)


Thomas said...

Just saying, I really like how you work/think. I've subscribed to the RSS of this, and I hope one day there's a reason for us to work together.

Kevin said...

Hi Thomas, thanks for the comment! Are you working in the Flash game business?

Anonymous said...

You forgot to mention allot here but I know your space is limited. In my view all of these people who are in the game design schools are wasting their money. The reason is that more and more game industry professionals are getting laid off. So not only do you have to compete against an already over saturated job market, you now have to compete against guys that have 9 - 12 years of experience and 8 - 20 games under their belt.

The other end is people thinks its this glamorous industry where you get allot of recognition and your name in credits or in the paper. Guess what, its just like any other job out there. Why? NDA. Which you sign when you get employed which basically means even though you made that wonderful looking animation scene in Mass effect, it is doubtful you will be able to tell anybody that you did so. Even to a prospective future employer. And if anyone thinks they will get to just play games all day at their game job, dream on. Your expected to work. Yeah the people sitting with you are cool, and you can talk about your love for DND openly without getting embarrassed. But you still work, and there is always a hammer over your head because getting fired at any moment for any reason is almost normal in this line of work. I've known guys who worked in Vg companies for 3+ years who do something innocent like wear a company shirt to a friends party, the photo gets posted on facebook and they get canned for NDA violation. It happens to almost everyone. No joke.

Worst story is a guy I knew who quit his job in california, moved himself and his whole family of 3 out to a state, gets settled in and he was fired 1 month after he arrived because the studio ran out of money.

Sure I made some friends when I worked in the industry, got my name on some titles. Its also a good badge of honor to talk about when people ask where I used to work. But in the end, I found a so called conventional job working for triple the pay I was earning in games, and still very happy. Personal experience, I loved it, it was fun, but unless its something short term or contract, I am not interested.

My suggestion is start very young, work at it, get into the industry get your name in credits, be happy, and then go out and get a normal job where your appreciated. Animation, graphic design, 3d modeling, has a ton of potential in thousands of industries with more job security and higher pay than even the best game studios. There are just too many game companies with a hard steel ceilings in them that if your not in the club, your on the outside looking in. Until that philosophy changes, neither is the job expectancy.

A video game job is NOT a career. Unless you call 1 - 2 years average tenure and less than 40k/yr a career.

My suggestion is small mobile apps or flash games. Those things make a ton of money so you can be a millionaire and play all the Vg's you want or will give you enough capital to start your own studio.
Its fun being at the top of the industry, but way down at the bottom, its hell.

Madhavi said...

Getting a job as a game designer is quite easy but it is difficult to sustain in this competitive world, am personally experienced as I have pursued my .game designing course and working as a game designer.