Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Gamesspacer
My Game Design Exit Interview
Printer-Friendly VersionPrinter-Friendly Version
View All     RSS
April 19, 2014
arrowPress Releases
April 19, 2014
PR Newswire
View All





If you enjoy reading this site, you might also want to check out these UBM TechWeb sites:


 
My Game Design Exit Interview
by Harold Li on 07/25/13 07:00:00 am   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.

 

Well, it's done now. I'm officially done with gaming as a profession, but before I leave, I might as well fill out an exit interview for myself. I had been thinking of appropriate topic ideas to write on Gamasutra for a long time (my more opinionated, game design focused stuff had been written here), and this exit interview idea just felt the most right (and, for an ex game designer, appropriately self-centered and ironic).

===========

Q: So, what did you do?

A little about the past: I started at the now defunct Tecmo Koei Canada back in 2007 as a "Game Creator". "Game Creator" was an interesting title, because it was the generic label for both the programmers and designers. During my ~4 year stay, I: started initially a programmer on a DS game learning through other people's code and system; learned some basic XSI to do stage and object modelling; did QA testing, bug tracking, and some schedule management; re-entered the programming world when a PSP project was short-staffed and multi-tasked the UI porting and design work; finally landing in a full design role dealing with character control, AI, boss fight, and any other miscellaneous design tasks that came along the way.

In early 2011, after concluding Warriors: Legends of Troy, the company decided to downsize and chase the mobile/social hype train. They had initially offered me an opportunity to stay and help them. While I was interested in how the mobile/social space worked in an academic level (I had even wrote up some sample design docs and analysis of the market and the games at the time), I didn't feel that it was something I had wanted to work on at all. I've always been a firm believer that for designers, you must be a fan and a player of the games and genre you're making, and I never had major interest in social and freemium games, nor was I knowledgable in the genre.. I got into games because of all the games I have played in my past, and while social/mobile games were interesting for me as a designer to look at, they weren't want I related to and what I would have liked to make. If you don't truly love the types of games you make, can you actually make a good game out of it?

When chose to leave as part of the downsized group, I knew I was taking a risk to market myself as a designer: design jobs are few and far in between; every company uses and labels designers differently; my potentially lack of years and lack of lead experience, along with the less than stellar track record of metacritic scores can all hurt me. So while I began sending out applications and reaching out to studios all over North America, I began my backup plan of learning programming with iOS and potentially tried my hand at doing some indie stuff on iOS. I wasn't sure whether I'll find something in design immediately, so at least I can have some programming skill to back me up incase everything falls apart. iOS indie development just happened to be a low cost, giant gamble that became my excuse/reasoning for me to say that I'm still active in game development.

It's been two years, I've burnt up most of my cash reserves, the job market and opportunity for game design hasn't opened up (and I would argue that since then, it has shrank significantly), it's time for me to call it quits. The lesson learned?


You tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is never try... (I needed a comic relief or else this post would be just too dreadful to read through)

===========

Q: Explain how the job search went.

Throughout the 2 years of active searching for designers, I've had a handful of interviews and tests with various console development teams. Every time I took a test or interview with the teams, I'm always at awe at how fantastic this industry is and how many creative people work in it. Each of these encounters had motivated me to do my best, and always reminded me how interesting this line of work was...

...and then utter silence. I'm not sure why it happens, but the complete lack of feedback from anyone in this industry is completely maddening. I'm grateful for the few that even bothered to reply with "we've decided to move on with another candidate" because at least it was some sort of reply. Is it because of my lack of experience? Is it because your team does X and Y differently? Is it because such and such doesn't work with how your next project works? I'll never know. The joys of creating a level and gameplay mechanic from scratch for a test in 24 hours, including pages of documentation and diagrams, to be crushed by complete silence.

The lack of transparency and uniformity frustrates me: a level designer at X could be an artist who does modelling, where as at Y they're the high level concept designer. If a company asks you on how to approach level design on an interview, without knowing how they operate, you're boned 50% of the time already. The same can pretty much be said for any other specific design posts. I don't expect this to change, but at some level, knowing why it didn't work out would have been better than trying and failing over and over for reasons unknown.

===========

Q: Why not go social/mobile?

Talking to social/mobile companies, on the other hand, is a fantastic look at how that space is operating right now, and frankly, it worries me how bad the fallout will be when the bubble bursts. I've encountered: places where they were looking for designers who can "create" cookie cutter ideas lifted directly from successful games; places that confound the roles of a game designer and a monetization designer; one place straight up asked "how can you make us more money". Within the handful of interviews and talks, never did "fun" or "gameplay" ever enter into any of the discussions. I honestly just never felt good talking to any social/mobile dev place about passion, interest, or motivation on "making interesting things" when the words that come out from them are followed by ROI, retention, and monetization.

If the company's goals is to "innovate in the mobile/social space" by "well, look what Zynga/game company of the week on iOS is doing, copy them", then what am I really doing outside of analytics and copying what others do? I understand that at the lowest level, games is still a business, and it's about money, but I guess I still hold games to a higher moral standard and that as a game designer, I should always answer to players's enjoyment of the game and not the bottom line and the most optimal way to exploit IAP.

I ended up rejecting/not following up on these companies for the same reason I left Koei in the first place: if I as a designer aren't a fan of the types of games I would be making (and making gameplay and design decisions on), how can I do a good job on it? (Interesting observation: There's been a few companies I had looked up where all their staff listed their favourite games: all had named many beloved PC/Console games of years past, none of them resembling the types of games they currently make - a direct clone of Farmville/Cityville. One had even posted the reason he entered into games was because of all the fantastic games he had played and he wanted to make those. I wonder how he feels about what he does now.)

Every time I talked to or interviewed with one of these places, I feel disgusted at myself at "giving them the answer they want to hear". I believe that game designers wield tremendous power in their games, and it's their choice to use player psychology, design tools and mechanics to increase game entertainment and enjoyment; the methodology of most social/freemium studios on the other hand, exploits basic human psychology and mechanics to extract money from players. I would go as far as saying that most social/freemium places operate in an amoral space, and I am more than willing to leave the industry if this is the only space it wants to operate in.

===========

Q: Would you come back into games?

So yeah, it's been two years, and it's time to throw in the towel, and render my services somewhere else where it's more stable and more profitable. There was a time and a place where I was more than willing to take insane work hours, gruelling work and low pay for the sense of sanctification and potential for creating something I was truly passionate about, but that time has now passed. I'm sure everyone came into the game industry thinking of all the awesome stuff they want to work on, to contribute to the types of games that they loved, but I think it's time to chop down that lofty goal. I guess I had a good run, and still further than most who wish they had a shot at it.

I know this reads like quitting, and I've had enough people questioning why I don't continue onward, go do something else for financial gain and come back to making games when the opportunities come around. I feel that game design is one of those "you don't use it, you lose it" skills. I know that I've stepped away long enough to be detached from the current processes, the considerations and ideas of professional game development. I can try and keep up by staying current in reading, observing and playing current trends in game design, but I know that everyday I'm not in it, I'm falling further and further behind.

I don't know if I would ever rule out professional game development, but I have my doubts know what the pay will be and the kind of stability and trajectory this industry may take on. I will probably proceed forward with doing my own hobby game development, but that's all it will be, a hobby.

===========

Sorry folks for that long rant. This was probably a more disappointing and depressing post that I should have written here, and I'm not sure whether my journey in and out of game development is even remotely interesting or notable, but at least it's now here for you to read. Feel free to drop me a note telling about all the dumb mistakes I did and how I should have approached all of this.

===========

You can find and contact me on twitter at @HaroldLi.  I also have game design blog "Confessions of my Gaming Mind" and is one of the cohost of Game Over! Retry? podcast, a game design focused podcast. 


Related Jobs

Penny Publications, LLC
Penny Publications, LLC — Norwalk, Connecticut, United States
[04.18.14]

Game Designer
Hasbro
Hasbro — Pawtucket, Rhode Island, United States
[04.18.14]

Sr. Designer/Producer, Integrated Play
Nexon America, Inc.
Nexon America, Inc. — El Segundo , California, United States
[04.17.14]

Web Designer - Temporary - 3 month
Darkside Game Studios
Darkside Game Studios — Sunrise, Florida, United States
[04.17.14]

Mid-Senior Graphics Programmer






Comments


Jason Wilson
profile image
Best of luck Harold. I enjoyed working with you and feel the game industry has lost a potential star.

Michael Joseph
profile image
Thanks for sharing these experiences and insights and especially for talking about some of the internal conflicts you faced. It makes me want to re-watch "Office Space."

Selfishly, I kinda wish your post was just a summary for a longer story because it has elements that make for compelling reading. That it's about a disgruntled games industry insider as opposed to big tobacco makes it an even better story because the issues of morality are much more subtle and applicable to the lives of more people. A great many people are running around on auto pilot never really stopping to think about the work they do and how much they've compromised their values (assuming they really have any). Reading stories like yours might get them to take stock of their lives, their work and their choices.

Good luck.

Harold Li
profile image
I had considered it at one point, a more detailed events of what happened, and considering that I've called it quits on games, burning bridges doesn't matter, right?

Well, a bit more complex than that. I rather not throw anyone I know under the bus, and of course there's still technically plenty of NDA even though the studio branch itself doesn't exist. The fact that I am walking away allows be to be a bit more candid about how I feel about things, but there are many more collateral tangents that I shouldn't get into.

The main thing I've learned throughout my "career" (if one studio and some iOS can be called that), is that everything in game development is about compromises: budget, time, quality, etc... but sometimes it feels like no one ever talks about the human side of things: quality of life, career projection, etc.

Tristan Angeles
profile image
"you must be a fan and a player of the games and genre you're making"

I am of the opinion that a game designer should design games for the players and not for himself so I don't get this line.

I read this article and somehow it just reads like one big rant about how you did not get into these companies, but you did not want to do it their way. I'm sure that every game designer has their own ideas about how games should be made, and I'm sure most of us don't like how these mobile game companies make their games. But remember, it is you who is trying to get the job.

I'm sure you did the right thing thing about quitting the games industry. This way, you can make the games you want to make, and how you want to make it. Good luck and keep making games( even as a hobby)

Christian Philippe Guay
profile image
Quote:
"you must be a fan and a player of the games and genre you're making"

I am of the opinion that a game designer should design games for the players and not for himself so I don't get this line.
- -

Do you think it would be smart to put a designer that hates fighting games on a fighting game, just because you believe his job is to please others? What he meant is that if a designer is a fan and player of the games and genre he is making, then he has the understanding and motivation to make a successful product that will please the targeted audience.

How many developers right now aren't working on their next favorite game?
Yeah, that's a problem, but they all put their heads in the sand.

Amanda Lee Matthews
profile image
If he is a fan of the genre, then he IS designing games for the players - the players just happen to include him. Therefore, he can give a first hand opinion on what is good.

Michael Josefsen
profile image
Making art & entertainment is not like making some kind of practically oriented program. If it is, you're doing it wrong. You should be your own biggest fan (if at all possible) when making art/entertainment products. Even if they are products.

Dmitriy Barabanschikov
profile image
"Do you think it would be smart to put a designer that hates fighting games on a fighting game"

Actually, it could be the greatest idea ever. If this hate is a product of a frustration with bad decisions in currently available offerings, the designer can very well break established tropes and make the final game better for it. There are numerous genres that hurt for new ideas and approaches. Said fighting games became niche genre, not least because of notoriously high barriers to entry, which are a result of repeating and inflating extant conventions.

Harold Li
profile image
I totally agree that you should design for the players, but I stack "a fan of the game" in addition to that requirement.

The published titles that I had worked on at Koei: Warriors Orochi 2 PSP, Warriors: Legends of Troy... was I a fan of Musou games before working there? Not really. Am I a fan of action games? Yes. Do I get what fans like out of it? I like to think I did. The fact that I understand the larger umbrella of the genre helps me within development.

You're right in that you don't have to be a fan of the genre and style of game you're making, but I think it's potentially more damaging when you have someone who isn't a fan of the genre/style of game, and places their ideas and influence that does a disservice to the fans of the game. I've seen things like that happen before, and I often wonder what I would do in such situation. Let's suppose one day when I was working, they asked me to work on an RTS: I'd be more than happy to try it out, but I'm totally not capable of understanding the nuisances of the genre, the finer points that fans want, and the ultimately what could make a great game. I would spend way too much time relearning the genre, the style, and the mistakes past games have made, and I would probably make even more mistakes in thinking "oh this is obvious". On a macro level of game development, you can see this with many studios: companies stick to a genre because they are fans, they have expert knowledge in the field they're in.

Interesting you thought I was ranting about not getting into a studio as a lead: Sure, everyone wants to get their own ideas in somewhere, but every core studio that has turned me down was for just lacking in experience; I didn't even get close enough to the "what do you want" phase. But if all it comes down to is the slate of mobile games that prey upon the compulsive OCDness of players? Then I'm more than happy to leave. It's the final realization for me: there is more to life than games, and for me, most stabs at freemium crosses the moral barrier for me.

=====

"If this hate is a product of a frustration with bad decisions in currently available offerings, the designer can very well break established tropes and make the final game better for it. There are numerous genres that hurt for new ideas and approaches. Said fighting games became niche genre, not least because of notoriously high barriers to entry, which are a result of repeating and inflating extant conventions."

Dmitriy - The problem with this, ironically, is when you try to break the current established tropes without understanding what works and what doesn't, is that you can potentially do far greater damage. I had a co-worker who once said this about a project and trying to take someone who hates it to make the game (I hope he's reading this):

"You have this beautiful woman, but one leg is shorter than the other, so she uses crutches to walk; you then decided the crutches makes her look bad, so you throw away her crutches, and now she can't walk".

Tristan Angeles
profile image
I agree that liking the games you are making will contribute to a better game, and ideally that is how it should be. Ideally. It's an industry, and it's foremost concern is to make money. I guess what I'm just saying is that they had different motivations than you. That doesn't stop you from making the games you want to make if you have such strong ideas about how they are supposed to be made.

Greg Wondra
profile image
Couldn't agree more with this thought you had:

"Within the handful of interviews and talks, never did "fun" or "gameplay" ever enter into any of the discussions. I honestly just never felt good talking to any social/mobile dev place about passion, interest, or motivation on "making interesting things" when the words that come out from them are followed by ROI, retention, and monetization."

I think those of us with real passion for the game design craft all have this concern....

Harold Li
profile image
Now mind you, I understand the needs for metrics and analytics. You give me a heat map to diagnose where a MP map is breaking, and I'd be jumping up and down for joy. But when numbers and data are all that matters, then why hire me (or any designers, for that matter) in making your games? It's even scarier to see the companies that have jumped to that conclusion and have went all in on using metrics as the entire basis for design, where's the art and design?

I'm not sure if there is a valid discussion in this, about where design stops and analytics begins, and I don't know if people are thinking about it now in the core and social games they're making, but I have a feeling this will be a discussion soon.

Greg Wondra
profile image
100% agreed, Harold. If I can get my hands on metrics to help fix design problems and improve the player experience, that is most, most awesome.

This entire post you wrote really struck a chord with me because just recently I was speaking with a colleague and I mentioned how I can't really remember the last time the word "fun" was used in meetings, etc. in regards to how to better the game. Now I realize the last time I was asked to "make something fun" I was essentially being asked to "help increase revenue," but it somehow feels altogether odd and off putting to nowadays not even float the word "fun" out there.

I want to believe if you put the love (of the game) first, the money will eventually follow. Perhaps that is just too idealistic.....

David Serrano
profile image
Here's something I read last year that made me scream. According to Jaime Griesemer, former Halo designer who's now at Sucker Punch, if you are a game designer, "fun" is: A completely meaningless term that should never be used; except when describing the job responsibilities of a game designer to someone over 40. (see also: Blah Blah, Nice)."

This is the mentality that kills far too many games. Harold, I wish you would stay and he would go...

Ian Richard
profile image
Jaime's quote about fun was actually relating to "Fun" being bad because it is unfocused. People have have different idea's of "Fun" and it doesn't narrow down what we, the developers, are being asked to create.

A good designer will choose a more detailed way to describe the intended experience. He needs to make sure that everyone on the staff is working towards the same vision. Things work much more smoothly when the entire staff is trying to create the same game.

The "Design == How to increase revenue" is a problem though. It's sad because I know that we have some talented designers being wasted because the industry is a slow learner.

David Serrano
profile image
@Ian Richard

But Jamie, like most core designers, will never practice what they preach. And they'll never acknowledge the validity of any research which conflicts with their own esoteric or extreme preferences. So while some may claim "explaining the reasons why a task is important and then allowing as much personal freedom as possible in carrying out the task will stimulate interest and commitment," they in reality will always place far more value on authoritarian rules, elite skill requirements and vague objectives than on player freedom, empowerment or mass market accessibility.

There are many things which can legitimately be blamed on the conflict between design and business, but this isn't one of them.

Ian Richard
profile image
I'm not exactly sure what you are saying, so I apologize if my response doesn't fit.

Of course Jaime's quote can't be explained with Business vs. Design... it's a quote on how to keep a team of 100+ people on the same page over a multiple year development period. That is one heck of a challenge and any improvements to this process are good. Mistakes in development cause overtime.

As for "Jaime doesn't practice what he preaches", I wouldn't know. I've never met the guy and it'd be crazy for me to judge his behaviors.

All I know... is that his games have entertained a lot of people and that his advice has served me well.

Harold Li
profile image
I feel like I should jump into this one, specifically about the context of "fun". I actually do agree with what Jaime Griesemer said: "fun" is a stupid word. The problem is that is a relatively pointless word on it's own, because the context and definition of "fun" is going to be different for everyone. Yet the statement "finding the fun during game development" should still hold weight: "is this game fun" is a very subjective and hard to answer for everyone, "is this game fun for the intended audience, does it have things they want" is a much better way of looking at it.

I've been to two GDCs where I had showed up at Jaime's talk on weapon balance in Halo (which was just a jumping point about fine-tuning, in-flight development, and post release balance), and I can see his point of view: a designer's job, from that angle, is someone who's taking a design doc, translating the expected feeling and emotion, and try to represent that within a set of game numbers and balances. Notice I didn't use the word "fun" in there either! But the idea is that at some point during all that work, "fun" through challenge and discovery comes out implicitly for the players.

Speaking on the domain of fun (and GDC talks about design and the theory of fun), I highly recommend checking out Nicole Lazzaro's 4 Keys 2 Fun (http://www.nicolelazzaro.com/the4-keys-to-fun/); Marc LeBlanc's 8 kinds of fun (http://8kindsoffun.com/); and most recently, Jason VandenBerghe's 5 Domains of Play (http://www.darklorde.com/2013/07/slides-gdc-2013-acting-like-play
ers-applying-the-5-domains-of-play/). All fasinating stuff when talking about and discussing what "fun" is, and how that can/should be applied.

Peter Eisenmann
profile image
Making a job applicant design a level or build a game mechanic from scratch, and then refuse to respond in any way, is extremely disrespectful and unprofessional.

Brenton Woodrow
profile image
It may be extremely disrespectful and unprofessional, but (speaking from experience) it occurs more often than receiving a response does.

Joseph Mauke
profile image
I had a company send me a kiss-off email once.

Dear Mike, we felt that your skill-set didn't fit the current needs of our team, therefore we are going with another candidate for our lead artist position.

A) my name isn't Mike, its Joe
B) I'm a Designer, so fail and fail.

They laid off that entire team months later....so it was somewhat funny.

Harold Li
profile image
It's disappointing, but I understand why it happens. There's plenty of legal issues that can get wrapped up in it and companies are afraid of lawsuits.

Peter Eisenmann
profile image
Not sure what these legal issues could be if they simply say something like "nice work, but unfortunately not exactly what we are looking for right now"?

Glenn Storm
profile image
The legal concerns about a response with feedback (useful to the applicant, building a relationship with the company) are not exactly clear. Maybe this snippet from a previous blog conversation could be picked at on this point? From this post [http://gamasutra.com/blogs/TedBrown/20130515/192236/Cast_Away.php]:

As a thought experiment, useful feedback from business might look like this: An applicant gets a reply from a business three weeks after applying.

Dear (applicant),

We appreciate the interest in the position of (position), but after reviewing all applications, we have decided on another applicant.

Here's how your application measured:
- Initial filtering: passed. We will keep your records for future opportunities.
- HR review: passed. We will notify you if any similar opportunities arise.
- Project review: failed. We received applications indicating a higher experience level in the key skills of: (key skills listed; like console shipment, creative management).

Out of (total) applications reviewed, we passed (number) of them at (the failed review step). This project (does/does not) expect to require similar positions at this time.

Best of luck in your job search and please keep us in mind for future opportunities.

Regards,
(company)

Rick Gush
profile image
I don't think they should ask for ad hoc created design samples and I walk out of interviews when they ask for that. I charge for that crap and won't give it away for free in an interview.

Lucas Jozefowicz
profile image
It's actually pretty common. Just a month ago I was making a level on a time limit and specific design goals. I was working on it pretty much 16 hours a day for five days. At the end I got no response whatsoever.
My friends from the industry were 'outraged' but I kinda shrug it off. What can one do?
One thing that astounds me is how such a disrespectful move is so common in a pretty small, enclosed industry. We (me and the company) are very likely to cross paths again and next time I may not be the applicant; I may be a client, producer, highly sought for contractor etc. And I will remember that slight from the past.

I was talking once with my friend, who has a high level position in EY in Paris, and she said that in the financial industry you always reach out and be as polite as possible. Never sour the relationship with anyone, always leave a good impression. Seems like video games industry still needs to grow up a bit...

ken wong
profile image
I guess the majority of developers in social/mobile are either 'traditional'/hardcore gamers who would really rather be making games more similar to the ones they grew up with, and people who want to make money. Perhaps in ten years there will be a generation that grew up with mobile/social who can really make those types games with a passion?

Then again, I believe that social/mobile describe distribution/behaviour models, like arcade, home console and handheld. There's no reason you can't take the lessons from Pac-man, Mario and Street Fighter and apply them to the newer markets. Infinity Blade on mobile, or League of Legends being free to play, for example. Not all social games are Farmville clones, and not all mobile games are Angry Birds!

Regardless, thanks for sharing your story, best of luck finding a place to apply your skills and passions.

Harold Li
profile image
I totally agree with your examples, Infinity Blade, LoL, hell, almost all the F2P stuff on steam are decent starting point at looking at a freemium model that doesn't ooze the feeling of "I'm going to rip you off". For me, it was disappointing to see so many that are content with the existing model of producing the next farmville, angry birds, bejeweled clone.

Mike Murray
profile image
"I'm not sure why it happens, but the complete lack of feedback from anyone in this industry is completely maddening"

Agreed 100%. I hate not receiving feedback, even if it's to tell me that I'm not suitable. I even try to follow up, and I get no response. It's like you don't exist anymore.

It sucks that you decided to hang it up, but for what it's worth, you've gotten further than I have. I'm still trying to get my foot in the door. I feel that if you want to have your way, you have to do it yourself, pretty much. The industry feels like a DIY industry to me.

Joseph Mauke
profile image
Feedback could be used for a potential lawsuit, therefore it would be foolish to do so. That is why you receive the blanket Politically Correct response if you are lucky enough to even hear back from them.

Dear [your name], we felt that your skill-set didn't fit the current needs of our team, therefore we are going with another candidate for our [applicable position] .

Jonathan Jennings
profile image
I know it might be against Decorum but one of the last questions I usually ask is how my interview went and if there is anything they feel like I can work on to improve my interviewing skills or to make me a better candidate.

Granted I am coming from a programming perspective but still getting input is getting input and I know for an person who can over-think himself into oblivion ,like me, getting even a small idea of how the interviewer feels about me can make me feel more at peace with that interviews as a whole .

William Collins
profile image
Have you done any hobbyist game design work in the two years you've been living off of your savings? Assuming you weren't employed, that seems like plenty of time to develop new skills. And what field do you plan on entering? I wish you the best!

Harold Li
profile image
Completely burned all savings I had, bought myself a mac, learned to do iOS (Objective C) from scratch. The iOS "let's strike it rich" was a pipe dream, but that practice with coding was good enough as a way to brush up on my programming (I do have a mothballed CS degree), and I'm moving onto general business software development.

Dan Robinson
profile image
Would you want to continue designing games as a hobby while you have a day job? Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Harold Li
profile image
I'd like to try. But to be perfectly honest, I highly doubt whether I'll get anything done. Any full time job will just suck the air out of any drive to do actual game development work, and I honestly don't know what kind of time and output I have. This is also why I have mad respect for the indie guys who take years to build something, anything, out of their own time. It's no easy feat even if it's your day job, but on spare time is a whole other level.

Rick Gush
profile image
In my twenty plus years designing games I have always maintained large amounts of outside jobs as well, if only freelance writing assignments. I thinks it's good for my head, as all games make rick a dull boy, and it's always nice to be able to say fuck you to anyone when the time is right. Just working for one employer sounds really finacially claustropobic to me. So, Harold, please continue attempting to make money making games, whether working on someone else's projects or on your own projects. You'll want the ability to say fuck you to your new non-game day job some day, so use your game dev skills to prepare for that moment.

Stefan Maton
profile image
Hi Harold,

I completely understand how you must feel. In fact, I've been in the same situation and have long since accepted to work outside the gaming industry.

I've been working in the german gaming industry for more than 10 years. Companies I've worked for have gone down the drain, I lost my job and, because I have a family with 2 kids and a wife who has her job for more than 10 years, wasn't able to relocate. I tried working as a freelance programmer, but most companies want you to work for them on site.

I then had the opportunity to work as a freelancer for a couple of companies outside the gaming industry. Not only the pay check was better but the work was much more coordinated, and the companies accepted that I work remotely as long as I was available for screen sharing and skype calls.

This year (after 4-5 years outside the gaming industry), I thought the industry would have matured. I discussed with some old friends of mine and finally decided to give it a shot, attended the GDC, met some Head of Development, made appointments...

Throughout all the discussions I then had (i.e. during visits at a developer), I had the feeling that "once you're outside the gaming industry", you aren't interesting anymore. You can have worked on some great projects: If you're currently not employed inside the gaming industry, you're treated as any newcomer to the club: You're worth nothing.

I had some talks with people who asked me what I was working on. When I said, that I was working on different software projects which were outside the gaming industry, they just turned around and didn't speak anymore with me...

That's the current state of the industry: If you aren't of any direct benefit to their goals, you're not interesting.

And that's a big contrast to how the industry was in '96 when I joined in: Back then, people considered you for the skills you showed, the experience you brought in and the passion you had.

So, if you find a good job outside the gaming industry: Go for it!

Arthur Hulsman
profile image
100% guaranteed that you earn more money outside of the gaming industry, with no overtime. So you have more time to play games and use that pay to win button :)

Harold Li
profile image
Interesting to know. I've often wonder how people will see what I do now that I'm officially declaring I'm out. I know that in the past two years, talking to the people I know who are still working in games, I get the distinct impression that they are already distancing themselves from me because of how detached I am to the current process.

Sheng Long
profile image
The attitude sounds shocking. Games are going to hell anyway, I might stop playing most of them..the new ones anyway...

Dean Hall
profile image
"I had the feeling that 'once you're outside the gaming industry', you aren't interesting anymore"

I quit the industry and then joined the army, but continued doing my own (unpaid) hobby work the whole time. During that period I was approached to work on contract on another game in another country. I took a leave of absence from the army to do the contract (despite it being about 1/5 of my Army salary and on the other side of the world)> I had a little project as a hobby in their engine that then became successful.

Having seen both sides of the employment equation, the problem is the reason why a developer might not be interested in who has exited the industry, is because they have done nothing interesting.

Time and again I did (and now do) see applications that just say "here I am" and expect the person to read between the lines about their potential. The applications that always stand out for me (and this approach has always worked for me) is those that demonstrate what they are doing even if they are not actively employed. Several contract jobs I landed because I emailed a company saying "I took your game and did this with it", sending them a sample of how I modified it.

"Back then, people considered you for the skills you showed, the experience you brought in and the passion you had."

I think that now there may be many more people, all vying for the same slots. And the margins are tight, the projects are risky. People want to see results. They want you to demonstrate what makes you interesting. This is particularly true if you are trying to convince a studio to hire you to do something different.

Tom Edwards
profile image
You're not alone. I was made redundant when my company downsized to focus on mobile/social, which I don't want anything to do with, and I'm having an equally hard time finding a new team to join. Several job-seeking friends are also having little or no luck even though most of them are working.

There are so many possible reasons. Is it because the game I worked on reviewed badly, to our great surprise? Are there too many people competing for a trickle of non-F2P jobs? Was the youthful team I joined a freak occurrence? Am I just crap? (My references say otherwise, but nobody has got that far!) At least I can be sure it's not because I'm "out" of the industry.

It's only been a few months and I'm not ready to give in just yet. I'm working on an indie project which may well turn into my career at this rate.

And to chime in with everyone else on planet earth, silence from HR departments just pisses me off. I'm an experienced professional who meets your requirements and you can't even be bothered to email me a canned "no thank you" response? At least I've not had to do a test for anyone yet. I take my hat off to the handful of companies who break the trend - you know who you are!

Harold Li
profile image
Wow. You read exactly like my experience and how I navigated through (games reviewed average to bad, companies rapidly switching to f2p, just happened to join a place where they were happening to hire fresh grads, etc...)

Good luck with the indie project, it's not a road everyone can endure, and it's super scary not knowing whether you thing is working on will make it, but you (and the indies out there) have my utmost respect for doing what you guys do.

Sheng Long
profile image
Sorry to hear that, Tom. Maybe now is the time to go full on independent and stick it to them. I believe that people really do want their games back but some just aren't savvy enough to see when THEY and not the games are the ones being played. Add to that kids on facebook [who really have no business being there anyway] seeing F2P games and wanting mummy and daddy to fund their habit. This is not a world away from paying for a drug habit, as dramatic as that might sound to some folks.

Tom Smith
profile image
Back when I was hiring game designers, I was told that I couldn't discuss any details of why we didn't hire anyone, as there were possible legal ramifications. Didn't want them mis-interpreting anything I might say, so it's easier to not say anything at all. I didn't really like that, but when your boss invokes legal ramifications, it's tough to argue against that. I at least made sure to contact people and let them know what was going on (whenever possible).

Tom Edwards
profile image
I think that is generally understood. It's the fact that you don't hear anything *at all* that disheartens.

Harold Li
profile image
Yeah, I totally understand the potential lawsuit happy nature that companies are afraid of. It's just so disappointing to not know why, even something as dumb and simple as "we found a better, more qualified fit". It's an easier pill to swallow than guessing and doubting why you aren't a fit.

Grigory Kireyev
profile image
You wrote about me!

Although i live in other country, the situation is the same: no answers on test jobs or applications, 9 of 10 companies hire "freemium game designer" (even my acquaintance, CEO of Zeptolab), some companies clone its own games (not even others), no one needs create real fun only money...

Glu mobile declined my 6-page concept with words "not impressive". I tried to make it accordingly to company vision with freemium model. Ahh... They clone theirself games too.

It's all big sorrow. Not sure, if it's a dawn of classic games, but afraid of this.

If the last company also decline my application or will not answer, I will try in IT techincian job and will write in the blog about games and development (even about freemium). I just can't stop to think about how to create games what i like. No one will deprive it.

Wish you luck.

Mike Weldon
profile image
Before I got into the game industry I had a real job. When I came home at night I played around with DirectX (I think version 3 at the time) and made little games that took advantage of my new 3Dfx graphics accelerator card. I never went far out of my way to get into the games industry because that wasn't necessarily my career goal. I liked making games, getting paid for it and getting to work with other like-minded people is just a bonus to me. It comes at a high cost though, that gets harder to keep paying the older I get. I'll always be a game developer, but I might not always be part of the games industry.

Joseph Mauke
profile image
I have had a rule and I stick by it, and that rule is I don't take long and involved design tests. Doing so is a waste of my time. If my shipped titles, past experience, professional endorsements, example docs, sample code, portfolio, and interview isn't enough information to hire me, then I'm sorry we cant do business. I'm a professional, and I don't work for free.

Now I know there will be some here that will get their panties in a wad when they read this, and make comments like "well you must not want to work bad", "everyone takes these", "that's how things are done", and so on, but know this, I have never had issues finding work, or making money in this industry. And there are some great houses out there that have great interviewers and scouters of talent that do not require a week long commitment to make an informed decision on your design acumen.

Russell Watson
profile image
Some of the tests are ridiculous, I've been made to take programmer tests before for design positions.

I've been asked to take tests which require a weeks work before, which I find not possible to do a good job on if you are still currently working. Add additional responsibilities on top like looking after the kids and it is hard to find any time let alone the time required.

The other issue with these tests is that Game Design is not a standardized form. One company may use terminology or documents that are unfamiliar to Designers who have not worked there. You may be going from a small team that worked in pods on a mechanic iteratively with little to no documentation to a Designer on a team who writes a mechanic doc and hands it off.

Harold Li
profile image
Russell - "The other issue with these tests is that Game Design is not a standardized form. One company may use terminology or documents that are unfamiliar to Designers who have not worked there. You may be going from a small team that worked in pods on a mechanic iteratively with little to no documentation to a Designer on a team who writes a mechanic doc and hands it off."

YUP. I've ran into that too many times. Terminology, technology, process, even something like the job titles (I've seen at least 4 places that call different roles "Level Designers", on paper, what I can do would only be applicable for 1 of them) are so inconsistent that it feels like a mental exercise in just guessing/finding out about how any given studio does their things.

I'm rather curious to hear about how designers within the industry see this. Once you're high enough in an associate/lead position, then it's not a big deal, but I often wonder how someone (for example) who's an AI designer approach different studios, all potentially speaking a different language and different expectation (I've once encountered two places, one was looking for a pure scripter and another one who was more in a formal design doc writing capacity)

Jonathan Jennings
profile image
I'm a mobile game Programmer and I love videogames so I don't think I there has been a project which i wasn't at least somewhat interested in working on that was pitched to me EXCEPT social games I never really could put a finger on it but I think it's exactly what you mention with the whole " how can you make us more money " statement or producing a cookie cutter project. I have had social games pitched too me twice and each one referenced the Simpsons :Tapped Out and how more or less that's what they wanted there game to be.

At the end of the day we all should understand as much as we love game development it is a job and it is a business but it seems like a lot of studios have more or less made their " games" into Wallet Leeching apps
where the goal is to squeeze the user as much as possible . That's an industry i am not interested in working in , it's not every studio , or every team but positions like that make me leery because you can only squeeze your consumers so long before what little provide loses its novelty and they move on to something else !

Caulder Bradford
profile image
Man I don't blame you for feeling this way. The industry is in a bad way right now, and all the Pincus-types have taken over.... well they're starting to collapse under their own weight... but they've done a lot of damage, and in many ways dragged the medium backwards by at least YEARS.

I would encourage you to reconsider. To find the motivation and means to keep designing games in your spare time, and hopefully when this industry turns around you can return and do great things. But if you choose to stick by your plan of walking and never looking back then I think that is a very understandable course to take.

All the best to you sir.

Troy Walker
profile image
I think the lack in response from potential employers can really get you down.. (believe me, i've been out of work now for nearly a year). I've gone on interviews where everthing looked and felt good afterwards, as well as interviews where I was asked to come back for other rounds of interogation.. only to be in complete silence, without a word.

It leaves you feeling really down about yourself, and hard to look at it in a positive way. But you really need to think about it differently in the sense of "is that really a company I would want to work for? they don't even bother thanking me for my time too?" answer is simple... "OH HELL NO"

The worse part about it all, is you begin to loose your drive and passion for what you love to do. And if you really loved doing it, you did so for yourself. Continue to chase your passion for YOURSELF, and no one else... someone will eventually pay notice to you and the rewards will follow.

as for those companies that insist on testing you.. I'm old enough now to simply say NO. ask me questions, look at my work, if my answers and personna and previous work are not enough for you than too bad. I'll pass on your test, as that just says to me.. YOU don't know what you are doing.

Harold Li
profile image
For a while I was stuck in a creative hole just like you were saying. I was pushing to do my iOS stuff, and it just seemed to not matter. It was a good thing that I had started branching out and started discovering and creating board games.

For any designers out there, I highly recommend getting into that if you aren't already. It's a great tool and a great study case/learning resource on things like game balance and mechanics.

As for the testing: I don't know. I like to think I'm above the need for testing, but I've also wondered if there is a good and reliable metric on the other end? I've worked and met some fantastic designers who would have had trouble ever getting past any standard designer interview tests, and I've also worked and met with some designers who's past work that they claim credit for doesn't match up with what they can bring to the table.

Babak Kaveh
profile image
Hi Harold, I am glad people are starting to speak up about their frustrations with our industry – and though I doubt the people causing this frustration will even read this sort of article on Gamasutra – they are more interested in the sales “numbers” published here every now and then – if we don’t have a dialog, nothing will improve. My own experience tells me that...

1. if you have a track record in the industry, and
2. if you apply for a position that you are competent at, and
3. if the first person to review your application is competent at their job, and
4. if a developer conducts the interview, and that developer is not full of themselves and living in a little world where their ideas, lingo, and corporate culture are the only things that count, and
5. no one who has much more than you to show for applies,…

…you will be treated with respect, and probably even be hired. From my experience of seeing how an application is handled on both sides, assuming that you are aware of your part of the game (points 1 and 2), the most serious barrier for good people to work in the industry are points 3 and 4.

In most smaller companies, the guy who reads your resume is probably a developer – probably one who is quiet capable or who thinks she/he is. That is a good thing, and I have gotten calls from such developers, and even though their compensation plans are sometimes ridiculous, just talking to fellow developers about their plans and problems is fun and educational for both sides.

In medium sized companies, the first person reading your resume will probably be an HR person, or someone who does some sort of managerial work and does HR on the side. Most of these people have no clue what your skills are, what the job really entails, and how they can really judge you, but their two years of HR training at school has endowed them with a huge amount of confidence that they can spot potential just by looking at the font size you picked for your resume, or its formatting. They look for keywords at the best of times, and just pick a random resume to forward at the worst of times. Do you want to work in a company that entrusts hiring good people – the most important aspect of a company – to a 20 year old fresh out of an online college? I have seen many mid-sized companies I had applied to in the past, and where I was treated as just another piece of paper, rather than a human interested in what they do and willing to help out, end up in dire straits – simply because they did not have the capability or willingness to properly filter, engage and maintain applicants. If you are nothing but a name to HR when you apply, you will just be a letter of resignation to them when you quit, or just another number when they let you go.

Now, if you do get past HR, either because they are competent (not very probable) or by sheer chance (most likely), the next step is to interview with one or more developers.

1. If they ask you if you loved their past games and how much you play them – run the other way, they are too caught up in their own little world.
2. If they start asking about how you can help them monetize or capitalize on their item shop, they clearly have no clue that monetization needs to happen at design-time, and no, they will not give you the freedom to redesign their mistakes – they are looking for quick and easy money – a stupid proposition.
3. If they start to ask you completely generic question like “what is important in a game?” or “how can you make a game more fun?” they are simply dumb and unprofessional. Game Design in the industry is a highly specialized position. That would be like a Boeing employee asking a certified airframe fusion welder if he likes airplanes! You do NOT want to work for dumb people. Tell them that their questions are dumb and tell them why – be part of the solution: educate them on their own ignorance – you would not work with these people anyways.
4. If they start asking questions that are relevant only to their own particular game, and are super specialized, relating to say an in-house tool they are using, or a very specific and not well-known algorithm, that make no sense without knowing a huge number of other parameters, like “If you had an ability to jump for the player, and it would do 50% damage on tier-1 enemies, how much recharge time would you propose?”, they are toying around with you – tell them to either give you their full design document to study and analyze for the next two weeks, or go f themselves!

With large companies (more than say, 500 employees), do not expect a response, and expect a well-paid, fulfilling job even less. You will be going through HR, HR+, HR++, Producers, Managers, etc, etc. before ever talking to someone who knows how a game is made. Why would you be willing to even discuss ideas with those types? Stay away, and let them crash and burn, and their shareholders with them.

Yes, there are exceptions – there always are, but you don’t know which companies the exceptions are until you are actually treated with disrespect or silence (just another form of disrespect). Forget about that “company” asking for a resume that includes 3 amazingly executed, professionally crafted, fun levels made with their own in-house tool (which you have to purchase their game for) before even looking at your resume. If you could make entire games on your own – why would you work for them for minimum wage and no job security? Instead, hone your skill in all fields related to game development, and get really (really) proficient with at least one aspect of game development, then either move to other industries that are in dire need of those skills, or start your own little one man company, or even better, join with other like minded people, and create something that will make you, and all of us proud. We shouldn’t remember successes, or failures, as often as we should remember our ideals, and never work for or respect someone who does not respect you – no amount of money or toys will overcome that sense of loss if you do.

Harold Li
profile image
Thanks for sharing that. I don't know what type of post it would make, but I think you will do a great service by sharing that part of the studio/HR recruiting process (and it closely resembles the ones that I have observed). It reminded me of some of the interviews where I did get a chance to talk directly with one of the designers on the project, and even though I didn't get the job, I had learned so much more about how another studio (and other people) work and approach design problems.

Eric Deplume
profile image
Sorry to hear your story, I hope you find your new path more rewarding.

I can never fault anyone for leaving the current industry, I've never understood people who say you have treat working in games as a passion instead of a job. To me that has always be an excuse for accepting poor pay and long hours. To top it off the current monetization mobile trend highlights that this is a job and not always fun. Some quotes I've been told in the last year "You need to make it less of a game." "It has to be less involving." "You need to make this less fun." "Innovation doesn't mean making something new, it means finding something that works and doing it bigger."

Graham McIntyre
profile image
Some good points, not following up with candidates happens to some extent in other industries too, though seems worse in games

Sheng Long
profile image
Registered just to reply here. This is heartbreaking stuff, but at least you are facing it with a sense of humour. It's hard to walk away from something you love, even when it's taken so much out of you. You clearly have a lot of love for games and I hope that some day we will get to see some dream project of yours come to pass.

All the best, Harold. Good luck to you.

Roger Tober
profile image
I think it's a little ridiculous to say you have to be passionate about the platform you are developing for. The platform can have all types of genres on it. Even if it's a genre, look at action games, they are the best when they take on some other types of ideas. Sure, people that are looking for developers talk about ROI, doesn't mean they want that from the developer. If a game isn't fun, no one will play it. It goes without saying. Freemium is just a different marketing model.

Harold Li
profile image
"Freemium is just a different marketing model."

Yes. On paper, it is. And there are plenty of examples like TF2, LoL, Dota... but let me get to your first point.

"I think it's a little ridiculous to say you have to be passionate about the platform you are developing for. "

I was more specific about being passionate about the genre, not necessary platform. I can tell you I am more than enthusiastic about iOS, and the possibilities there are just incredible...

until you start talking to the iOS studios. The majority of the places I've talked to were not about to take any risks in terms of genres, styles, gameplay, mechanics, or even fun. They were about, "hey, we've got this farmville like game" or "do you know the current batch of management sim games". It wasn't about creativity, or what I can bring to the table with my previous work, but it was "have you used this analytic tools before" and "given these metrics, what would you do to increase retention".

I'd lov to have a chance to talk to a freemium studio about mechanics and structure and even (gasp!) fun, but I have yet to run into that.

Ricky Liu
profile image
Great article, that pretty much sums up how I feel as well. When you lose passion in doing something, there's just no point in trying to get into it.

Eric Robertson
profile image
I've always felt Game development is a high risk occupation. I'd also argue any occupation that can be outsourced outside the local city, is high risk. Luckily, some high risk jobs can yield high rewards, but only to a small percent.

I wish you success in your next adventure.

Douglas Lynn
profile image
I think the two points you placed in boldface are deserving of that emphasis.

From what I understand, that lack of response from people is far from being exclusive to the game industry. I haven't actually had that first job yet, but I've definitely run across that situation before. I understand that applicants are usually plentiful, so it's one thing not to let people know if they've been rejected prior to an interview. But by the time someone has interviewed with a company - they've made personal contact, for crying out loud - I think it's only decent to send out something, even an automated response, to let them know they're no longer being considered. I haven't had many interviews, but I've only received a rejection response once - and that was only because I deliberately inquired. In another case, after my inquiry, I was told directly that I would only be contacted if I was moving forward.

As for "designing what you like", so to speak, it's definitely not something I'd expect to have the luxury of doing, particularly in an early job. However, if you're actually working as a "designer", no matter what audience you're trying to reach, there should always be something of you visible in the final product. If not, as you said, you're more of an analyst.

It can be very disheartening. That's why I could only take so much of the process of applying for jobs before I needed to go back to school. Anyway, wherever your talents lead you next, best of luck!

Harold Li
profile image
"As for "designing what you like", so to speak, it's definitely not something I'd expect to have the luxury of doing, particularly in an early job. However, if you're actually working as a "designer", no matter what audience you're trying to reach, there should always be something of you visible in the final product. If not, as you said, you're more of an analyst."

Oh, I'm totally not preaching for "damnit I want to make what I like". In a perfect world we'd all be doing that, but that's not how game development is, and I'm ok with that too. What I'm more speaking towards, is that game designers should have the self restraint to back away from what the company (and the industry wants) if it doesn't match what they're good at. It's why I'm backing away from games right now because of what they're looking for isn't what I'm good at. And this is a good thing!

Let's suppose that when I was working at Tecmo Koei, they had randomly promoted me and said, "hey you, you're our next lead designer on a RTS". I can tell you that as much as I like the idea of lead and working on any game, I can tell you I'd humbly decline because it's not my strong suit: I can be there as a facilitator in co-ordinating and managing designers with other teams, but I would fear that my personal background, lack of knowledge, and potential bias to the genre will just hinder the project. I feel like I should be professional enough to know that I need to back away and let people who know better than me to get the best product out the door.

And this is how I see mobile game development for me right now: I understand freemium, and the desire for game studios to go that route, but it's not my strong suit, and my bias may negatively affect any game projects in that model to begin with, so why step into it the first place?

Robert Ling
profile image
Man, reading this was like seeing my own situation be put to paper. I went through the treadmill at EA, starting in QA, and eventually working my way into a design centric role under the label of "Assistant Producer" in which I did a crazy amount of things. It was a contract role, with no guarantee of full time or extension at the end of the first year. Due to some supposed legislation to prevent companies from abusing contracts, they can only extend up to 1.5 years on a contract, or so I was told.

During my tenure, I helped build a new team and drive the focus of the product into new territory for the company. We built a new product to aid an existing franchise, and helped drive up the public awareness of the product, which in turn helped the financial numbers climb.

At the end of the day though, if the numbers on the quarterly don't have an astronomical growth curve YOY, things begin to get shaved. The team was in its infancy, and was gutted before its second birthday.

My contract came to an end, and I have been searching the market since Nov. of last year with very similar results to yours, Harold. It starts to eat at your mind, playing you against yourself, as you battle to stick to the high ground mentally.

I've been using my non-work-search related free time to learn Unity 4+, work with friends to try and get a board game to market, helped design/test an upcoming title for the WiiU eShop called Armillo with some friends here in Vancouver, and wrote the draft of my first fantasy novel which is now in revisions.

I remember how excited I was when I graduated from my Design program in 2009, only to have the bottom fall out from under the local industry shortly after, and although I am even open to moving abroad for work, many places have legislation in place that makes it brutally tough for studios to employ people outside of their country/state/province before proving they can't fill it locally/with the country first.

Onward, forever onward, goes the journey.

===

The thing that gets me the most, is the lack of design/art/code tests when people are applying for positions. Sure a portfolio is important (looking at you artists), but how can you weed out the greats from the holycrapthat'sinsane's without seeing how well they do under a deadline & pressure?

I understand it is time consuming to go through these things, but if it's truly as much about fit as it is skill & work ethic, then at least put in a bit of effort to do a character interview with applicants. If you really want to build the best team possible, does it not make sense to put in the extra effort/time/investment to scour as many of the applicants as thoroughly as possible within the time frame, as opposed to a cursory resume/cover letter glance for every application?

OK, getting ranty, time to dial it back. You get what I'm saying.

All the best in your future endeavors, and I hope you find something you are excited by and passionate about to make your next career out of.

I have a bit of time left on my campaign yet, and I'll go down swinging before I have to find something other than in the field of my first love.

P.S.
For those search for talent:
I am capable, able, impassioned, passionate, and willing to bleed to make great games with memorable gameplay, and lasting story.

Harold Li
profile image
"I've been using my non-work-search related free time to learn Unity 4+, work with friends to try and get a board game to market, helped design/test an upcoming title for the WiiU eShop called Armillo with some friends here in Vancouver, and wrote the draft of my first fantasy novel which is now in revisions."

Yeah, that's the kind of thing that I think really saved me, diversifying in different areas that still relates to game design, and I strongly suggest anyone reading to look into doing so.

Good luck with your search.

Anthony Uccello
profile image
I read this and my first thought was utter disdain for your attitude. Your whole article was full of this self righteous attitude that this "high moral fibre and selfless" company owed you job.

I want to be very clear about what you said and how, from my viewpoint, there is a much clearer side to the coin on the other side of your rant --- and why you should reassess your ill fated conclusions.

Regarding your lack of feedback, I agree that we live in a society where niceness is preferred over the brutal facts (even the brutal facts let you get better), but I also think you made poor impressions if you truly spent as long as you did interviewing with almost no replies. Consider that the common denominator is YOU. I can't tell how tenacious you were but it sounds like you are just as flaky as the companies you purport to complain about. Attitude counts a lot, and from what I read yours needs an overhaul. Did you find out the skill set of the company down to intimate details, get furious about developing them, and drop their socks off with a demo they've never seen before? Also note, that attitude counts a LOT more than raw skill: I once failed a programming test during an interview (it was in a language I was not familiar with), and I mean BOMBED, but the manager offered me a job because he saw me being a key asset a few short months down the road. Had to turn him down though --- I had another job offer at the same time (two actually). ATTITUDE MATTERS!

"You must be a fan and a player of the games and genre you're making". Of course, and if you like obscure fishing games, you should only make obscure fishing games(that was sarcasm). Your gripe is the classic starving artist mentality. There can be a difference between passion and monetization, the key is finding the overlap. Going in one direction at the sacrifice of the other can lead to problems. Much better, from my experience, to channel your passion into a project that has high monetization potential. Passion doesn't pay the bills, nor does it mean you're making the best game. Why? Because people pay money for VALUE. By focusing on monetization you make a BETTER product when you tie it to your passion. Broaden what you can be passionate about, and blend your skills and talents to making the best product to fit the marketplace.

When a company asks how you will make them money, you better know the answer. I'm a programmer, but that doesn't mean my product is my programming skill. There is a difference between your product and your value add. The fact that you griped about them asking is a red flag to me too. I wouldn't want to work with someone who doesn't realize that talk is cheap and it takes money to buy whiskey. No one said it was easy, but that doesn't mean it's not worth it. The fact that you refer to games "at the lowest level as a business" to me implies you have no discipline and no sense of what it takes to make things that last.

Try starting a business and see how long not worrying about monetization takes you. And be sure to hire people who don't care about money either. OH and be sure to let them make games they are passionate about it (even if they don't work well together at all).

It's been a long time since I've been annoyed from reading something, but the fact that Gamasutra published this and people might get infected with this kind of rant, I had to say something. The bad news for you is that you take you with you. You can leave the game industry but you're still bringing you and your crappy attitude.

I hope anyone reading this realizes this article is one persons negative attitude rant, its a very limited view, and to me should be disregarded at best.

Harold Li
profile image
I think you've seriously misunderstood the entire point of what I have said. I am completely grateful for the opportunity I even had with Tecmo Koei Canada (honestly, it was just sheer luck that I had my foot in the door, and having worked with such talented people), and I thought that I was blessed at having every core game studio opportunities that came my way (and at most times, I was often worried that whatever knowledge and talent wouldn't match up to the kind of stuff they were looking for). I'll try to answer each of your points:

"Did you find out the skill set of the company down to intimate details, get furious about developing them, and drop their socks off with a demo they've never seen before?"

- Yes. For all studios I've ever interviewed, I've either had extensive knowledge about them, their products, there past and most recent games. I've went out and bought the games, studied what they did, what worked, what didn't, drew up docs, etc. Some of the interviews had brought up such questions, and I thought I had handled them professionally. I don't know what you would be expecting from a generalist designer to hand in for a demo, so I'd actually would like to ask you what you think would be a suitable demo for a generalist designer. The positions I've interviewed for ranged from technical designer (drilling down to tool interface design), to level designer (sketch out entire level, with scripting, enemy and object placement, both on paper, sketches, and 3d models), to general AI questions (various programming tests). I have design docs and sample specs that I typically submit with applications, but it always feels like a mystery to me what each studio wants. I've seen two postings before for "Level Designer": one specifying that they were looking for a 3D modeller who is proficient in Maya, and another one where it was entirely scripting based (with no modelling requirement). The easy answer is of course, do everything! And I've tried, learning on my own to do 3D modelling to get to that level, but it's still not going to come close to someone who's actually done it on the job (or via previous training before)

"Also note, that attitude counts a LOT more than raw skill: I once failed a programming test during an interview (it was in a language I was not familiar with), and I mean BOMBED, but the manager offered me a job because he saw me being a key asset a few short months down the road. Had to turn him down though --- I had another job offer at the same time (two actually). ATTITUDE MATTERS!"

- You're right that attitude matters, and I think that's one thing that got me further than I should have with a few of my interviews. In a specific one, I was clearly coming in on the low end (they were looking for a technical designer with 3-5 years, possibly with AAA experience), and I had at best done 2 years of design, and only 1 of that was on a "AAA" title. I made it all the way to something like the third interview, but it was clear at that point that I was talking to a role that needed someone with more experience, more years of training, and more years of working in a team. I had expressed that I wish I had a bit more experience, but I was willing to learn and can step up.

"Your gripe is the classic starving artist mentality."

- My gripe with this is a personal point about work ethic, organization and design within games, and not necessary a reflection of what everyone should feel about what they work on. When I started at Tecmo Koei Canada, I worked on a game called Prey The Stars. Look it up! I can tell you it's not for me (and it's definitely targeted at kids), but I enjoyed working on it because it taught me so much about the entire process of making a game. Do I see the value of making kids games? Sure! Would I like to work on one? Yes! Am I the best person to be put on the project? MMmmm....

Not to go into specific details about the project that I worked on, but my observation is in game design (and I'm sure it carries over to other fields), it does matter whether the employee is a good fit for the role and task at hand. (Using some analogy) You probably shouldn't put a network programmer on UI programming; you probably shouldn't tell your texture artist to do animation; so why would you think that placing a fighting game AI designer into a racing game AI be a good idea? Sure, a good designer will learn the tricks of the trade eventually, but wouldn't you be far better off by getting a proper racing game designer in the first place.

"Monetization..."

- My statements about monetization is strictly about the mobile/social market, and the free to play aspect of "monetization". You know how core games make money? You make great games in hopes that quality and entertainment earns players' respects and dollars. The difference with freemium monetization is right there: instead of saying "let's make it fun so that people will want to pay us", they ask "how can we place the paywalls and hang enough carrots so that people will be desperate enough to pay us". I can tell you I've interviewed with my fair share of social/freemium studios, and I was more than confident in my answers on how to do the freemium model (yes, like you suggested before about having demos and research, I have specs and design docs written up for freemium too. I've looked at how companies operate in that space and try to figure out what seems to work, at least as much as I can without any analytics).

I can tell you that immediately after those interviews, I felt sick at the idea that I'm using my knowledge and understanding of game design to exploit people's compulsion and inability to drop money into current F2P models. I can do better. This industry can and should do better than that.

"The fact that you griped about them asking is a red flag to me too. I wouldn't want to work with someone who doesn't realize that talk is cheap and it takes money to buy whiskey. No one said it was easy, but that doesn't mean it's not worth it. The fact that you refer to games "at the lowest level as a business" to me implies you have no discipline and no sense of what it takes to make things that last."

- Look, I was once (and now am once again) a programmer. I get the point of a business, and the importance of making money. What I am trying to get at (and many above also gets), is that when you are interviewing a "GAME DESIGNER", the question is and always should be about "game design": be it the concept, the coordination, the planning, the execution, or even macro level things like "finding the fun". I, however, don't like the trend I see of the homogenization of "game designer" and "monetization designer". One role's main goal is to create a product to engage, entertain, and retain a player; the other is to extract money. These two roles, by nature, are contradictory.

========

You are right though. This was a blog post, it was my journey through a development, and it's my view of how things are right now, in the distinct worlds of core game development and freemium/social development. When I started working at Tecmo Koei, there were 4 fellow recent grads, and we've all had various different paths weaving in and out of core games and the mobile scene. I'm sure if you asked any of them, their experience and how they feel about this industry would be nothing like mines either. It's why this was a blog post, and I'm honestly kind of surprised and flattered at the featured tag and all the responses.

I don't think I ever asked for validation, and I'm more than happy to see counterpoints. Afterall, games are suppose to be subjective experiences, and everyone is entitled to see how they shape this industry. If you're happy about how things are right now and where your career is, then more power to you. I'm going to print your comment and stick it on my wall at work as a reminder of how I should have approached it differently.

Dennis Dunn
profile image
Anthony, I don't understand why you would dismiss this reflection of someone's path through the industry. Attitude is not all there is to gaining ground, as you yourself stated by adding in other factors such as knowledge, ability, and a capital focused representation of what you have to offer the company.

However you cannot go on to assume that Harold had a bad attitude nor that his views and beliefs on, what seemingly is the next 'phase'(bubble is more accurate), that gaming is in because he is simply stating that his focus and views on the spirit aspects of the products do not go inline with the mobile strategy. That is entirely acceptable as he is obviously more interested in being a part of a project that embraces the things he himself enjoys about good games.

The are a select number of people that pay attention to the business side of gamification, the transactions, how they are offered, how to psychologically comfort the user while surreptitiously removing money from their wallet, and those people are into marketing initiatives, generating vast amounts of capital to keep the business running, etc.

To claim that someone wanting to join a group of talent to forge a great piece of entertainment without having to figure out how they are going to force spending is not what I consider a bad attitude. Nor is looking at that model as a means of business ethics that don't mesh well with someone's view point. In fact I'd go on to say that that attitude is noble and very positive towards the end game.

I think there is a major problem with the way the industry has rolled over on itself. It's taking what used to work, which was passion, intrigue, interest, talent, and putting it in front of a bunch of HR hurdles that are geared towards only selecting those that match the criteria that a job description has typed out in front of them.

Now granted those skills and experience are important in the sense of getting what you need, but when there is no consideration for passion, interest, effort, ancillary knowledge, and most importantly INSIGHT then there is nothing but an assembly line pumping out the latest glop that is forged by those that aren't really connected to the products.

I've worked with Harold, among a number of other people, and I can safely say that Harold's understanding and focus on games, game design, the culture, etc. is actually quite extensive and I'm surprised he hasn't been snatched up. Perhaps my understanding of the industry is off as well. I've seen studio after studio sink because of the management not having a clue about what their team thinks, cares about, nor listens to the passionate ones when it comes to reflection of the product. Instead of saying 'wait, this individual who cares is making a lot of noise, perhaps I should speak with them', they instead say 'who does this person think they are, they need to be quiet and drink the kook-aid, don't they know who I am?'

And this arrogance comes oozing out into the team. The team reacts and then all the sudden the team is considered negative or having a bad attitude. If you haven't experienced this you're either lucky or haven't worked long enough in the industry to see it.

I am finding that the AAA industry has started to barricade itself in with such major budgets on the line. They want the best talent for sure, and that makes sense...however they don't seem to realize that there is another string being pulled by those that don't even care about gaming. They start to run things as if it were an institution when in reality it should be run like an art house where rules are soft and pliable.

I think in the end the control mechanism that is in place becomes more of this hero mentality, that you are not worthy until you size up to the expectations of Daddy Warbucks.

In fact as we sit here talking, I know of one major studio that is shifting its focus from AAA to F2P titles and all it's done is driven off all the key contributors to a game that was consider quite good last year, and instead is leaving a skeleton crew of nonsensical horn blowers that enjoy the sound of their own voices. They bypass talent because they might be from a different industry, yet still have way more experience in animation than who they decide to hire.

It's not so cut and dry and it isn't just an easy thing to get through to people. I've been turned down from 4 positions in the last 2 months. More so if you consider the corporate world looking at my gaming experience as something that doesn't apply to them. There is a general lack of understanding and foresight because the doors that need to open are being slammed shut by those that have no idea how to recognize vested interested people. And it's sad because I'm considering leaving this industry to work in transportation because at least they offer you money, training, and promotion because they don't seem to think rainbows shoot out of their arseholes.

The arrogance and ignorance of the front lines of this industry are going to whittle out a lot of great and talented visionaries just because those given the responsibility to sift through the interview process only understand HR guidelines, by the book processes and a general lack of interest in the company's actual product.

Don't be upset with someone who's been trying to get through to these people. It's unfair and quite honestly it's a terrible attitude to have rather than offering positivity and help.

It's a job, it's games, it's embracing fun and creativity. But all I see are people trying to turn this into a corporate smoke show full of backstabbing, dissent, arrogance and cannibalized talent. And that's sad...

Harold has his finger on the pulse of a lot of things. It's too bad that people pass him up. I'd work with him in a heartbeat.

Mark Fronstin
profile image
It is kind of crazy cool that with programming you can make 6 figures a year outside of the game industry. You could always make the games you love and take the steam route to sell while working a day job. Developers are very respected in the IT community. You could use Hero Cloud as well. I use it as an enthusiast.

You have to follow your passion and sometimes that means you need a day job. I am a game industry outsider and work in Corp America. from my perspective I say just do it on your own just like we did during the dot com days. But the day job can provide stability.

Anthony Uccello
profile image
All of your counter points bounce around a few key concepts that I see where you can improve. I'll keep it simple and to the point.

#1. The quality of your life is determined by the quality of questions you ask. Instead of looking at a job and saying "What do I have to do to get hired", ask "What can I show them, that would make them INSANE if they DIDN'T hire me?".

#2. You clearly lack a core competency. When you lack a lot of skill, the worst thing you can do is spread yourself thin across a lot of areas. Pick 1 thing and get good at that. Look at 200 job posts, find the 1 common most skill amongst them, and hone that relentlessly. You would do better SPECTACULARLY PLEASING SOMEONE rather than meekly trying to please everyone. Get good at the highest ROI skill and start from there. It sounds like your demos are lack-luster and its clear why. Change your approach.

#3. You telling me the question is about "game design" is more evidence you lack core sales and marketing skills. People don't buy aspirin because it's a well designed pill. Think about it....

Harold Li
profile image
1. In an idea world, sure, I'd love to be the guy that says I'm going to blow these people away with my awesome talent! Oh wait, yeah, 3 years of game design experience isn't going to blow anyone away even if I like to think I can. It's actually kind of absurd for you to suggest that someone out there can be the guy that would make a team go "What can I show them, that would make them INSANE if they DIDN'T hire me?" No one is the magic bullet, no designer can be the be-all, end all, and frankly trying to believe that will just make you look arrogant.

2. Right, I lack core competency. Please tell me what the core competnecy of a game designer is then, because you clearly have a definition of what it is. Every GDC I go to, every design talk, interview, tutorial, discussion,, always highlight one key fact: Game Designers different everywhere, and their tasks runs the gamit from production, to programming, to art, to actual design work. In the ideal world, trying to focus on one specific field would be fantastic (and for the longest time, I did, selling myself specifically as a technical designer/mechanics designer, someone who is doing game and number balancing), but guess what? That only narrows the potential studios that I could apply for in North America from something like 60 - 10, oh, and yeah, they need to be hiring for that exact position too! Specialization is nice, assuming you can afford it.

"Look at 200 job posts, find the 1 common most skill amongst them, and hone that relentlessly." - This line tells me you have NEVER even looked at a game design job posting. Never mind 200, just try 10. Pull 10 game design job postings from a random mix of core, casual, social or even freemium studios. You may get lucky if you see 2 of them match somwhere, and that's if you're real lucky. Game design is one of those things that unfortunately doesn't fit in a box well; a gameplay programmer is going to be mostly the same everywhere, a concept artist will be mostly the same everywhere, a game designer? Nope, not even close. I've had the chance to work with a designer who's worked within the industry for 10 years in a design capacity, and the stuff he does and his skillset, even though it's "game design", doesn't resemble anything like what our office looked for in a designer, and by extenstion, what he knew and what I knew was just as drastically different than pretty much every studio that I've interviewed and talked to.

But thank you, fellow experienced game designer, for showing me a path and guiding me forward. I will rethink my approach based on your experience and recommendations.

Anthony Uccello
profile image
@Dennis Dunn,

When you externalize blame, you lose all power to act. Shit happens, YES. Are there nasty companies out there? You bet. Are there good ones too? YES. Focus on what YOU can do about making positive impact, stop feeling like anyone owes you shit. And if you want a job, figure out what your value add is, I re-iterate, it's different than your product (skills in this case).

You also have a strong self confirmation bias, you have heavy handed opinions (based on personal experience) but you look to confirm what you already assume rather than look at ways you can cause change in your situation. It's hard as hell, it will be long and gruelling, but you will be in control.

Dennis Dunn
profile image
Anthony I understand what you're saying however do you think it's a little unfair to consider your own actions when it seems that a lot of the opportunity is governed by nepotism or a sense of importance in the community? Jobs shouldn't be based on popularity. I understand a company wants someone that works well with others and fits in with their culture, etc. but to require that every person that is hired is a genius that has reinvented the wheel is highly detrimental and extremely miserable to expect from your applicants. I suppose making a game is like the Olympics where you need to continually push harder and harder with bigger budgets and more production... I get it. It's going to blow up in their faces at some point, but I understand that's the idea. However not taking responsibility to grow the industry through mentor ship and training is dismissive and quite cold.

However take into consideration I started a company almost 3 years ago and pumped out 2 mobile titles. One of them Is continually featured on Google play and has been for 1.5 years. The other was chosen as one of the top platformers last year by Touch Arcade. The money wasn't there though because we didn't build in the monetization that everyone decided was the way to go. However the games were good enough for a developer to convert the titles to the DS platform, and for major publishers like Zynga to come sniffing around our yard.

Now being that I founded the company, kept the team going, directed all creative including contracted artists, created the marketing, did sound design, UI, environments, social networking etc. you would expect that having 2 titles under your independent belt(with almost no budget mind you) would look good on a resume. However people don't seem to take that as a showing of initiative or ability, rather I've been told it is seen as a ploy to look more important than I am. More so, I'd like to see others pull the same thing off that have jobs in larger companies.

I've worked in AAA studios, I've done Facebook games, mobile apps, etc. but for some reason they only focus on the resume rather than the constant and continual push to create and publish. And unfortunately most of the companies I've worked for have gone bankrupt thus leaving holes in my résumé.

Now do you find it awkward that someone with 13+years of design experience, 7 of those primarily in UI design, be turned down by a mobile game company that does 6 month sprints on toss away software? And when asking HR 'how could I better my representation?' They flat out say sorry we don't respond to applicants we haven't interviewed.

I've been teased for 3+ years by Ubisoft, with interview openings, but only weeks later to be told sorry we're not bothering. Keep applying.

I created a 5:30 minute application video with a goofy storyline based around the Splinter Cell motif, saying basically I want to work with your team. And it was disregarded.

I recently applied and even though I've submitted 3 resumes over the past few years to them, they had the oldest on record last time I was up for a position.

There are at least 10 people in the company that could vouch for me, that enjoyed working with me and know I bring care and interest to a studio when I am acquired. But it's just not there. It's kinda frightening that the attitude is kill yourself in front of them and then maybe they'll listen and pay you ok money in an industry where if someone farts 3 studios go down and you have to move across the world to keep going.

I'm not wallowing in a pit of blame, but for all I've put into trying to participate in the industry, all of my experience and past accolades are for not.

There has to be more to it... Timing, luck, understanding, social connection... I'm not sure what it is, but seeing what others have gone through, both positive and negative, it's confusing. I can't say it's because they knew what they were doing because I know a lot of people in positions where they shouldn't be. And have been hired at places that obviously saw something that I didn't in that person because what they showed me was ineptitude and a lack of insight.

But hey, I like being told its all my fault. It makes the potential energy build even more so.

Flat out the industry is kinda a miserable place unless you know someone. And even then I dunno...cuz I know a lot of people. Maybe they don't like me hahaha ;) who knows...

Anthony Uccello
profile image
Not bringing in new people and training them is stupid. I agree, SMART companies should continually hire people with a passion if they are new but with a zest to improve.

Regarding your point companies shouldn't hire someone if they aren't a genius etc. I dont think you have to be a genius to get hired, but you do have to be smart. Being smart means knowing how to get demonstrate your worth in such a way they can't refuse. Why would I hire someone who makes a bad impression?


You know what? The only thing fair in life is what you pay to get on a bus (yes a bad pun but still). Some people DO and WILL get hired because sometimes it IS a popularity contest. SO WHAT. If that's not your situation, play the hand you have. Figure out how to get in WITHOUT it being handed to you on a silver platter. Stop expecting things to be fair.

Kudos on your top game. That takes work, and you saw it through. But then you got this idea that "the money will just come". WRONG. You solved the first problem "Why will people play this game", but not the second "How can we let them extend their value and monetize"? Also, here's the brutal fact you need to confront: your teams failure was YOUR FAULT. You lead the troops, you failed them. Theres no need to externalize blame, look at what you did wrong, adjust, and get back in the ring.

You are so caught up in selling features and not benefits. Consider the iPod. If Microsoft released an MP3 player, they would say "has 12398763 bytes of storage", Steve Jobs said "1000 songs in your pocket". Also how big is your sample size? Are we talking 5 companies or 500? Are you willing to work anywhere in the world? How tenacious are you? Tough times don't last, tough people do.

I hate sound like some prechy "GO GO" guy, but seriously both of you have this negative attitude and I want to be direct about the fact that there are OTHER WAYS TO SEE THE EXACT SAME SITUATION YOU ARE IN. Neither of us may be "right" but one of use surely can be more effective....would you rather be dead right, or "lucky"?

Everyone gets good luck and bad luck. The question is whats your return on luck? How well can you make the most of your cards. I've knocked on Ubisofts door, I know what you're talking about, but there are many other doors. And I will say again IT IS YOUR FAULT, so do something about.

Dennis Dunn
profile image
Again the sentiment is commendable, but the approach is miserable. If there is an issue, or a problem, or something needs to be figured out then just attacking the situation from any angle is a foolhardy choice.

It is best to go into a situation with a strategic understanding as to how to solve the issues. If you cannot get reflection or direction on how to please a certain set of needs, then how can you even get close to the idea of crafting a solution?

I've only used Ubisoft as a major example because it's one of the bigger studios around Harold and I. I've applied to smaller indie shops and whatnot and there's a general lack of interest because of some reason or another. What those are I'd love to hear but to get someone to fess up and be a human being is damn near impossible.

Have I tried elsewhere? Yes I have. I have had interest from other companies all around the world...but they tend to fail at following up or being able to sustain their business to the point where I would consider uprooting myself and getting into a worse situation, especially when there is work locally that for no reason seems to push back.

In regards to the mobile apps... I am evolving the applications at the moment into a better economical space. But the fact remains that I HAD to do that in order to get people to be interested. If I had known that the mobile market would be hamfisted into having to offer products free, then I would have fought for it harder, but among the group I am working with the idea of monetization through freemium platforms was deemed unethical and more or less too late because the designs were not created with that in mind.

And funny enough, even when we tried to launch our first app with a free to play method, we got a lot of angry backlash from people who felt they deserved things no matter what. So it's aggravating and frustrating.

But you can't say that we aren't putting our time in and trying to figure things out. We're just saying HOLY FCHRIST I'VE BEEN TRYING FOR SO LONG, WHAT IS THE DEAL!

And if everyone has to be a sleeze bag or do something that makes them uncomfortable just to get their foot in the door...well as much as I get that it has to happen, telling people they are negative because they don't want to be an asshole is kinda like telling a priest he's a dick because he won't share all the wine.

Demonstrating my worth is what I thought I was doing. Showing initiative, showing interest, showing that I've been able to grow and build something based on pure hard work and effort with no money, I thought I was doing that. But there's other focus there...and I think that's the point I'm trying to get you to understand is that the things I focus on, the things I work at and try and think are important seemingly fall to the way side when other things tend to get people through. If that is a sense of self importance or a bloated ego or being able to sell yourself better than the other person, then what the hell am I wasting all my time working hard at my skills for?

If I can demonstrate that I have ability, interest, passion and care for a product or company, then why is it that I need to be something else...or what is the other ingredient I'm missing here? What personality gets to work while the other personality sits and toils away trying their best to keep things moving?

And more so.. who the hell gets to make that call and what kind of person are they in that role?

As much as I'd like to take blame that I haven't cut my leg off and eaten it for them, I'm not quite sure exactly what has to happen. There's a number of hoops that these people need you to jump through, but they don't tell you those hoops...and when you try to talk to others about it, you get this type of response that you're giving us.

Instead of positive reflection and reinforcement of what is necessary, we get OH YOU COMPLAINER, YOU COMPLAIN TOO MUCH BECAUSE YOU ARE AN IDIOT!... OBVIOUSLY ITS POSSIBLE TO GET IN THERE! YOU JUST NEED TO CHANGE YOUR EVERYTHING AND BE WHAT THEY WANT! IDIOT!

Now that's obviously dramatic and I'm only trying to get smiles from it. But instead of throwing spite, how about throwing a life line? Throw out some suggestions or perhaps a path or maybe recommend ways of changing the way you think.

You've flirted with it in your responses, but it's very front facing and shallow in terms of trying to understand how to go about that change.

I'm being honest here. I'm not scum. I'm not a liar. I don't know how to 'act' the way that the rest of these people want you to...but I'm saying that in a completely ignorant position because I've got along with a lot of people, a lot of people enjoy my company, they thrive off of my knowledge and comprehension as much as I do theirs and I've worked along side some of the top tier talent. I don't know what else to say other than I have no clue what you're talking about.

I'm going to keep whittling away at things...but when I have a job that is going to pay me quite a bit of money, full benefits, full development of skills, a pension, etc.... I'm looking at the games industry as somewhat of a 'not worth it' investment. However, we'll see if I can invigorate the mobile apps into something more sustainable.

But seriously...it's like you're trying to get on a higher horse the the horse you think I or Harold or anyone in this situation is in. We just want to be a part of the magic too...why can't we be a part of something? I'd rather be adept and know rather than sit here wondering, believe me...this isn't fun and I don't get off on being what you consider negative. I do call it being confused and frustrated and trying to figure out what I'm doing wrong. But slamming your head off of every wall to see which one the door is on is WAY more tedious and costly than someone just saying, hey bud here's the door...just turn that knob...walk on in there and give it a go.

Like I said I have industry experience, I've worked at 3 studios and managed my own little startup, but c'mon man... there's gotta be something I'm missing.

Anthony Uccello
profile image
This is what sucks about text, it can always be misread. If I came across on a high horse then communication sent was not communication received.

Think and take away what you want, my goal was this: Your view represents one reality. There are other realities that open with looking at the situation differently.

That's all, and I do wish you luck.

Anthony Uccello
profile image
@Harold

My college degree was in game design. 3 terms in I knew the program was garbage, and being a game designer was a BAD idea for me. There were too many skills involved. So I DID look at all the job positions, realized this was a bad fit for my experience level, and changed my approach to focus on programming, specifically C#. I ignored getting a job as a GAME DESIGNER, and instead put all my eggs into the highest viabile basket, programming. It took a while but it paid off. Do I have a passion for game design? Yes. Is there a long road to hone the multitude of skills and find people to work with? Yes. Look for what you can do NOW, and grow incrementally. Sounds like you were biting off more than you can chew. Adjust!!!!

Harold Li
profile image
As I had mentioned, I had started as a programmer, and my degree is in CS. I had worked my way through it and transitioned to design/project management because the project happened to need someone there to multitask, and I happened to not mind taking on design. If 2.5 years of design isn't buying my enough credits within game design and is still biting off for more than what I can chew as a junior/intermediate designer, then what is "proper qualification"? I've seen people with 5, 8, 10 years (and a few above posters) who've had just as many issues, so then that begs the question: when is design viable, and what is the experince going in to it for? Sure, I could have done what you did and moved back into game programming, but then exactly what does that mean for design, and designers?

And on a more sour/realistic note: I could go back into game programming, bootstrap myself as a junior programmer again and make WELL below the average on something I am interested in (programming) but not super passionate about, or I can sell myself into any other industry with the same programming skillset, and be compensated much better for the same thing. At some point, this boils down to opportunity cost and career viability, and I can see myself getting paid to do something that is still just as interesting, and can keep my passion elsewhere as a hobby, so why not?

Hey, think of it this way, for me to bow out, that means one less competition for you for potential game designer positions. So it's not all bad, right? :)

Jonathan Chan
profile image
Anthony,

I have to say, if anyone's attitude here is shitty, it's yours. Dennis and Harold have been more than gracious standing their ground debating with you. You worry about coming across as being on a high horse, then don't go accusing people of "biting off more than they can chew", and claiming that someone "lacks a core competency" without knowing their background.

Maybe you've not met or spoken to enough people in this industry, but there is clearly something wrong with it. It's easy for you to be on the other side of the fence, and shout "buck up" to everyone else, especially because it seems you've recently attained a job in this industry (good for you, and welcome, btw). But there is a large and growing group of talented designers, artists, and developers who now find themselves out of work due to studio closures, and an over saturated job market (a combination of those studio closures and colleges profiteering by offering Game Dev diplomas).

I agree (and I think everyone else agrees) that attitude is a big part of it. But that's not all there is. At the end of the day, reality calls, and there are mortgages to pay and babies to feed, and maybe it's not so easy to entirely dedicate oneself to honing this one discipline at the cost of health and family. Maybe it's true and my colleagues and I are terrible at game creation. But I refuse to believe that. I hold them in the highest esteem, and the fact that some of the smartest people I've met in the games industry are now out of it, makes me question the process. Everyone's situation is different, and by you coming on here claiming what you've claimed, you've demonstrated a lack of respect for the ranks with whom you've worked so hard to join.

My biggest gripe with what you've written is that you assume that the rest of us haven't considered what you've considered, like we just aren't trying hard enough. If anything, Harold's article gives a perspective of the industry that isn't glorified and all that publicized. And for you to call him out on that perspective means you're not looking at, or even looking for the whole picture.

Peace.

Babak Kaveh
profile image
@Anthony:

Your original post was just plain insulting. I think it is telling that most of the people who have had long careers in the industry are trying to console Harold and give him hope, and agree with many of his impressions - asking for change to happen, while you - fresh out of school and on your first job, are saying that the program was not good enough for you (talk about blaming external factors) and are ranting about how your great attitude got you a large number of job offers! Based on your portfolio and working history, I am telling you right now that you will end up in dire straits pretty soon yourself - let's hope your attitude will save you when your skill and knowledge can't.

So...will it save you? I think it will - people with your mentality ("Attitude is everything - skilled people without a winning attitude are losers") usually end up in production positions, and in the long term attract similar minds. Over time they run the company into the ground with mediocre products, and the cycle repeats for them, while they keep blaming the economy and their worker's lack of vision for the failure. The reason why attitude is currently more important than work ethics, knowledge, skill and kindness are people with your mindset outright attacking the exact same people who are trying to improve the quality of the games that pay your salary.

I remember one particular individual who told me a winning attitude was everything - that person ended up cannibalizing other people's work and generally wasting everyone's effort to bolster his/her own achievements. That person ended up being a lead of some sort pretty much on every title, despite other more accomplished people being thrown under the wheel. The company folded, needless to say.

To those who think like Anthony, I can only say: good products are made by the collaboration of skilled, hard working, idealistic people and caring, courageous, visionary managers. If all you bring to the table is talk and attitude, we don't want you in the game industry.

Anthony Uccello
profile image
Well the problem with assumptions is... [insert]

In the spirit of transparency, lets air our dirty laundry. My whole reason for answering is this: context is always more important than content. So, in other words, the messenger should be considered when taking the message.

You are assuming I'm some "fresh eye grad" and my "advice and disgust with this post" has to do with my "dreamy eyes and lack of experience". Well...

I have a biochemistry degree, and got accepted to do my masters in immunology. Instead I decided to start a marketing company as it interested me more. After a shaky start I was able to bring in some pretty decent cash flow, and brought on board a business partner. Bad luck for me he turned out to be a psychopath (literally), he stole from the company, ruined my credit, and I had to move back home with my parents (always fun isnt it?) where I decided to restart my career in game design.

My college of choice turned out to be terrible, and everyone (save 2), dropped out of the program.

Thats a short short version, which brings me back to my point, and my right to say, this post is a bunch of whinny ranting cry baby crap. And you can coddle each other as much as you want but it doesn't change the fact that you're responsible for getting a head in life and it sounds like your waiting to be saved because you "deserve it" rather than going out and taking what you want.

And I find it ironic that someone complaining that they have a hard time dealing with the industry is at the same time telling me "we don't want you".

Jonathan Chan
profile image
We're not making assumptions on anything, you're clearly demonstrating you lack and empathy or understanding of the goings-on in this industry.

Anthony Uccello
profile image
Im talking about affirmative action, and I despise it when people place blame on external things (because then you can't do anything about it).

I am talking about, from my view point, how to improve the situation. Everyone here is focused on griping.

Finding a job can be tough, very tough, but does that mean give up? According to the "support" on this page, yes. I disagree. I say make it happen.

Sometimes quitting is the best move, best to cut your losses short. This is far from the situation. This whole thread speaks volumes of "it should be this way, and I deserve X". You will face the same hurdles no matter what industry, of that I can promise you!

Eric Harris
profile image
I think people who have skills to do things with game design should forget having a traditional job at a studio. I think a game designer/producer, film directors are all modern day Shakespeares. I think that is what Harold is trying to say. He thinks Video games should be entertaining, maybe inspiring. I could hardly think of someone going up to Shakespeare and saying here write a play in which people will pay to hear "King Lear" lines, characters and other elements that make the play whole while viewing the play. Thus the employment model should change to a per contract basis and game designers should take role akin to a writer/director.

The industry is full of people who do not truly understand the creative process. There are even many people who develop video games (programmers, artist, management, and businessfolk) who do not even play video games. Not that if you watch a movie you can be a filmmaker, but something is to be said about a great filmmaker who doesn't watch films.

I disagree that the game designer must be passionate about the genera of game they produce because game elements can be universal. For instance I hate most racing games but I loved Burnout 3: Takedown(Thank you Chris Roberts and Craig Sullivan!). Burnout 3 incorporated fighting game elements into racing which I found creative. Finally a racing game that was about crashing, not some time trials or driving skill. I think it made the leap from simulation to game.

As far as not getting feedback in this industry, Hollywood is run in the same way. Actors go through many auditions without getting feedback or hearing back from those who interviewed them. And you have to tell them how you will make them money during the interview because, these people can not make money on their own. Their degree/experience has taught them to go out and get money from products, not to design and manufacture products. They don't really know what people want. They are lazy. They haven't pursued focus groups or done market research. They don't do SWOT analysis. As much as they believe it is a business, they run it like art. So they resort to manipulative practices like license/franchise/studio acquisition, "freemium", and release date DLC.

Harold Li
profile image
"There are even many people who develop video games (programmers, artist, management, and businessfolk) who do not even play video games. Not that if you watch a movie you can be a filmmaker, but something is to be said about a great filmmaker who doesn't watch films. " - Yes, I find this very much within games, but I often wonder whether it's an issue at all? I've often talked to people within and outside of games about the role of "do you need to be a gamer to make games?" and I still don't have a good answer to it. Do I need to have the game design team to be knowledgable about the games they're making? Definitely. Do I need to have the network programmer be good at the games? Less so. I'm sure it will help them and their work if they're more knowledgable about it, but I need them to be a bang on network guy first and foremost.

I like that your brought up Burnout 3, and it's definitely true that having incorporated the other genres and ideas has elevated the game, but you must also not forget their pedigree is fully entrenched within racing games too. Being able to draw upon the influence of other genres into racing is great, but if your fundamental understanding of racing was shaky, then it isn't going to help (I'm looking at you, Ridge Racer Unbounded :P, great attempt at making the arcade racer for now, but just completely failing to own up to the heritage of the Ridge Racer name).

Late within the development of Warriors of Troy, we had brought on a few more designers. Since the studio was hiring within the context of making an action game, we ended up with a few designers who were more well versed within that language. We had developed a sort of an internal "brain trust", to be able to pinpoint the subject expert and bounce ideas off of them within the context of the type of game we're making. The key was to be able to trust one and other that within the group, we can explore different options in other genres to our experiences, but we can still refer back to the group and confirm whether the idea is best for the genre, and the players we're making the game for.

Sadly, that came too late to really affect that project, and we never really had time to extend that further out to the next one.

Eric Harris
profile image
I don't know but I gave it some thought. As much as I do not like "freemium" and games like that, I think your skill set is perfectly lined up for that type of game. Dynasty Warriors could be a great "freemium" game. I never considered those games really high quality because the gameplay was terrible. The camera was always off, extremely repetitive, recycled levels, poor production elements and poorly developed characters.

If games like these are on your resume, could they be holding you back? I think employers look for successes as well as experience. I never played Warriors: LoT but after watching some Youtube videos of the gameplay, I could tell I would not like it. The enemy AI is dumb and cheap(They just stand there and wait for you to miss). The environment was not very interactive. The camera control is obviously lacking. You guys strayed away from your Teen rating and went after Mature players. This list could go on forever. I would go into an interview explaining why the games failed what you learned from your mistakes. If they took the time to review your work, then you would have a lot of explaining to do.

I hope I am not coming off as overly critical, but I feel like yo have way more growth to do to become a game designer. I would recommend this: "Game Design Workshop: Designing, Prototyping, & Playtesting Games" along with other books.

Harold Li
profile image
It's always a fun topic when "what makes Dynasty Warrior games fun", because everytime I talk to self proclaimed fans, it's a very interesting and different, and almost completely counter-intuitive. My personal explanation had always been that these are almost like "character figurines", and the game is merely a platform to act out the story interactions for players. In that sense, the story and lore suddenly become super important, and in that light, it's much easier to see why the game has problems gathering attention of western players who can't separate the difference between Cao Cao, Lu Bu and Ling Tong.

So from a pure action game analysis: Fair criticisms across the board about the games I've worked on. I can tell you I'd agree with pretty much everything you've listed, and more, but the tricky balance here (and frankly, any game studio anywhere) is that there will be a balance between management, existing team members, existing project decisions, etc. In pretty much all the projects I've been on, I've joined part way and also not in a lead position, not necessary being the owner of any particular design element. I can't exactly come in, flip the table, call everyone stupid and tell them to listen to me, can I? :P A game is always the sum of all the parts, and even if you're the lead design or the director/producer, there's still going to be people, things, and set direction to answer to.

Which brings me to your other point: could those titles be holding me back? Very possible! Do I have a lot to learn as a designer? Of course! I can tell you there's no ending to learning as far as being a designer goes (Oh, yes, I've read those, and many other game design books, well before I even started). The problem suddenly becomes not necessary about what you know, what you've learned, but rather having the right opportunity and the right set of things to come along? It's a really bad way to see that's how it happens, but sadly that seems to be the case. The problem with lacking in experience (and I'll freely admit to it), is that if all companies are willing to do is to hire someone with AAA background, then someone who joined a company making less than stellar products are SOL? I can tell you a bajillion things I would love to change in the development and design of W:LoT that would reflect better on me as how I would have designed things, but that's not how development in a studio works: you deal with all sorts of time, schedule, technology constraints, and you try to make the best of what you got. Unfortunately, if the end product is the only thing that people will judge my body of work by, then oh well.

It's a terrible way to look at it, but I've once had a recruiter/HR talk to me about a role that I had interviewed multiple steps for. In the end, they turned me down for someone with "more experience" that fits the role better. They had noted that they liked what I did and the potential, but they didn't need that spot until further down the line. The line that has stuck with me to this day "In this industry, timing is everything. Just had to be at the right place at the right time." It's super cynical, but it's true.

I agree that DW games actually make great freemium games, but not the way "freemium" companies would want to hear why. The last few DW have had numerous character costumes, voice, and even move sets available as DLC, and the fans of the lore and history gobble it up. Great for Koei, doesn't exactly translate to any given freemium brand or any unknown brand looking to move to freemium.

Somara Atkinson
profile image
"I'm not sure why it happens, but the complete lack of feedback from anyone in this industry is completely maddening. I'm grateful for the few that even bothered to reply with "we've decided to move on with another candidate" because at least it was some sort of reply."

For a moment I thought someone was writing about my life when I got to this part.


none
 
Comment: