How to Survive a Game Development Layoff

Whether a layoff has ever affected you directly or not, the reality could someday come knocking. In the first in a two part series tackling change, I'll share some insights culled from my experience with layoffs over the past years.

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Change is Good

You hear it all the time, coupled with the realization that change is also: difficult, stressful, transformative, and ultimately a good thing. When a layoff comes around (as it has for me twice over the last 5 years since making the jump from freelance to in-house), it’s been equal parts frightening and exhilarating. Many of us have felt that “fear of the unknown” and been sent spiraling out-of-control towards dark places where employment and happiness don’t exist.

Meanwhile, the excitement of what challenges await are often enough to send the mind reeling in a million directions all at once towards a choose-your-own-adventure of possibilities that may exist in the real world. How one passes through this maelstrom of mega-meta-heaviness is a personal journey. Here are a few things that have helped me in my time.

Slow Down Time

Every moment counts, but you won’t get through a layoff by counting the moments. Whatever you can do to slow the feeling of time passing will be to your benefit. This doesn’t have to mean idleness and deliberation but you should recognize the opportunity to re-frame the flow of time now that you’ve been forcibly removed from the normalcy of the working-week. Watch the foliage sway for longer than you’d usually feel comfortable; take a prolific walk; build a routine around savoring the moments between being productive at job hunting.

The first layoff I experienced found me rewiring my guitar effects pedalboard. The second afforded some time to give the upstairs bathroom a long-overdue glow-up. These focus-opportunities operate on two levels — they provide a space to work through the thoughts in your head in-between accomplishing a task and, if you’re lucky, the successful completion of said task will help reinforce your feelings of ability and competency.

When you look back at your time in between jobs, there should be some space where you allowed yourself to embrace the change quietly and contemplatively while also feeding a feeling of tiny victories and accomplishments.

Get Outside Your Head

Flooded with ideas, concerns, opportunities, potentials, and fear you might find yourself reaching a saturation point. There is only so much that a one-sided conversation inside your own head can advance these things during the process of finding a new way of life. Find people who can allow for your internal process to unfold in whatever way you’re able to express it.

These conversations might dead-end on a moment’s notice once spoken out-loud or more often be lent a valuable perspective from someone outside of the situation. Within the art of conversation there lies a delicate dance between output and input; make sure you’re spending as much time actively listening as you are translating the words rattling around in your head to speech. Find the right moments to jump off the deep end into these discussions and leave space in between for processing.

Regardless of what you take away from these conversations, be sure to honor the process by bringing your honesty into the equation and valuing the contributions of those you involve both personally and professionally.

Recognize Your Value

It’s difficult not to take a layoff personally. The feeling of rejection and being unneeded by an employer can strike a blow at a person’s vitality. While a business arrives at a layoff for a myriad of reasons, they are not often personally directed — which is to say that their decision to lay people off is not usually a reflection of the persons affected. Find a way to acknowledge and move through the feelings that accompany the change and recognize the contribution you bring to the industry. Take time to catalog your successes and use them as a jumping-off point in the direction of your next endeavor.

These accomplishments might just lead the way towards the next fulfilling opportunity, or at least help the healing process as you move forward.

A layoff doesn’t change the good work that you’ve done or the path that you’re on professionally; it is a moment of destabilization in a long-running career that stretches out before you.

Dream the Big Dream

Unshackled from the day-to-day, let your mind wander in the direction of pure bliss. Entertain the what-if scenarios you may have set aside while gainfully employed. Breathe life into the dreams that have been waiting in the wings for a chance to fly and imagine the possibilities. Build bridges to those desirable futures in whatever way you’re able; talk about potentials with colleagues and find clarity towards paths that might motivate your pursuit of these dreams. A layoff is a moment to employ the concept of radical acceptance; embrace the circumstances, look at your immediate surroundings, quickly come to terms with the current state of affairs, and be ready to meet the road as it rises to meet your feet.

Sometimes knowing the “what” can help shed light on the “how” when it comes to lining up the next thing. The more clarity you have on the question of where you want to end up, the easier it can be to chart a path to it.


Always be Preparing

Every conversation resonates. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, there is always a value to sharing your experience with other people. If you recognize the value of your contribution to conversations in the community, or within your personal relationships, you begin to build a support system that can help unlock some of the suggestions expressed throughout this article.

During my last layoff, I called on family, old friends, new friends, colleagues, and strangers to help me understand my career aspirations and job intentions. If you were at Game Developers Conference this year, there’s a high likelihood that I shared my process with you during a time when the unknown loomed like a cloud over my San Francisco experience. I valued being able to share my experience, and folks shared theirs’ in exchange, working towards a better understanding of how to align my dreams with the reality of a paycheck (which isn’t to say that any of these conversations resulted in a paycheck, necessarily). Sometimes timing doesn’t align with a person’s ability to help in a measurable way. Engaging with folks in these kinds of discussions should come with no expectations. It’s sometimes difficult to see the wheels turning behind-the-scenes and it’s important to value every discussion and bring your best self.

Recognize that your professional (and personal) journey with people doesn’t just happen between jobs; it’s a skill that needs to be cultivated throughout your career (and life) towards a better understanding of the world.


Start Right Away

It’s my hope that in years past I’ve been able to help support others on their quest for job security — whether this is by being a good listener, providing honest opinions and encouragement, or by putting folks directly in touch with others who might help them on their personal journey. Building a support system for a future destabilization starts by providing that support to others when they’re in need. Ideally, this support is easier to give during times when the stability of your own situation is well established, but even in the midst of upheaval, there are opportunities to be the quiet in another person’s storm and give them a lift towards their future.

Nothing about these suggestions suggests that any of this is easy; as they say, nothing worth doing ever is. In the long campaign of any career, the successes are measured by a single step in the right direction arriving eventually at one’s goal. Taking the time to understand where you’re headed when life gives you an opportunity to slow down, check-in with yourself, and read the signs will make the journey more pleasant and hopefully land you on-target. The people you involve along the way, how you engage, and how you honor and respect their perspectives can make all the difference.


Damian Kastbauer is a Software Product Manager at Audiokinetic where is he helping to grow Wwise audio authoring with help from the interactive audio community. He spent years as a technical sound designer bridging the gap between content creators and game engines towards a realization of dynamic sound. He is the co-founder of the Game Audio Podcast and author of a two volume collection of articles titled “Tales of a Technical Sound Designer”.

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