Reasons for staying in the computer games industry

For the cause.

About a month or so ago I installed a blog plugin that tracked visitor stats – mostly to see if I had much of an audience and whether it was worth carrying on writing this shite. It turns out I’m getting about 150 visitors per day, which is nice. It’s also about 145 more than I was expecting.

A few days after I had a brief mention by That Nice Man on GameDevBlogs.net.

Then I get over 1,000 visits in four hours … all to one article in particular. It seems that someone saw the mention on GameDevBlogs and posted a link on Twitter, which was then RT’d by others. I’m a bit old-fashioned, and not really familiar with how Twitter actually works or why it is popular – to the extent that I had to find a Young Person and ask them what RT meant.

The article in question was “How to get out of the videogames industry”, a rather cynical and grumpy posting I wrote whilst being defecated on by my employer of the time. It seemed to touch some sort of nerve amongst game-industry Twittererererers – some strongly agreed, and some strongly disagreed.

The renewed interest forced me to re-read it, and it occured to me … wow, I was in a bit of a dark place on that day, wasn’t I?

Well, times have changed and I’ve moved on. I’m a bit older and fatter and more chilled about life and work. In fact at the moment things are going really well. I am fortunate to be employed by a company for whom I have an enormous amount of respect, and who are treating me famously.

I don’t feel the need to remove any points on that earlier article: they were echoes of my experiences at that time, and anyone who wants to argue about it can’t really dispute personal testimony. Walk a mile in my flipflops, etc. But it was a negative article, and I’m guilty of not mentioning the good bits. So, whilst I’m on the up, it seems the right time for a counterpoint: what can I say now to provide some balance?

Just to recap: after nine years in the industry, I managed to escape. “Time to grow up”, I thought. “Time to wear a shirt, earn some decent money, get home for 6pm every night and share the responsibility of beating the children”. I forfeited trainers for shoes (with polish and laces and everything) and found a “proper” job.

After just three days I knew I had made completely the wrong decision. There was nothing wrong with the employer or the pay … it was just the wrong place for me. And yet I still stuck it out for another ten months thinking: “I’ll start liking it soon – I’m just having difficulty adjusting”. Then one night, in a fit of depression I updated my CV and uploaded it to a job website.

The following morning I had about twenty different telephone calls from recruiters in the space of an hour. By 10am I’d had to turn my phone off because it was getting embarrassing. My prior experience in the games industry was, it seemed, still in demand.

So, almost exactly a year after leaving the games industry … I found myself back in it again. Cynics would say it was Stockholm Syndrome.

It was like therapy. It was a breath of fresh air. I felt as if I’d walked out of the best party in the world going on in the flat upstairs, spent a year listening to the screams and the music, and had only just been invited back in.

I was back working with people who thought as I did. They were all idiosyncratic in different ways. They were loons. They dressed badly. They played Warhammer. Social standing was dictated by Xbox-Live gamer score. Encyclopaedic knowledge of zombie movies was considered an enviable talent. There was a strict no-tie dress code.

I consider my one-year sabbatical to be an enlightening experience. It showed me the stark contrast between the games industry and a “normal” job. It showed me how a personality could be a social outcast in one working environment, but be considered a Mozart-like genius in the other.

More than ever it was clear that to be stuck in a job that you hate really robs you of something fundamental. If you’re not enthusiastic about your job then from nine to five you are a shell of a human being. It also robs your employer of a decent employee, and an employer somewhere else is missing someone who could be really useful.

So, looking back on my earlier article, where I dwelt upon the negative experiences of working in games … what can I usefully add? Well, I still maintain that those negatives exist: “crunch” is as bad as ever, your hard-work probably won’t stop your game being in the bargain bin in a few months, and I don’t see nepotism being eradicated from the office anytime soon.

But there are a couple of points about working in games that (in my pessimistic black cloud) I had completely forgotten. Things that became conspicuous by their absence when I left the industry, and practically painted themselves purple and sat on my face when I returned. On that first Monday morning back in the games industry they performed a choreographed song and dance number, filmed in glorious Technicolor.

My points are these:

Reasons for staying in the games industry

1. You’re creating something.

You wouldn’t believe how easy it is to find a job where you don’t seem to achieve anything. Just pushing bits of paper around, answering telephones. Dealing with one artificially-created crisis after another.

But in games, you’re creating something. It goes from nothing to complete in a year or two. And even if it goes in the bargain bin afterwards, it is still something you have created. Always remember the office-slaves of the world, who would gladly chew their own legs off in order to get the chance to do what you do. Do not forget how lucky you are.

2. You can be proud of your job.

During my year-out, I went to a party. I forget where. Someone asked me what I did for a living.

I shrugged, said: “Meh … Just computers.” and then changed the subject.

For me, that moment drove home something very important: it made me realise that I was no longer enthusiastic about my job. I didn’t want to tell anyone about it, as I used to before. I hated myself at that moment, and knew that to be happy in my work I would have to get a job I could be passionate about again.

3. The people you work with.

For me (and obviously this is only my opinion – but it’s my blog) the best part of working in the games industry has always been my colleagues.Let me labour this point.

For every amusing anecdote I have about how I implemented something in a past project, I have ten amusing anecdotes about the people I implemented it with. We were working together, building something better than any one of us could have done on our own. And even if the end-result was not quite what we had imagined, it was still ours.

Throughout my career, my colleagues have been awesome. They have been creative and witty and funny and supportive and entertaining. They have seen me at my best and my worst. They are my best friends, my extended family, and I love them dearly. We’ve done a huge amount of laughing, crying, shouting and swearing (mostly swearing). Some of my happiest memories are sharing pizza the evening before a deadline, in the pub on a Friday lunchtime, Poker games, late-night Rock Band sessions, Christmas parties, or being quite drunk in a grimy Derby pub at 1am. Even tea-breaks are fun when you work with people like that.

People who work in the games industry are often nutjobs and weirdos … but they’re my sort of nutjobs and weirdos.

It may be true than no-one ever died wishing they’d spent more time at work, but to spend time with your friends is never a waste. We just happened to be at work.


If any of this registers with you then you are very lucky. If they feel a million miles away then perhaps you should update your CV too.

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posted in Diary, Games, Work by Oddbloke

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6 Comments to "Reasons for staying in the computer games industry"

  1. Michael Bosley wrote:

    Amen to that. I came from doing Department of Defense coding for 9 years and I have to say that this is immensely more rewarding, even with the downsides of long hours. As you said, “they’re my sort of nutjobs and weirdos” and I wouldn’t trade the lot of them for anything.

  2. James Blast wrote:

    I’ve worked as a graphic designer since 1981 and a good team is a vital component. Unfortunately from 98 – 2001 I was in a team gone bad, so bad I was subjected to bullying by my line manager. It affected my health, I now work only part time as it’s all I’m capable of. Luckily there was a departmental shake-up four years ago which saw my bully get the elbow and the other three graphics teams merge. There’s 10 designers now in the unit and I’ve never worked in a better team. So you’re perfectly right about the importance of work colleagues.
    I’m in local government BTW and I don’t Twit either.

  3. Alex Moore wrote:

    Great article, and good news on getting lots of hits – it’s amazing when it happens. Nudge rockpapershotgun for more – getting posted in the Sunday Papers there got me about 3000 hits inside a day.

    As for the article itself, I share similar thoughts. I left my job of 10 years (all at the same place) after finishing a game, wondering what to do next. Wondering if games was the right thing. After even just 2 months out, slipping back into the next job was like finding myself again – drinking in the creative juices that go into making games.

    There are lots of problems with the industry and the way it works, but there’s something special about it. As you say the people inside it are one of the main things – pretty much every studio I’ve visited is full of like minded fun people. We just need to work together to iron out some of the problems then there’ll be no stopping our world domination! 😀

  4. Oddbloke wrote:

    Hi Alex,

    Nice to talk to you again! I think the last time we spoke was in a greasy-spoon wooden-shed cafe in Oxford!

    Yep, I think you made the right decision by leaving. To get too settled is to risk getting complacent – each time I’ve changed employer it has made me see the bad habits I was in danger of getting into, and injected a bit more life into my work. And it’s always good to meet new loonies. 🙂

  5. Peter Collier wrote:

    Fancy seeing you here Alex lol! Really enjoyed the article Oddbloke (sorry I don\’t know you actual name) and continuing to enjoy the blog. Agree with all your points, might I add another too? In the games industry you often get a chance to see the world much more than other careers. But yes the people really are the single best thing about working in this industry. Myself and Alex shared many a great game of ping pong at work, there is not many industries which allow that to happen during the working day!

  6. JGH wrote:

    I’d chew my left leg of to be an office slave pushing bits of paper around and answering telephones. I’ve applied for almost 300 jobs in the six months, and rejected for every single one of them without even getting as far as an interview. Not just software engineering/programming but everything from Tesco shelf stacker upwards. The lady at the job centre can’t believe it, I’ve been through two “jobsearch training CV rewriting” sessions and am registered with so many recruitment websites it takes me three or four hours a day going through all the emails. If you’re not 100.000000000000% exactly what they’re looking for, (or the boss’s squeeze’s nephew) you’re useless.

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