I'm Pouring My Heart Out #3
Updated: Mar 27, 2019
Why I Gave Up on the Game Industry
Look, I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the video game industry. In my formative years I regularly fantasized about being a game designer. The glory! The creations! The fun! So, what changed? That’s what I’ll be getting into this time ‘round.
Like most kids when I was growing up (which is still in progress, really), I was a huge fan of video games. Along with comic books and movies, video games were a huge part of my personal trifecta of escapism.
I was always fascinated by the mechanics and design of a game. I regularly took cracks at designing my own games, doing my best to think of all the cool things the medium could bring to the table (which we’re still only scratching the surface of).
I still have a few of those ambitious (but still pure awesome) documents lying around, I think. So, uh… all you rich benefactors out there… you know… hit me up.
That passion and interest stayed with me well into my teens and into my college years. In fact, that’s for what I went to college. I took the leap into a game design program, after spending about a year working jobs that made the prospect of a creative avenue of occupation a seriously alluring prospect.
I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I enjoyed it so much, I signed up for another two years of the learnin’.
Going through the bachelor’s program was a great experience for me.
I joined a student dev team and really put some effort and planning into the projects I put out. Not too mention, it was fun as hell. Learning how to apply my creativity and imagination to a technical endeavor was every bit as fulfilling as I’d hoped it would be. Hell, when your homework consists of playing video games, you can’t help but feel like you made the right choice. Right?
The actual school experience was a different story, but I won’t bother getting into the horrific details of higher learning in America. What I will say is the impact of that dream is still very real. It’s just not the kind of impact I was hoping for. Here’s where we get into the point of this whole thing.
The thing about the video game industry is that… well, it’s an industry. It’s massive business, generating over $108b in revenue in 2017, alone. Make no mistake, there’s a lot of money to be made in video games. It’s massive and glorious, and excruciatingly cutthroat.
I was always drawn in by the creativity of it all. The characters, the places, the impactful franchises that define so many childhoods; it was so perfect, from the outside. What began to defile my mesmeric vision of the games industry made itself apparent while I was in the midst of my third year in college.
See, I had pretty much ignored the actual logistics and nuance of the venture, as an actual career. I had been far more preoccupied with all the glamour and myriad places I felt I could fit within the industry.
I started to become a bit more aware of the darker recesses of video games when, by the suggestion of an instructor, I started reading articles and other content from certain sources that cut through a lot of the sparkly exterior of the industry.
These pieces were written by and for people who actually worked in games. The horror stories that started to sully my fan-driven image of the field were more numerous than I could’ve imagined and even more off-putting.
Stories of the ungodly crunch hours at the expense of an outside life, the unfair nature of a self-governed multi billion dollar industry, unstable jobs and mass layoffs, poor benefits, little to no recognition, and general burnout from all of these things served to quickly and violently rip the wool from my eyes.
I mean, some of the stories I read were genuinely unsettling.
I recall one story that detailed the already chaotic office experience being upended by an irate man breaking through the wall of the office like the fuckin’ Coolaid Man. I seem to remember something about that story having to do with the mafia… unfortunately, I can’t find the article, or I’d link for your viewing pleasure.
After being exposed to the true nature of the video games industry, I couldn’t help but continue digging, and I just kept happening upon layers of putrid foundation. That sounds a bit dramatic, I know, but you have to understand just how in love I was with the idea of working in this environment, only to have it reveal itself to be a hellish landscape of struggle.
Along the way, I’d heard several times just how difficult it could be to get your foot in the door, especially at a reputable company. My particular school had no job placement to speak of, like some other programs had.
This made the vista of working my ass off, foregoing certain things and making sacrifices, all to have a chance at attaining an unstable job that sucks the joy out of your work, just seem a little bit unworthy.
The kind of damage a job that consumes your life does, is nothing short of profound. Broken marriages, lack of a social life, and simply no time to yourself can do wonders for ruining a good thing. This, aside from the sheer instability, as I briefly mentioned. The amount of jobs lost in 2019, alone, is staggering, and it’s only March, at the time of writing this.
Some of the largest companies in games (EA, Activision Blizzard) have cut hundreds of jobs this year, as others expect more of the same. Some of these even coming after the companies experienced record financial highs. All the while, several CEOs in the industry have become noteworthy for being among the most overpaid in the nation.
In an industry where too much is never enough, it’s hard to see the glint of light at the end of that long dark tunnel.
I don’t want to get into the gritty details of these things, here. That’s been done and the information is out there, if you want it. I’m only here to get a little something off my chest.
But, I’m not done, yet.
Even after all of these revelations and tainted horizons, I completed the program and graduated with honors. I was all in.
And that student dev team I mentioned? Well, that was all set to pay off, as well.
I had already started training myself for the gauntlet of game development, while in school. I worked in and out of class, researching, learning, creating, the whole bag. We all did. We pooled our skills and resources, set up rendering farms, bought equipment, and generally busted ass to get ahead and become legitimate developers.
That effort got us noticed.
Myself and a handful of other talented people tossed around the idea of founding a development team. The ranks included alumni, my student team, and even a veteran game designer who worked on titles you would absolutely recognize. Real talent.
We met for months, setting up foundational work and brainstorming. I’ve genuinely never had so much fun, nor been so excited as I was at that time.
The work was paying off and my foot was about to break the plane of that doorway.
"It turns out that one single toxic cog in a wheel can poison the entire operation."
Buuuut, since you’re reading a, “why I said fuck it” story, you can assume it didn’t work out so well. It turns out that one single toxic cog in a wheel can poison the entire operation.
That's exactly what happened. In fact, the night we had all convened to sign the legal documents that would solidify those months of work and planning was the very night that cog decided to show its ass.
One member managed to absolutely nuke the entire venture in a matter of moments. If that was any indication as to the type people I could expect to deal with, it certainly didn’t help to further that warm, fuzzy feeling I’d maintained for the months leading up to it.
Regardless, the damage was done and the whole thing fell to pieces in one fell swoop.
Things never really picked up again, after that whole debacle. Given the unstable nature of a lot of jobs in the industry, I pretty much let go of chasing the dream.
My love for it is still strong, but for me, it’s indie or nothing. That’s no easy task but I’d much rather rise and fall on my own than be an expendable grunt, giving my all and getting back less than what I put in.
So, here I am, now. I’m still dreaming. I’m still creating. I’m still hustling. Hell, I still have a stupid pipe dream to chase. I just feel a little bit better about the situation this time around.
So, anyway… that’s why I gave up on the game industry. All those crazy, fantastic people that do it day in and day out, I’ve got nothing but respect for. For me, though, it’s all on these shoulders of mine, for better or worse.
Giving up on one dream to chase another? Priceless. Also, I’m a big fan of peanut butter and jelly. Since I’m sharing, thought I’d throw that in.
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‘Til next time!