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

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1 hour ago, Castle said:

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.  - (9 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..

Holy sweet wall of text, ahah.

A lot of those problems can be solved with something very simple yet it's extremly rare in the games industry (or any other industry for that matter) good leadership and vision.
Someone who makes sure the team stays true to the vision and is not afraid to call the shots, confidence from leadership trickles down very well, leaders that assert themselves more and compromise less. People love working for confident leaders that know how to say "no" and that have the ability of knowing when the team starts to get off track.
Such leaders, ironically also let you be more proactive, and let you own your work. Such leaders know that when it's yours, it's yours to loose. You are more motivated, more creative, more alive.

Look, here's the reality that no one talks about, 20% of people do 80% of the work, specially in todays bloated games industry, there's a lot of people that take cover behind blahblahblah, meetings and other superfluous shit. Just make sure you're inside the 20%, look inward.
I've learned that It's not the number of hours you put into it, but the intensity and consistent effort you bring to your project, regardless if you're doing it alone or in a AAA team.
 

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43 minutes ago, Castle said:

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.

I think you'd be surprised how difficult it is to get everyone on board. Bare in mind that City Management is not just "do we pay police officers, firefighters, or clean the water", it's very much "where do we build that park, if so who is impacted directly, indirectly, who pays, what amenities do we provide as part of that park, is part of it rental or not, do we have partners helping to pay for it, etc. . ." (I'm using a park as an easy example) and you need community and stakeholder buy-ins (local residents, non-residents, neighborhoods that may compete with each other for attention and/or visions of the City's future, businesses, other impacted local governments, and more) and a strong vision for the future to succeed. I view it as being very similar in nature - competing visions and interests with limited resources - and it takes a strong individual or group that are willing to assert leadership and their vision (while being receptive to alterations) to succeed. The timelines for work are not necessarily dissimilar either (it can take literal years to fully build out a project). Cutting through bullshit is a major part of it. City management had to grow up a long time ago in terms of approach to long-term projects and long-term success, which any business wants; I think there are a great many lessons that could be imparted on the video games industry in terms of management and approach from other industries, and a reluctance to look at other industries is detrimental to the effectiveness of those leaders and their organizations.

Btw, I completely agree that the drive to reach financial sustainability and solvency is more important than hitting that "awesome big company" gig, particularly given how high demand the industry is and will increasingly become for the foreseeable future.

Edited by Sigma

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7 hours ago, [HP] said:

Holy sweet wall of text, ahah.

HAHA sorry

I kinda needed a good rant. Things have been tough lately.

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11 hours ago, Castle said:

Castle's Epic Rant

:soq_post:

Tell 'em the truth, Castle!

Quote

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. 

 

Quote

Staring:

  • (...)
  • That one guy who barely speaks English but fucking kicks ass.
  • Always at least one Australian guy!

Man, some lines had me burst out loud in laughter. 😂 

Probably been mentioned before around here but if anyone who is reading this is interested in experienced developers speaking candidly there is the Game Dev Unchained podcast that I can recommend: https://www.gamedevunchained.com/about-1

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15 hours ago, [HP] said:

More details plz! :D How's it going?

I’d compare it to a any healthy relationship: management trusts me and I trust the management. I finally have a job where I’m passionate about everything I do, and while I took a pay slash (I went from senior/manager to junior), it didn’t kill me. :)

There’s this preconceived image of the industry that I don’t recognize now that I’m in it. I’m positive there’s a lot of truth to it, but I think it’s worth pointing out that not every job/studio ”is like that”.

I’m going to have some cool stuff to share this summer! 😎

Edited by grapen

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On 4/25/2019 at 10:49 PM, [HP] said:

Holy sweet wall of text, ahah.

A lot of those problems can be solved with something very simple yet it's extremly rare in the games industry (or any other industry for that matter) good leadership and vision.
Someone who makes sure the team stays true to the vision and is not afraid to call the shots, confidence from leadership trickles down very well, leaders that assert themselves more and compromise less. People love working for confident leaders that know how to say "no" and that have the ability of knowing when the team starts to get off track.
Such leaders, ironically also let you be more proactive, and let you own your work. Such leaders know that when it's yours, it's yours to loose. You are more motivated, more creative, more alive.

Look, here's the reality that no one talks about, 20% of people do 80% of the work, specially in todays bloated games industry, there's a lot of people that take cover behind blahblahblah, meetings and other superfluous shit. Just make sure you're inside the 20%, look inward.
I've learned that It's not the number of hours you put into it, but the intensity and consistent effort you bring to your project, regardless if you're doing it alone or in a AAA team.
 

Amen to this

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On 4/25/2019 at 11:59 AM, Castle said:

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.

 

:soq_post:

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Trying to make a game without having made any macro decisions about it seems inconceivable and forced. Unless you are only starting with a game mode or the like you should have (at least) an environment, character, story, and more in mind. Otherwise you might never have that  aha moment because you forced the game into development, hence dozens of useless meetings.

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