My game industry career consists of the corporate publisher grooming. Granted, this is not what I grew up with as a consumer, but this is what has honed my skills. I’ve rubbed elbows with legions of marketing, executive producers and Senior Development Directors at conventions, meet ups and post launch party drinks. People with huge titles and massive salaries dictating the next big thing for ‘the market’ and how they can sell ‘the product’. Crunch was essential; family members knew this. Slate deadlines mandatory; media outlets knew this. Hardcore gaming is a market that must get its’ goods on time and during the holidays at all cost. Layoffs happened, because budgets must be balanced. I had a job to do and this job was kind enough to let me come to my desk with a worn hoodie, flip flops and battered jeans with holes in the knees.
This is what I thought games were now, since the wild days of PC Gaming mavericks were the way of the dodo. I accepted this because…I love my industry, as unwashed and passive aggressive as it is.
Well, something changed that. I experienced something taboo in the gaming industry.
I experienced a start up.
And I heard something strange: relaxed laughter.
Every business model has it’s pros and cons. Those deemed clinically insane commence start ups. Those who want a 401k go corporate. Start ups are doomed to fail due to mismanagement, on the fly thinking and lack of funding. Corporations have a huge safety net and the ability to write time as they deemed fit. I have dreams; dreams to have my own start up and my own employees. Dreams to make games for my mother, for my friends’ kids and for people like me. But to see that dream in real time did something to me; it made me think and think very hard. When all the spin, the lights, the celebrities and the conventions end, I think corporate means well. I think they have good intentions to make stuff that we, the consumer base, likes and I may go out on a limb and say that I sincerely think that they do not mean to burn their work force out, gag them with legal webbing and run them off to boring IT. I do not think corporations are evil…but I do think their thirst for profit is.
I talked to the people at the start up, getting their feedback. Most of them were like me: former corporate wage slaves used to crunch, crappy catered meals and their small slice of glory on Moby Games. Not one person talked about bonuses, revenue or slate. What they did talk about is making sure that Joe Blow’s Mom in Iowa got more fun that what she paid for, how they could make their games better and how they have Nerf wars on a daily basis. I saw guys building a hot wheels track with an elaborate paper ring of fire and a tupperware ‘pool’ of water eagerly awaiting 4 wheeled payload upon it’s ergonomic chair. When the stunt was done, they went back to writing code. I saw artists with headphones jacked in, drawing quietly as their corner office was warmed by the setting sun. Their deadlines were on a daily basis and it was done before 4 pm. All the office doors were open and all the bullpens were a stone throw away. When 6 pm rolled around, they called their wives and they went home.
I witnessed a group of people, of all creeds and colors, working towards a goal: having fun, making fun and protecting their little slice of freedom with unwavering tenacity. This start up wasn’t the owners start up…it was all of group’s and they wanted to make it profitable because they honestly cared. I witnessed that profit and sanity can be in bed together and make awesome gaming babies.
For all my disillusioned ex-studio employees, do not feel disheartened or jaded. Feel the need to go to a start up and rekindle your love. Stop thinking about hoarding loads of cash; we know that making games does not and will not ever make you mega rich.
And for the studio employees and consumers, thanks for holding down the fort and defending games to those who don’t understand the gaming culture while we indie people find ourselves. We’ll come back sooner or later.