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An Aging Gamer & Developer
by Benjamin Quintero on 11/11/13 02:59:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

Today is an interesting day for me to be blogging.  Today, I suppose, is a bit more of a reflection on my current state of mind than my usually direct approach.  So please bear with the occasional tangents and hopefully you will be entertained along the way.  Try not to slit your wrists by the end of this long and depressing monologue about getting older and giving up on your dreams =).

There was a time when I coined myself as a video game developer; it's what I wanted to be, so I faked it til I made it.  Even in college and well into my first industry job it was all going according to my long sought dream.  Even in childhood, before I knew that it was real people and not sorcerers who made video games, I knew that I wanted to be involved with this kind of experience.

Fast forward; through the industry jobs, the layoffs, the canceled projects, the company restructures, the new managements, the console launch typhoons, and finally the indie renaissance.  I've had my share of experiences that I'm fairly certain everyone has endured.  For such a diverse industry in the products we create, I feel like the experience that we have as creators tends to be redundant, ad nauseum.  There are cycles of quality of life concerns, stagnation in the industry, stability of the workforce, answering the question of what to do with a full staff after a game is complete, and so on.  We continually raise these questions because there seems to be an age restriction in the industry, causing us to repeat the same mistakes.

I'm not implying that veterans are being pushed out of the industry, though it may be an indirect reaction to the general cycle of how business gets done.  As you grow older and more experienced you tend to ask for more money to compensate for the knowledge you carry in your head, as well as to enrich your life.  As a veteran, you have certain efficiencies to offer a company, but you are also in a different place in your life.  Myself for example am many things I was not when I started the industry.  I have a child who loves to see me sitting at the dinner table with her.  I have a wife who appreciates that I don't bring my work home with me every night.  I myself revel in some of the more menial responsibilities of home ownership such as landscaping or the occasional carpentry that is required.  I enjoy it mostly because it is a unique experience from my everyday grind of emails, putting out fires, training younger staff, filling out schedules and financial reports, phone calls with needy clients, far too much documentation and process and procedures, researching the next direction for the company, oh yeah and coding.

I feel like my own experience has come full circle, and I am at a gaming mid-life crisis of sorts.  I chose to leave the AAA industry many years ago, but I never abandoned the title of game developer.  I channeled my energy into indie games, but my career as an indie had what some doctors would describe as a failure to thrive.  The deeper I dove into the indie scene, the less I liked what I saw.  I realized that it wasn't much different from the AAA tier.  There were your superstars, and then everyone else.  There was also a sort of elitist culture that was starting to develop; or maybe it was always there and I had only begun to notice.  On top of it all, I never could bring myself to agree with most of the shifting definitions of what "indie" was supposed to be.  I always envisioned a separation between an "indie" game and an "independent development studio" game, but that was always met with hostility as many indies did not want to be associated with the "script kiddie" scene.  Developers wanted to be taken seriously, but not too seriously out of fear of losing their indie credibility.  The whole thing was a slippery slope and I wanted out.  My lack of acceptance may have had something to do with my share of failures in that space; not wanting to play the game of what it takes to be a successful indie.  I also underestimated the toxicity of the online community which never helps when you are grasping at straws for some validation of the last year+ of your sleepless life.

Now I still consider myself a developer, but not AAA or indie.  I'm just a guy a who appreciates interactive experiences; a title that doesn't seem very fitting for a business card but it feels more real than anything else.  Am I being a bit of a hater?  Maybe.  I suppose I could suck it up and just accept that what I wanted from the industry is not what I am going to get.  Perhaps my dreams for the future of games would have never been as profitable as where we are today, but I feel like it would have felt more like home to me than a hotel stay.

After my video game sabbatical I still don't know what I plan to do next.  I haven't made a game or even thought to make a game in nearly two years now.  Where the industry is right now has left me feeling a bit defeated and my only recourse seems to be, find greener pastures.  Beyond all reason, I am still fighting that answer.  My recent life has been consumed by experiences beyond the digital screen.  I keep waiting to find that same excitement that I once had for games, the excitement I feel for experiences outside of games today, but can't bring myself to enjoy them nearly as much, not when most games I play today feel more like a reminder of what I am unable to achieve.  Like most relationships; the deeper your love when times are great, the deeper the cut when things turn sour, the stronger your hate when it reaches the end.

I think that, right now, I am only fighting the inevitably because I want there to be closure when the time comes for me to give up the old dreams.  I know that if I hang my hat right now, my feelings would be pretty strong.  I don't want to be bitter about my history with games, both as a player and a creator.  I know that part of my struggle is the fact that I can't separate those two either; I'm unable to be one without the other.  I don't want to look at games like a bad breakup, but it's starting to feel that way.  Some people might be shocked to know that I haven't played a single "proper" video game with my four year old kid.  If given the choice, I almost always hand her a box of crayons or a deck of cards over an iPad.  Mobile games have never caught my attention, my 360 is collecting dust, my backlog of Steam games is almost a running joke, and I still can't be excited for the new generation of consoles when the 2 year old PC I am using to post this blog entry has more function and features.With all of this said; when my time with games does come to an end, I do hope that I can look upon it with fond memories.  I hope that the distaste of my own failures and struggles does not color my perception of the first time I played a JRPG, or my first experiences with the many other genres that have moved me over the years such as RTS, FPS, and even the countless side scrollers to cross my path.  To this date, I can recall games like 7th Guest, Doom, and Dune II; I can recall the influence they had on me.  Games like those were my reason for being a part of the industry and if my fate is to walk away then I hope that I can still do that, remembering why I spent the majority of my life completely and wholeheartedly in love with it.

 


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Comments


Tim Donley
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Hey Ben, I hear you and one thing I have learned is never give up on what you want. Period. Or else when you are laying on your death bed oh so many years from now you will think more about what should have done rather than what you did do. That's a bit extreme but it can help put the perspective down.

There is and will always be a place for a hard working and enthusiastic person at any company (gaming or not). I looked at your Linkedin and you seem to have the bases covered (though you've been out for a few years). I like to think (perhaps naively) that it isn't about the world changing it's more about us changing and getting older. We start to see the endless patterns repeating. This is almost impossible to do when 20 but nearing and past 40 it seems a little more clear.

Point is, life cycles and so can you. I bet you can make a couple calls right now and be looking for good game work if you like. The question of "do you want to" or "should you" is a different matter. It's OK you don't "get" the latest trends. Truth is - you probably didn't "get it" when you started and that is what made it so fun. I came from toys and I didn't know jack diddly about games when I started. I certainly didn't get it then, I wasn't aware of the politics (which were happening 20 years ago) or the layoffs and game cycles (which also happened). I was just happy to be there.

At any rate - without getting too Dalai Lama just remember it's all about people. Go get reacquainted with old friends, make new friends. Better yet, hang out with some young dudes who are trying to break into the industry and help them out. That's been my cure-all when ever I need a boost. Who am I to say all this? Well, just a person who has had some level of experience and met a lot of fantastic people.

Best,

-Tim

Benjamin Quintero
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Thanks Tim. Yeah "can do" has never really been a question for me. After coding longer than some people have been alive it's about as challenging as brewing coffee on most days, but I do still find the occasional problem that makes me giddy. But yes, "want" is certainly the word of the day. I just need to find the fire in my belly again, and it used to come from games but it just hasn't for a really long time. I keep hoping one of my many other hobbies will get me to sit back into the indie chair and just do it for the love again someday. Just not sure when/if it will happen. I mean, I published a novel for crying out loud! I'm not even sure I like writing that much =). That's how starved I was to get something creative out of my head and into the world.

Adriaan Jansen
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A great read, and an interesting point of view. I wish you the best of luck in finding what you need!

David Paris
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I can totally understand feeling beat down by the industry over time. It is one thing to be at the whim of the rise and fall of products and companies when you are young and single, but once those days are past and you have to be responsible for more than yourself, you need an environment that frankly, doesn't suck. That seems really hard to find in this industry, and I know I've tried.

There's also only so much room in your brain to be amazing. You work on the corporate filler all day, see your family some, and take care of all the nonstop hassle that life just throws at you for existing, and there's not much space left to burn with that spark of genius that is going to let you build what you want. Ideally you'd be able to do that at work, but I don't think most of us get lucky enough to work somewhere where that is possible.

Really good games are still out there. Both indy and AAA, neither has exclusivity there. Take some time and experiment with what's out there. Get yourself some new titles and try them out. And if you find you don't like one, toss it and try something totally different. It is occasionally good to remind yourself that the reason it seems like "no one makes cool games like..." isn't actually because those games flat out don't exist, but rather because it can be hard to find them. There are actually a lot more games around these days, but that also can mean there's a ton more crap to wade through to find the gems. They are in there though.

Maybe it's time to say f* it, and work outside the industry again and just focus on the non-work parts of your life. I hear getting paid regularly at a reasonable rate, with fewer crises and less instability can be a real win. Not sure what's best for you, but I wish you excellent luck with finding it.

Benjamin Quintero
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Thanks David. Yeah there are definitely many factors playing into my complex feelings about games right now. I suppose it's a natural reaction, like if someone has a small quirk that nags you (like biting their nails or something), after about 20 or 30 years you just accept it or you want to tear their fingers off =).

There certainly are more games out in the wild than before and that also could play a part in it; beyond saturation. The barrier is pretty low and curation sometimes throws the baby out with the bath water. I only seem to find time for the games that find me. But the games that get my attention are not there by accident; they are beating my door down with commercials, banner ads, posters, radio, and review scores on every news outlet. I can't escape them. And in many ways those are exactly the games I should be avoiding.

I really thought that taking a couple years off (well I did sneak in maybe 1 or 2 games) was going to cleanse my palette, and I was going to jog into Game Stop to the tune of Eye of the Tiger with an open wallet. I think the complete opposite happened. This frog stopped boiling and now the water is just too damned hot to get back in. Who knows; all it takes it one spark to start a fire.

Okay I'm done with the metaphors.

Chris Clogg
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"... genres that have moved me over the years such as RTS, FPS, and even the countless side scrollers to cross my path. To this date, I can recall games like 7th Guest, Doom, and Dune II; I can recall the influence they had on me..."

Oh man yeah the 90's... lots of small to mid-sized companies making great games. Everything seems to have polarized now into indie vs AAA haha.

David Lindsay
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Hi Ben,

I've been in games for a while now too, and spend the last 8 years in China making Asian MMORPGs, which is quite repetitive. When I read your post, I felt something I thought I'd lost -genuine human emotion! Haha -no it's really not that bad, but I really understand the feeling. Can't speak for everyone, but myself and others from the 70s seem to have a common sentiment.

I have oft found myself, in quiet moments, searching google for career advice and scouring blogs and forums like this to find similar experiences to read about like yours. I wonder if all jobs turn out this way, or if this is a mid-life crisis, or if it's my own personality flaw. I really still can't answer that, because I do like working -but I feel the directionlessness you're getting at. I sometimes feel like I don't want to play games any more, just create them, which is a strange thing to wish, I think.

I manage people now, so I can't claim to be a developer anymore, but sometimes I get so bored of my job and games in general that I can't touch a video game for weeks. During these times there is one thing that really works for me though, and maybe you could try it.

I learn something.

Last week I installed the Crytek Engine and poked at it for a week. I will absolutely never make anything with it, but since I'm already familiar enough with Unity and a little on UDK, I desperately need some stimulation to get me interested again. So, Crytek it is for a few months: a bit of reading during my lunch hours, a few new conversation topics to spark up with colleagues, maybe a new technique or two.

The time before that I researched how to do more successful Kickstarter campaigns, even though I may never actually do one.

I doubt I will ever be able to learn everything, so I figure this strategy is still good for a few more years.

If it is an option for you, you might consider moving to another part of the world where games as an industry is younger, like Australia or Eastern Europe. A veteran like you would be an asset in that industry, surrounded by positive and energetic younger folk. Good luck to you :-)

Benjamin Quintero
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I'm glad I could make you feel again! lol. Everything you said is sage advice. I do admit that I haven't blocked time out for learning in a while, it might do me some good to get back to that. Maybe it will spark an interesting mechanic I'd want to explore.

Ben Jimenez
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Ben,

I know how you feel about your gaming situation. I myself have never even had the chance to work in the gaming industry, but I have always wanted to complete a game and make lots of money off of it. Now that it's been fifteen years later and I still haven't completed my dream, I too have started to think if it's even worth pursuing any longer. I've always started fast out of the door with a great game Idea and then faltered later on and gave up on it. As an Indie developer you can get frustrated at times. Now at the age of forty I too have a daughter who needs most of my attention as well as some unneeded anxiety which I deal with every day. My advice for you is to not give up on your dream, but to get a fresh start on them. Take time away from the gaming world and do something else. It will always be there, one downfall of the gaming world is everyone is always trying to put out the next great thing, but I feel now at my age that I would be happy with just the next thing, even if it wasn't great. Life is a journey, giving up is not an option, but you just have to reevaluate yourself and your dreams and take it in a new direction that will get you to where you want to be.


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