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Old 12-03-2009, 10:48 AM
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Interesting reading on one developers perspective...

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If you read this blog, you can probably guess what I do for a living. For the last three years, I have been working on computer games, working my way up from a level designer to a mighty designer and then even specialising somewhat into Narrative Design.

I make games, I live that dream. I even do some writing, so I must be doubly-blessed. I have had the chance to pass on my knowledge of games and writing to students and even to other industry professionals as an expert in my field apparently. What have I to complain about? I even draw a wage, so I have a constant income and a secure future; my manager even mentioned that my job was more secure than his, since a games company can live without middle-management more easily than without designers.

The benefits are great too, with company sponsored paint-balling and karting, activity adventures and even paid sick leave if you happen to do something stupid like break your coccyx falling down the stairs.

[More...] What can I possibly complain about? Perhaps it is the myth of the designer that gets to me...

Designers are creative souls with the freedom to make worlds: Er... Nope. The average designer ends up getting to follow a lot of very badly-worded 'ideas' by email, which are presented as suggestions and must be considered deal-breakers if they don't go in. With a week to go, you might for instance have to suddenly include a disabled character because the marketing team think the target demographic are big on equal opportunities. Tough luck if that was not part of the plan and said character was supposed to be dancing with the player at the prom, that's just the way it is.

Designers get to see their ideas made into games: Yeah, kind of. Maybe one in ten of your valuable ideas will ever get approved for a game proposal, let alone made into a game. When you feel creative the company will often not want to even think of extra projects (though I admit that my employer is quite open to new ideas) and when you feel drained and suspect a case of the 'flu, they will suddenly want three 8-page concepts based on the theme of root vegetables by the end of the day. If the publishers want games for tweens, you might as well give up on your epic RPG concepts and pitch a dating sim or two.

There's big money in games: Somewhere, yeah. I think the shareholders and the publishers get most of it; I am far from minimum wage, but I am so 'rolling in it' that I qualify for at least two types of benefits. I doubt anyone in the company is on a salary over 50k, even the management.

You get to rub shoulders with big names: Huh? The producer used to meet a few big names and I think I heard that the CEO might have been at Peter Molyneux's wedding, but the most famous person I ever met as a designer was the actor who played a paramedic in The Dark Knight for a few seconds before getting blown up.

Anyone can be a designer, you just need to be a gamer: Not in any place I ever saw. The world is full of people who have a great idea for a game (just like it is full of people who have a great idea for a film / book / TV show) and surprisingly few who can actually explain it in enough mind-numbing detail that it could ever be made. You have to be able to pull ideas out of your backside at 11pm on Friday, awake only because the company plies you with free coffee and keeps the Relentless well-stocked, that still make sense on Monday when the publishers are coming to see your designs.

I won't lie; I love my job some days. When the ideas are flowing and the project is falling together, there is nothing like it in the world. The only thing better is the thrill of the stage, but that time of my life is over.

The trouble is that sometimes, all I want to do is cry and hand the project over to someone else, anyone else. The storylines don't match up, the combat mechanic is clunky and annoying, but you know it is all your fault because you designed them and everyone is looking at you when they can't work out how to complete the next puzzle or open a door.

You take the rough with the smooth though. This is not a rant about me saying 'my job sucks', just saying that some people (and you know who you are) think that my job is amazing and cannot grasp why I am not smiling even as I finish a 60-hour week and wave good-bye to the master disc.

It's a great job, but it will still crush you if you let it...

I was actually inspired to write this by a similar discussion at Patrick Rothfuss' blog which contains some bad language, sexual references and a pretty good humour if you can handle mildly adult themes. If you are not a child and/or not easily shocked by people being brutally honest, I recommend reading it. If you think you can write if you ever got around to it, or if you aspire to being a writer for games, read it now! The man is certainly on the money...
http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/Antho..._Dream_Job.php
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Old 12-03-2009, 11:28 AM
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My best friend's older brother, who I've known for almost 20 years now and will call John for the purpose of this thread, is an designer (of some sort) for a company now owned by Activision. He graduated top of his class and was hired in to work on Guitar Hero 3 when that game was mid-way through development. He worked crazy hard and moved up two rungs on the corporate ladder over the last few years.

Anyway, every Christmas he comes back into town and stays with his brother and we all hang out for a few days to drink, play games, play poker, BS, etc. As players it was really weird when he would come back into town and tell us about his work because we all grew up playing games together and dreaming about working in the gaming industry. Now that we're all about 30, we have jobs in various versions of the tech filed and are pretty satisfied with where we are and what we're doing.

John on the other hand was really excited about his work when he came back with free copies of Guitar Hero 3. He was quick to point out stuff in the game that he designed and his attitude was really positive. You could just tell he was kind of basking in the glory of a dream come true. The next year though, he looked really run down when he came back. He had bags under his eyes, he had gained some weight, he wasn't as lively as he normally was, and he was much more cynical about the industry as a whole. That was 2008 and the only time I saw him get really excited while talking about games was when I showed him the new Price of Persia game.

I haven't seen him yet this year, but I'm really hoping he hasn't progressed further down that rabbit hole. I'm sure he doesn't regret his career choice, but talking with him last year, it's clear it's a huge challenge with tons of pitfalls.


I'm sure Vsions could contribute some valuable insight here...
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Old 12-03-2009, 12:48 PM
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Maybe it's Bobby Kotick making good on his goal of taking the fun out of making games?
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Old 12-03-2009, 02:01 PM
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Originally Posted by rm082e View Post
My best friend's older brother, who I've known for almost 20 years now and will call John for the purpose of this thread, is an designer (of some sort) for a company now owned by Activision. He graduated top of his class and was hired in to work on Guitar Hero 3 when that game was mid-way through development. He worked crazy hard and moved up two rungs on the corporate ladder over the last few years.

Anyway, every Christmas he comes back into town and stays with his brother and we all hang out for a few days to drink, play games, play poker, BS, etc. As players it was really weird when he would come back into town and tell us about his work because we all grew up playing games together and dreaming about working in the gaming industry. Now that we're all about 30, we have jobs in various versions of the tech filed and are pretty satisfied with where we are and what we're doing.

John on the other hand was really excited about his work when he came back with free copies of Guitar Hero 3. He was quick to point out stuff in the game that he designed and his attitude was really positive. You could just tell he was kind of basking in the glory of a dream come true. The next year though, he looked really run down when he came back. He had bags under his eyes, he had gained some weight, he wasn't as lively as he normally was, and he was much more cynical about the industry as a whole. That was 2008 and the only time I saw him get really excited while talking about games was when I showed him the new Price of Persia game.

I haven't seen him yet this year, but I'm really hoping he hasn't progressed further down that rabbit hole. I'm sure he doesn't regret his career choice, but talking with him last year, it's clear it's a huge challenge with tons of pitfalls.


I'm sure Vsions could contribute some valuable insight here...
Chances are that first christmas he was happy and excited because they'd just finished the game, and the next Christmas.. work crunch!

But yeah. I'm not sure what I can add to the gamasutra article. It's a job and games are a colabrotive effort of a giant team, It's not a one man show these days. Back when I started I did get to do "full design" of the areas i worked on. From location to what enemies I wanted I could dictate and get it approved up the ladder.

Things change, still I do design (most of the time) and I'm not where the poorly worded emails dictating design comes from. Our design of that sort tends to be found in a massive design doc or comes from design meetings.
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Old 12-03-2009, 02:56 PM
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I don't think its all that unusual for a designer's feelings about the job to change over time. I've heard it compared to making movies.. You wind up with a very different outlook when you are buried in the process. It becomes difficult to appreciate things in the way the audience does. And due to business constraints things are invariably released before you feel like they are really ready.
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Old 12-03-2009, 03:03 PM
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Originally Posted by Hunting Wabbits View Post
I don't think its all that unusual for a designer's feelings about the job to change over time. I've heard it compared to making movies.. You wind up with a very different outlook when you are buried in the process. It becomes difficult to appreciate things in the way the audience does. And due to business constraints things are invariably released before you feel like they are really ready.
I never said it's uncommon but developers tend to be more bitter mid project. But yeah we have the old 4-5 year flushout of developers. Around that mark everyone gets bitter and a lot of devs drop out of the industry.
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Old 12-03-2009, 09:08 PM
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I think alot of studios burn out their employees, but there are a few that seem to really value their employees. Alot of the people I have met at Bethesda have been there for well over a decade and everybody seems to be very satisfied with their jobs. It just depends on the studio I guess. EA has a bad rep for abusing their employees and Activision seems to be well on their way to doing the same.
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Old 12-03-2009, 09:50 PM
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Originally Posted by Vsions View Post
I think alot of studios burn out their employees, but there are a few that seem to really value their employees. Alot of the people I have met at Bethesda have been there for well over a decade and everybody seems to be very satisfied with their jobs. It just depends on the studio I guess. EA has a bad rep for abusing their employees and Activision seems to be well on their way to doing the same.
Ehh Bethesda doesn't have that great of a rep, we've got some ex Bethssda people where i work lol. It's more of just a general thing. Around the 4 year mark it will start to kick in for you, or at least it does for a lot of devs. I think mine was the 5 year mark or so where i started seriously considering going into a new field (i was going to be a cook!). It's kind of like the honeymoon phase is over.
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Old 12-03-2009, 10:23 PM
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Originally Posted by weasl View Post
Ehh Bethesda doesn't have that great of a rep, we've got some ex Bethssda people where i work lol. It's more of just a general thing. Around the 4 year mark it will start to kick in for you, or at least it does for a lot of devs. I think mine was the 5 year mark or so where i started seriously considering going into a new field (i was going to be a cook!). It's kind of like the honeymoon phase is over.
interesting. I will keep what you say in mind. Honestly though I cant picture myself doing anything other than art. If your not happy though, why havent you switched? I am not trying to pry or anything, Im just curious. Theres got to be some people that like it, theres alot of veterans out there who have been doing it for decades.
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