Monday, June 16, 2014

How to Survive at a Video Game Start-Up

How to survive at a video game start-up company

Last time I described some of the challenges that K has faced working at a start-up company making mobile video games and how stressful the frequent deadlines can be when working with beta-phase technology. When it comes to maintaining his sanity in this type of work environment, K's long-time experience working in the video game industry has both pros and cons. The con is that he's seen these awful working conditions over and over again, so he has a very low tolerance for it and easily gets frustrated at the newbie mistakes that studios continue to make. The pro is that he's better at adapting to them. So here are a few coping mechanisms to consider if you are a game developer and find yourself in a similar, sticky situation:

1) Let it go. 
If you are starting out in a beginner position where lots of people in authority positions have the right to change your work at a whim, don't work yourself into a foaming-at-the-mouth fury or fall into a bottomless pit of despair.  Just set a realistic expectation that only about 30% of your original ideas will make it in the final product. In the famous words of Queen Elsa from the movie Frozen, you just gotta "let it go" (hopefully with the same amount of cheerfulness and relief). K, who happens to be a perfectionist who cares a lot about his craft, often has to take a step back and remind himself, "It's not my company. It's not my product." Yes, you want to make an impact and take pride in your work, but ultimately, the bosses are in charge so give them what they want.

2) Pass the blame. 
I don't mean this in a bad way. However, if you find yourself caught between two (or more) managers who have conflicting visions for the product, the end result often becomes a diluted mess that doesn't satisfy anyone. To avoid getting the blame for producing unsatisfactory work, there are steps you should take to improve communication and processes. In K's case, he of course initially took the diplomatic method of explaining to the lead and director the inefficiencies and confusions caused when leadership keeps contradicting itself, but so far nothing has changed. Instead of allowing himself to be endlessly ping-ponged back and forth between opposing feedback, K just honestly lets the lead know when the lead's feedback directly negates what the director just said, and vice versa. This method has gotten the lead and director to directly work out their differences (rather than involving K as the middle man), so we'll see if there are any improvements to the situation.

3) Know when it's quitting time. 
While satisfying the people who write your paychecks is important, you also don't want to be a doormat caught in the trap of endlessly working late either. So this last method takes some courage to stand your ground. In K's case, he's a natural extrovert who can't stand working at home all day, so he tends to book up his nights with social activities. That requires him to be somewhere at a certain time to meet up with friends. Therefore, when the list of edits start getting out of hand, he can truthfully tell his bosses that a) he has stop working by x o'clock because of an evening engagement and b) any further feedback at this point is now on the secondary "it'd be nice to have but is not necessary for release" list. So far it seems to be working, but again, K is trying to walk that fine line of establishing a healthy work/life balance and not getting fired. ^_^;;;

Hope you found these tips helpful, even if you're not working for the video game industry. I know I've personally been inspired by K's honesty at work and have tried to be more upfront with my own bosses, instead of unfailingly saying yes. True, it doesn't always make them happy, but in the end, I feel like our working relationship is much better and I'll be less likely to quit out of the blue because of hidden work stresses that could have been prevented. :)

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