The PCs were turned off, we exchanged heart crushing hugs and then we closed the doors for the last time. This is how my first – and hopefully last- layoff happened. To me, it was a welcomed end as well as a wake up call to seek new, more appropriate adventures. To others, it was sadness, loss, disorientation. Especially for those who have dedicated close to a decade to build a very particular kind of dream.
Game development is a business. It needs to be profitable to survive. Despite the sweat, tears and passion many of us pour into the games we make, sometimes it’s not enough – especially when we don’t have a final word to say regarding the direction of the project. Yet no matter the odds and the questionable quality of the decisions taken at a much higher level, we are still ready to sacrifice our life to make someone else’s dream happen. There are a lot of emotions involved, but only from our side. For the ones who pay our salaries, sometimes well under the market, sometimes with a great deal of unpaid crunch involved, this heavy, life crushing carousel is a merely a question of numbers. If they are not big enough… game devs are expendable.
The sad part is that making games sucks up everything you’ve got, if you let it. It’s a terrible emotional fight, because games are creative endeavors that run like wildfire in your blood – even if they are not the titles you’d make if you had a choice. No matter the scope of the project, there’s not such thing as good enough, finished, perfect, yet we all strive for it because every single second of our work is a signature of our quality as creators. And the business people know this. I think our emotional proneness to sacrifice is one of the biggest reasons for the amazing success this industry reports year after year. We are looking for passionate developers…
But we are not younglings anymore. The typical game developer, even though still painfully in accordance to age old statistics (let me spell it: white male in his 30s, alone, no kids), grew up. Video games are not the emerging, cool kid anymore. Life is not just about The Game. And we are simply old enough, experienced enough to understand that game making is a business for us, too – a question of numbers, profits and long term sustainability. Especially for us, and especially if we treasure our passion as creators and really want to make something that outlives us.
Because life is about meaning. I know it’s grim, but picture yourself on your death bed. Do you think you’ll regret not crunching more? Do you think you will remember that nth time when you had to refactor your code, drop a feature that kept you awake for weeks, re-trim your polygons and remove your props, because someone you don’t know decided to squeeze a new and unique USP that does not fit the scope of the project? You think you will cry because of a layoff, or because you did not spend enough good time with your family, and you didn’t follow your dream to at least try to make that game you always knew lurked deep within your soul?
Wake up and seek your inner business man. Let him help you have a life full of meaning and joy, before it is too late.