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Game Developer Layoffs: The Real Story
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Game Developer Layoffs: The Real Story

January 12, 2009 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

But "moving on" hasn't been easy, reports Souto, who has been on a few interviews via conventional job advertisements, none of them yet successful. He's also signed up with several recruitment agencies which has resulted in a few leads.

"I'm still looking," he says, "but it's far harder than I expected. While there seem to be quite a few jobs out there, there are also quite a few people hunting, which means that employers are now able to find the perfect candidate who ticks all the boxes."

"In the past, a candidate could fulfill 90% of the role and it would be understood that the remaining 10% could be worked on. However, that '100% candidate' is potentially out there in the large job-seeking pool. So the difference between getting that job and missing out could be a very minor feature or attribute."

Souto had interviewed for one particular spot, and was one of the last two finalists. But he says the deciding factor wasn't his skill as a game developer, but his perceived lack of interest in a particular sport. "It was enough to sway the job in the other direction," he says. In another interview, he was informed that he had worked too long at Eidos.

"It's unbelievable!" he says. "I also have friends who didn't get jobs because they were told they had moved around too much. I must say that it's rather disheartening. All I can say is that if you're reading this and looking for a job, keep the faith and I sincerely hope that you find one soon. Good luck!"

But Marc Mencher, president of Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based GameRecruiter, says luck has nothing to do with it. Job seekers just need to buckle down and apply for the myriad of job openings that exist, he says.

"These layoffs are not the result of the economic downturn that is affecting other industries," Mencher maintains. "Our industry is having record sales. What we're seeing is a combination of the not-so-unusual year-end layoffs that we see every year at this time when games have been shipped... plus a few companies that are having troubles, like EA, which has been struggling for some two and a half years."

"Those companies are going through some much-needed restructuring, just like the banking industry, which had to restructure after the problems they encountered."

On the opposite coast, T.J. Summers, a senior partner and co-owner of LA-based recruiter Digital Artist Management, suggests that the industry -- especially the console sector -- is going through a "reset" regarding how it is using its developer resources.

"Distributed development and outsourcing are becoming more of a predominant part of the industry," he explains. "Publishers are taking a hard look at their portfolios, determining what they can do in-house, giving their core games to their best people, and handing off some of the others to outside resources. As a result, a lot of people are being let go."

"In the case of some publicly traded companies -- like EA, THQ, and Midway -- it's part and parcel of their need to prove to their stockholders that they're being fiscally responsible. And given today's economic times, they are making significant cuts quicker than they ordinarily would."

Summers' best recommendation to developers who see obvious layoffs coming at their companies is to start collecting their work, updating their resume, and reconnecting with old colleagues, because networking is of primary importance.

Summers reports that, yes, companies are hiring... but not necessarily the ones that are on the top of developers' lists.

"If someone is passionate about creating games only, particularly console games, it's very hard to replace that type of satisfaction," he admits. "But there's a lot of good stuff going on elsewhere now in web, in mobile, in the simulation industry, in the Web 2.0 area. And these companies, many of which are hiring, have quite a few ways with which they can use game developers' skills."

Summers' bottom line is that while everyone should, without question, have a reason for concern, there are a lot of opportunities if you're flexible, if you're willing to adapt your gaming skills to some of the new growth sectors, and, particularly, if you're willing to relocate.

"Relocating cannot be overlooked," he says. "Some of the geographic regions that have traditionally been big gaming areas -- like Austin, Dallas, and Chicago -- are having their business slowly trickle away. People who reside there and want to stay there ought to either think about other options outside of games... or consider moving elsewhere."


Title photo by Kevin Dooley, used under Creative Commons license.

Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

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Stephen Teodori
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I'm trying to think about what all is happening and what it means for the future.

From what I've heard from people on the web (so I'm considering it opinion rather than fact) is that the game industry has become rather bloated. While I severely doubt layoffs would mean a reduce in game prices, there still has to be affected change somewhere. If this really is a retooling then companies shouldn't be rehiring their losses. So this would mean that more studios would have to be created to absorb the excess unemployed. This could perhaps mean more games being produced.

On the other hand if a company wishes to keep expanding and making more money than it did previously, a good way of doing that would be putting out more (quality) games. So if companies wanted to re-expand (is there any reason to believe a company would not wish to grow, I've heard of some but I don't think that would apply to publicly traded companies) that would mean they would need to re-hire more people. So maybe that bloating will happen all over again.

I can't see that a flood of games would help things, maybe it would drive prices down but I just don't like the idea. I think its good to keep big name games, and then have cheaper indie games along side those. If a AAA game is driven down in price and it doesn't appear to be much more than an indie game, I doubt as many people will be choosing indie games.

So whats going to happen to these people? And what is it gonna mean for the industry? I'm graduating in a few years and this isn't exactly promising. Maybe I should be seeking additional education just to wait for the industry to come back more!

Roberto Alfonso
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I was once told I was overqualified for a job. What the heck! It always sounded as "You are too good for this and may take my place if I choose you, so leave".

Every industry has an expansion and a consolidation phase. For the gaming industry it may seem expansions are longer than for other industries, which leads us to believe it is recession resistant. However, no industry can survive by itself if the global economy is going down. The best you can do is save and enjoy good times to survive bad ones.

As a side note, the Houser brothers took advantage of the current situation to get a much better contract out of TTWO.

Chris Proctor
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I've almost been turned down for a job because I was overqualified for it, but charmed my way through. It makes perfect sense: if my qualifications would allow me to get a more interesting and better paying job, I'll move on sooner rather than later. It's expensive hiring a new employee, employers want to get one who'll stick around for a while.

Interpreting it as "You are too good for this and may take my place if I choose you, so leave" sounds pretty paranoid :)

Christopher McLaren
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Probably just the game industry squeezing budgets, which will be promptly followed by those same studios going over these budgets as they fill the same vacancies. Happens in most industries but I think the games industry is very reliant on the staff as without them the IP means little.

Eric Scharf
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Mike Doyle
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I just finished school last September as and Environment Artist, so I am feeling the effects from the layoffs in a major way. In a positive economic climate it would be difficult enough getting my first position in the industry, having to compete with both recent graduates and already established industry professionals. Now the market is flooded with talent after many bouts of layoffs, making it even more difficult.

I actually know several people (also recently graduated) that have found positions in smaller related companies (not big AAA game development), such as Iphone/cellphone game development and some web 2.0 projects, which do look promising.

Lo Pan
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A word of caution though my friends, if you leave hardcore console/pc gaming to try casual or mobile games. It is VERY hard to return back to hardcore. Typecasting is alive and well in gaming. So many friends that took a detour into casual/web/mobile from hardcore can now not return (even though the previously worked on huge titles in the hardcore space).

Roberto Alfonso
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If you don't "need" the money (aren't maintaining a family, paying a loan, etc), you could try getting experience by going independent as Lewis mentioned. iPhone programming won't make you rich, but even a simple game will get enough money to pay for the Apple SDK and any Apple associated cost.

This way you keep yourself in the black while creating a portfolio of games and IPs.

Down here it is completely the opposite: so many companies are offshoring here (Argentina) that there is a huge demand for programmers. Of course, salaries here are much smaller than there (senior C++ programmers could be getting USD 2500-3000 per month), but it is almost 10 times the average monthly income. I still cannot understand how Eidos can work in UK without bigger government help. Costs there must be pretty high compared to other places.

I wish all those who lost jobs a quick recovery.

Brad Wiggins
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"keep the faith and I sincerely hope that you find one soon. Good luck!"

Thanks Mike!

I was laid off at a company that I was already very un-happy with. I was genuinely excited to be given severance and time off to find another job. I assumed it would only take me a few weeks, but I've been surprised by how few positions are available. In addition I'm competing with so many other professionals who have been laid off for these same very few openings.

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@ Rebecca


Lo Pan
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I have a good Producer friend who worked on several AAA titles try his luck in the mobile and casual space. After three years, he still cannot get a producer gig in console. When he does get feedback from companies (which in itself is very rare), he is told he does not have current gen experience. When he retorts production skills translate well across platforms and that current gen is simply bigger, faster, more (esp graphics) - he is ignored.

For me and other programmers this is not that big of a issue, but for producers and designers it is...

Zirani Jean-Sylvestre
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It sounds similar to the dot com burst:

The job market is filled with a lot of experienced individuals. It makes it tougher for juniors to get in the industry. It will last until investors… well… invest again and there will be plenty of position to fill.

/unrelated/ I am curious to know how many people EA hire and how many EA fire a year.

Seth Burnette
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Rebecca's comments above are worth noting. Having worked in simulation I can definitely agree that when you aren't in the current gen club you are ignored by many developers.

David Ballard
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Our studio went through layoffs last June, without severance packages, and I too thought it would only be a matter of months before I found work again. I attended both Siggraph in LA and the Austin GDC, and noticed immediately that both had significantly less studios attending and even fewer actively hiring than in 2007.

It wasn't easy deciding to look outside of the rewarding game development career for a while and look into other industries for immediate work, however after several interviews and correspondences, the common theme from employers was that my portfolio and experience was too game oriented and they fear that I will leave as soon as I can find a game job again.

Rodney Brett
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One of the things that I've noticed that makes you employable these days is to have multiple skills. Only a few years ago, game companies were interested in "specialists", now they seem to be more interested in "generalists". I suppose it makes sense. You could pay one person to do texturing, skin characters, and animate rather than pay three. Sometimes, the art quality takes a hit due to not hiring individuals that specialize in one particular area.

David Ballard
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I think it definitely depends on the times whether to be a generalist or specialist. When I first graduated, I was a generalist and was constantly told to be a specialist, so I did so and got a job. Now as a specialist, employers are more interested in generalists.

Mike Lopez
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The reality is that most of the publishers are public and they know employees are expendable and they will do whatever it takes to attempt to keep the price of their stock high. Large employers somehow expect (and usually get) one-sided loyalty but the reality of today is that employees should expect the unexpected and look out for their long term self-interests.

The hard and sad lesson is that no employee should ever feel totally secure regardless of the current role and market. One should always be prepared with an updated resume and keep an eye out for great growth opportunities when they are around even when times look good.

Mickey Mullasan
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As long as game companies have all the trappings of a "modern business" it will suffer the same shortsighted problems in concert with other businesses using the same approaches; birds of a feather get shot together? If you followed the finances of most of these public game companies you can see first hand the links into other areas of the economy that have even more links that eventually lead to no-where. This No-Where is where all the money goes, when financial catastrophe occurs every 10 or so years. The question is never: Well how do we insulate ourselves from No-Where? But rather, How do I get on the other side of No-Where? and executives of companies all over convince themselves that if they can be in the right bath-house, steam room, or fancy bar that Club No-Where will recruit them through a ritualistic orgy and bestow upon them the power of the arcane art of transforming money into air, and then back into their own pockets.

Lo Pan
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I really encourage that everyone in the industry have a 3-6 month emergency fund as a fallback. If you get laid off, a new job (at your previous pay rate) may be months away.

Also, get on LinkedIn, a great networking resource.

Don't get mad at HR departments/recruiters when the interview BS and rejections do hit. They maintain an active blacklist and if you complain about your will be on it.

Finally, I recommend being wary of recruiters. Generally they can give you good leads but if things go poorly (you are rejected by a company) they will not fight for your candidacy and may drop you like a hot ember. Take their leads and approach yourself, I am sure a companies like applicants that do not come with a 10-15% payroll tax.

Joe McGinn
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One very helpful idea was at the end of this article - be prepared to relocate. I can be really hard if you are set on staying in a local area, even a solid games development city like Austin or Vancouver. If you have a lot of experience, take your search world wide and a lot more opportunities open up.

Alex Meade
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I wonder how all this is going to affect internships? I'm in the middle of college and hoping to break into the industry. Of course due to the recession I keep hearing "it's a good time to be in school", but frankly it may just be a horrible time in general.

Roberto Alfonso
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This isn't exclusive of the gaming industry. The division between generalists and specialists is a very true one too. After my "overqualification", I learned to build my résumé in parts. I have long curriculum vitae as we call it here, but edit out the information that is not necessary for the job.

Sometimes, you need to aim low in the industry, but they refuse to give you an opportunity. I started as a tester and advanced from there, but only after I managed to convince my future employers that I was going to be there for the long haul.

I am afraid game developers run with a disadvantages, too. As David mentioned, people outside the industry believe developing for games is a dream came true (which may be true in certain situations), and that you will try to return to it as soon as possible (which may be true as well). That is just another take on the overqualification issue, one that you cannot hide.

Patrick Haslow
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These layoffs often come as a result of simple human instinct, much the same way the stock market's rise or fall is often dependent upon investors feeling confident or scared. If Company A hears constant reports of how bad the economy is, then they also know that their shareholders will be worried, and so they go ahead and secure the bottom line with layoffs...regardless of whether or not actual sales figures would support that course of action.

As a result of the credit crisis, some companies are also having trouble borrowing money to finance their ventures. In the case of the games industry, however, this is completely assinine, and is once again the result of irrational, psychological reactions. Makes no sense whatsoever, but a "group thinking" mentality takes over, and suddenly lenders don't want to lend to anyone, including the games industry with their continued explosive growth.

Taras Korol
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I am not sure if this example is relevant, but I know IT companies here in Ukraine who used crisis as an excuse to get rid of unwanted staff.

Anyway this version wasn't even evaluated in the article. This however might be relevant in some cases - a good opportunity to optimize expenses after big acquisitions without being blamed too much.

Edward Hunter
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A have followed the path of Roberto, going black and trying to suppliment my income with a few arcade games. I was laid off last September and was lucky enough to pick up a job within the month. The job isn't ideal but I put my hard yards in and don't complain. Luckily the studio I am currently working for has a much more lax approach to projects outside of work than my last thus allowing me to exercise my skills with my own projects while still having a steady income.

All I can say and truly hope for is with every crash comes a boom, baton down the hatches and use this time (if possible) to sharpen skills and do some house keeping. Use this time to make yourself more 'crash resistant' or pursue forgotten endeavors, try and find the positive of the situation so that when the industry revives it's better for the downtime.

Best of luck to all those looking for jobs or those pursuing other interests.

Brian Canary
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@ Key Rob: What an interesting opinion. Along those same lines I sincerely hope you are given the opportunity for a nice long period of growth as soon as possible. It would certainly season your perspective.

Matthew Buttice
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I don't have much to contribute in terms of losing or maintaining a job in the industry (I'm still a student) but I just had to create an account and log in to say that this was a very impressive piece of journalism. I've been reading about the recession and the economic climate and as an avid gamer and student journalist I hadn't seen any articles that really made me think about what the recession means for people in the industry. Taking the human element of a story into account is what really drives interest and I can't resist expressing how much I was impressed by this article.

A great feature, my hat is off to you Paul Hyman.

Shawn Yates
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With every adversity therein lies opportunity. I was in console development for over 5 years and had been laid off prior during my tenure at a Vancouver games company. You learn something from it definitely, makes you realize anything can happen and never to get too complacent.

Samuel Chan
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I think although the layoffs are difficult for many, if you have the funds to stay afloat, the opportunities for independent development rival those of the early pc days. Facebook, iPhone, Live Arcade, etc... are all becoming more and more popular. Just something to think about for those looking for work (and as I mentioned, have a bit of time to gamble with).

Allan Wright
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Destineer Studios in NC is currently hiring experienced engineers and artists for work on a AAA title!

Patrick Dugan
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When times get tough it´s time to adapt. Roberto is right, there´s a huge demand for experienced programmers and industry veterans in general here in Argentina, and the quality of life can be quite amazing. Consider that if you´re making 2-3k per month here and living on 1k, your savings rate can be considerably higher than making 6k per month in the states but spending 5.5k of it. There´s also something to be said for the experience of living here and working on more interesting titles, which the lower costs afford more so than the average US company.

I recommend you check out Sabarasa, I´m their first foreign employee, and the company is evolving in a very interesting way.

Feel free to e-mail me personally if you´d like to ask me questions personally: