The Average Gamer

Friday Feature: You Don’t Want To Work In The Games Industry

Welcome to our new Friday Feature, a weekly column where we talk about the wider issues of video games. This week’s post is by Simon Roth, a professional graphics programmer for video games and PhD student in Bournemouth. Back in February I wrote an opinion piece entitled “Why Would A Graduate Choose The Games Industry” based on conversations with a number of insiders. Roth explains the problems here.

Simon Roth. Son, he is disappoint.

I had a funny first half of the year, which finished up with me having my placement in AAA development ended. My doctorate continues however, and I am now shunning the mainstream industry and only working for independent companies whose products have artistic merit. This article is a criticism of all UK studios and publishers and isn’t aimed as snipe at a particular company.

I have helped a lot of graduates get jobs and given a lot of advice in the last year or so but there are a lot of misconceptions that I need to clear up. I touched on this at my GameCamp 4 talk “Free Range Games”, and it’s about time I had a document to point people to.

One of the first things I get asked is “How can I get a job in industry?”.

My reply is: “You don’t want to work in industry. Join or start an independent outfit”

“But industry would be better!”


The following three points were said to me in this order by six different graduates in April:

1. “You get paid better”

This is a misconception and horribly generalised. The video games industry does not pay better than independent firms. Indeed, most large companies saddled with unsustainable AAA budgets are paying worse at the moment than any indie outfit I’ve been approached by.

When you account for the unpaid overtime that you will do on your 3-6 months of 12-16 hour days of crunch, you will probably work out that your earnings when calculated against time spent working will be less than minimum wage. Yes, this is probably criminal. Yes, most companies do this. No, no one does anything about it.

What’s better is they will crunch you to the day the company goes bust and everyone is locked out and nobody paid.

2. “You get better experience”

Hahah, no. While there are chances to learn on the job, you will be under pressure to deliver. Try learning a new language, whilst trying to deliver for a milestone and working ten hour days.

You will also be funnelled down a single route of expertise. This may be advantageous if that is how you work, but many will find themselves bored and feeling trapped. Games companies are unable to cope with “generalists” as they are harder to manage and require production to actually do their jobs.

I’ve been told off-the-record by a COO of a certain large company, that employees having more than a single skill is pain for the suits. It makes you more employable and you’ll have greater confidence to demand more money and better working conditions. God forbid!

Independent companies on the other hand will let you practice all of your skill set and even try new things. Bringing in new skills is a boon to the company and it will be appreciated.

3. “But at least it’s a more secure job”

At this point I’m usually unable to give further advice as I am in tears of laugher. This is told to graduates over and over at recruitment talks and in interviews and is utter bullshit and lies. Sure, if you join a small company with big ambitions and an even bigger burn-rate you might get laid off, but to think a AAA studio provides any form of job security? You are very sorely wrong.

I personally know around thirty people that were made redundant in the last six months from various studios around the country.

Big studios are only secure for the “Unfireables”; the guys who have been there for a decade and wrote the subsystem or tool so terrible, that only they can maintain it, thus indefinitely extending their employment. As a graduate or junior, these guys make your life hell.

Certain studio heads have illustrated their callousness in this matter, by pointing to the six month contracts of the film industry and championing them. I have worked for the film industry on and off for years. Indeed, I went into games because the VFX industry has become too exploitative for my liking.

The key point that all of them have missed is that almost all ten thousand VFX employees in England work within five hundred metres of Soho Square. You can literally walk next door to your next job. Everyone I know who has been laid off in games has had to move over a hundred miles to their next studio.

Do you see yourself with a family, or being in long term relationship in five years time? Consider whether they will want to move every time your contract ends. Do you want to own property or have a mortgage?


Many people give the advice that quality assurance testing (QA) is a good way to get a “foot in the door” for games development. They lied. QA are treated terribly by almost every large studio in the country.

Expect night shifts, 14-18 hour days, £14k a year and no respect from management. You will be laid off the day the product ships, you probably won’t get a credit on the game [also see comments on Facebook], forget any ideas about a bonus and – worst of all – you will be burnt out, unable to enjoy the rare time-off you receive.

You will have no say in the development of the game. You will not get to actually enjoy playing the game. If you are serious about a career in QA, perhaps look into testing for other commercial software, where you will earn twice, perhaps thrice as much.

QA is now only a stepping stone into production, and only the most exceptional candidates will make it there.

“But I want to make games!”

Then just make them.

Get together with your friends and make a limited company. Take out a small business loan and bootstrap as much as you can. Do games jams, attend indie events, try crowd-funding, pre-orders, beg Rock Paper Shotgun, The Average Gamer and other enthusiast press for exposure.

This is by no means an easy feat. You will need a strong network and many contacts. It will require calling in a lot of favours and quite a bit of begging. You will need to keep your costs low and gain cash flow within months of starting out.

The best advice I can give you is; go down the pub after any conference you attend and buy people drinks. Make friends and be sociable. It’s not really much to ask and I have amassed a large network of contacts this way. Keep up with them via Twitter or other social media. Keep up with journalists and offer them comment for their articles. The personal touch can go a long way for an indie developer.

Worried that you would struggle? Take on contract work to feed funds into your business. If you’re good enough to work in the industry, then finding contract work as a small team should be a cinch. If it all goes under, declare the company bankrupt and try again.

Don’t be embarrassed if you fail. Be embarrassed that you haven’t tried.

This was a guest post by Simon Roth, a professional games developer and an engineering doctorate student at Bournemouth University. He is currently contracting for a major independent games developer, having recently left the mainstream industry.