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.
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...