So You Want to Work in the Game Business?

It's all fun and games until it isn't anymore...
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As hard as it may be for some of you to believe, spouting polemics against the gaming topic-du-jour isn’t my full time job.  Nor is my gig as the MMO track director for a certain well-known sci-fi/fantasy convention.  Fact is, I have a day job–one that is, admittedly, in the Information Technology field, but suffice to say that MMO gaming does not pay the bills at “Casa de Grimthorn.”

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When my “IRL” co-workers hear about some of the things I do, such as Dragon*Con, or this column, inevitably they all ask the same question.  

“Wouldn’t you like to do that full time?”

Hell no! 

Do you want to know why people can get away with the rampant douchebaggery so evident in the executive suites of many gaming studios?  It’s because they don’t have to worry about things like competitive pay or employee satisfaction.  They don’t even remotely care that they make employees work “Bataan Death Marches” before a release.  

In fact, do you know what the most common reward is for getting a game out the door and into the arms of an eager gaming public?


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Do you know what I got from my day job for helping to close a big deal last year?  An all-expenses-paid trip to Cancun to stay here for 4 days.

One of my earlier jobs in IT was as a QA Engineer for an Internet Security company.   I made good money, worked decent hours, and got the occasional benefit like free hockey tickets or an occasional paintball outing with the development team.  Do you know what a QA tester for a video game gets?  Free pizza after school while they get to play a very unpolished copy of the game being developed.  Lest you think that is an exaggeration or an apocryphal story, I’m just telling what I saw when I was invited to tour a video game studio.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great deal if you’re a 16 year old.  Not so good if you are a married father of two.

You might be thinking to yourself, “Why would anyone work in those conditions?”  It’s simple, really.  You don’t work to create video games for the pay.  You do it because you love it.  Game companies don’t have to pay their people anything because for every employee you have, there are ten people outside those doors who would kill to get inside.  If you’re really smart, you use the experience working for Blizzard or EA as resume fodder for a better job when you get older.  The people at the top of big studios will make loads of cash.  Rock stars get paid.  However, if you’re looking to get in at the bottom and work your way up, you had best not be doing it for money.

I guess I should revise my answer…

Would I quit my day job to go work at Blizzard?  Absolutely not.  I wouldn’t take the pay cut.  If I won the lottery and didn’t have to worry about supporting a family anymore, would I go work for someone and develop video games?  You betcha.  

I have a preference for people who create games because they love games, not because they love making money.  Studios who worry more about making money than creating good games churn out games like “Guitar Hero 547: ? and the Mysterians Edition”  or “Call of Duty 14: Drone Simulator”  People who love making video games start projects like this.  

As a gamer, I enjoy the excitement of reading about a new game that charts new territory or even expanding on a story told in a previous game.  Selling me the same game each year with updated player rosters or a slightly higher polygon count or a new set of music tracks that sound almost better than a crappy cover band’s version of a song that I don’t care about isn’t doing anything for me.  It is the corporate equivalent of gold farming and just as contemptible.

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Image of Grimthorn F. Redbeard
Grimthorn F. Redbeard
Get off his lawn!