For Love of the Game

I had a job interview today.

No, really, you don’t understand what that means. I’ve been looking for work since late October. The games industry is currently flooded with experienced, talented developers who have been laid off or whose companies have folded for some reason, and while I’ve popped up onto a few companies’ radar, 99% of my applications have effectively been ignored.

I’m going to clarify that, no, I know my information was looked into as thoroughly as everyone else’s. The fact of the matter that that, with a one lone exception, I have received no real rejection notices. This is a trend I noticed from back in 2009, so it’s nothing new. I recognise that, not being an experienced HR veteran, I don’t know the whole reasoning behind some parts of the hiring process, but it strikes me as highly unprofessional to not have some method of letting an applicant know that they weren’t the prime candidate and to stack their hopes somewhere else. Even a form-letter, insert-name-here automated response is less disheartening than dead air.

The job interview, by the way, was at the used-book store I linked to a couple weeks ago in Multiple-Personality Gamer. I’m seeing more of a future on the independent side of the games industry than with big-name companies, anyway, considering how volatile it can be. Currently, I’m billing myself as a design consultant for Wyrmhole Gaming; I’m totally plugging them because alpha-testing their tabletop game Dead House has been a blast so far. I’ve also signed on for various projects with others, and I have some stuff of my own slowly gathering steam.

The broadening of the internet and easy availability of self-publishing options is really driving things more into the field of smaller companies right now. While there’s significant risk to the creators that all their hard work may not pay off in the end, the reason behind taking that risk is for the love of the game rather than the money. It’s people with ideas who want to share those ideas with the rest of the world, like any good creators would. Obviously not all ideas will appeal to everyone, but that doesn’t stop people who desperately want their hobby to be their career.

A lot of people in the industry get into it for that reason, really. We love games. We watch game trailers, spend hours immersed in digital fantasy realms, and the entire time we’re thinking, “I wish I could be a part of something this amazing.” It always starts out that way, and it stays with us the entire time, despite crushing deadlines, a high-stress work environment, and the constant meddling of management in the creative flow — nothing is more counterproductive than finally hitting The Zone and then getting a Lync ping about a meeting in fifteen minutes. If you’re not a creative or computational type and you don’t quite understand the problem with this, this great little comic popped up on my feed the other day which precisely illustrates what I’m talking about — while the comic is about programming, it’s no less valid for writers, artists and designers.

A good friend of mine once said that if you go your entire career in the industry and never get laid off once, you’re very lucky. I was in the industry less than six months before I got laid off for the first time, just another of the 20% laid off from CCP in October 2011. I didn’t even have half the chance then that I do now — nobody looks twice at only a half-year of professional experience. I lucked out in getting re-hired, even if the new position wasn’t in the creative end. Many are not so lucky.

Why do we stay in an industry where being laid off is not just chance, but soul-crushingly inevitable? The corporate end may be a faceless monolith or an Oedipal Jenga tower, but the actual hands creating each game are there because it means something to them; because every one of us started out as kids playing games with starry-eyed ambitions to be involved in something  we actually felt passionate about. Out of the entire group I used to play tabletop games with, I’m the only one who got that far into the industry.

I still hold out hope that it doesn’t have to be this way, and that developers can do what we love without having to glance constantly over our shoulders or worry about what will happen once a project is completed.