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Living the indie life often means living two lives, the boring and safe day job followed by your moonlight gig as an indie developer. To be honest, I live this life because I've never been much of a gambling man. I learned a long time ago that the house always wins.
I do question myself a lot, and typically while working my boring day job. I question if it's worth it, if years of failures and mediocre successes under the unnatural constraints of a lone developer are worth the grief of being indie. Why not combine my enthusiasm for game development and my sun-lit hours and just work in the games industry?
It seems reasonable to simplify ones life by combining similar interests into one activity. Working for a game company would mean that I could come home and decompress; that's it, no shuffling off to job #2. It is very tempting and I don't know if it is an offer that will ever be off the table, but in simplifying ones life it only seems to complicate it elsewhere.
Working for a game company implies many things that can be avoided when working for a boring and safe software company (B&S Co). Sure, no job is safe but some are safer than others.
Video games demand long hours and are designed much like Hollywood cycles. The larger developers may have a plan for their staff after the curtain closes on a game, but many do not. Many new deals can only be signed a couple months before the end of the current projects. The concept of having a backlog of contracts waiting to be done is rare and practically non-existent for small business game studios. What this means is that you often have very little notice of layoffs in spite of the writing on the walls existing throughout the entire development cycle.
In the past 7 years of working for B&S Co. I have been cold-called, interviewed, and offered at least 3 jobs for game developers across the United States, big and small. After some recent news of a studio closure, I decided to check in on these companies... They don't exist anymore, not in any sense of the word.
I then tread on, searching for various companies who I was curious about in these past 7 years; they are also gone or diminished or re-sized and re-branded as a work-for-hire boutique with nothing to their name. Overall there is a lot of money in the industry but it keeps changing hands and it's being spread very thin in places.
I think about all that has happened to me in these past years; home ownership, marriage, child, and much more. All of these are costly and time consuming events that are absolutely possible under any conditions, including game development, but it would have been so much harder between moving 3 or 4 times to go where the work is. It would have been impossible to consider buying a home while burning up my savings between jobs and wondering if my next job would be in Boston or Seattle and anywhere in between.
I would be thrilled at the day that I can decouple game development from the inevitable layoffs that seem to roll in at the end of a cycle. But given the fate of the last dozen developers I've looked into it seems like B&S Co. might be the place to be for now. Maybe I'm just really unlucky but I'm kind of glad that I haven't tempted fate just yet...
With the next generation of consoles on the horizon, it's almost too easy to see another groundswell just before it shrinks once again and more casualties are lost in the money shuffle.