Thursday, October 12, 2017

My Husband Left His Dream Job as a Video Game Developer

pair of emperor penguins
Sticking by my soulmate "for richer or for poorer" (Source: Christopher Michel)

I always imagined my husband would be someone like my dad – tall, gangling, wears glasses, has a solid job as an engineer. Mr. Gamer is tall with a sense of humor, but that's where the similarities end. He's barrel-chested, has perfect eyesight, and holds an insanely unstable career as a video game developer. In the first four years we were married, he worked at four different game studios. Let me tell you how each of his jobs ended:
  1. Game got canceled
  2. Studio got bought out
  3. Studio closed
  4. Game got canceled 
As you can see, the success rate of video game studios and their products is not great. Why does this perpetual cycle of job loss happen? This guy answered it better than me (pardon my paraphrasing):
Since the industry is project-based, job length tends to be directly associated with product development cycles. Companies tend to dump staff once a project ships since they don't need a full production team for starting development on the next project. Now the nicer companies will use temporary contract hires for short term production staffing needs. This lets the employee know that they likely don't have a paycheck when the project ends. However, the big publishers regularly cut even full-time staff once the Christmas games are sent to manufacturing.

The other piece is that when finishing up a title, employees are more likely to look around at other options. If you've just shipped your third football title and are burned out on the genre, you tend to wait until the game is done and then find another job somewhere else.

While there are some developers that have spent an entire career at a single company, what is far more common is finishing 1-2 games at a studio and then moving off to another one.
It's similar to the movie industry: once you finish a film, everyone splits ways and finds another project to work on. However, unlike Hollywood where short-term contractors are protected by unions, the video game business has no such safeguarding in place.

Mr. Gamer says that's why most game developers (unless you're in management) tend to be in their 20's – fresh out of college, willing to work long hours, and happy to uproot and change companies every year or so. Now that my husband's been married a decade with two young kids who love to tackle him every chance they get, he's not so happy with the unpredictability of his career. And he's tired of having his hard work not amount to squat, either from too many cooks in the kitchen or from another project failing to launch. Call it a midlife crisis, I guess, but Mr. Gamer is now in the process of trying to untangle himself from his longtime career mistress, the video game industry. (⊙_⊙)

lion dad with lion child
Aww, who wouldn't want to spend more time with their mini-me? (Source: TNS Sofres)

The big question Mr. Gamer is wrestling with is what to do as an ex-designer. Artists can get work as artists, programmers can continue programming, producers usually become project managers... but designers don't seem to be applicable anywhere else. Their job skills include making game mechanics, the story and characters, maps, and/or scenarios. Not very useful in the "real world" outside of video games

Despite this long season of not having any idea what our next steps should be, God has been so faithful in providing for us day after day. And there's been such incredible spiritual growth in both of us, born out of these trials. I feel like I'm a completely different woman, wife, and mother than I was a year ago. Our story ending is still unwritten as of yet, but I'm so hopeful that the light at the end of the tunnel is near. Pray that Mr. Gamer will be able to find work that pays the bills, has good work-life balance, provides him creative control, and isn't too soul-crushing. 八(^□^*)

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