It is Fear, O Little Developer, it is Fear!

“Ere the Moon has climbed the mountain, ere the rocks are ribbed with light,

When the downward-dipping tails are dank and drear;

Comes a breathing hard behind thee, snuffle-snuffle through the night–

It is Fear, O Little Hunter, it is Fear!”


– Rudyard Kipling

Over the past week, lots of folks from around the industry have been linking and nodding approvingly in response to this article offering “7 Reasons You Don’t Want To Work in the Video Game Industry”.  Like most things that get people worked up, there’s some truth to what is written there, but I take issue with much of what’s on the list.  My main complaint is the suggestion that most of these problems are unique to game development somehow.  With one exception, they are not – and I don’t mean that in the sense of the problems being shared in a limited way with a small number of other jobs. 6 out of the 7 are problems that apply nearly universally to ALL jobs.  Specifically:

7. You Won’t Work On A Game You Like

(1/2 true) You won’t ALWAYS work on something you love, but you often will. When I was getting started doing testing and support work, I had to deal with some stinkers, but I also got to work with lots of stuff I really enjoyed. Once I was properly into development, I never worked on a game I didn’t love again.  But beyond that, how many OTHER industries allow you to work on “things you like”?  Almost none, by my reckoning.  The worst thing I’ve had to do as a game developer is more interesting to me than the best thing I can imagine doing as a lawyer.

6. You’ll Be Expected To Move Far, Far Away

(true) Maybe not right away, but if you stick around long enough, expect to be shuffled all over the planet in cattle class. The good news: This usually doesn’t happen until you’re fairly senior in the industry.  I find it odd, however, that the author focused on the issue of having to travel abroad to work with international teams (which, as I mentioned, tends to mostly impact Management).  The more widespread (and problematic) scenario is that you’ll have to move around domestically to find work, often once every few years.  Regular state-to-state relocation makes it hard to do things like buy a house or feel comfortable starting a family.

Oddly, this wound up protecting lots of developers (myself included) when the housing market tanked.  I never felt comfortable or confident enough to get the $350-500,000 mortgage that would have been necessary to “own” a reasonably-sized home in the DC area (where I lived when the Recession hit).  As a result, when the housing market collapsed, I felt like I’d dodged a MAJOR bullet.  When I was laid off couple years later, I felt the same way.

5. The Fans Will Attack You For Everything

(true) Fans will get mad at you, but it’s only because they love (or want to love) your work. There are far worse things than lots of people giving a damn about what you do.  In addition, the fans will ALSO be your strongest, most steadfast advocates.  Personally, I get something out of both strong criticism and vocal praise, so I don’t consider this to be a “problem”.  This is probably the ONLY thing on the list that is “unique” to game development (and its other creative brethren).

4. Nobody Will Understand Your Job

(false) People understand game development WAAAAY better than many jobs. Imagine being a cop or a lawyer or a doctor, where a huge chunk of the population watches 30 hours a week of procedural dramas that TOTALLY misrepresent their jobs. THOSE guys are misunderstood, not us. In addition, almost no job is really “understood” by people outside that field. Do YOU know what your tax preparer does when it’s not tax season? I assume mine fights crime in a magical kingdom filled with math wizards.

Also, who CARES?  Honestly, unless you’re desperate to constantly be told how special and interesting you are, do you really give a damn about your spouse’s co-worker’s husband being intimately familiar with the ins and out of your daily routine during a chat at a dinner party?

3. You Can’t Complain – Literally

(1/2 true) You can complain about serious issues – forced overtime, hostile work environments, etc. just as much as any other person can. I know of NO cases where someone complained about a legit workplace problem and was then punished (much less fired) for raising it.  Most studios have well-trained, diligent HR departments who take that kind of thing VERY seriously.

Obviously, if you bad-mouth your employer or berate your coworkers or the product you’re working on publicly, you’ll get fired. But you’d get fired if you did that ANYWHERE.

2. You Will Work So Many Hours, You Will Essentially Stop Existing

(true) Yep. You’ll work long hours. Crunch exists and it sucks. Companies know this and (generally) try to make it suck as little as possible, but that doesn’t excuse it.   It’s worth noting that, as the Great Recession drags on, this type of “work more with less” approach is becoming the norm EVERYWHERE.  Leaving game development won’t magically help you “start existing” again (assuming you could find work at all).

1. You Will Get Fired

(1/2 true) You probably WON’T get fired. That would mean that you were removed with cause based on poor performance. If you do good work, you almost certainly won’t get fired. You probably WILL get laid off. If you HAVEN’T been laid off before, you’re probably very young. But that’s also true for nearly every OTHER industry in the world right now aside from repo men and undertakers.

So what’s it all mean?

To me, it means that the game industry has positive and negative features that you should consider before deciding to pursue it.  MANY of the negative features it has are shared with MOST professions, but very FEW of its positive features exist elsewhere. There are excellent reasons to thing long and hard before diving into game development – even when times are good everywhere else, but there’s no reason to think about it as a “scary” industry that dooms all who enter to suffering and defeat.

We live in unsettling economic times, regardless of the industry we work in. This calls for caution and patience and long contemplation of our options. If you’ve done the leg work necessary to learn what game development would REALLY be like and the risks and labor seem “worth it” to you, then I say be not afraid – go forth and take your shot.

Leave a Reply