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Sunday, February 23, 2014

Issue : Games : Orphans



So Irrational is shutting down. Thats sad. People are wondering how something like that can happen to a company that makes such good games. A lot of journalists are pointing to the incident as evidence of how bad game development is getting. And they ain’t wrong. Fans of the the game are beside themselves wondering what is going to happen to Booker DeWitt and Elizabeth, and I guess that makes sense.

But what is going to happen to the characters is something I wouldn't worry too much about. These days it’s not often that characters in a video game transcend the game itself into cosplay, mainstream recognition, and whatnot. The characters of Bioshock exist, the IP is proven profitable, it will survive in some form, in some way. The only people to truly worry about are the real life employees, people that gave their all, and succeeded in making a great game, that lost their jobs.

I know I spend a great deal of words here fucking around, talkin my shit, or actively working to make you cringe, but let me not equivocate on this one.

The quality of video games are getting worse because people of quality are unable to find work, do work, or keep work.

Working in the video game industry is a lonely, hard, uncertain, and above all a scary road to travel. Scary if you have a family that depends on your stable employment. Scary if you are alone, and you are all you have to depend on. Scary when everyone in your life does not understand why you run the crucible time after time, with the same results. Software pays better, Web development is more in demand, IT is more stable.

“But I love video games,” you say. They don’t get it.

Comfort is a dangerous illusion not only in the gaming industry, but work in general. And all employees at video game development companies are orphans. We start out as babies, in a big group of a bunch of other babies. We learn how to walk, talk, draw, write, and code. We watch the people around us get taken in by families and eagerly await our turn.


The people that run the orphanage say, “Don’t get your hopes up.” But you do anyway. If you are lucky a family will walk in, see you, and take you home with them. And you think, “Well, ain’t I lucky!” You show up at this cool place where they are doing cool things. You get a your own computer station and free snacks. All the other kids in your new family are interesting and like what you like. You begin to nest, you feel at home, you love your work, you love your life.

Then one day, you get called into a room, and let go. They say its not your fault, the family just doesn't have enough money to support you anymore. You are scared, hurt, and confused. You wonder if its something you did. You wonder if its something you could have done better. Why don’t they want me? You end up back at the orphanage.

This happens over and over, yet somehow, you find the strength to step back up to the plate.

But you are a bit older now, and the families that come only want babies. You don’t even know if you want a family to take you anymore. The hurt of rejection is beginning to overwhelm the longing for acceptance. You get picked up by a family, but they only take you in to collect a check.

You don’t respect the game they make, you lose interest in getting to know people you will probably never see again in eight months, you lose all expectations. You don’t listen when your new parents report anything positive, because they lie. You know the second things get bad, you will be first to go, and they won’t even care. And you won’t give them the satisfaction of crying over it.

You do your job, keep your head down. The guillotine close enough to cut hair of your neck at all times, but you don’t care, nothing lasts forever. You give up on love, give up on dreams, you accept the broken system for what it is. Happiness is for the end user. You just assemble it.

And when you arrive at this emotional plateau you are pretty much where AAA game development is today. That is not to say that the situation has to be totally bad. And This is not all encompassing, there may be plenty of people that worked at one studio all their career, and love it. I have never met one, but they could be out there.

The situation at Irrational is proof that no one is safe. No company should think they are safe, and if they do they are a fool. Every house is one publishers fiscal decision away from dismantling. Every company is one bad game away from the cliff. There are no exceptions, not with this kind of money on the table.

Good games lose good people just like bad games lose good people. It’s not a meritocracy.

The people that survive in this industry all have multiple good and bad studios under their belt, multiple firings, multiple broken relationships, multiple failed ventures. Multiple missed dance recitals, weddings, and first steps. Multiple job offers passed on from outside the industry. All to make video games for little kids. And that changes you. What you gain in dedication you lose in yourself, piece by piece. But you do it because someone has to, because that is love, dedicating yourself to one thing, for the long run. Even if that thing is hard to do, especially if it is hard to do.

After all this bullshit I still love video games, I play them after work, I talk about them with my friends. They are my life. But I understand its a business. A company I work for is not my family, and the company is not why I do what I do. Video games are my family, the people that love them, the games themselves, and the way I feel when I play. They have been with me my whole life, and are not going anywhere. A job is just a job.

Anyway, hope information does a lot boom boom and a zoom zoom during the vacation time between titles. And you know the drill, hit me up and i’ll toss leads your way. First come, first served. Also I know we are all taking tough hits, but don't give up, this is where you belong, don't let them take that away from you. Also yeah Youtube is not being cool so I gotta figure out what to do about the mixtape, and of course JERBZ and shit.

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