Are you an avid gamer? Do you think you have what it takes to work in games? Or better yet, Do you even know what it takes to work in games?
You may think producing games would be a blast, fitting right in with your addiction. But the truth is, you may be better off sticking to the joystick. Creating games, after all, is a job and much like any other job it comes with a lot of drawbacks — especially when you’re working for a bigger company.
Competition to break into the industry is fierce not because there are so many qualified candidates, but because there are too many candidates. Game companies want people with the skills to make games, not create game ideas, and being a fan isn’t a useful talent. If you’re an artist with a unique skill set, or a programmer with the specific skills needed for a particular project, you may get a foot in the door. But the question is: Would you want to?
We spoke with two mid-level employees at well-known game studios, one is on the East Coast and one is on the West Coast. Let’s call them Engineer 1 and Engineer 2. Between them they have five years of experience. Both are ready to bug out, hence the anonymity. After three years on the job, one of them was lauded for being the longest lasting, non-management staff member in his group.
Here’s why they don’t recommend finding a job in games.
Kiss Your Personal Life Goodbye
“You bust your ass for six months until release. We kill ourselves for months and it only gets worse. Once a game comes out, there’s a brief lull in the storm and then things blow up again with all the downloadable content extras.”
“For nearly two years, I’ve been working almost every weekend and for the next six months, I’ll work at least three out of four weekends a month. I can’t remember the last time I left at a reasonable hour. I can’t schedule anything. My hours are at the whim of higher ups in the food chain. When I see my friends they’re always like “where have you been?” But I have no real control over my life. I’m at the beck and call of the office.”
The Money Isn’t What You Think It Is
“If I made a significantly larger salary, I would be able to deal with the norm of 60 + hour weeks. On the surface it looks good but when it comes down to rough numbers, I make approximately $11 an hour. The irony is that I work for a company that makes a stupid amount of money. Comparable compensation for my time would help me feel better but that’s not likely to happen.”
Free Dinners, Cappuccino Carts, Ping Pong Tables and State-of-the-Art Gyms Aren’t Really Benefits
“I was into the reimbursement for my gym membership, but I can count the times on one hand that I’ve been to the gym since I started working here.”
“If they didn’t feed me dinner: I’d expire at my desk. The novelty ran out pretty quickly on the free coffee, too. They used to have an ice cream sundae truck pull up every night. We all got fat.”
Management Can Be Mercurial
“Criticism can come from way up on the food chain. They’re not in the trenches and don’t always understand what’s happening. There’s a lot of miscommunication and it wastes time. We may be told that it all sucks and we have to redo something and then we’ll find out that the work we did was never what they wanted in the first place. It’s in pieces when it needs to be seamless. The brass once pulled the rug right out from under us two days before the deadline. What we do is never enough.”
“The people on my team are great but I’m nervous around the guys who started the company. They seem to know who I am but I keep my head down, which is the antithesis of my style when I’m not working. I’d rather not engage in the office. I’ve heard way too much screaming in meetings. It can be incredibly stressful and draining.”
It’s worth noting that both our engineers are very proud of the work they do and often find it challenging — as well as occasionally mind numbing — but the relentless grind, sometimes toxic work environment and lack of adequate pay has finally gotten the better of them. Both are seriously considering leaving the industry all together.