I have to apologize for another "job in the industry" question. I've been in the tech industry for about a decade though my focus is on distributed systems and security (crypto). I have a stable and well paid Silicon Valley job but it's not in the game industry. If I were to ask you if I should try for a game dev job what reasons would you give me for absolutely NOT working in the game dev? And is there a reason to join other than the love of games?
Why shouldn’t you work in the gaming industry? There are plenty of reasons.
1. You get paid much less than other industries
Part of the problem of a “cool” job is that developers (especially engineers) get paid a lot less than another software engineer of equivalent experience doing enterprise software. There’s one engineer I know who left my dev team to work on casino games and his salary was practically tripled. This isn’t a problem for most fresh-faced bushy-tailed newcomers to the industry, but if you’ve already got things like a mortgage, a family, and commitments, this might not be the career for you.
2. You may have to work a lot of hours
Crunch is very real. Due to the waxing and waning need of people for AAA development specifically, there will be times where you spend 10, 12, or even more hours at the office each day. Working weekends will be expected. Again, not a huge problem for newcomers, but very taxing on those with families and friends. After crunching for months on a project and finally shipping it, I once had to relearn how to cook for myself since I hadn’t done so for so long.
3. Volatility sucks
Most studios don’t plan more than a couple of years out at a time. Layoffs could hit after any project, even if the project does well. There will always be a new project spinning up, and another one crashing and burning. As such, you may need to be on the lookout for a new job or a new opportunity. I was very recently updating my resume and I realized that I’ve shipped ten games with nearly as many studios. This is a bit above the norm, but really not as far removed as it should be. There are some industries and employers where you can plan to work for your employer until retirement. Video games is generally not one of those.
4. You won’t get to work on your own ideas for years unless you go indie
Unless you somehow climb the ranks at a meteoric pace, you probably won’t get the opportunity to write your own ticket for years. Any game developer needs to spend years earning experience, proving competence, and increasing the scope of his or her responsibilities. Only a very exclusive number of developers will ever be able to make his or her own ideas a reality. Most of the time, it’s being assigned tasks by the producers and doing them. Unless you decide to give up AAA development and work on an indie title, you’ll be working for them for years.
5. Somebody will always hate what you do
Games are public-facing. No matter what game it is or how good it is, there’s going to be a very loud group of people that will hate it. They will happily let you know as well - any decision you make to improve the game will be second-guessed and dismissed into oblivion. And they will park themselves firmly in your game’s official social media channels and continue to shout at you for as long as the game continues to be maintained. 99% of the time, they won’t know anything about the actual circumstances of things, but that won’t matter to them. Not that you’re allowed to talk to them anyway.
There’s a lot of practical reasons why someone wouldn’t want to work in games. It’s a nice idea, but reality is a harsh mistress. For many, the lower pay and the regular crunch are the primary factors in leaving the industry. It definitely takes a lot of dedication and passion to stay with game development as a career. There’s always a lot of people who want to get in, but the intersection of both passion and competence is not a very big number. Of those who might fit, the above reasons tend to drive many of them out as well. Game development is often thankless and draining. It certainly isn’t for everyone.