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!”

“Why?”

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?

DO NOT TAKE A QA JOB IN THE GAMES INDUSTRY

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.

34 Comments

  1. Iain

    24th Jun, 2011 at 11:29 am

    Great piece. I definitely think this is good advice for a large proportion of people, but I also think there are developers and artists out there who don’t have the creative and entrepreneurial spark to start up on there own. For them, being an employee might still be better, at least til they hit upon their own killer idea. I definitely agree that there has never been a better time to bootstrap your own indie start-up, but in practice your advice ” Take out a small business loan” might be easier said than done in the current economy – banks are likely to make you personally guarantee a lending they give you these days.

  2. Terry Lee

    24th Jun, 2011 at 2:22 pm

    This is a great article and I agree with absolutely every point made. I do want to reinforce the point about using a QA role to get into production. I am a games industry professional and I have worked my way up from QA to a production position. QA is as bad this article implies and then some but if you are looking for a career in games production it s a good starting point. However you have to really put yourself out there whilst in QA make yourself known and network.

    QA is also a great place to recruit talent if you are looking to start your own company and do a self published project. It is a pool of people that all know about games and I have experience in all aspects of games development. They may not be good enough to get straight into a programming or artist role in a big company but they might be exactly what you’re looking for.

  3. xino

    24th Jun, 2011 at 3:48 pm

    I hate articles like this

    people who think they know it all.
    Sure the guy may have had an experience personally in the industry.

    But come the hell on man!

    if you can’t stand the long hours or short pay, why the hell are you working in the goddamn industry?

    The sole purpose of finding a job for your career is to FIND what you love doing and what you love doing the best!

    I love games, games are my passion and I vow to make games! why the hell should I put money and long hours in front of me to discourage me from doing what I love doing?

    Managers managing a shop spend half of their time in the store than in house.
    They dedicate their lives to the shop because the shop is what is putting money on the table, the shop is what challenges them and gives them fun because that is their passion to be a manager!
    Why the hell should the manager whine about him/her spending 70% time at work rather than at home or complain about the pay rate?

    Sorry…people who moan about a career they seeked in the first place have no idea wtf it feels like to be stuck doing the same sh** job every day!

    People who are looking to get in the industry. Ignore this article, follow your dream and what you love doing!
    The whole purpose of you getting into the industry to make games is because you love games and are very passionate about it. If you complain about your job position therefore you are not passionate enough or enjoy making games.

    If we say I’m an artist but I’m doing a programmer job, then YES we can complain. But why should an artist whose profession is drawing and he/she loves drawing complain about his job and pay?

    • Simon Roth

      24th Jun, 2011 at 4:01 pm

      As I stated I did leave the industry. Its not a piece moaning about the conditions, its a warning to graduates who are often lied to by recruiters and the companies they represent.

      Often people who want to follow their dream are mislead by people offering them false hopes. I am just saving them from disappointment and showing them another route.

    • Snoutling

      24th Jun, 2011 at 5:04 pm

      And what if you want a family?

      I think it’s pretty stupid to look at it as ‘I get paid to do something I love’, rather than ‘I get paid for the skills I am offering this company’, because they are hiring you so that you help make them money.

      How would you feel after 5 years when you find out that someone else with 4 years less experience than you, doing a lesser job at your company is getting paid a lot more than you?
      No matter how much you love your job you’re going to want to feel valued or that your pay is ‘fair’ for the work you’re doing.

      Also you’re unlikely to be working on games that you love all the time. Unless you’re really good at your job (in which case you should be being paid well also), or lucky, then you’re not going to be able to just pick and choose what you work on. You’ll probably have to work on shovelware, kids games, bad games, or something else you’re not that interested in.
      Also I don’t think working in games has ‘that’ much to do with passion. It’s about being good at making games. You’re going to enjoy your job more if you enjoy making games, but if you as a fan want to be playing good games that means the people who work on them need to be good.

      Also as a footnote, artists who program wouldn’t be a programmer, they’d never be asked to do a job they can’t do, and also hardly any games artists draw for a living, so your last paragraph seems kind of a moot point.

  4. Anon

    24th Jun, 2011 at 4:12 pm

    Great article, and almost every point holds true even though I’m in another country.

    No matter how much you love something, you WILL burn out when you’re doing it 70-100 hours a week. Average life in the industry is 5 years, and I burnt out right at 4.5…might go back some day, but if I do, I will definitely be going to an Indie studio…

    It’s easy to do these things when you’re in your 20s and don’t have a family…your studio becomes like your 2nd home, and your friends become your studio friends (you don’t have time to see anyone else). The second any sort of outside life is out there, however, it suffers horribly. I’ve seen so many relationships and marriages crumble during heavy OT periods.

    1) The pay — around these parts, bigger developers do pay better once you get a few years in, but they pay worse for new graduates.

    2) Better experience — depends on the role, but for the most part, agreed that you will be specialized before you have a chance to broaden your skillset.

    3) Security — HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! There is no security. None. We have ~60 studios in my city, and EVERY SINGLE STUDIO except ONE — 1/60 — has had mass layoffs in the past 3 years, and the rumour is that that last one is now in dire straights and may fold. OUCH!

    QA: I came up through QA, and it is true that only a few people make it out of there in big companies. There were 500 testers in my first testing job, and only 4 of us were promoted into new roles at the end of that project (I was one of the lucky ones). Even then, I couldn’t escape the QA label; even though I had only leadership positions from that point on, they would only ever be QA-related. Employers would gloss over me for production roles (even ones farrrrr below my skill level) even though I had strong QA management experience, but they’d eagerly offer me other QA roles. The one time a company was seriously talking about growing me into a Producer, the studio folded before I could roll off of QA. Sigh. I decided to leave the industry for production experience, hoping to finally jump into production if I ever return to the game industry. If.

    This article hits it bang on. With XNA and Apple/Android phones out there, making an Indie game has never been easier. Not only that, but having a demonstrable product makes you far more appealing as a hire at a bigger game company, should you want to go to one. Nothing shows that you have what it takes like your own game. My advice to new grads is always: get a small group together, put aside six months of your life and crank out an Indie title, then see how you feel. Some people love the idea of making games but don’t realize what a slog it can be until they try it.

    I would also add this: don’t pay for expensive game diploma programs. Get a general education that you can apply to something else, because chances are high that you WILL burn out and need something to fall back on. (CS degree, Art degree, Business degree, etc.) Read a couple books on game development, stay up-to-date on game development news, attend industry events and network, and you’ll be getting everything you would have out of a diploma program with less debt! (Those programs around here are $35k+ for 1-1.5 year programs…the average starting wage in the industry is far less than that. It’s ridiculous!)

  5. Hec

    24th Jun, 2011 at 4:19 pm

    @ Xino. This is exactly the kind of attitude both that the Industry promotes and preys on. This is also why companies love to hire grads fresh out of school. Naive. So you are saying it is acceptable for companies to push the limits of labor laws and not compensate workers for the horrendous amounts of overtime? Because “you love your job”? Working for free is unacceptable in most circumstances, gamedev is no different.

    • xino

      24th Jun, 2011 at 9:02 pm

      listen man…this is life! What can you do? nothing.
      You either stick with the industry rules or you bite the dog and form your own independent company. Simple as that.

      I mean if you are gonna be spreading negative telling people not to get into the industry, and if majority of people take that advice; who the hell would develop games?

      hard labour?
      *I’ll rather work in the Gaming Industry than work for Foxconn whereas people work 16 hours every day in poor condition, that would eventually lead to suicide!
      *I would rather work in the gaming industry, get short pays than become a street cleaner or office cleaner.
      *I would rather work in the gaming industry, enjoy making games for less than spend HOURS making clothes for such a low money like in India, China where the poor people make the clothes we wear today.

      Yes it is complaining and I hate these negative complaints. Its like the articles I read all the time about “Being a game journalist”. What do you know, same people who condole the same message for others complain about the same sh* such as “games journalist don’t get enough pay, they work long hours etc”. Give me a farking break man! It’s all included in the damn package, they’ll be the first to see a game, go to exclusive press conferences and events; so why the hell are they complaining man?

      Listen people, why did you get into the industry in the first place? because you love what you love doing. Why did you sign the contract for the lowly hourly pay? because I don’t understand why you signed it and months later you complain about the pay.
      It’s the same with actors man, they act because they love acting. Especially with big block buster movies, they too spend hours acting that exhaust them. A lot of people think they know it all and critise them saying they don’t work hard enough that it’s all simple acting. Don’t forget they spend months to master a skill or body just for their character role.

      This is why people don’t get promoted because they lose their mojo so fast. I believe if you are passionate about something or dream, you’ll keep working at it.
      My ultimate goal is to become a designer so I can start making games, great ideas that lurks in my head. And if I’m gonna complain about low pay, long hours; how would I get the role?

      and as for the negative video you posted. Yes Games Industry is business just like movies…. :/ duh
      Its all like the Sales and Marketing field man. I believe if you work in a sales and marketing field, you would get the idea of how things work. That is why I know that a lot of the ideas made to games isn’t because of the bad decisions or bad directors choice, but it’s all to do with publisher choices.

      @Snoutling
      Sure you have family, so what? you do realise if you start a CAREER you will always be off home all the time. If you want to spend time with your family then get a part time job or get a 32-40hr job a week. Because I believe doctors and other big jobs get cold callings all the time to come work that pulls them off from seeing their family.

      This is life man, you play along with the rules or you learn to defy the rules, not be spreading negative and complaining about your experiences.

      Everyone ignore these types of articles, they are nothing but negative comments.
      Tell me if it makes sense:
      you love games but someone is telling you not to do what you love doing?
      wtf?
      please go seek out information about Potential, Mojo and read articles about “Success”.
      Then you will understand the difference between being positive and being negative; a clear difference that can be understood in the Sales and Marketing business.

      • Simon Roth

        24th Jun, 2011 at 9:30 pm

        The industry is just going to eat you up. Enjoy the ride. ;)

      • Snoutling

        24th Jun, 2011 at 10:41 pm

        Well that’s ridiculous. It’s people like you who make the industry want to demand overtime from people.
        I’m not saying I agree with everything in the article, but you sound like you’re going to get chewed up, burnt out and spat out if you join the industry.
        Either that or you’re going to be earning pittance for a lifetime working on stuff you are ‘passionate’ about. I guess you can only hope you’re still passionate after 10 years of watching other people advance in their career, get paid more and not work as many hours as you and still get to work on the same games.
        Not everyone in Games works overtime, so you don’t have to walk into the industry thinking that’s just the way it is.
        The points in this article are one person’s experience, but the point that people are led to believe things about the Games Industry that aren’t true still stands.

  6. Hec

    24th Jun, 2011 at 4:40 pm

    I’ll just leave this here…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lGar7KC6Wiw

  7. Richard Davey

    24th Jun, 2011 at 5:04 pm

    Interesting piece. All I’d say is that don’t believe for a second this experience is unique to either (a) just the games industry, because it isn’t – the same pressures apply to lots of industries, digital and otherwise, and (b) that working for an indie protects you from any of the issues you mention above, because it doesn’t. Selling graduates the indie “dream” instead is imho about as valuable as the snake oil some industry recruiters try to make you drink. What this is is a very telling piece of what students are promised vs. what the reality actually was *for you* and should serve as a good warning for other students to really do their homework first.

    What Iain said about running your own company is completely true. It should never be entered into lightly – all that time you think you’ll have to gain experience, well you’ll get that alright, but it won’t be in coding or game design. It will be in tax law, accountancy, dealing with mountains of paper work, being amazed at just how terrible banks are to deal with, paying bills, employee rights, worrying about where the next cheque is coming from, etc. A good accountant will deal with lots of this for you, and they will charge you handsomely for it too. “Go bankrupt, try again” is a fallacy. It doesn’t work like that in reality. The banks want their money, and if they’ve loaned it to you they’ll take it back from you – your house, your kids University fund, whatever you signed away at the start to bankroll your dream.

    Being a freelancer is a lot less stressful, but not immune from it all, and should only really be entered in to AFTER you’ve got a lot of industry experience, have built up a good bunch of contacts spread across many different places (eggs in the same basket and all that) and have a solid portfolio / track record / reputation under your belt. I look at a lot of freelancer CVs, and experience is everything. Beers down the pub only get you so far, but they definitely DO help get your foot in the door. For the record, we employ rooms full of VFX staff, and we’re a very long way from Soho ;)

    It’s a VERY broad industry these days, be wary of how much of it you tar with the same brush. As I said at the start, this is an invaluable piece of insight into the industry – it just has the wrong headline attached to it (and a few sweeping generalisations best left to the likes of the Daily Mail)

    • Simon Roth

      24th Jun, 2011 at 6:06 pm

      Yeah the whole indie thing came up again and again when we discussed this. It really does take a lot to go out on your own, and I would have liked to have pushed other options too, but lack experience to recommend them. It takes a broad skill set that some people just can’t rise to.

      I do agree that the part about starting a company was perhaps ill thought out and explained. However I am pointing to it for the perspective of most graduates. Many of my friends started companies out of university and a lot of them failed. None of them regret it though, compared to the ones who went into industry they are far more on the ball and have done much better for themselves since. The ones that went into industry have spent their first two years “Paying their dues” or whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean, as dustbusters, renderwranglers, mocap cleaners or runners. Its not for everyone and its likely going to involve as much crunch at some point as a AAA effort, but at least your investing your time into your own product and you don’t have a line of people skimming off the top.

      Also I agree that banks are bloody atrocious to deal with. :P I could write an article on that in itself. :|

  8. benji_c

    24th Jun, 2011 at 11:03 pm

    I’m one of the ones who completly disagree with this post, its very naive.

    You encourage people fresh out of of Uni to take out small business loans to make a game. That’s so much risk to take on – you will have a small budget, bug ideas,no ideas of the pitfalls, and be trying to complete in now what is a very competitive market place. Your statement about just “declaring the company bankrupt and try again” is ridiculous, thats something that will have a massive impact on your life.

    You won’t just be able to get outsourcing work from established companies, you have no grounded experience, why would they trust you? You can’t just take contract work as and when you need it, and as you are working with a team of people, all probably being paid peanuts – they might take contract work and not come back.

    You say Indies pay more than traditional studios, I think this is wrong. If a company has approached you paying massivly more than commercial studios, I would say they are making a mistake, or you are currently at a company that underpays. I also really dont see how a job is any more secure in the indie world, yes you are not at a publishers beck and call, but someone somewhere is in charge of the purse strings and there isnt an unlimited budget.

    You say you can’t learn in a traditional job due to “being under pressure” and “having milestones”. If you are at an Indie developer, and you dont feel any pressure and havent set yourself internal goals and milestones, then I dont think you will be around in a years time.

    Your comment about someone having multiple skills making them not employable is also absurd. It sounds to me you have stagnated at a medicore company that does not really develop it’s staff, and you are passing on a very blinkered view to people.

    • Simon Roth

      24th Jun, 2011 at 11:22 pm

      ” will have a massive impact on your life.”

      No it wont. It will have almost no effect whatsoever. That is the point of *limited liability*. I was in a indie dev that went under in £500k of debt. The company went under and was dissolved. That’s it. No biggie.

      “You won’t just be able to get outsourcing work from established companies, you have no grounded experience, why would they trust you?”

      Because you have a strong portfolio and contacts? If you have a degree, you *should* be showing a decent portfolio and a level of professionalism. If you don’t have them then you wouldn’t even get work in industry.

      “You say Indies pay more than traditional studios, I think this is wrong. If a company has approached you paying massivly more than commercial studios, I would say they are making a mistake, or you are currently at a company that underpays. I also really dont see how a job is any more secure in the indie world, yes you are not at a publishers beck and call, but someone somewhere is in charge of the purse strings and there isnt an unlimited budget.”

      Perfectly true. Maybe they are making a mistake, or maybe they care about their employees more than them just being more meat from the grinder, therefore spending more to retain a low turnover and better working environment. Your less likely to be laid off when your employer knows your name.

      “You say you can’t learn in a traditional job due to “being under pressure” and “having milestones”. If you are at an Indie developer, and you dont feel any pressure and havent set yourself internal goals and milestones, then I dont think you will be around in a years time.”

      Very true, but at the same time you will be needed to take on multiple rolls. Whereas in a larger company you will be viewed as a time waster.

      “Your comment about someone having multiple skills making them not employable is also absurd. It sounds to me you have stagnated at a medicore company that does not really develop it’s staff, and you are passing on a very blinkered view to people.”

      Virtually the whole UK AAA industry is stagnant. Its not blinkered, indeed I sent this article to a dozen devs from all over the country to preview and they mostly all agreed. Since publishing the article several dozen more have come out in agreement and thanked me for writing this.

      Yes my arguments are perhaps ill construed, but I make games for a living, I’m not a journo. :)

      • benji_c

        25th Jun, 2011 at 11:05 am

        “I was in a indie dev that went under in £500k of debt. The company went under and was dissolved. That’s it. No biggie.”

        Really, you went under with £500k of debt and that’s no biggie? That’s another ridiculous statement, and part of the reason why legitimate companies now can’t get business loans. If not handled correctly, bankruptcy could see you losing your home etc, and at least you would be left with creditors who would never (and rightly so) do business with you again.

        ““You won’t just be able to get outsourcing work from established companies, you have no grounded experience, why would they trust you?”

        Because you have a strong portfolio and contacts? If you have a degree, you *should* be showing a decent portfolio and a level of professionalism. If you don’t have them then you wouldn’t even get work in industry.”

        Being at the position in a developer where I would choose who we outsourced to, I would not choose a bunch of fresh face graduates unless I was someone who wanted to take advantage of them. It’s nothing to do with portfolio, they just would not have the experience at delivering end product on time and to standard. They would not have proper experience estimating how long a significant tasks would need, and I wouldnt have faith the code would be to standard (eg adaptable and bug free).

        ““You say Indies pay more than traditional studios, I think this is wrong. If a company has approached you paying massivly more than commercial studios, I would say they are making a mistake, or you are currently at a company that underpays. I also really dont see how a job is any more secure in the indie world, yes you are not at a publishers beck and call, but someone somewhere is in charge of the purse strings and there isnt an unlimited budget.”

        Perfectly true. Maybe they are making a mistake, or maybe they care about their employees more than them just being more meat from the grinder, therefore spending more to retain a low turnover and better working environment. Your less likely to be laid off when your employer knows your name.”

        Again, blinkered view, I’ve worked at traditional developers where I have been paid a good wage, not treated like meat and the employers have known my name. They are out there, people should find them. Yes times are hard at the moment as the industry goes through a transition, but so is every other industry out there during tougher economic times.

        IMO opinion, a good indie company should be paying you a competitive wage, but giving you stock options and bonuses tied to performance and success.

        Finally, “you are less likely to get laid off when the boss knows your name” is a bit silly. Indie companies are much smaller than EA, so yes this is partly true, but when the budget reduces, someone still has to go.

        ““You say you can’t learn in a traditional job due to “being under pressure” and “having milestones”. If you are at an Indie developer, and you dont feel any pressure and havent set yourself internal goals and milestones, then I dont think you will be around in a years time.”

        Very true, but at the same time you will be needed to take on multiple rolls. Whereas in a larger company you will be viewed as a time waster.”

        Then again, perhaps you are in the wrong company. As long as you can prove what you are doing adds value, I have never really had this problem.

        ““Your comment about someone having multiple skills making them not employable is also absurd. It sounds to me you have stagnated at a medicore company that does not really develop it’s staff, and you are passing on a very blinkered view to people.”

        Virtually the whole UK AAA industry is stagnant. Its not blinkered, indeed I sent this article to a dozen devsstate from all over the country to preview and they mostly all agreed. Since publishing the article several dozen more have come out in agreement and thanked me for writing this.””

        I think AAA isn’t in the best state world wide, not just the UK; however that does not mean the whole industry is worrth leaving. Also, there is a lot more out there than AAA. It’s just a very blinkered view you have.

        “Yes my arguments are perhaps ill construed, but I make games for a living, I’m not a journo. :)”

        Maybe you should spend time improving them before you make them in future then? Advising grads to go out and take 500k loans and there being no risk as you can claim limited liability is wreckless and stupid, doubley since you failed yourself, have you no shame?

        • Simon Roth

          25th Jun, 2011 at 12:19 pm

          “Really, you went under with £500k of debt and that’s no biggie? That’s another ridiculous statement,”

          No its not. The bank gave the company the money having accessed the risks. They set the interest rates accordingly. When the company was dissolved the assets were sold off and creditors got back most of what was owed. This is how businesses operate. This happens everyday. $500k is an absolutely tiny investment for a games company, you know that.

          You use of the word “legitimate” implying that the studio I worked for was somehow not, is a tad rude to be honest. The reason why some companies cant get credit is because they fail to show the bank a clear assessment of the risks involved and fail to satisfy the men in suits. The owner of this company worked hard at it and got the money.

          “doubley since you failed yourself”

          Cant say I’ve ever failed as an indie myself.

          • benji_c

            25th Jun, 2011 at 7:34 pm

            “This happens everyday. $500k is an absolutely tiny investment for a games company, you know that.”

            You’ve just dropped from £500k to $500, wiping 1/3 off what you were talking about, but even so $500 is enough to make 3 or 4 targeted games on iphone or similar, or maybe 1 well thought out XBLA or PSN game. It’s quite a large investment in my eyes, I could do a lot with that.

            You tried to make an MMO, which in itself seems like an indie trying to bite off much more than it could chew due to big ideas and lack of experience.

            You say you the assets where sold off. What assets exactly? Probably a bunch of unusable source code as you never got to market, or a game that sunk without trace + the machines you made it on. You must have paid people and rented offices and this money obvisouly was never returned. Are you honestly saying you paid back the full investment, or even a significant part of it?

            I mean legitimate in the sense the people who set up the business in the first place go in with the attitude and researched belief it will succeed, rather than going in with what you are promoting “if it fails its not my problem”.

            I dont understand how you can say you never failed as an indie, you worked as part of a company with a good investment pot, burn through it without having any return and had to liquidate. Isnt that failure?

  9. CrescentFresh

    25th Jun, 2011 at 1:36 am

    This article, while negative by nature hits on a lot of key points that I experienced first hand in my 4 years in the industry. A difference is that I got burnt from an independent studio as well.

    I’m thankful for them for breaking me into the industry and seeing first hand how not to start up a new independent studio. Fortunately, for me however there was no technology in place what so ever, and I was given a rare opportunity to be funded and build a company’s core tech foundation and pipeline. With the help of a couple other post-graduate programmers, I quickly got to see what worked and didn’t from a beginning to end perspective. What I learned here I would not have learned from a larger, more mainstream developer. I later left this independent studio to take a shot at AAA game development. Most if not all of the stuff mentioned in this article I also experienced.

    I crunched a significant time at the indie studio, but no where near the incredible sweatshop overtime I would get myself involved in. Some might say I shouldn’t complain since I received OT pay and made decent money during this, but it further illustrates how important is it to keep an active social life. I never was so miserable in my entire life. I like video games and video game development a lot, but I feel I should also be expanding my horizons and becoming a more well rounded person at my age. There isn’t time to do that, but there is time to hang out with coworkers after hours and on occasion chat about work. I coped with this by frivolously buying a whole lot of stuff I didn’t really need, except for the drum set. I really like playing drums.

    Armed with this experience I want to start my own independent game studio. I want to avoid the pitfalls of a small developer (lack of tech, getting screwed by publishers) and focus on putting the entire dev team first that larger companies are forced to ignore. We all love making video games, imagine the creative output that could occur if we’re all happy and have good tools to work with. It’s crazy enough to work.

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    • benji_c

      25th Jun, 2011 at 11:10 am

      I work in the industry, I havent crunced in 4 or 5 years, I get days back for what overtime I needed to do, and I know of others who have done the same. I get paid well for my role. I know of other developers who are in the same position.

      Also, every industry has overtime and redundancies at the moment – its tough out there.

  11. deltaflux

    25th Jun, 2011 at 7:50 am

    I’ve worked in the industry for over a decade at the same company, rarely doing much overtime and getting paid a solid (not stellar, but competitive). There are good companies out there for graduates so if you’re looking for a job don’t let one person’s experience put you off completely, just make sure you do your research.

  12. FelixofMars

    25th Jun, 2011 at 11:41 am

    Sadly this article does raise many of the issues that are wrong with the industry, games developers tend to be paid less than other creative industry’s and programmers can make better money elsewhere. A lot of coders I know have gone to other roles outside of games. We get to consistently work overtime with no extra pay, not just because of the recession its been that way for years. There is a mentality that we are doing it for a multimillion industry we apparently love but who will see these millions the grunts of the floor?

    Its very easy to say I would work for nothing to get into games, trust me you won’t be saying it when your burned out and thrown on the scrap heap.

  13. AzraelXJM

    25th Jun, 2011 at 3:27 pm

    The nested comments are a bit hard to read, so pardon if I say anything that’s already been dealt with.

    I don’t think your experience has been broad enough to make the sort of generalisations you make regarding “mainstream” and “indie” studios. Going to be using inverted commas on those since they are fairly nebulous, and I think the place you are mostly complaining about technically fits either category. I also don’t really regard an independent as being “outside” the industry, but whatever. Anyway, good companies exist and you can do more more good by forcing other studios to follow better practices by refusing to be exploited, discouraging others from letting themselves be exploited, and actively seeking work with the places with better practices, than by exiting the industry entirely.

    I think your comments on stability of work at “mainstream” versus “indie” is pretty one-sided, as you don’t factor in the stronger possibility the company will cease to be, perhaps due to high wage bill or a possible bursting of the “casual” bubble (I know, too many inverted commas) And your own assessment of pay also seems itself to be a generalisation.

    Your point regarding the experience also seems a bit simplistic, people may want to work on big games, people who want to make space marines and Lovecraftian monsters probably won’t get to do the things they want for a Facebook game. As for generalists, I don’t see how not getting to both program and do art is a failing of production. A company isn’t going to seek someone who is both an artist and a programmer, they will look for one of each, and it’s impractical to have someone leaving one team for another just for the sake of his “experience” (last set I promise) If you want to do both, then yes a smaller company or doing it for yourself where perhaps you are the only one of either discipline would suit you better, but that’s not on the management of the larger places.

    Yes there are big problems with some studios conduct, but I don’t think this article helps much. It’s a sad fact that a company doesn’t always have the means to cycle projects in such a way QA testers can be retained indefinitely.

  14. Dark Acre Jack

    25th Jun, 2011 at 9:47 pm

    Seems like many people are getting the wrong message from the article.

    Perhaps were it distilled to “Small Game Development Teams vs. AAA Factories” it would cause less confusion?

    I support the author, and would encourage new grads and people looking to get into the games industry to set their sights on smaller companies and independent development houses over trying to get in with a Rockstar or an EA.

    I believe getting on the ground floor in a smaller organization would give the prospective developer a much better look at the overall process of shipping a game, and be a lot more fun and rewarding to really know all of the people that put the nuts and bolts of the product together.

    I would *not* (and I really don’t think that Simon has explicitly recommended this) say to someone “go make a startup”, unless they were fully confident with their abilities to not only ship a game but also manage people and money as well.

    • benji_c

      25th Jun, 2011 at 11:50 pm

      “Get together with your friends and make a limited company. Take out a small business loan and bootstrap as much as you can.”

      That’s pretty explicit.

  15. Anon

    26th Jun, 2011 at 1:09 am

    ” If it all goes under, declare the company bankrupt and try again.”

    Before filing a bankruptcy for your limited company, you need to know whether you have significant personal exposure for those debts. People rarely read the loan application’s fine print. Invariably, it comes as a huge shock to learn that all debts were personally guaranteed.

  16. matt

    26th Jun, 2011 at 5:39 am

    Poorly written. Mistakes galore. You guys need an editor, FFS.

  17. Thom Robertson

    26th Jun, 2011 at 2:45 pm

    I generally agree with everything Simon said. But as an industry veteran who’s also been doing indie for a long time, I’d like to focus on a couple things.

    First, I don’t agree that QA is a bad choice. It IS a stepping stone, and nobody should go into QA unless they plan on using it as a stepping stone. But it’s not the hard way into the development job. In my personal experience (and that of many of my colleagues) it was the easiest and best way to get the programming job we really wanted.

    Second, even under severe crunch, I gained lots of experience and skillz at each of the places I worked. Plus, there’s so much you can learn from working side-by-side with peers in an office. I found my skills and knowledge exploded every time I worked in a team environment with other coders. Now that I’m a lone wolf dev, I still take 1-2 days a week to go work at another dev’s office, just so I can enjoy the environment of working in the same room with peers.

    My new game, Artemis spaceship bridge simulator (artemis.eochu.com) was made entirely by myself (I purchased the art), and the tools I use (Visual C++, Paint Shop Pro, Deled, Goldwave) are cheaper and more powerful than ever. And I am SO glad I’m not working in the soul-crushing AAA industry any more. Good article, Simon.

  18. Mayur Bhimjiyani

    27th Jun, 2011 at 12:30 pm

    The industry payments and securities also depend a lot on the geographical location of your studio. For example i am interning as a game designer at Zynga, India as of now and its the biggest gaming company in the world as of now.
    The company pays better and treats the employees far better than any of the indie studios in India. that is because there is lack of skilled personnel in the country. So if your in a position like me having a skill set and the company needs you – they will definitely pay you as much as you ask, of course it has to be reasonable though.

  19. web tasar?m izmir

    27th Jun, 2011 at 5:40 pm

    awesome review thanks for your kind effort

  20. anon

    4th Jul, 2011 at 5:06 pm

    This artical is purely sour grapes – perhaps you were just lazy and not good enough for the industry you speak so “highly” of!

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