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Memoirs: My one year at a video game company.

I just watched this hilarious little video, and I thought - hey! I worked at a video game company! Maybe I can share some of my experiences for the good of others! So here it goes, in no particular format. There will be no identifying details, but I don't think they matter too much anyway.

I've loved video games all my life, and I actually started teaching myself how to code around middle school because I wanted to make video games ("so cool!"). After high school, I attended a top-tier university and majored in - what else - computer science. When I graduated with honors, I decided to fulfill my childhood dreams and try to land a job at a video game company. I applied to a bunch and actually purposefully avoided EA because of all the terrible ea_spouse stories I had read. I slightly regret that decision, because I'm sure EA would have gave me an offer that I could use as negotiation leverage for my salary. They probably also would have paid me more. More on that later.

Anyway, I said "yes" to a publisher-owned studio that offered me a chance to work on a new "secret project!" The publisher is very well known, the studio is fairly well known in certain genres, but my team was new and our project was pretty shit. Big surprise huh? The "secret project" turned out to be not so awesome. It wasn't terrible. It wasn't like Sponge Bob or Barbie or anything like that. But it wasn't the most creatively inspiring property to work with either. But whatever - I wasn't a designer, and I just wanted a chance to kick ass and take names as a programmer.

My salary was basically shit. I could have almost doubled my salary by taking a more traditional software engineering job at any major software company. But hey, this was fulfilling my childhood dream and I'm a pretty frugal guy anyway. So it didn't bother me too much, but I'm not sure I could still say that today.

And now the big question: What were the hours like? For the most part, it actually honestly wasn't that bad. I basically did 40 hours, occasionally working overtime before big milestones. Of course, for the 3 or so months before shipping, things really picked up. I was working 60 hour weeks consistently, I think I worked every other weekend (ugh), and vacation time was strongly discouraged. That last thing - discouraged vacation time - was the worst of it all. I missed a chance to go on a trip with friends that year because of that, and that totally soured me on the job. So, it wasn't as bad as the worst stories you hear, but it was certainly worse than most software engineering jobs.

I should say, as a junior engineer, I probably had the easiest time crunch-wise. The senior engineers worked way more hours. They rarely left before the other engineers left. They probably got paid a ton more than everyone else, but I honestly couldn't see where they had time to live any sort of life outside of work. And the designers? Good lord. They probably had it the worst. They were getting paid way less than me AND it seemed like they were working the hardest of all of us. I really feel for them, especially since they didn't even really get to express themselves creatively. Some of the coolest stuff they came up with had to be cut because of technical and time issues. Even though we started development with some pretty sweet ideas, the final product ended up being pretty damn bland. But we made the best of it, and there's some stuff I'm actually pretty proud of in there. Mostly in a "HAHA! I don't believe that made it in!" kind of way :P

I enjoyed the people I worked with, and I keep in contact with many of them even today. We of course were all gamers, and we had a great time bitching about management over beers every week. It was almost all male. We had a girl or two on the team, but let this be made clear: If you're a single guy and looking for a girlfriend, you better have a social network outside of work :) Although some of the ladies in HR sure were pretty attractive, but I sure wasn't in any position to ask one of them out at the time.

So after a year, we finally shipped the game, and then they laid everyone off. Not everyone - some people got moved into other jobs - but 90+% of the team. It was very sudden and it pissed off everyone, rightfully so. Luckily, most people I knew (engineers and designers) were able to find new jobs fairly quickly. That's pretty much how it goes I guess. You work at one studio for a few years, then you either leave (cuz they won't give you a raise) or you get fired for no fault of your own, and you just find another job at another studio.

As for me, I decided to go back to school and continue my CS education, and that's what I'm doing now. Will I go back into the games industry? Well, it's certainly tempting because I still love games, but I don't think I want to go back into the "traditional" games industry. I'd be more interested in companies that are trying new things, like ThatGameCompany or companies making serious games. So, we'll see.

I hope you've enjoyed reading this brain-dump of a synopsis, and I'll be happy to answer questions in the comments. Cheers!
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About stevesanone of us since 11:25 PM on 02.22.2008