This series is taken directly from my blog My startup fails, where I share my experience as someone who left his dream job in the game industry to become an entrepreneur. This particular story is about how I came to join the game industry, landed my dream job at CDProjekt RED and eventually quit after many ups and downs.
90% of startups fail.
A warning I have heard countless times in my life. And yet, here I am; born in the French Caribbean, living in Warsaw, Poland; burning through my last Polish Złoty.
I am here to tell you my story and bring you something, in my own way. I am not going to tell you what you should or should not do. Instead, I will tell you what will happen if you make the same choices I made. Take it as a peek into what is at the end of a possible path, to help you make informed decisions, or just satisfy your curiosity.
I decided to cut the whole story into 4 separate parts. The first two are an introduction, bringing to the last two parts where you will get answers to these questions:
My name is Ryan Pergent, I am Game Designer.
I have been wanting to make games since I was 9 years old. At first, I just wanted to play them, become a tester. That was until my father explained to me that if I was *making* the games, not only would I get to play them, but I would also get to say what should be in them (Whaaaat?).
I was born in Guadeloupe, French Caribbean, where I lived until 5 before moving to continental France.
My parents wanted my big sister and me to see life outside of the island for some time, before moving back to Guadeloupe. Unfortunately, for a civil servant like my father, it’s easier to get transferred out of Guadeloupe than back to it. What was supposed to be a 2-3 years experience ended up lasting 8 years.
I eventually got some breathing issue – I assume because of the climate – and my father jumped on the opportunity to negotiate a work-transfer back to the island.
13 years old, back in Guadeloupe, I go through the end secondary and high-school there. Back then, there was no such thing as a “Game designer”. I had to describe my dream job as “Game Creator” and naturally thought that I would study computer science.
I am in my last year of High School when I hear of a school in France called Supinfogame. It teaches Game Design (?) & Production Management. Game design is apparently everything I always wanted to do, without being able to put a name on it. Once I figure out that there is a path leading to living my dream, it is decided: I am going back to France to study at Supinfogame.
The school is crazy expensive (by European standards): about 24.000 euros for 4 years (6.000 euros per year). So my parents come up with a plan: I will borrow 40.000 euros from the bank for 4 years, to pay for the school and my necessities (apartment, food, etc).
This… didn’t go as planned.
I manage to borrow a total of 16.000 euros from two different banks, to start paying back immediately after I get out of school.
I survive the first two years with only 2.000 euros (money left after paying the first 2 years of school), using government helps to pay the rent and a budget of 50 euros per months for food (pasta, cheese, and ketchup. Every. Single. Day). The last two years happen with the help of a friend, a cousin and some of the money my parents borrowed to start building their house.
So it is holding a quite heavy but not life-threatening debt that I graduate from the school. I did quite well for myself during these 4 years and learned a ton of technical skills outside of the curriculum.
This lands me a job at Ubisoft Paris, straight after school. That is where I would stay for a whole year, before getting contacted by a headhunter (recruiter seeking people for several companies). He has various offers for me, one of them for a position at CDProjekt RED.
CDProjekt RED was the company behind one of my favorite game: The Witcher 2. When the headhunter contacted me, CDProjekt is the only offer that really catches my attention.
It’s funny when I think about how worried he sounded over the phone.
“Yes, Ryan… it is a great company. I personally can’t wait to play their next game. But listen… I have to warn you… The salary is not going to be great. It’s Poland you know. Would you be ready for such a cut?”
The deal is simple: I will be paid less than in any other game studio, but life in Poland will be drastically cheaper. Overall, I won’t feel the difference; hell, I might even live a more comfortable life there than in Paris.
I am 22 years old, and there is nothing I want more than prestige. I jump at the opportunity.
I get a phone interview, with two of the designers (2 very good friends of mine today), plus a test:
I have one week to make a game.
When I send the result of my test, I am sure that I will be rejected. It doesn’t look like anything CDProjekt is doing and has tons of flaws.
The game I sent is some metaphysical experience about loneliness and the pursuit of companionship. If you are interested, you can download it here.
Apparently, I still manage to make a good impression as I get a second interview on site.
Fun fact: I only missed one plane in my life. It was the plane I had to take for my on-site interview with CDProjekt. They accepted to give me a second chance, if I was the one paying for the ticket. During the two weeks of delay this caused, I developped a second game. This time in the universe of the game they were developping. This was meant to both show my dedication and prepare me for the interview by learning all I could about the universe of their upcoming game. I think this second game is what finished to convince them that I was a fit.
I eventually get the job of my dreams, at CDProjekt RED, as a Specialist. For close to half the salary I had as a Junior.
Before taxes, 2000 euros/month as a Junior at Ubisoft, 1200 euros/month as a Specialist at CDProjekt.
At this point, I couldn’t care less about money. I am living a dream. A completely new country and language, working for a dream company on a project everybody is crazy about, with incredibly talented people. I can hardly hit higher than that.
Unfortunately, Reality does care about money.
Remember the banks I borrowed money from? I still have to pay them back. In France, the monthly payments were just an annoying dent in my budget. In Poland, they are crippling.
Monthly, I end up having to pay:
This totals to 1000 euros.
My salary after taxes is slightly below 1100 euros, which leaves me with about 100 euros to go through the month. At first, as I need to settle down in a new county, this meager budget often disappears in unexpected expenses and emergencies. It doesn’t take long before I burn through my savings and face my very first financial crisis, far from home.
Thus begins my eventful 4 years relationship with CDProjekt, centered around money. A relationship that would drown me to deep lows, raise me to crazy highs, and eventually push me out of my dream job, to create my own company.