4 Reasons You Don’t Want to Develop Games

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?

Game OverYou 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

Engineer 1:

“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

Engineer 2:

“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

Engineer 1:

“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.”

Engineer 2:  

“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

Engineer 1:

“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.”

Engineer 2:

“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.

10 Responses to “4 Reasons You Don’t Want to Develop Games”

  1. I couldn’t agree more. I’ve worked for 7 years in one of the largest gaming companies in Israel, and I own several free online games of my own, and the truth is:
    1. It’s one of the most competitive niches in the world.
    2. To beat the big players you need to put twice as effort and money (never leave at a reasonable time, you said?)
    3. Work never ends! and by that I mean that you can work hard and spend a lot of resources on a game that has a very short lifetime, and same shelf-time, so you always feel like chasing your tail.
    4. benefit – who cares about a pingpong table when he’s working 14 hours a day?

    to conclude, I agree with every word!

  2. YellowE

    The 4 reasons you don’t want to develop games are the same reasons you don’t want to be a programmer of ANYTHING. You work wild hours, have no personal life and when recognition comes down from on high it is to someone who hasn’t worked anywhere nearly as hard as 95% of the workers. Hard work does not necessarily equal higher pay, bonuses or recognition. It’s the daily grind that wears you down

    • D-Coder

      @YELLOWE: I’ve been a programmer for many, many years (not in the game industry) and have almost never worked wild hours or lost my personal life.

      You’re doing it wrong.

  3. William

    Eh. While it’s a brutal field to be sure, this only really applies to the big AAA companies. If it’s a small company or even an indie startup, then it seems much better (even if it isn’t) because the game is a labor of love.

  4. Wow, talk about being incredibly bias of making game developer companies and programmers / engineers look bad. I’m sure that ANY tech industries involves long hard hours but to go about saying you shouldn’t work at all based on the opinion of two persons hating their job is just being extremist.

    Just like what William said, how about those small game companies such as Double FIne and Hello Games? Or those indie guys who can actually make games and like doing it? You’re trying to encourage people that creating games are a waste of time?

    Maybe if you emphasized that this is in reference to big AAA game companies, then maybe it wouldn’t be so bias because it seems you’re hating this subject in general.

  5. johnson

    The stories are real I worked in larger game publishing houses (top 10) and then moved into the mobile chip side of engineering, thinking things would be better… it actually got worse… instead of Mon-Sun 60 hours/wk, it became Mon-Sun 80 hours/wk, I came home 5am the last 3 months, and have been on conference calls, emails, and also coding fixes since 11am the question is, do you really love what you do? You really have to love it, and I hope your spouse is supportive of it… the spousal side is a big challenge, and might not be worth it.. in my case I realized I love my life and the poeple around me other activities and miss that more than coding all day (the coding part is universal games or embedded systems…).