Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The joyful life of the lapsed game developer

Once upon a time I was a passionate game developer. Though I still love games and game design, I no longer work in the game industry. I have forsaken the church of game development for the easy and highly rewarding life of mainstream software development.

This is my happy story.

What brought me down this path?
It began with a common enough tale in the game industry. The project I had worked on for the previous two years was canceled. After all those 80 hour weeks, fueled by a feverish passion to build something marvelous, I was cut loose. I never went back.

There are lots of people like me. In fact there are more lapsed game developers in the world than there are current game developers. Let’s look at some back of the napkin numbers. The average career in the game industry is 5 years. With 800 mainstream games a year and an average team size of 40 developers, we have a rough population of 32,000. If 20% leave a year, that’s roughly 6,000 new lapsed game developers every year. Over the past decade, that rapidly adds up to 50,000 or more lapsed game developers.

This doesn’t include the smaller shops that generally have a higher turnover rate. Feel free to refine the numbers, but the basics still stand. The population of lapsed game developers dwarves that of current game developers. If you could put together a LGDC (Lapsed Game Developers Conference), it would be at least twice as large as that little show in San Jose. And when Chris Crawford gave his keynote we would cheer maniacally.

Because he is our god.

Oh, those little reasons
I joined a company that ended up making middleware for the game industry. I still was able to maintain many of my old contacts, but the work environment was quite different. I learned about new ways of doing things that were quite shocking and delightful. As the years have passed, I’ve always contemplated going back, if only to recapture that raw emotion of pushing my creativity to the edge. Yet I never have. Most of our happy 50,000 strong brethren never do.

There are lots of reasons of course, some of which are the fault of the industry at large. Many however are due to the fact that I’m having a blast doing what I’m doing.

The short list of things that kept me away
These are some of the issues that you’ve heard before. They bear repeating.

  • The stunning and widespread ignorance of project management: Fresh game developers are like conscripts in the Red Army, tossed untrained into the teeth of the advancing Germans. They get the job done, but the unnecessary psychological bloodshed is appalling. The 95% chance that I’d end up on a team run by bullheaded milestone sluts that worship the rush of the crunch is worrisome. Everyone has bad practices, but the general inability or unwillingness to learn and adapt is a deal breaker.
  • A general lack of exciting projects: The chance of working on a truly meaningful game project that changes the world is slim. I’m an oddball in that I enjoy making games with interesting new game mechanics. Churning out sequels with mildly upgraded graphics does not seem like a worthwhile way to spend my life. This isn’t insurmountable, but it does reduce the number of viable opportunities.
  • Pay: Taking a roughly 20% pay cut is hard to justify. Pay has nothing to do with money and everything to do with respect. It is hard to swallow my pride and admit to the world that I am worth less because I happen to work in the game industry.
  • Family: We’ve been talking about kids lately. 80-hour work weeks don’t leave much time to change the diapers or watch your favorite little woobie-boo take her first tottering steps. You can’t get those moments back. The thought of giving that up just so I could make a button on a car configuration screen glow a little more brightly makes my heart break.
The things that kept me doing what I’m doing
Here is a little secret. Staying away isn't all about the game industry's faults. It turns out that the world outside of game development is quite wonderful. It is full of fresh honey, flowers, and lithe and luscious servants feeding you goblets of purest nectar. It is a fundamentally better life.

Over the past twenty years, while game companies have been churning and burning their way through the disposable lives of their enthusiastic employees, other industries have been learning and improving. Software development is no longer a mysterious black box…there are better ways of doing things that improve the lifestyle of the workers while improving the bottom line of the company.

Sure, there are still quite a few miserable groups out there, but tides of knowledge have lifted all the boats.

  • Agile development: Once you have run a successful agile software development project, you can never go back. It is the difference between being happy and tired each day after honest labor, and feeling like you’ve spent the day slogging through a wasteland of mud up to your neck. The team is in control and they tend to make products with lower overall design risk and lower execution risk. Agile development works and it has opened my eyes to the possibility of software development without suffering.
  • Reasonable work hours: I have done more than my share of all-nighters, but it pragmatically is not worth it. Here is a little tidbit from the High Moon talk at GDC. By the 4th week of working overtime, your productivity drops below your 40 hour a week average. By working normal hours, I’m happier and I get more work done. People outside the game industry are not lazy when they go home at 5pm. They are smart.
  • Making the world a better place: The applications I build now help people in a very concrete way. I like that warm fuzzy feeling. I was talking to a fellow lapsed game developer who now works in 3d imaging in the medical field. He told me “The work I do now saves people’s lives. You can’t beat that.” There is a moral core that is missing from the game development community that exists in other industries, even in other entertainment sectors. In movies, you can still make documentaries that right past wrongs. In books, you can seek to help and enlighten. In games? I wonder.
Lapsed game developers won’t be coming back
Is the game industry better off without those 50,000 lapsed game developers? Surely, most were slackers that would have just slowed the rest down?

I was a reasonable game developer. I single handedly drew 95% of the graphics for Tyrian in a 4-month period of time, roughly 1/2 to 1/3 the time that art for comparable games had taken. You’ve read my essays on business practices and game design. Could I have contributed? What is more important is that there are likely hundreds, if not thousands of lapsed game developers out there who are far better than I will ever be. Surely, they could have helped the industry in some meaningful way.

It is too late now.

Instead, those talented folks have gone out into the bigger world and seen amazing new wonders beyond even the wildest imaginings of their kept game developer brothers. They stay away, not because they are weak or ignorant. Lapsed game developers stay away because they’ve seen the light of quality pay, reasonable work hour, jobs with meaning, and competent management.

In the process, they’ve incorporated new knowledge of business and successful development practices. Instead of simply doing more, they do the right things first. They have evolved into something wiser and more capable than those who stayed behind.

To all those who are lapsed
This essay is a joyful call to all those wonderful people who are leaving the game industry. Welcome to the bright side of life. You are blessed.

To all those who are tempted
If you happen to be between projects and are questioning your allegiance to the brotherhood of game development, here is a suggestion. Find an Agile development shop that is doing something you could believe in. Try it out for a year or two. If everything I’ve said is a lie, you can always go back. If it isn’t a lie, the experience will be well worth the time, for you, your bank account and your family

To all those who are lost
For all those mournful souls still strapped to the burning cross of waterfall milestone hell, I really wonder if it is possible to improve your lot. I suppose you could learn some modern project management skills. Or you could question why you do things the way that you do and see if there were any alternate methods that might be better. You could even learn from successes outside of the game industry.

In the end, it is probably far too much work. Better to continue what you are doing and to continue to fail. It is certainly far better to continue to damage your mental health and starve your family of both money and your love. The way things are right now is just easier for everyone.

I have faith however. Because, eventually, you too will join us.


It worked, didn’t it?

This is why you should join the LGD coalition:

These people are crazy.

Ah, Chris.

Sweet Jesus. Artwork!!.htm


  1. Speaking as another Lapsee, I have to come to the defense of the industry a little bit here.

    Project Management:

    I think you'll find that a LOT of developers (ok, the more professional ones) have gotten a whole hell of a lot better at project management. There is still some way to go, but the projects I was involved with definitely saw a sea-change there.

    Lack of exciting projects:

    This was the kicker for me. Doing the 6th sequel of the sequel of the sequel just really nailed the coffin. I loved working with the team and we had a great deal of fun AND hardly any real overtime, but we essentially were on a Worms treadmill.


    Try teaching, then you'll know what paycut means :)


    I dont think this is going to be too much of an issue really. As more people mature in the industry, then they tend to rebel against non-family-friendly practices. I know for instance that EA are getting thier act together regarding working hours.

    I still miss the teamwork and cameraderie? of the game development industry. These days I keep my hand in by doing my own games on my own time and with my own schedules.

    But I think on balance games is definitely something you do when your young. Ok, so you get exploited, but then so do a lot of industries.

    Speaking from my own experience, I wouldnt have given my time in "the industry" up for anything. It was a really fun time. But now the balance of my life has changed. These days I value time away from work a lot more, I expect a reasonable wage, without the long hours.

    As it is, being a lecturer at a university, I get a very nice amount of time for myself. Ok, wages arent so hot, but I made the choice to trade high pay for my time away from work.

    Sometimes I think we can be work obsessed, life is more about experience than just work. Having said that, I do work on my games almost every day so that maybe indicates I'm dreaming there :)

  2. Here's the problem for many, as I see it.

    Unlike the industry of 5 or 10 years now, there's a whole segment of content builders, junior producers and so on who don't have much in the way of traditional skills. While a coder can probably diversify off into applications and an artist or animator can also do that, a scripter or a level designer or senior tester or a game designer really can feel very stuck. I mean "it's this or a job at Burger King" stuck.

    This is further compounded by the fact that many companies with their long hours leave no room for these staff to appreciably train, no real staff support for training (because they want them in those jobs) and wages that really are miserable.

    I'm one of those people. YOu might argue that this is not really the company's fault, and that's true. BUt at the same time, the company's aren't really interested in developing their staff, so you do fall into a rut. I've been in that rut for 5 years now.

    What do I do?

  3. Gotta stick up for the industry here, a bit.

    We ARE learning agile development. Due to the industry's past it's taken a bit longer than the rest of the software world to figure it out, but we are getting there (as you point out, it makes economic sense for so many reasons, and with game budgets as high as they are, the people with millions to lose are sitting up and taking notice). You speak of the game industry's work/life balance as it was two years ago; times have changed. (I'm sure you noticed the agile development lectures at GDC.)

    Personally, the last time I put in any serious overtime was about a year and a half ago...

    Lack of exciting projects? Depends on the team you're with, but at least you get to pick the company you work for, and the project you're being hired to work on. As you say, it limits your options... but the same is true in the larger world of software dev. Making financial spreadsheet apps for Intuit doesn't exactly excite most people any more than working on Sequel 6: the Game.

    Pay? Yeah, the pay still sucks. If the big leap forward the past two years has been adoption of agile development methods, the big leap forward of the next few years will be smarter business practice and better financial models that give developers (and not just publishers) the chance to strike it rich on a hit game.

    Remember also that there is another path: hobbyist game development. The tools available for indy teams is nothing short of amazing these days. If you've got a 40-hour week at a non-game company and you're willing to devote 5 or 10 hours a week to a personal game project over the next couple years, that will probably bring you all the joy you were hoping to find in the industry. It has the advantage that you set your own schedule, so no overtime unless you want it; and you choose your own project, so you can make the kind of game you really WANT to work on. Occasionally, pro developers even work on their own personal projects on the side for this same reason.

    Anonymous: If you're in a company that's actively preventing you from moving forward in your career and your life, GET OUT. There are other companies out there with more realistic expectations. Find them, and jump ship. You'd be amazed how much easier it is to get a job in the industry when you already have one, with 5 years experience to back it up...

  4. Unlike you, I must make games. This is who I am. I could get a higher paid salary easily enough - both in and out of the games industry - as I am pretty qualified for all sorts of positions. But I must make games. It is who I am. Before videogames, I made tabletop role-playing games and board games. Before that, I made playground games. Before that... I have no memories. :)

    However, I warn people thinking of coming into the industry that if they are joining because of a passion for games, they might want to reconsider, as few if any will get to make the games they want to play. Better to get a "real job" and work on games as a hobby.

    Anyway, must fly... Take care!

  5. I am also *sort-of* a lapsee. But instead of quitting the industry, I went indie, and tried to correct the things that were wrong:
    -Making meaningful games: I made Wildlife Tycoon, an ecosystem game. Kids love it, it's good for the world. Gives me the warm fuzzies.
    -Personal value: I feel like my value is directly tied to my abilities; my skills aren't hidden behind a team of 150 and a movie license.
    -Hours: I haven't pulled an all--nighter since I started a year and a half ago. I still work hard, but starting a company ain't easy.
    -Pay: Not great yet, but earnings potential is much higher. I'm also structuring employee bonuses around royalties rather than stock, which is a more tangible way to reward exployees.

    My life has really turned around, and I'm still doing what I love to do. I feel very lucky. If I hadn't started this company, I would have ended up in business school and probably would have always wondered if I could hav done this.

  6. Holy crap! There's a sobering slap in the face. Reading this post and its comments has had the same "get out NOW!" effect on me videogame-wise that my trip to the GAMA trade show did three years ago cardgame-wise, except that this time I don't have giant piles of inventory to get rid of and didn't have to go to Las Vegas, the most unsettling city on Earth, to hear it. I kept looking for the "and here's how it can be fixed" silver lining at the end of the article, and was even more distressed that it wasn't there.

    This article also marks a distinct change from "hobby programming lets you work on what YOU want to work on, but it won't make you any money, whereas working for a company pays you, lets you work on bigger and better games than you ever could alone (even if they're not exactly the sort of games you want to be making), and has the potential to turn you into the next Will Wright or Shigeru Miyamoto" to "hobby progrmming is now just as, if not even more rewarding than working in a company, because you won't be making any money at the company either, you'll be working 80-hour weeks every week on salary, you will burn out in 5 years or 10 at the max, and you're just as likely to become the next design god as a hobbyist coming out of left field and dropping in right at the top as you are by clawing your way up from the bottom."

    So... uh... gee, I was actively pursuing a game industry grunt job, and these sorts of things were nagging at the back of my mind, but now that I've read this and the comments I'm going to stick to my day job, keep programming on the side, and look for "the road less travelled" to the top, or another road to something I'd enjoy even more.

    I'm hoping, although I know it's not going to happen, that all of Nintendo's recent talk about "bluer waters" and small developers means that they'll start encouraging tiny developers who are also pursuing "bluer waters", and work with them to prove that there is a better way than the sweatshop labor typical of the industry.

    Sorry for the atrocious glut of run-on sentences, but I tend to think in them, and this comment was driven more by emotion and reaction than by the analytical thought that cuts things into concise little sentences. :)X

  7. You all rock. :-) I not only like games and game design. I also like game developers. They are some of the most interesting and enjoyable people that I've ever worked with. Zoombapup's comments are spot on about how his time in the industry has been some of his most memorable.

    I was reading Jason della Rocca's article in The Escapist on game production practices. It was a very decent article that raised some valid ideas. Yet the comments were disheartening.

    So I got an urge to pop the bubble. There are people who believe that the way that they do things is the only way and there is no better way. This is simply not true. The grass is in fact greener on the other side. :-)

    Giving up, as I suggested in the essay, is not the only course of action. It just seems to be the most common. There's a tact that some game companies are trying. They are improving their processes and work hours. They are changing their cultures. It is hard work, but it has amazing potential benefits.

    For the industry, in the long term (next 5 to 6 years), this is a great thing. As a lapsed game developer, I still feel that the chances of finding such a company are slim.

    Hunty, don't give up. Be informed. Not all game companies are created equal and experiance from outside the game industry is useful in determining what can be a good fit. If you want to go into the game industry, pick a company that has good work / life balance.
    - Ask if they follow agile they even know about them?
    - How much crunch did they do in the last year?
    - Do they pay game industry salaries or are they competitive with other markets?

    You may not get everything, but do not settle for a job that kills your passion. This your life you are talking about.

    take care

  8. The thing is, many of us are coming back. On our own terms. Those of us who haven't had the love of games crushed out of us by our time in the games industry.

    Like Andy, many of us are coming back as indies. It's not a land of milk and honey, but it allows us to do what we want to do. And some of those returning 50,000 are making a real difference.

    And the streets are not paved with gold on the non-game side of the industry, either. I've run into the same poor management, internal politics, floundering and failing businesses, and otherwise buckets o' crap in the 'serious application' sector. But there are also some improvements that I just assumed the game industry is adopting as well. Maybe they aren't. But it won't be long before they will.

    The biggest difference for me was money. A non-gaming job is worth 10-20% more money. Which is not insignificant. The lure of being able to make more money and create games in my "spare time" was quite the draw for me when I 'lapsed.'

  9. Agreed 100%, Coyote.

    I'm back as a volunteer with a volunteer team of people from the corporate non-game world. They know about agile development. They know about peer-reviews and getting it right via iteration. They accept that i also work a full-time job in the Defence sector (and if i do my job right, less of our people die - that's rewarding).

    I'd go back full-time if we got funding, because it would be on MY terms, and those terms have been shaped by the commercial and military worlds for the last five years.

    Military software completely changes your viewpoint on code, by the way. It must be right or people die. That's motivation and it teaches Best Practise in a way that no game software house ever can.

    By the way Dan, if you ever want to dip a toe back in and help this project change the world, i'm easy to find *grin*

  10. I'm not giving up, I'm just "going to ground", as it were. It looks like things ARE on the upswing, and some sort of revolution is nigh, and I think that if I continue to work on my own and don't jump into the horrible grind of the "old way" that I'll be better equipped to join, or even lead, in the "new way".

  11. I referenced you on our blog here. One thing I would like to hear more about is the peculiar cult of masochism inside the industry. The discussion thread on Della Rocca's article was full of "We can't change anything because we're unique mavericks and like 80 hour workweek" sentiments. I suspect it's like a fraternity initiation (i.e. "I let them tape me to a lamp post naked, so I must really like being a part of this!"), the name of the phenomenon escapes me now, but I definitely would be interested in hearing about the culture on the inside.

  12. Very good article, Danc. I've been making games for 20 years now (with a few lapses in the 90's), and even though many management and process issues drive me nuts, I'm certainly not ready to quit yet. Like another poster above said, "It's what I do".

    Shannon, I'm not sure who in the Escapist weblog comments is touting all that "80-hour-week loving, maverick" attitude. Perhaps I don't see it because I'm part of the problem? I certainly feel that at every project where I've held some responsability, I have managed to improve development practices even if just a tiny bit.

    We CAN change things in the industry; it is apparent that we ARE changing things for the better. I simply don't believe in silver bullets, especially when they (software engineering methods) only deal with a portion of the whole project.

  13. Articles like these are the biggest reasons for me to approach the game industry cautiously.

  14. Like several posters here, I also have to make games. I'll do it whether I'm paid to or not.

    However, I still left the industry after 20+ years for a teaching job. The pay was lower, but I get 22 weeks a year off, and when I figure out my per-week average, I make more now than I used to. The big benefits? I'll see my kids grow up. I'll be present in their lives. I have lost the absurd "hit the next milestone or die" death-stare-of-intensity I see in my fellow devs, and I like not looking that way.

    I still make games in lots of ways: I'm contracting as a designer on a 360 title. I have another contract lined up after that. I make board games and card games with my students. I make them on my own. I make them with my kids. I still have lots of time left over for trips to the beach, vacations, etc. I once did not take a vacation for three years running! My family told me they enjoyed themselves while they were away. That's crap. No one would have to live like that.

    I really wanted to have my cake and eat it, too, and it's worked so far. I will still make games, but my life, my family come first.

  15. I prefer the term "Game Designer Emeritus."

    I enjoyed the work itself. I'd go back if I could find a 40-hour week company with good management. Unfortunately, I suspect my chances of running into one at random are slim.

  16. I think a large problem currently facing the industry is the thought process brought up by Chris in which you don't consider game development a "real job". The more you tell development teams that they aren't "real workers", the less likely their working conditions will be as nice as whatever working conditions "real workers" get. If game devs don't get credibility as real workers, how do you expect any progress to be made?

    On that note, I believe the industry is getting better at this as more universities make game development a major or concentration, thus legitimizing the idea of "I make video games for a living," being a real and true statement that can be just as redeeming as "I make movies/TV shows/music/art/write books/create entertainment for a living."

    I think that there are developers out there running around like chickens with their heads cut off, unaware of how to properly manage their teams because their industry "is still new and young and we do things differently." But these days, those developers either learn to adapt or get their product thrown in the trash.

    Besides, I think if you allow yourself to get stuck in such a crappy workplace, you should know you're destined to fail eventually anyway. But then again, I try not to let passion blind me. :)

  17. Having worked in film & TV and game dev (and yes, all on "real" shows, movies and games that you've heard of), I wanted to drop a line to mention that looking at TV/Film production methods is probably going to be less helpful then you'd think. Film production is largely run in the same way as game development -- start out with a plan, get waylaid for one reason or another, start going crazy. And to whomever asked up there, there is *defnitely* crunch and day/date pressure in film/TV; I've worked way too many 6 or 7 day weeks of 16 hour days in both fields.

    There are a lot of reasons why I think these two industries share a number of similar issues, and not all of them are "bad publishers/bosses/The Man" -- there's also an awful lot of "if you want to play the blues you have to pay the dues"-type hazing in both fields and though it's understandable (yeah, there actually are hundreds of people out there who'd love to have Job X), it's also a self-perpetuating nightmare (...and they'll wind up leaving in five years, too).

    Didn't mean to sound doom and gloom, because I really do love working in games and don't plan on leaving (even the low spots are really high for me), but I just wanted to chime in on the games/film comparisons as someone who's walked the line.

  18. A year ago I was all set as a college student to enter the industry...not the mainstream one, really, but indie dev.

    But I was failing classes. I had to stop myself, at least for a while. I got into economics rather than comp sci, and then last quarter, I took a class on game design. We worked in teams of three, made a game in three and a half weeks. My team, other than myself knew nothing about making games; we had an ambitious project, too, something that was very much along the lines of an industry project, though scaled down, with a big story and dialogue and worlds and *content*. I crunched the thing out over the full three and a half weeks, and sacrificed most(not quite all) of my free time to do it. I kept my sanity with frequent breaks, and I was proud of the accomplishment, but I realized that I never wanted to go through such a hell again.

    What I plan to do, instead, is to go get an MBA, work in "real" business, and contribute to open-source gaming, where the successful projects have a minimum of bullshit and flashbangery and have legacies spanning multiple decades(see nethack, empire, xconq). You may be a gamedev hero if you risk life and limb to finish the milestone, but what point does it serve if your project fails in the market, or gets canceled? I couldn't imagine a career like that.

  19. I prefer "retired". As in "retired from professional game development". Seems more appropriate than lapsed.

  20. I used 'Lapsed' (as well as all the religious rhetoric) because game development is a rather passionate faith. You've heard from Chris who lives in order to make game design. This is not a simple 9-to-5 banking job that you leave lightly. Game development is driven by inspiration, passion and faith more than most careers.

    On top of that you are immersed with your brothers in an isolated commune for long periods of time. You all share the same passionate beliefs. You are all willing to sacrifice for the greater good. The camraderie mentioned in the posts above runs deep.

    To leave all this 'forsake' the cause of making great games is not a decision made lightly. It is very much like a lapse in a religious faith. :-)

    You'll note that most of my essays are far less emotional than this one. It is an emotional topic...the ideas discussed in this article and the wonderful comments that follow speak to the heart of our attempts to do what we love in the face of a highly unpleasant work environment. A few have found a way to balance the two. Many have not. With all the intellectual talk of optimization and design methodologies, we cannot forget that game development is an activitity run by people, for people. How companies are run fundamentally affects lives. This is a huge burden that I worry many do not take nearly seriously enough.

    take care
    Danc...not a bleeding heart. Just a pragmatist.

  21. Interestingly, this gives us three terms, all of which have their own connotations.

    Lapsed: I have forsaken it because it was false to me, but I still believe in the promise.

    Recovering: I am a 'recovering' game developer in the sense of a 'recovering addict'.

    Retired: I am retired from game development, much as a professional athlete retires when the demands of the profession become too much for the body or the soul.

  22. I like 'lapsed' as well. The implication is that you may decide later to return, if you have a change of heart or if the conditions that drove you away change. That term suits former game devs well.

    'Retired' implies a permanent, nonreversible transition...

  23. Amen, Brother Danc! :)

    It's good to see you embracing a good dose of reality. The heady days of game design glory were what they were...

    Though I can design a game about family life, nothing compares with actually living a real life. :)


  24. Most of what has been written here maps directly to my experience as an electrical design engineer.

    After years of 80+ hours weeks (including a 300+ day stint without a Saturday or Sunday off working on a project that then got cancelled for reasons I had pointed out, to deaf ears, in the first week of the project) I quit, sure that this decision meant the end of my career. Now I do (very little) consulting work, work on my own projects, see my family, see DAYLIGHT, and if you're looking at sheer numbers I'm making more per hour than I was making as a full-time employee. Sure my overall income is down (so is my blood pressure and weight), but this turned out to be much less of a deal than I feared it would be.

    Money means nothing if the method you use to obtain it kills you, or even worse leaves you one of the walking wounded.

  25. Hello there, Daniel Cook! My name is Rafael and I'm from Brazil. I'm a great fan of your pixel art works.

    I'm currently with a project of redesigning the backgrounds from the games Monkey Island 1 and 2. They're all 256 colors and I need someone to advice me and helpe me doing the modifications I have in mind.

    If you want to see the works I've already done to have a glimpse of this project, I ask you please to contact me by email:

    I thank you for you attention and congratulate you once more for your great job. Tyrian is awesome!

  26. Hello,
    I'm a former developer. In fact, I'm a former producer so maybe I was on the wrong side of the fence. I had a sobering moment three years ago that made the want to quit the industry forever. Which I did: I am now a diplomat (of all things!). Yet, there are so many things that I miss in the game development that I would love to return to the industry.

    I've been around, literally, and I never found such a gathering of bright and curious people as game developers. Also, there are few mental activities which are as demanding and as rewarding than a good pre-production phase.

    As a side note, I am not completely convinced by agile development, which I used for my last project because it was the right technique for the team and the project. It probably wouldn't have been possible to ship the game otherwise. Yet, I don't think it is well-adapted for every project. Clueless management and wild, late changes of direction will lead to stupid crunch times as people higher-up will blame developers for delay anyway. so that's what should be addressed rather than the project management approach. Ah well, you probably don't care anymore...

    Leaving the industry brought me unsuspected peace during the first year, I wish you just as much

  27. What would you guys say to someone like me who's heading into the industry? Do you have any suggestions as to how to avoid such pitfalls? My dreams of having the games in my head made by non-indie developers have already crushed, but I'm not going to let that stop me. If nothing else, I'll be learning how to make indie games.

  28. Well, I guess I'm a lapsed Enterprise Software Developer then. I have some sad news for people. The grass isn't greener.

    Everything I have heard about the games industry I can match with stories about the software industry. And then I can raise a few truely horrendous ones because the stakes are higher and the damage more costly (usually in the billions of dollars).

    I find the 40% cut in pay definitely worth the 80% cut in stress level. That, and I feel like I own my own soul again.

  29. Hey anonymous!

    I can't tell you how to avoid those pitfalls - I don't know if you CAN.

    I just returned after over a five-year absence to a small gaming company run by guys I *trust*. The pay ain't what I'm used to. But after doing nearly as many years in the "enterprise software" world as I did in the "games" world, I feel I have a pretty good handle on both. And things pretty much suck all over. But you can get lucky and get with a good company for a few years.

    My advice:

    1) Be loyal to PEOPLE. Not a corporation.

    2) Learn ALL YOU CAN. Take advantage of the opportunity to learn your craft on someone else's dime.

    3) Be professional. Do your best effort. Make sure that if a project or company fails, you can have a clear conscience that it was in spite of you, not because of you.

    4) DO NOT SACRIFICE YOUR FAMILY OR LOVED ONES for the sake of work. Making games is not that important.

    5) Do not define yourself by what you do. It is only what you do, not what you are.

    6) Be devoted to what you are doing, but always be willing to walk away if the time comes.

  30. I am sad that not one single comment has brought up the "point" of games. The essay above talks about

    Making the world a better place: The applications I build now help people in a very concrete way. I like that warm fuzzy feeling. I was talking to a fellow lapsed game developer who now works in 3d imaging in the medical field. He told me “The work I do now saves people’s lives. You can’t beat that.” There is a moral core that is missing from the game development community that exists in other industries, even in other entertainment sectors. In movies, you can still make documentaries that right past wrongs. In books, you can seek to help and enlighten. In games? I wonder.

    But all of the comments only concentrate on work environment. Assume the work environment was 100% perfect. That still wouldn't fix this point. I'm far more concerned with out to fix that point because if was fixed the hours wouldn't matter, I'd be making the world a better place.

    As it is I agruably make the world a worse place. Look at all the time wasted playing games. Look at all the relationships destroyed by WoW or EQ, all the fat kids because they never move more than 5 ft from the TV. Some people are going to take this the wrong way, of course people are free to entertain themselves anyway they want and there is the abstract benefit that games make money and provide a way for people to make a living but beyond that abstract good it sure would be nice to find a better "direct" way to help games make the world a better place.

  31. As yet another anonymous in the very same situation, all I can say is: what if you have NO other company to jump ship? What if it's the only one in your country? What if you've already worked on most/all the other game dev teams/companies in your country? Now, if you ask me, THAT's what being really stuck means :)
    Anyway. My advice for my fellow anonymous - get the hell out of there. Get a job that allows you to be creative AND have the free time you need. Use that free time to become the next Jonathan Boakes, if you feel like you MUST do games.
    That's what I'll do, anyway. Wish me luck :)

  32. Jstep

    I figured I would post an example of what some hobby developers are making. (I am not affiliated)
    A bunch of people modified mvp 2005, to make it mvp 2006, including new stadium designs, player designs, rosters, etc. etc.

    Its pretty cool work, done for no money, This is the type of thing I see as being more rewarding


  33. hey, coming from just a mere 17 year old but how about thinking back to Tyrian. I've only just managed to find the game on the net and the music..ok seems like i wasn't trying hard enough BUT thats not the point. Point is the illustrations were imense, absolutely great. had that whole.. well kinda .. damn.. cant remember his name.. guy who did the Alien stuff G.R. Agar.. or somethnig.. #thinks# damn.. anyway yes, how about a more modern version of Tyrian #puppy dog eyes# obvsiouly including the old story because you can never go too indepth on an arcade came like that really i suppose. would be .. well indecribable if you did.. would be most indebted. You could even get that 'drive' again for the games industry! - if you want to reply

    and many thanks for the work you did. good part of my childhood that twas..

  34. Im a coder for a games company who has just come out of 6 months of straight crunch on my 3rd game (the first one was cancelled btw). It's a 2 hour commute from my home to work on a good day so i average 4 hours travelling for an 8 hour job.

    I used to feel that this was worth it, for various reasons like the experience, the pay (it's ok where i am), the people i work with are great etc etc. However, 4 hours commuting takes time out of your life, and generic-shooter-ver5 just isn't the game that i want to make.

    So i've got my CV open on the other monitor and i'm looking for something else :)

    Very good article, hope you continue to enjoy your job and everything else.

  35. Looks to me like you simply left because you were hurt. I say to hang in there no matter what. Don't quit.

  36. Great article! We had a great little
    development studio at PopTop Software. We didn't make great games, but it was a fun job. Phil Steinmeyer set the company up to fail prior to his dismissal. Terrible game designer! I say do your 5-8yrs and
    start looking for a way out.

  37. "Do your time and get out?"
    ...sounds like the military, but with little hope of things like a GI bill or what have you. ;P

    I'm with the bloke who mentioned the point of games. Is there really one? Is there really a point to entertainment in general? Games have a unique ability to enable interaction between designer and consumer... but does that even matter if all we can come up with is bigger, more blatant gore-fests or the latest "hawt chix" travesty?

    Meh. I'm going back to school to follow my secondary interest in science. Maybe there's a place for using art to teach science. ;D

  38. Going into the game development industry is definitely not easy. The long hours can put a strain to the family, and the pay is not significantly that high. However, the end product can be quite rewarding if you are truly interested in the development of games.