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The dark side of game development.

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The dark side of game development.

Post by Rasalom » September 27th, 2016, 12:55 pm

It'll be a lot of reading, but here it goes.
Imagine yourself that you’re fulfilling the greatest of your dreams ever – you became a game developer. You have ambitions, motivation, heck – even vision of how to make your game one of a kind. And then reality strikes back.
Several months passed; your motivation goes sideways; health starts to crumble and all that, what appeared to be so awesome just few months prior, now is only frustrating.
Game developing industry has a lot of issues, justly made public by social media, but there are those types of issues that are still kept quiet about.
Like depression.

Beginner game dev by default has two option – freedom of creativity as indie developer, or less creative, yet safer job as “just another brick in the wall” in larger companies like Ubisoft, EA or whatever. Both of the options have their pros and cons. From the end user point of view it’s easy to shun the second option, especially in the face of postponed dates of premieres, unfulfilled promises, or overhyped half-products, which requires infamous “day one patch”.
Reality is rather more complicated I have to say. It’s actually well described by Maxime in his exposé titled: “Why I Quit My Dream Job at Ubisoft. The Reality of AAA Games Development or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Go Indie”.

Vast, robust projects require large teams of developers, where individuality is a myth. It’s not all that bad, however. Large game company provides safety of employment, all the benefits of working in the corporation, and most importantly a paycheck at the end of the month. Rookie developers, are starting low, but with time they gain experience and work their way up in the food chain.
Like it was with Maxime. He started by doing simple games for PSP, optimizing ports, ending on one of the top brass on the totem pole while working on Syndicate after which he quit to work in smaller team. Somewhere along the way two ambitious project were discarded, and Maxime started to spend more time on meetings, than by the computer.
Young developer might easily start to see the futility of his work. What is the meaning of my work if I’m so easily replaceable? Where is the creativity, when even the smallest decision has to be approved by a group of managers; or worse, when with the small team we make an ambitious project and it suddenly gets scrapped by some CEO? And that’s not even half as bad as “the game crunch”.
The crunch-time, or Game Crunch is something that the game dev hates the most. You could call it a final leg of the journey in the development cycle, when the game needs but a few buffs and polish before release. In reality this is the time where all the glitches and crashes came in to view, and other issues within the game code, that needs to be rectified. In that case regular eight-hour work time turns into “some–teen” hour workload.

According to the statistics of International Game Developers Association 60% of the game devs has to deal with this every year. Why it is so bad? Because it usually results in the loss of health; even sanity.
Game crunches were made public sometime around 2004, when so-called “ea_spouse” in her post addressed the EA, where in her opinion worker’s rights were violated; EA forced their employees to work on weekends, and the crunch-time was turned into a regular overtime.
There are countless stories on the net about game developers that don’t return home from work; sleeping in the office, spend several hours straight in front of the computer, and ruin their health. All in the name of the passion for making games. Working in larger companies might easily turn into a living hell, where we lose all our satisfaction, the sense of your own value, not to mention your health. As it was with Patty Chevez, who after several months of 80 hour per week workload suddenly realized that she weighs 99 pounds, ‘cause apart from losing sleep and a handful of hair she also lost weight.
With the crunch-time there are also issues with creativity. I mean – there are days when we’re in the zone, and everything goes smoothly, and there are those day, when everything goes south on you, and you still have to get it done before deadline; we get all stressed up, and our lack of productivity do number on the whole team.
So you can always say “To hell with that. I’m going Indie.”, right?
Well… This is where it gets really hardcore.

Total freedom of production; being your own boss, and managing time and budget for a specific project sounds awesome, isn’t it? We have STEAM Greenlight, Kickstarter and a whole living community craving for something new and outside of the box, right?
However on the count of each Indie developer that makes it to STEAM or Kickstarter, there are numbers of those that don’t make it; and the history is written by the victors.
All the curvy road of Indie game development is well portrayed in “Indie Game: The Movie”. It’s not well known that behind a simple Indie Game there are usually debts, years of hard work, and a panic over the fact that roughly a week after the premiere it turns out that the game flopped, and you’ve basically lost your life because of it. It’s not uncommon that the first game of a particular Indie developer is also the last game he’ll/she’ll ever make. Some time ago I’ve found on Youtube a semi-documentary “Pixels and Polygons” where a beginner developer presents fragments of his life concerning few months prior to event, where his game will be published.

Few hours of sleep, getting to work in the mall, and after that hours spent in front of a computer, making the game. Sleep-work-code; sleep-work-code. Health starts to crumble, social life is not even a theory, and on top of that all that pressure about which the industry still keeps quiet (and it’s so freakin’ similar to what I’ve been through).
Just how destructive the process of creating your own game is, nails the story of Hugh Monahan.
In his post opening the discussion “happy cake day. 5 years of gamedev will kill you” he described how from healthy, and fit guy, who did boxing in college he became a wreck of a man. Gained more than few pounds, developed some cardiac problems and occasional panic attacks.
In the end there always will be those type of players, who won’t buy the game, but rather get it from Pirate Bay, or something, and then start mocking it on forums or through other media, just because its “only a 6/10 game”. When you take all of that into account all those developers who started freaking-out after their game has been grinded into dust by “professional reviewers” suddenly look less as an overreacting hipster or narcissistic man-child, huh?

Now don’t get me wrong – I’m not doing this to scare away any potential game developers, who feels that burning passion inside to forge their dreams into bits, but to point out the fact, that it’s not all roses, as one might expect it to be, and make more people aware of the fact that those few hours of their entertainment cost a lot more than most people think.
And also to make the topic more public. I mean when a game developer tries to find support amongst his/hers colleagues the response he usually gets is pretty much: “Suck it up. Others have it worse” or “Get over it”. Hardly something you could call helpful.
Hardly something you’d need…

Now I know about non-profit organization Take This, founded by colleagues of a journalist who in 2012 committed suicide, and they do their best to help developers in that regard, but it’s still not enough in my opinion.
So, in a sense, this is my part in making this case public, and this post will hopefully open a discussion on the topic, ‘cause it would appear that there are a number of game developers, or those who want to become one on this forum.
Don't kill the edge and become like the rest.
Don't lose the faith that made you who you are
Don't kill the edge that manifests inside
This world is mine; it's where my thoughts collide...

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Re: The dark side of game development.

Post by Aracth'nil » September 28th, 2016, 11:29 am

Yeah that's a pretty big problem. All I can say is to support and seek new indie games actively... Have fun exploring!
People are like dragons. They can be dangerous, but they can be friendly. But whatever you are, take flight into the blue abyss of endless possibility!

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