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A Young Industry
by David Marcum on 06/21/10 11:45:00 pm   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.

 

What kind of industry has nearly one third of its employees’ tenure under 2 years? Nearly three fourths no longer than 6 years, and a greater portion of employees that have worked less than 1 year than over 10?  The fast-food industry would be my guess, if I had read this out of the context of reading it here: Study: Game Developers Increasingly Newcomers To Business .  

The reasons the author and readers gave for having such an inexperienced work pool were many.

  • Employers hire younger employees, who take lower salaries and are burned out less easily.
  • The industry grew so quickly that the results made sense.
  • Crunch.
  • Business people take away creative freedom that was once experienced by older developers.
  • Social gaming brought an influx of younger developers.
  • A lack of guilds protecting the developers from the business executives.
  • General quality of life concerns (work hours, pay, etc.).

All of these in varying degrees make sense. But when we get past the numbers, what does this really mean to us? How and what do they illuminate about the conditions we are creating for the individuals making games?

 I met Wes Jenkins when he was a guest speaker at the school I was attending. He gave a lecture on effective brain-storming strategies. I was very impressed that an Interactive Achievement Award winning co-creator and creative director would take the time to lecture in our class. I kept up with Wes – which was not hard, because if you wanted to get into the game industry, you naturally went to events held by the industry. And Wes was always there helping out, always giving you his undivided attention, and telling great stories that also illuminated the answer to the question you had just posed. I have benefited a great deal from knowing this man. And I have unfortunately not been able to work with him – although I have done a few game design improvs at conventions with him. I guess I got into the industry too late or he retired too early. That’s what I thought.

I was wrong.

In a recent email exchange with him, I found out that this veteran of many shipped games was not retired at all. All that time in Austin he was looking for a job and living off his savings. I had to drag this out of him over several emails. He had always been warm when I talked to him; in our most recent exchange he was warm as usual but depressed. I asked him, “What about Zynga –  they just open an office in Austin?”. He said that he has been trying for years to get jobs in the industry and was sure that it would be the same with Zynga. I said we would hire him, but have no money at this point. He said “I’m very cheap nowadays. Hell, for you, I would do it for free. I’m tired of telling my cat my ideas, and I think she is too.” I told him I could not accept work for free when work for money is what he needs. I cannot take up his time and prevent him from getting a job. Then I saw this on his Facebook page:

 The Heart of Wes Jenkins

Save my Heart Version .02

It has been requested by some kind friends that I keep the site up longer...

It's like this:

I'm unemployed with no prospects and uninsured. I have had quadruple bypass, defibrillator insert, femoral bypass, renal and carotid work done, nerve damage from surgery in the foot anemia and depression...Screw the whales -- save my heart!

The generosity of some friends have made getting up to date meds, mortgage up to date, a few blood tests and the ability to make an appointment to discuss the approaching next surgery schedule possible. These friends have saved my life. Surgery is in the $hundred thousands these days when uninsured -- I am trying to get on a program to ease the payments but it won't happen in time...
A quadruple bypass, defibrillator inserted, femoral bypass, renal and carotid work done, nerve damage from surgery in the foot, and anemia would drain anyone’s pocket, much less someone looking for a job for years in an industry that values (what?) over award-winning proven experience. Do I work in the fast food industry, where the bottom line is that employees are expendable laborers? Do years of experience price you out of this industry?

 

Will anyone give this man an interview? Will he lose everything he has worked for?

It is up to us: what are we?

B.T.W. Before I posted this I asked Wes if he would be O.K with it. Leaving out the personal stuff he said to me -- He concluded that it might help the industry mature.


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Comments


Matthew Mouras
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Such a thoughtful and painful post - thank you for it.



All the best to Mr. Jenkins. I wish I were a hiring manager, but I'm hoping that someone here takes a thorough look.

Maurício Gomes
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I too would hire him... But I am unemployed too! (I am of the young type, that would take a cheap pay, and work too much...)

David Marcum
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@ Jeffrey



Probably the structure of the article is poor and keeping you in the dark. I doubt you are daft, but it is possible the assumption that veterans can always find work isn't true. Perhaps what you are looking for in the article is something that is unknown to me.



What I do know is that he would be a valuable asset on any team.

Artur Correa
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I have worked with thechnology all my life: I was computer maintenance technician, hardware designer, software developer for medical applications, and now a game developer. I've Seen many things happen in these areas, and so I've seen the manner in which people are valued.

What can I say, according to my experience is that when there are too many people capable of doing the same kind of work, and if this work is what is really demanded by the industry, then the most natural is that these professionals are devalued.

In a scenario like this, hardly a novice developer will remain for a long time working with games, Likewise, it is unlikely that a more experienced developer, is attracted from other areas to games.



Maybe our current industry is not as innovative as it was. We have done the same things for too long. We're not adding value to the product of our work, and consequently we are not being valued by the market. The development tools that we have today (game engines, modeller tools, Physics), are not leveraging our creativity, but turning the development into a commodity.

David Marcum
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@ Jeffrey



I have never been at an interview with him, so I have no idea what might limit his hiring -- I think it might be detrimental for him if we speculate.



Making his medical history public might be doing a disservice to him. That is why I asked him if he was okay with posting this.



I really don't know what to say, except I know how valuable he would be as a fellow employee.



The fact is, the industry is skewed toward the young. And this may minimize overhead, but ultimately hurts us. When we lose experienced people, our products and our industry culture suffer.

BobbyK Richardson
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Unfortunately there's a lot of people in the same boat as Wes, people reaching their 30's, 40's, and 50's, realizing the USA has not been looking out for the long term, health, employment, and general well being of it's citizens. The reality is he has to step his game up. Difficult? Yes. Is it hard to step your game up when so many depressing issues threaten to crush you? Yes. If he can focus his energies to step up and inspire you to contact him, he needs to keep directing that energy to finding a job with benefits. I've been in that same boat more than once, pressing medical issues with no job or insurance - i called everyone I knew, searched everywhere, and revised my resume until I got one. I checked Wes' resume, and it needs a lot of work - his resume is completely unfocused and confusing, he needs to be very specific about what he does and what he can bring to the table, he's all over the map with Lego, Radio Shows, CD-ROMs? There are countless resume tip websites out there, he needs to read them and revise until he gets that job he needs.

Tim Carter
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When I hear things like this I thank god I live in Canada. There's nothing oppressive or "nannyish" about this place, there is a lot of freedom and mobility to act as a capitalist free agent here because there isn't the need to cling to any one employer for fear of losing health insurance, and the quality of care is just fine.

Armando Marini
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@Tim



This phenomena is omnipresent. The notion of fee agency existing in Canada in a form different from the states is laughable. Sure, we are fortunate to have public health care so we wouldn't need to raise money for heart surgery, but the point of the article is that Mr. Jenkins is one experienced developer amongst many who have been discarded by the industry. Canada is no different in that regard.



Age means baggage (wives, kids, a dog, a mortgage, etc, etc). Someone finding themselves out of work is competing against more mobile youth. The issue is even more challenging to overcome as you advance in the team structure where positions are less frequently open.

Tim Carter
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Right Armando, but he has a pressing issue now: he needs an operation to save his life and has no way to pay for it.

Jane Castle
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I'd like to give some constructive criticism to Mr. Wes Jenkins in regards to his resume. It is much too confusing to read. Also it is very hard to get what his experience is and how it would apply to whatever video game positions he is applying for. Is he a producer, designer, animator, modeler? I can't seem to figure out what exactly it is that he does or has the most experience in. I think this is the main problem in him not getting hired.



The people responsible in doing the hiring want a nice clear resume demonstrating how the applicant's experience applies to the position they are applying for. A confusing resume such as Mr. Jenkin's gets tossed. The hiring department has no desire to waste time and effort reading someone's confusing resume.



Having looked at Mr. Jenkin's resume it is not fair to say that experienced people are priced out of this industry based on this one example. His resume is not what recruiters and hiring managers want to see. This is why he is not getting hired. While I agree that there is "youth" favoritism in the industry a programmer or artist with the required experienceskills WILL get hired regardless of age.

Tim Carter
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Look at Steven Spielberg's resume: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000229/



It too is all over the map.



He's been a writer, a producer, a director, an actor, a cinematographer, an editor, a musician, "miscellaneous crew", a game designer even (for EA).



Jeez, what does that guy do anyway?

Jane Castle
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Steven Spielberg does not need a clean resume or even a resume for that matter. Wes Jenkins does...

Mr. Spielberg is also primarily known as a director so to say "what does that guy do anyway" is incorrect.



Also it is not fair to compare someone as famous as Mr. Spielberg to Mr. Jenkins. Spielberg has contacts and opportunities most of us cannot even dream of, his "resume" is irrelevant and he plays by different rules than the rest of us.

BobbyK Richardson
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Tim, a resume is a tool used to sell yourself to a hiring company. They want simple answers to these questions: what do you do, where's your experience, and what can you bring to their team.



And: Steven Spielberg owns his own movie studio (dreamworks) why the hell would he need a resume?

David Marcum
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@ Everyone



I realize all of this is well intentioned.



Please stop criticizing Wes' resume. I am confident that he tailors his resume to the job he is applying for, as does anyone over the age of twenty. His website has an overview of his work experience, not the type of resume that is handed in when applying for a job. If you have something that might be able to help him, send an email to him. I'm sure he would be grateful.



A public critique of what he has/hasn't done or should/shouldn't do (by people that have no knowledge who he is) on a public forum is inappropriate and potentially harmful to him.



I suggest we get back to the topic at hand, which is why the industry is skewed so young...

Daniel Balmert
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@David



Your article is 20% about industry skew, and 80% about Wes. People are simply debating and discussing the bulk of the article. I don't think it's good to criticize or nit pick, but your article could also use some focusing. For example, make it a cross section of many experienced devs out of work instead of a case study of just Wes.



Sorry, but it's partially your fault for the discussion becoming pointed in that direction.



EDIT: the film and Animation industry is going through the same problems. A lot of talented people can't get work because of outsourcing, work conditions etc.

Randy OConnor
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This is certainly a sad situation.



It seems to me that there is so much turnover not only in people, but just in companies existing, that it is difficult to really gain a foothold. When we see our industry as leading the forefront of various technologies, then more technical roles require constant learning and awareness. Inevitably one can fall behind, and where do you catch up? Likewise, with soft skills, businesses will probably just take the cheaper, younger, go-get-em guys.



With our industry, people dream of being a part of it. And so many are trying to get into it. But there are as many people just enjoying it, trying to make it a stable career. What we do is entertainment, and it is risky, bound by the whims and interests of society. Is there a way to make our industry less volatile?

David Marcum
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@Daniel



True

Wes Jenkins
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Out of curiosity, I thought I’d check out the blog post that David mentioned. I am honored by the mention but feel obligated to make just a few short comments particularly on my unfocused efforts and for those I represent in absentia. I was working most of my life where creativity was an asset and experience in most disciplines was favored. As a new found cynic, I have discovered that HR and perhaps the corporate digital review of qualifications demand a narrow specialization. Resume services do indeed adhere to a common denominator of presentation and I realize that would ease the process for review. I was offering my services where best needed. I was offering thinking outside the box solutions with the ability to cover all aspects of the creative process. I didn’t want to present myself in the same way that the guy before me did. Obviously, I’m wrong. When I was in the position of hiring people- it was always the face to face; the chemistry of the candidate that would convince me. If everything is put in a nice neat box, there will be no getting out of it. I have found in my expereince that creativity exists outside the box.

I’ve had a great career, really and thought I’d be an asset. I was out of the market due to hospital stays for a while but thought I’d be welcomed back. My network has all retired. Just consider the article as a warning- your specialization will end.

Oh- and I do tailor my resume when a job is posted! but seriously- thanks for input and i wish you all the best of luck!

BobbyK Richardson
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Thanks for weighing in Wes, I'm in the same boat of people who have a broad working experience, depending on what jobs I apply for I have to cut out nearly half my resume. I wholeheartedly agree specialization can also be the death for a career. A few years ago I realized I had 6 years experience doing a job that might not exist 20 years from now (transcoding). So I went back to my film making roots, got very lucky, and edited/produced/2nd unit directed 12 feature films. In my film career I realized it wasn't something I wanted to do 24/7 because it was making me a very ugly person, and it wasn't paying enough. How do you do thrive creatively, have a career, buy a house, and not get caught in the landslide of debt the U.S.A's middle class has become a slave to? I put together a plan to develop my own game company, I quit my film job, went back to transcoding, got a small apartment, cut my costs of living, and i've spent a lot of money developing my first game and self educated myself in the video game markets. I'm hoping I can quit my day job and work for myself in a few years. I think many of us, who are smart, understand the internet, and know what people want to buy, are in a very good position to create self sustaining businesess. If the people you work for and your country won't look out for you, you have to look out for yourself. And if I ever lose my job, I several things I can fall back on.

Jane Castle
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@Bobby if you don't mind my asking what is transcoding? I searched on google and got an answer but I don't think that is what you are referring to. Or is it?



Transcoding is the direct digital-to-digital conversion of one encoding to another. This is often done in cases where a target device does not support the format or has limited storage capacity that mandates reduced file size, or to convert incompatible or obsolete data to a more supported or modern format. When transcoding one lossy file to another, the process always introduces generation loss, although this can be minimized.

BobbyK Richardson
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that's pretty much it... very boring stuff. I specialize in transcoding one video format into another, tape to digital or digital to digital (like, itunes, wmv, but also broadcast TV, a lot of broadcast TV is becoming data based). I started as a website developer, then i was an artist for the Disney store, then I was the web developer for the Disney.com web page, then I was an transcoder for Cinemanow, then I got into movies... You can see how messy my resume would be if I put everything in there. For Disney I was only a temp so I never got benefits, I also never got benefits working on movies. The only time I've gotten benefits is in a jobs I'm not happy doing, and nobody wants to be stuck in a job they don't like. I always thought movies would be the perfect job for me, unfortunately I learned working in movies is like riding a rollercoaster, it's great fun but staying on the ride too long can make you dizzy.

Tim Carter
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Personally I think Mr Jenkins has done absolutely nothing to deserve any sort of fate or any veiled criticism coming from anyone. He strikes me as a professional who has done a lot in his life. To say his resume is "all over the place" is a negative spin. We could just as easily give it a positive spin: say his resume displays the diversity of a man with great and ranging talent who has done many things and has deep experience.



Very often when people meet someone who has had bad luck, they dislike the feelings that that brings up in them, so they weigh in with reasons why the person could have done something to avoid it, or should do this or that. It reinforces their idea that the world is a just place and that bad things happen for a reason because the alternative - to confront the idea that the world can be unjust and unfair - upsets them.



The ancient tale of Job is about this phenomenon. People who weigh in like this we may call Job's Comforters. Rabbi Harold Kushner pointed out this phenomenon in his book When Bad Things Happen To Good People.



Sometimes people suffer bad luck and they don't deserve it, and the best thing we can do is just listen and try to understand and help - and to not judge or offer advice or tell them that somehow they could have avoided it or whatever.

BobbyK Richardson
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@ Tim, When someone finds themself in a rut, the best thing you can do is give them a push, any way you can. That's why David wrote the article, and that's why we've responded.

Benjamin Quintero
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I think that anyone who has worked in the digital realm for more than 10 years is going to have some elements of "all over the place". Anything less likely means that your career ended sooner, and you moved to become a store manager in an Apple store somewhere. The digital universe is a fickle beast, and it usually means working a lot of odd jobs for a couple years and moving on to the next odd job. Think about video games 10 years ago, polygon modeling for real-time was practically space age and nobody even knew what normal mapping was. The closest thing to vertex shaders was Quake III, and Duke Nukem was still relevant. A lot has changed, and we are constantly changing to keep up. It only takes a year or two for the industry to forget your name, unless you were one of the handful that shaped it.

Eric Scharf
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@ Randy O'Connor,



Industry stability can be improved - to the benefit of both young and old - but it requires an equally intense drive to one's "passion for games." Below is the link to a six part article involving the very question you posed.



http://www.emscharf.com/blogosphere/genuinearticle/genuinearticle
_2008/genuinearticle_2008_0005_01.htm



@ David,



Thanks for sharing your article. Most if not all of the respondents know you had only the best of intentions when sharing your story about Mr. Jenkins.



@ Wes,



Your background reminds me a bit of another accomplished creative - Tom Sloper - with whom I worked nearly two decades ago and who is still going very strong today.



Your profile - reaching well beyond games - represents yet another opportunity for a variety of high caliber creative agencies to put up rather than shut up when they (generally) state that "we always aim to hire the most experienced, most talented resources available."



"The most" can mean the most experienced, the most talented, or both - regardless of the targeted discipline (e.g. management, development, production, design, art, programming, audio, QA, marketing, distribution). Companies have the right to settle for less - for any reason they see fit - but the resultant products and their bottom line always suffers . . . banging against their other stated desire: "to make the very best products on the market."



Companies - again - have the right to define for themselves what making "the very best products" means: either "the very best through short-cuts" or "the very best with the very best resources that can be reasonably afforded." A handful of short-cuts always seem to make it into the "master mold" for even the best product concepts, but the quality of a company's resources directly affect the potentially negative impact of those shortcuts.



Global outsourcing - in its various forms and quality levels - dictates that you can stay right where you are in the comfy confines of your Austin home studio. It is clear you have the experience and talent. As long as you have a functioning high-speed Internet connection, cell phone / land line, web cam, and flexibility towards time zones . . . you are going to make one or more of those creative agencies happy with your results and pleased at the general lack of additional in-house overhead.



Best of success to you, Wes.

Maurício Gomes
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I abhor the idea of "specialization" or people that criticize those that have a "all over the place" resume...



One of my dreams, was work in Ubisoft (specially, because it is the only AAA studio in my country... although on my country it do mostly DS games).



I am doing a game design course, and one person that concluded that same course before me, went to give a speech in my classroom about his job at Ubisoft.



He said that it was great, because everyone was specialized, there was the director that created the game, and he as game designer fixed only specific stuff, and noone would meddle ever with other people work, and this way everyone work without interferences and it work fine... His words ended with "Each one in his own square" (it is a line from a music here).



After that, I totally decided that I DON'T WANT EVER work there. What kinda of game making is that? Just sit in your desk doing the same thing forever? Hell no!



I am happy to say that I am Game Designer, Programmer, and that I can do everything else if needed (I prefer not to... but if needed, I can do it, art, music, 3D, textures, animation... I actually have a animation associates degree).



Of course, I am not a complete jack of all trades, I do focus in mastering programming and game design, but even then, it is already two professions, not one... And I am very proud of it.



I think that the industry need some young people with the mindset of Tom Sloper and Chris Crawford... these guys rocked (and still rock, btw...)







I know a guy that is unemployed, because he worked 40 years in the same company, with the same specialization, he was earning some millions already... Then he got fired because his specialization was not needed anymore, and noone want to hire him, because noone actually need what he do.



I don't want to end that way...

Wes Jenkins
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Hello- I wanted to stop in again because I seriously want to thank you all for the comments. It actually helps a lot- even the comments that pissed me off at first making an old crumedgeon like me think what tha' heel do these ^%!!! kids, etc. etc. but then I thought about it. I tidied up my sample site a little more- not much 'cause well, I guess I am unfocused but then again they use to like me for that. I accept now that I'm probably unemployable although I had a good run at it for years in the alleged creative field. I'm doing self projects and various speculative works now- but hey! if you ever hear of anything for someone like me- or even feel like saving someone's life-keep in touch and thank you, sincerely, David for remembering me. I was really touched and honored by that.

Wes Jenkins
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Just another add-on....just received this notice from a recruiter:

"You do have a very strong background, but this client will probably not have interest because of not having a staff role in awhile/

Just spoke to them yesterday about contractors or folks that have been laid off, not too keen about those.



Unfortunately just very picky and in this market, guess you can be."

Jonathan Jennings
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Wow, I have always heard turnover in the industry was rampant but I had no idea it was that bad. I would love to know the reasons behind such turnover? I mean game-design is dream job for many, heck it is my dream job. So there has to be something wrong if so many people join the industry only to leave. I am not even out of college yet and am looking for an internship so I have yet to experience the rigors of working in the industry . I dunno maybe I am looking through rose-tinted glasses but I am assuming the perception is different from the reality ?hmm very very touching blog.


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