Working in gamedev: Stability

The stability of a job in gamedev is a topic that might be somewhat controversial. I'll just go ahead and reach conclusion in the first paragraph, then I'll elaborate on that some more. The conclusion is: you never know when the shit will hit the fan. Actually, there are invisible fans everywhere and the colors of shit would amaze a veteran proctologist. On the other hand, you may also be the ape throwing that shit.

Imagine you are a young developer, starting in a company of pretty much any size. It is nearly impossible for you to stay in the company for your whole professional life. It is highly unlikely that you will be there for 10 years. You most probably won't be there even five. If you somehow manage to reach the average, you will work in this hypothetical studio anywhere between a year and three. Why? There may be a number of reasons for that.

Dynamics of the industry
Gamedev is a very young industry. New companies keep popping up and dying on a daily basis. The digital distribution, among other things, causes the whole industry to act in a quite unique manner: even the smallest players can considerably affect the whole market. Current situation in Square Enix clearly shows that even the giants can stand on feet of clay. Sometimes a success of a company comes almost overnight and sometimes they struggle for years having problems with paying their employees. In most cases there is no dishonor in abandoning a sinking ship and catching a cruise on a Titanic for a "change".

Development cycle
If you think about it, preproduction requires a lot less people than production. In bigger companies, with multiple projects, this isn't a problem. While the army of artists and programmers is delivering a game, another, smaller team is preparing another title, so this army can easily jump in once they finish the previous one. In smaller companies however, it happens that after delivering a game, over a half of the team becomes useless for a significant period of time and in many cases the company can't really afford that. So... there are layoffs, but don't worry, because...

Projects, not companies
Most developers don't identify themselves with the company anyway! It might be sad for some people, and I know HR managers are struggling with it constantly, but loyalty among game developers is about as common as cheerleaders dating nerds. If someone is finishing a project, he rarely just looks for another opportunity in his company. He looks around the city, country, even world, depending on his current mobility. Even people in the middle of projects can get "stolen" to other companies, if they realize there is an opportunity to work on a kind of game they like more - an RTS instead of an FPS or RPG for instance.

Most gamedev studios are pretty small and the atmosphere encourages people to get more personal and less professional in their relations. Add to that stressful crunch seasons, where people deprived of sleep are seeing each other for long, long hours. Conflicts resulting in someone quitting or getting fired are more common than you might think.

Personal development
I mentioned elements of it in previous reasons, but I think it deserves a separate one. Studios often focus on certain types of games. Unless there are some secret projects I don't know about, you won't gain experience in shooters working for Blizzard. You won't do RPG's with Rovio. Very often, in order to broaden your experience or just try something new, you have to switch between studios. It freshens up your perspective too. Also, for many ambitious types there comes a time when creating someone's game just isn't enough and they decide to add to the "dynamics of the industry" factor.

From what I've seen so far, these are the main reasons for people to migrate like crazy within the industry. If you stay in a medium-sized studio for a year, around 30% of your colleagues will be replaced with new faces in that time. You probably guessed that QA is the department seeing changes most often, but - surprise, surprise - the close second place is people outside the trenches - marketing, PR, HR, finance, etc. Of course I don't have statistics from all gamedev studios in the world, but it can't be a coincidence that, after only a year, from all the HR managers that I happened to be in contact with none still works in companies I applied to.

To see the intensity of employee migration, it is enough to look at the graph PC Gamer published in 2011. It depicts the journey of some core Blizzard employees and how they migrated throughout industry, affecting it in the process, but also how they were chasing opportunities to make different games. Take Tyler Thompson for instance. After working on Diablo II he migrated twice and ended up working on... The Sims III.

I highly encourage you to enlarge this image and dedicate 5 minutes to analyzing it.
If you ask me, this whole situation is extremely healthy. I have worked for companies where people were kept because of their connections, because of their knowledge that the employer didn't want to leak out, even because their position was some long lost artifact that somehow escaped several downsizing attempts. I can't say for sure that game industry is free of cases like that, but I can bet that there's considerably less of them. If you value stability and rewards for 25 years in the company are among your career goals, gamedev is definetely not an industry for you.

Rate this posting:

1 comment:

  1. "you won't gain experience in shooters working for Blizzard."