You’re a game developer, showing up for work on a typical Thursday or Friday morning, and things are going at their usual pace. First thing in the morning, you get a cryptic “Please come to the conference room at 10AM” email from a supervisor. That’s it – one sentence. One sentence emails are rarely a good thing. Get ready for something horrible. Like a punch from a boxer, if you know it’s coming, you can brace yourself a little bit. Your time as a game developer, at least as you know it, is about to change. Quickly.
I’ve been working as an animator since 1998, and I’ve been laid off from studios of all sizes. I’ve even done some layoffs of my own. I’m still standing and still making games. There’s life after layoff. What do you do if you’re on receiving end of a layoff? Don’t freak out! It’s a very common thing in the videogame industry, much too common. I’ve been there, and seen it from all sides. Here’s a handy check list of things you should know and things you should do.
Pay attention to everything the HR people tell you in your layoff meeting. There will be lots of information, and you’re still reeling from the initial shock. Try to write things down, if you can. If you didn’t hear something, or have a question, ask it now. They may also have some hand outs ready for you that tell you what happens next. Be nice! This is not a fun day to work in human resources.
Get copies of your work, if you’re allowed to. This is not always easy. Sometimes you are working on an unreleased project. Sometimes there are other sensitivities involved (government contracts, etc). You may be able to take whatever you want. You may be escorted out of the building by a guard. You may have just 15 minutes to collect your things. Work with your HR contact to see what you can take and when.
Get contact information from friends and former coworkers if you can, especially the people who were laid off with you. The email address and office phone number you had for them is no longer valid.
Be supportive of both the people who were laid off, and the people who were not. Everyone is probably in a state of shock. The people who were let go are wondering where their next paycheck is coming from, and the people left behind are wondering what this means for them and their projects. Let people vent if they feel they need to, but try not to stoke the fires. Many times, it turns out the people who were laid off are ahead of the game in the long run. They’re going to be at the studio you apply at in the future. They WILL remember this day. It’s nice to be important, but it’s important to be nice.
Ask about job placement help. If you’re the primary breadwinner for a family of six (like I was), you’re going to want to find a new job as soon as you can. Some companies offer job placement assistance on a formal basis.
Check the unemployment laws in your state. You may be able to collect unemployment. Do it! You may have gotten some information from your HR contact that gives you all the details. If not, do a quick web search. The money will help you coast to the next job, even if you already have some squirreled away.
Be patient with the unemployment office. Many states offer job placement assistance as part of the unemployment program (again, check your local laws). Video game developers are kind of like chupacabra to the unemployment office. They may have heard of a game developer, but have probably never seen or interacted with a game developer, and have no idea what a game developer really does. Be prepared to explain in a patient manner that just because you painted texture maps using Photoshop at a video game studio doesn’t mean that you can use Photoshop at a prepress job. “I thought you knew Photoshop” is what they will probably say. They mean well, and they are only trying to help. Be understanding of that fact, and explain to them again what it is that you do. They are trying to find you work.
Change your work status on LinkedIn, Facebook, etc. Letting people know you were laid off is the first step in finding a new job. You weren’t fired (that’s a whole other thing, one which I’ve thankfully never experienced), you were laid off. There’s no shame in it. Let people know. Put a positive spin on it. “Available for new opportunities” is a great line.
Update your resume and skill set. You may have been at your job for many years. You may not have updated your resume or reel in a very long time. Why bother keeping it current? You liked your job. This is why. You have a very specific set of skills. Highlight them and let potential employers see how awesome it would be to have you working on their next game.
Reach out to your extended network of contacts. That guy you met at E3 from the booth with the cool game you enjoyed playing? Hit him up. The woman from the panel discussion you attended at GDC about that thing you’re both interested in? Send her an email. The industry is very small (really, it is). Odds are that they have already heard about the layoffs and may have something in mind that you would be perfect for, or know someone who is looking for someone with your specific set of skills.
Do not instantly talk trash about the studio you were just let go from. Believe me, I know it’s an appealing thought to let the world know about how stupid your company is and how dumb your old bosses are. Don’t do it. That reflects very poorly on you. Remember that up until this morning, youwere working there. What does that say about your choice of studios to stay at? Again, the industry is small. The odds are quite high that people at your new job will know people from the place you just got laid off from. The old adage “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all” comes into play here. If you’ve got a hot temper and fast fingers, Twitter can be your worst enemy at a time like this. Maybe stay off of it for at least a little while.
Ask supervisors for letters of recommendation. In the olden days (a few years ago) these were actual letters. Now a LinkedIn Endorsement or email that says nice things about you is probably better. Make sure you read them, too… just in case.
Get your stuff online so people can see it. I first got laid off in the era of VHS cassettes and overnight FedEx delivery. You are luckily living in the future. You live in the time of email, YouTube, tumblr, WordPress, etc. Use them to your advantage. Have some work samples somewhere online where people can easily access them. You want to be set up so that you can instantly respond to job openings. Have samples online of your art, code, etc as well as a resume or CV. Do this before binge watching The Walking Dead on Netflix. It is super important, and quite possibly the most important tip in this entire post.
Sign up for email newsletters with job postings. Sites like Gamasutra,www.creativeheads.net/">Creative Heads, and even www.indeed.com/">Indeed have both job listings and job alert email lists. You can specify your criteria and they will email you jobs that match. Make sure you have your work up online already (see above) so that you can instantly respond. Many times an opening needs to be filled sooner rather than later. A recruiter or department head won’t wait for you to collect your things and apply in a few days. They want the spot filled with the best person for the job as soon as they can start. If you’re not prepared to apply for a job, what makes them think you would be prepared to work for them? If you don't have your stuff ready to go online, don’t even bother applying.
Contact staffing agencies. There are several staffing agencies that specialize in game development. Companies like Yoh, Insight Global, Randstad Technologies, and many others are all looking for employees with all levels of skill sets to fill temp and long term positions at many companies. Their services are free to you, as they make money from the companies they find people for. Many of these companies also offer benefits like medical, dental, optical and 401K plans.
Don’t freak out! Freaking out doesn’t help anyone, because now you’re unemployed AND freaked out. This is easier said than done, but try to keep a level head. Once you have your stuff up online and your feelers out so to speak, do something relaxing that you enjoy. For me, it’s always been video games.