A Survival Guide for Game Developers

Notes on a talk by Richard Vogel of Certain Affinity

  • Observations:
    • You have a 90% probability of being laid off within your first 5 years at least once.
    • Your average lifespan in a company is around 4 years.
    • Change is inevitable.
      • E.g., today we have streaming coming, VR, AR, etc.
    • Game companies have little to no onboarding, training, mentoring, or career counseling.
    • Work/life balance can be miserable (much better today than 10 years ago)
    • The “hierarchy” in game dev:
      • Programmers are king
        • Programming is measurable, but design/art/QA is harder to judge
      • Then designers
      • Then artists
      • QA is the bottom rung, get no respect
      • Bonuses are the most obvious way you see this hierarchy playing out
      • Ideally design would be king
  • Tip 1: Culture
    • Learn what the culture of your work (or prospective work) is
    • Top-down: Groups are separate, people take orders
    • Bottom-up: Collaborative
    • Can be either design-heavy or tech-heavy
    • Make sure as you hire you’re bringing in people that fit with the way you work
    • If you’re not a cultural fit at a place you’re hired, you’ll be constantly trying to swim upstream
  • Tip 2: Soft skills
    • Hard skills x soft skills = value to the company
    • Hard skills may actually be less important, because they’re way easier to acquire
    • Emotional intelligence:
      • Need self-awareness foremost
        • Necessary to be able to leave your ego aside
      • Relationship management: need to be able to get along with your coworkers, have a good relationship with them
    • Adaptability (building games is chaos)
    • Being collaborative—especially in a small studio, conflicts become amplified
    • Humility—ego doesn’t work well (despite their presence in the industry)
    • Confidence—need to be able to persuade people you can do the job
      • …despite maybe feeling insecure
      • You still need to be able to ask for help if you don’t know how to do something
    • Balancing humility & confidence
      • You should believe in what you’re doing
      • It’s okay to have strong opinions (with a good rationale, data that supports what you’re doing)
      • Need to have humility to recognize when you’re wrong
    • Communication: be able to get to the point, without writing a thesis
      • Non-verbal matters
    • Two dimensional spectrum of communications: introvert vs. extrovert, rational versus emotional
      • Need to be able to identify where other people are on the spectrum, and how to handle it
      • If someone’s emotional, try focusing them on the facts
    • If you want to advance your career, this is a prerequisite
  • Tip 3: Dealing with WTF moments
    • Take a breath, go for a walk—don’t send that email!
    • Deal with it after you’ve calmed down, so that you don’t regret what you say later
  • Tip 4: Work/life balance
    • Managing stress: when someone calls your baby ugly, you get super emotional
      • Fear that when you launch, it isn’t going to go right
      • Fear of losing your job
      • Put it in perspective
      • Look for solutions or a way out
    • Exercise!
    • Crunch happens because schedules are top-down, not bottom-up
      • If your schedule isn’t realistic, the importance of your date doesn’t matter if you release a really problematic game
  • Tip 5: Reflect, but move forward rather than looking back
    • This stuff isn’t life or death
    • Don’t get “abused puppy syndrome”—just because things were bad in your last job doesn’t mean this one will be bad too
      • Leave your baggage at the last job
    • Always look out for yourself, because no one else is
      • Your company isn’t loyal to you, so don’t turn down a new opportunity
      • Make sure it’s not just a “grass is always greener” situation
  • How do you talk about past experience with a bad boss?
    • Always ask questions (like “what do you think are the issues?”), don’t make statements
    • If the boss is very emotional right now, wait
    • Know whether you should ask something one-on-one or in a group
  • How do you assess the culture when looking at a new job?
    • Ask to go to the bathroom, then get lost
    • Watch how people are interacting
    • Go hang out with the smokers during a break and ask them questions
    • Find other people who work there on LinkedIn and ask what it’s like—also look for people who worked there in the past
  • Advice for improving issues in the industry?
    • Make a big issue out of work/life balance problems
    • If it doesn’t change, don’t stay—find another job
    • It’s always going to be chaotic, you’ll always have overtime—but it should be a very finite duration
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