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Just Say No to Employment Tests

Want to start a revolution? What if your talent was judged by your portfolio instead?

Game Developer

April 11, 2014

5 Min Read

I can hear you now. 

"But that's just the way it's done Grognard."

"Ya, but if I want the job I have too... (right?)"

Fact is, I'm tired of being exploited. Aren't you? I regularly flush 3-6 weeks of my life annually on design, scripting and writing tests. Let's not even talk about hours of free phone consulting disguised as interview.  Now, I'm no gaming messiah, but you'd think with over 15 years of game development experience people would be more interested in my work. Nope. Why?

The abused like to abuse.

I had another one this week, for a position a didn't even apply for. It went something like this: "We've gotten over 100,000 applications and from that huge pool you've made it. So congrats! Frankly, you are so lucky we're still talking to you. Unfortunately, we can only hire one person, so the next step will be to ask you to do the real job, in lieu of pay, and that way we can see how you operate." 

Then there's always - "Wow, we totally love you, this is great. What a stellar resume. We have this amazing IP! We've already burned through five or so writers, but you'll really knock this one out. Just to make sure you aren't dead weight, could you rethink our IP using [X] franchise, design a few levels, write a 3-page sample campaign script and get back to us with a proposal in two weeks? We know, it sucks, but you really need to do this if you want [fill in carrot of your choice]."

This is not professional. It's exploitation. It's taking food off your table and doing free work for competitors. It's stealing your life. Time. Time you could be spending with people that like you.

"Did they call again?" Photo by Corey Beasley

It's not like we're all that fat kid looking for a break. I can say that because I once was, but if I could talk to that kid I'd tell him to give them the ████ and go back to his D&D. I'd tell him that everyone is lying to him. He wouldn't have seen the The 40 Year Old Virgin, as it hadn't been made yet, but I'd tell him it's a lie too. DON'T GIVE UP YOUR TOYS FOR GIRLS OR JOBS - KEEP PLAYING. Anything but wasting his time on employment tests would get him way farther than any amount of jumping through bozo-buckets and disastrous poison-ridden creative environments. They do more harm than good.

"But you're senior, clearly juniors need to be subjected to the gauntlet." No, all juniors need are enthusiasm and a basic skill-set. Hiring managers should be able to figure that out with a simple conversation and design sample.

"Oh no! It's not like that. Human Resources departments everywhere LOVE people and have nothing but respect for thier time and effort. They simply must do this to determine if you have any value." Haven't read the fine print have you?

"IMPORTANT LEGAL NOTE: By accepting this test you are agreeing not to share any of our intellectual property, neither the storyline, game mechanics, images, names, concepts or trademarked characters. You are also waiving any and all rights to the content submitted as part of this test throughout the Universe forever."

Sounds peachy! And that universe bit, promise. I've signed contracts worded that way by expensive lawyers for HUGE companies. They actually asked for talent to put all the IP they've ever created on a 8.5x11 sheet of paper called "Exhibit A". Why would they do that? So they can steal your work indiscriminately without consequence. So they obscure themselves of any real resposibility and make sure you never get a dime if you should take them to court. Yep, all about you. I'm not saying anyone has stolen content from a test I've been swindled into taking, only that they make sure to have the wiggle room to do so. In this situation it wouldn't be stealing anyhow, hence the verbiage of the contact excerpt above.

Do you think this is how other industries operate? 

"Hello. We've heard you are really good at making sprockets. We need a special sprocket for our broken shit machine. Design one for us and we'll tell you if you have the job. You have 72 hours. Go."

Are big WTF signals going off in your head right now? Because they should be. That's the way it works in the interacitve entertianment industry.

Now, I know stories abound. Please feel free to share them in the comments!  I've produced some decent, even great material for employment tests, but I know it's not my best. My best work comes out when people trust me and value my time and contribution. I think it's the same for most people. Hell, I don't even apply for these jobs anymore. They call me. Then they ask me to take a test? Don't give me, "the job market is harsh". I'm not on the job market anymore than any of us stuck in this on again off again rat race.

But this simple question I ask you - what if we stopped? What if we all said "no", starting today? Right now?

"Then some kid would get the job instead of me." Well good. █████ those lousy █████ heads. If they don't want you, you shouldn't work for them. Plain and simple. If you are so valueless as to be overlooked for sake that you value your time and effort - go elsewhere. Hell, take that time and make something for yourself, then Kickstart it. Having worked in time-tested professional creative envriornments outside the game industry I can say our tests are no proper judge of creative talent. If a creative manager is worth two shits he or she should be able to tell you if a candidate is a good fit without burning so much time and goodwill. 

I'm calling it out - bullshit. Caca del toro as we say in Spain. (I'm not in Spain. Ok, nor am I Spanish.)

Who's with me? Let's start a revolution and next time say "Sure, I'll do your test. On a retainer."

They'll laugh. You'll say "thanks, but no thanks sweetheart" and hang-up. (People still hang-up right?)

I for one am done. 

I'm doing it for you, for us, so we don't have to prove ourselves on the alters of recruiters and inexperienced producers everywhere anymore. Join me and I promise they'll stop. 

Find me @stephendinehart


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