The Center Cannot Hold

Though the Double Fine documentary was the first time I had seen it “in action” as it were, I had heard about the vagaries and struggles of video game industry employment in a lot of places before. One of my brief flirtations with entry-level video-game-industry stuff was at a studio that needed me one moment, didn’t the next, and then needed me again 5 months later (and probably would’ve dropped me a few months after that, like they did a friend of mine who worked there). That’s normal practice, but it doesn’t make it any less disrespectful or unprofessional or, if my rent check depended on that job, terrifying.

One of the qualities of a good designer listed out in the James Portnow School of Design is that a good designer can recognize and respect the constraints put on game production – especially budget and schedule.

More game projects fail because of teams with a poor sense of scope than any other reason.

It seems like this is a “do as I say, not as I do” scenario for devs in practice. According to a pretty thorough review, crunch doesn’t even produce better games. This pair of Jason Schrier articles from Kotaku serve to underscore the point:

I don’t know if it’s viable for me to enter an industry that treats its humans so roughly – at least not without controlling my fate more directly, or being desperate to begin with. If I ever get laid off or something, maybe the temporary work and long hours won’t seem like a bad trade-off for entry level industry experience, but only if the alternative is “don’t work at all.”

This is a problem that can be solved – clearly, other game devs believe it must be solved. I’m in agreement there. I think I can be a part of that solution. Perhaps not as a visionary designer in the trenches right away – that time shall come, and under my own terms. But perhaps as a “Video Game Business Guy,” I’ve got something to offer today and right now. I’ve been a software business operations analyst for 3 years now.

That might be my approach as an in to this industry. As I hone my design skills to a fine point, I see an instance of poor design that is causing human suffering and that I think I can have a hand in fixing. For the last year or so I’ve been focused on Analysis. That will still happen, but perhaps it’s time to inject the Discipline of Design into the mix more often – the business side of the video game industry, and how I can make it better.