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Opinion: 'Is This How It's Always Going To Be?'

Opinion: 'Is This How It's Always Going To Be?'

November 25, 2011 | By Mike Jungbluth

November 25, 2011 | By Mike Jungbluth
More: Console/PC, Business/Marketing

[In this reprinted #altdevblogaday-opinion piece, Zenimax Online Studios' senior animator Mike Jungbluth reflects on layoffs and job instability in the game industry, asking, "Is this how it's always going to be?"]

As I sat in a car on the other side of the country, waiting to meet up with the property manager for a rental home, this was the question posed by my wife.

"Is this how it's always going to be?"

Just a day before, my studio, which I was about to give my two weeks notice to, had layoffs. It was a sobering reality that pretty much everyone in this industry has had some experience with. In fact, it is a top 7 reason NOT to work in games.

And while I have been around layoffs before, to have it happen as I was preparing to move and establish a new homestead sent chills down even my relatively cool spine. So it wasn't an entirely surprising question for my wife to ask.

"Is this how it's always going to be? Is this just our reality, having to move every couple of years?"

In our specific case, these moves have all been of our own choice, though their need often came from trying to get ahead of impending layoffs. But it seems like it is something that happens to a lot of developers who have come in during this current console generation.

It isn't uncommon to meet and work with people that have played state bingo on more than one occasion. And while that can be fun at first, it can certainly grow old when you want to set up roots somewhere.

In my years working I've met many developers who have a no house buying rule, having either been stuck with an out of state house themselves or seen it happen to too many friends. And while that certainly ties into a larger economic problem, to have people that are financially capable of buying a home, yet refuse to, equally feeds into the fear of layoffs.

"Is this how it's always going to be? Is this just our reality, having to move every couple of years? We are finally moving back close to home, and I don't want to have to do this again."

I don't want to have to do this again either. I am done moving. I want to set up roots and buy a home. I want to stop living by my Layoff Handbook and not have to look over my shoulder all the time. I want to live in an area that I really want to call home, and not just a "safe zone" city filled with a lot of studios so that I can have options.

I just want work really hard and will this all into reality. Honestly, that is all I CAN do. But that still only leads to reactionary solutions for the majority of game devs. And if that is all we have, then the answer I will have to give my wife is, "Yes, this IS how it is always going to be." And that is an answer I don't think anyone is looking forward to.

That means to give the answer we want, we need to put our faith with the management and business of the games industry. Scary, I know. These are areas that I don't have much expertise in, or honestly even care to take part of on a grand scale.

I hate the business side of game development. It is a reason I WANT to work for larger companies. I want to just create and let someone else handle the business side of things. I know that a basic understanding of the business model is necessary as it affects the design and scope of the game, but beyond that, I don't want to have to worry about it.

And I am guessing when I start spewing solutions to business problems, it is as annoying to them as when they try to dictate creative solutions to us. So I am sure whatever ideas I have on creating a better game business are probably flawed or pedestrian.

But I do want to ask all the business and management types reading this the question my wife posed to me.

"Is this how it's always going to be?"

Because if so, there are a lot of developers who don't see this as a sustainable life. And bleeding the talent that is the most passionate because they are constantly having to justify the industry they love to the rest of the world can't be a good business practice.

We already have to justify so much of the content, which is something we actually CAN fix on our own. But to justify the business is the last straw for many.

And that is where it becomes management's problem. Because for the business it means the loss of potential profits. And to the team it means we lose another team member on a few different levels. Which then leads to even more lost profits. Rinse. Repeat.

The next time management wonders what can be done to help the team out, this, more than anything, is what is wanted. Start giving us all the faith to be able to say NO when asked if this is how it is always going to be.

Both my wife and I, as well as families across the industry, will be eternally thankful.

[This piece was reprinted from #AltDevBlogADay, a shared blog initiative started by @mike_acton devoted to giving game developers of all disciplines a place to motivate each other to write regularly about their personal game development passions.]

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