Originally featured in the IGDA Newsletter for the theme "Wear the Hats, All the Hats", I am "reprinting" the whole article here to inspire everyone to not only survive but thrive in the games industry as we lead happy lives with our families. If you have an inspiring story to share or other thoughts, then leave a comment.
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According to the IGDA Developer Satisfaction Survey (http://bit.ly/2014IGDADSSNews), 70% of respondents do not have children. Is this because it's harder to maintain a high quality of life as we become parents? Are we sacrificing too much of our family life for our passions and careers as game developers!? And therefore we leave the industry? I refuse to go! Being married with 4 kids, an industry entrepreneur, and a career game developer, I have become a master of wearing many hats in order to build great games and grow a business while maintaining good quality of life for my family!
Top Hat: Family Comes First...and Last
As we all know, you have to keep your personal life in balance or it will have a negative impact on the rest. No sleep, then you're too tired. Not eating, then you're sluggish. Kids and wife not happy, then no happy life for you! Plus, isn't this all for them anyway!?
To start the day I wake up and make sure I help my wife get the kids up and out the door. I try to relieve my wife from tasks involving the household and kids as much as possible because she already takes on most of it and she will inevitably be taking on more at times (see Entrepreneurship below). During the day it's time for entrepreneurial and career activities. But at night I return back to the family, helping once again to manage the kids and house.
Game development is one job you can take home with you, so I like to mix work in to my home life whenever possible. If I'm researching a new property, guess what we're watching on TV. If I'm making a new game, guess what we're playing. They're home-made play testers and they love it! Good thing I make kids games now too :) But even if you don't make kid games, you can apply the fundamentals of game development by playing other games that could help inspire your day job or business. There's nothing wrong with playing with your kids for undercover research on your business or career as long as they are having fun and creating happy memories. And the final night time activity is to spend at least an hour with my wife...TV and of course .. um .. games! ;)
Magician's Hat: Entrepreneurship
If you've ever tried to start a business, then you already know you have to pull some powerful magic out of your hat to deal with the many roles you have to play! I won't go into those roles which can vary, but I'll discuss being an entrepreneur in the context of the other 2 major hats (family and career).
Entrepreneurial activities aren't necessarily the next priority after family. The career is next in priority because it puts food on the table, at least when you're business is in a pre-revenue state. But it does come after family in the morning and before final family activities at night. Sometimes it unfortunately replaces the spouse time at night...yikes! That's why it's important to help with kids and house whenever possible...to help your spouse maintain their sanity and support during those moments.
Whenever the career runs into overtime, unfortunately you have a toss up between family and entrepreneurial activities. This is where a strong spouse comes in handy (a big thank you goes out to my wife), because to be honest the family may lose out at times because the business must keep going. It's a long term investment to independence and greater stability for the family. But as long as there isn't an extended period of imbalance and you tip the scale the other way at times, you can still create positive memories rather than negative ones of you not being around. I constantly ask myself, "What memories will they have?" It helps me keep things in perspective. If the answer is along the lines of, "Daddy worked a lot, but I remember the games we used to play, the places we went, and he always was there when I really needed him", then I'm doing good!
Sports Hat: Career
My career is my sports cap...it's cool, it feels good, I love wearing it, but it's not appropriate to wear all the time. As game developers we get wrapped up into our creations while time quickly passes by. We need to make sure we look up and relax with the family.
On the flip side, sometimes we're ready to go home but our employers have other plans. I've been blessed to find an employer who creates a work environment conducive to getting some great games made while holding family values high. But with that said, in the past whenever my work environment did constantly clash with my personal life, I simply had to choose the right strategic moments to be firm and go home for the night. That can only be done successfully (i.e. without getting fired) if you maintain your work at a high quality level. It's hard to argue with high quality work combined with a teamwork attitude displayed in good and bad times. Choose your battles wisely, then your employer will most likely listen and respect your management of your own time. Unfortunately we don't live in an ideal world so if your quality of work is high, you've shown that you are a team player, but the respect is still not there, then continue to do your job to the best of your ability while searching for another position.
Is crunch necessary? Absolutely not! Does it happen at times? Yes, even in great places to work. Unfortunately there are other dependencies on the project being done at the scheduled time so it must get done and you've run into unexpected issues that put you right up against the deadline. Every single job I have had, I put in over time (i.e. crunch)...happily at times...but not on every single project. The difference between coming out of crunch happy versus just surviving the burn (which will eventually burn you out), is the length of the crunch and employee appreciation. I've done from 1 week of over time every day (which is ok to me) all the way up to 2-3 months of over time and weekends (which is unacceptable to me). Everyone has their limits. You need to know yours and know when it's time to move on even if it means you have to start over in a new place. But in any situation, if your employer truly appreciates your efforts, the extra mile you put in because of your dedication not because of some false obligation, then it can feel satisfying, making it worth it.
Work Hard, Play Hard!
I tell my kids, "work hard, play hard". And you don't have to necessarily do it in that order. Mix them together sometimes, add a little game development to your life. If you can handle having fun while getting great work done, then do it! If you struggle to get your work done while playing, then work hard first and afterwards go play hard. I definitely live by this to keep successfully juggling the major 3 hats I have to wear (Family, Entrepeneurship, Career) so I can make sure I'm happy in all that I do, my employers are happy, my customers are happy, and, most importantly, my family is happy...so quality of life is good all around!