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How to break in the games industry - an insiders' guide

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13 hours ago, grapen said:

Oh, 20k annually is remarkably low for developed countries, didn't expect to hear that. Is that the case in London as well? I would love to hear from someone working in the industry in Sweden, through PM or whatever means.

When I was a junior about 5+ years ago I was on about £18k. That was at Codemasters in Birmingham. London will have higher wages since it is more expensive to live there but it might only a few more thousand a year and I doubt it'd make much difference since London is so expensive. 

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20 minutes ago, Beck said:

When I was a junior about 5+ years ago I was on about £18k. That was at Codemasters in Birmingham. London will have higher wages since it is more expensive to live there but it might only a few more thousand a year and I doubt it'd make much difference since London is so expensive. 

Pre taxes? Fascinating. That would equate to minimum wage over here. Pretty much the same as someone working at McDonalds, I think.

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Just now, grapen said:

Pre taxes? Fascinating. That would equate to minimum wage over here. Pretty much the same as someone working at McDonalds, I think.

Yep, pre-taxes. I think Codies is kinda known for paying less than everyone else though. I got a very nice jump in pay when moving to Rebellion and whenever I've looked at other jobs they've all paid more than Codies would have done. Until I told them I was leaving and suddenly they had the money I wanted :P

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3 minutes ago, Beck said:

Until I told them I was leaving and suddenly they had the money I wanted :P

Yeah I know that all too well from my line of work as well :D money is not everything to me, but you want to be able to live a comfortable life. Thanks for the insight guys.

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3 hours ago, grapen said:

Pre taxes? Fascinating. That would equate to minimum wage over here. Pretty much the same as someone working at McDonalds, I think.

Our taxes are a lot lower than yours, so in sweden it might be a bit higher, but i doubt much.

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14 minutes ago, Vilham said:

Our taxes are a lot lower than yours, so in sweden it might be a bit higher, but i doubt much.

Ah yes, I didn't consider that at first. Good old 30% taxes, 50% if you freelance. :)

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On 20/03/2017 at 6:35 PM, Vilham said:

Dunno what you are on now, but a junior LD salary in europe is about 20k euros. It is really low. Just be careful making the jump at this point.

Well what would one do at this point?

It's either buckle down and get through the first couple of years or  give up/go indie hoping your games will at some point be enough to sustain the family…

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Live like a pig for a while it's worth it. If you're in another industry and higher up the chain but want to change, save some money up for the inevitable pay slash. It'll return eventually and with a bit of luck you're enjoying life more.

 

  

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But seriously though, 20K is really really low. What does a senior make on average in Europe or the US? Or maybe someone in between?

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Senior in the UK is about £30k+ I think. It seems to fluctuate a fair bit between studios. Level Designers really aren't paid all that much compared to other departments. :(

The US seems to earn about double what we make this side of the pond. But they have health insurance and the lack of job security so it's swings and roundabouts I guess.

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I have been going through a phase where I have had a stronger desire to work in the indie space vs working for larger companies.

Breaking into the industry has become a different beast. It's rather about breaking into solvency, if you can make enough money to survive its equivalent to getting a job. When you do get a gig where you work for someone in the indie space its a very different as well. You are encouraged to talk about your development. Live stream and use social media regularly. After working in the industry for almost 20 years I have found myself wanting this style of environment a lot more. Maybe just because its different.

I have also made the observation that too many people are over valuing getting that super awesome gig working for X big company... My experience with every larger company has always been both internally and externally. 

  • Have super long meeting about X new project and make no real decisions (Super exciting!)
  • (busy work) for (a) (Weeks-Months-Years) as people finally decide some basic rudimentary things.
  • Everything that was already done has to be scrapped because of new choices.
  • Have super long meeting and make no real decisions. - Everyone spews the "We really need to focus on making the game fun!" platitudes and usually derails into some conversation about World of Warcraft or anything but the actual topic.
  • (busy work) for (a) (Weeks-Months-Years) as people finally decide some basic rudimentary things.
  • Is deadline looming within the next 12 months? If yes continue - If no begin line 2 and repeat until looming deadline.
  • realize we need to get the game done in 9 months.  - (14 years into Duke Forever this finally happened.)
  • Have super long meeting and make no real decisions
  • Management still has no real idea what is going on so everyone in the company makes their own choices based on confirmation bias and astrological constellations, whatever feels right. 
  • People begin to argue over various decisions because none of it lines up.
  • (We really need to have a meeting to lock down the design because we only have 6 months left! email may occur here.)
  • Have super long meeting and make no real decisions. - I have literally seen grown men REFUSE to actually commit to a single shred of actual design choice at this stage. Its like Peter Pan syndrome. The reason this happens is because nobody wants to stick their necks out. You have maybe 5 "leads" and they are all def willing to do cocktail parties but all of them have different ideas on what the game is supposed to be and all of them fear each other so nobody is willing to over speak the others.
  • Things continue until some kind of breaking point. Usually employees begin bickering with each other on some internal chat forum or email.
  • (Almost literal firing squad of indignation towards management may occur here) --- This is the turning point I have found for projects, if this part fails the project can die, usually with layoffs or people leaving. If the project doesn't die then you push back deadline for the release of the game and start back at the top.
  • Finally lock down some design choices!
  • (We only have 3 months left but I finally got a chance to actually play the game! email may occur here.) (Usually the E3 Demo or some vertical slice that was hamfisted together).
  • After the demo goes live there is no bullshit "oh yeah! So this is what the game is supposed to be like!" moments for more than half the company. No bullshit this is really a thing! It extremely common for people to have worked on a game for multiple years and never even played it until the final weeks/months. They have no idea what the game even is half the time. The rest of the world now knows about as much as the fucking devs! :D
  • (It looks like we may have to crunch to get the game done at this point email may occur here.) 
  • (That company wide email about how badass we all are and that this is the home stretch and its time to really finally shine email may occur here. The "everyone is a rockstar" fallacy.)
  • (Company wide email where some super awkward choice is made at the last moment like how high the player can jump or what content is being cut which causes a huge redesign of large chunks of the game may occur here. Same deadline but like 5 times as much work. Bonus points if the cut happens for paid DLC or micro transactions.)
  • This is usually the point where you get those amazing emails where people totally lose their minds. "May the bridges I burn light my way" kind of shit. Its glorious to just see people completely jettison sanity. High amounts of stress often just causes people to pop. (This is the death march hell phase...)
  • Game finally comes out... (Everyone in the company is worried about their jobs and what the new project will be. Nobody is excited unless its at the release party. Most people are kind of silent and worried. I find there is almost a feeling of relief mixed with a memorial service kind of vibe.)

I have been through this process probably 10ish times with varying results. Its literally like maybe one day we should have learned by now how to alleviate the issues. But its very rare that anything ever actually can be done. But I mean this is usually exactly what happens every time. I am not kidding around! If you don't believe me then either you have a unicorn company or you will learn for yourself eventually. Whatever you do, try not to be that guy who burns bridges to light his way. I have also observed that if you try to change the above list you will become very discouraged very quickly and fall in line eventually. The above happens for many many reasons and its almost impossible to do anything about it. Its like staring into the abyss. If you end up trying to be a lead then you will invariably become that lead who misses the good old days when you were in the trenches, swig a bottle of gin and pat level designers on the back with a tear in your eye. Strip clubs and wads of money probably help a lot with this..

With indie dev its something else entirely but seems to share some similarities. The main difference is that from what I can tell is that the game stays in this unfinished phase for the entirety of the project where its like in limbo but not in limbo permanently. Everyone in the company tends to work like its just a mod community to some extent and leadership usually falls on one person who can be either passive or fucking nuts. Either way it kind of goes on forever. I am really certain that after awhile the patterns become just as predictable as the above but so far it has been less annoying because there is a human element to it. Mainly your humanity lol, because you are making like zero money and very few people even know who are ect... But I have found that recognition is not super horrible if you can get involved with more well known indie projects. At the moment my only true experience was with Subnautica. Overall I am kind of surprised this method works at all because its so organic. People come and go fairly often. Usually some mid 20s dude who's super good at promotion and has a wad of cash calling shots or something like that seems to be kind of common. To me that's where its really at honestly. Fuck man that is the true ideal and I kind of wish I had envisioned that much sooner in life. Definitely more interesting than being a robot on the assembly line that has not even played the game until the last couple of weeks of production. at the same time there is a kind of grass is greener yerning for the day you can be scooped up by Blizzard for a chance to work on that next big project .... That stays in preproduction for a decade. Then after you go through that a few times you can think about indie game development again and be too expensive for them to pay your rates. :D

Staring 

  • The mid 20s dude with the money.
  • His best friend/wife with a lot of influence over the project.
  • Pajama pants. Pajama pants everywhere!!! Normal cloths are for outdoors people!!
  • That Kickstarter campaign, indiegogo, crowdfund or all of the above!
  • That one guy who barely speaks English but fucking kicks ass.
  • Always at least one Australian guy!
  • A person you never talked to but is literally ghosting the company while still on payroll.
  • Its totally going to be done by December guys!
  • Weekly meetings ... maybe maybe we will do it tomorrow.
  • That one super talented artist who apparently is working for 10 dollars an hour and nobody brings it up.
  • I merely exist on the dev team as QA!
  • The discord server where players ask for impossible stuff!
  • We will add multiplayer down the road! (HAHAHAHA!! This one is my favorite).
  • The holy shit what is this new thing that was added to the game I had no clue this was even being worked on!
  • Some random controversy because someone said or did something weird, usually on twitter.
  • An impending feeling that everything can crash down at any moment!

This is my life... But after seeing all of the layoffs in the game industry maybes its a good idea to long pajama pants company stock...
Sorry about the long post but I kind of needed this for catharsis I think..

Edited by Castle

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On 2/5/2019 at 12:48 AM, grapen said:

To anyone reading this two years later. The switch was 110% worth it.

More details plz! :D How's it going?

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@Castle: This is what concerns me the most about approaching the industry to join it and it is something I have been trying to argue against for the last year. I come from the land of City Management as a professional; we have literal lives on the line when we make decisions so it disturbs me when leaders are ineffective and/or incapable of decision making. It helps that we have a very well understood organization hierarchy and that decisions are made early and often (reassessed depending on changing environment). It drives me nuts hearing about decision paralysis so deep into a project as being prevalent throughout the industry. It is why I have become a strict adherent to a mantra of "under promise and over deliver." I hope one day I get to bring my professional expertise on organization management to a video games company. As for the burnout and lack of information concerning mass layoffs (and by extension project release dates) I created videogamelayoffs.com (don't look if you are touchy about the subject). Hopefully that becomes a helpful point in tracking the relationship between hits, the general economic outlook on sales, and layoffs/burnouts.

Edited by Sigma

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35 minutes ago, Sigma said:

@Castle: This is what concerns me the most about approaching the industry to join it and it is something I have been trying to argue against for the last year. I come from the land of City Management as a professional; we have literal lives on the line when we make decisions so it disturbs me when leaders are ineffective and/or incapable of decision making. It helps that we have a very well understood organization hierarchy and that decisions are made early and often (reassessed depending on changing environment). It drives me nuts hearing about decision paralysis so deep into a project as being prevalent throughout the industry. It is why I have become a strict adherent to a mantra of "under promise and over deliver." I hope one day I get to bring my professional expertise on organization management to a video games company. As for the burnout and lack of information concerning mass layoffs (and by extension project release dates) I created videogamelayoffs.com (don't look if you are touchy about the subject). Hopefully that becomes a helpful point in tracking the relationship between hits, the general economic outlook on sales, and layoffs/burnouts.

I think city management is a different beast because you are not dealing with creative people. Its so much harder once you get into things to keep design decisions rolling and everyone on board. You need a Miyamoto or Kojima. Someone who has total creative control and uses it. Those kinds of people are rare. But they cut through a ton of bullshit.

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