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Catch-22: The State of Employment

Written version of the presentation with the same name presented at Game Design Dallas on Oct 18th of this year. Discussing the issues that most young developers are forced to face to gain employment in our industry as well as proactive solutions.

This past Game Developers Conference I was constantly talking about my company that I had started to affluent game developers in the hopes that people would take notice to the things we were trying to do in a positive manner for the industry. As I chatted with many a developer, one man thought my views would be better received in a panel at a conference for developers. So as I sit here writing this, less than a week to giving that panel, I'm reminded that I've lived through these conditions that our industry has set up as well as observed many a friend to endure and am fed up with them, my hope is to inform those that are coming out of school what to expect, regardless of what employment counselors may promise. Bring to light the failings of our industry in respect to the needs of employment and give suggestions and introductions to proactive approaches that we can take as individuals and as a whole towards solving our employment crises. 

Who Am I?

Not one to boast that I've had so many years of industry experience that I'm in the know for how things are done, but I'd state that I've been on the end of unemployment in this industry for almost two years to know what the industry is looking for and how they've come up short towards those that have worked hard to be a part of it. Like many affluent graduates of game development curriculums I thought I was a shoe in for the industry. I graduated early and earned an honors degree for my bachelors of science in game software development with affluence in production and design. Prior to my schooling I served eight years in the U.S. Army honorably. I've applied to every possible developer/publisher that I have respect for in this industry and at times have even been sought out by developers for position but regardless of my work ethics and my motivation for the development process I was shunned for having a lack of that all encompassing requirement in our industry; experience. As a result I was forced or inspired to create my own experience, A Maniacal Game, which I'll get to later as it stands for proactive solutions to the problems many face today.


Educational curriculums offered by schools for game development started just before the time of the great recession, when it was proven that our industry was not only surviving but flourishing. Primarily offered by tech schools such as Devry, ITT, Westwood and Phoenix, all varying in disciplines and reputations. I mention reputations because regardless of your personal affluence you may be judged primarily on the school you obtained your degree from. I was once questioned on which school I obtained my degree and by association to it I was automatically assumed to hold no value as an employee because of the history of which they've obtained past graduates. Of course the accusations were quickly dismissed for fear of legal actions but it still makes me wonder. These days’ federal restrictions on tech schools have seen a dramatic decline in available game development curriculums but not in interested students. So as tech schools abandon such programs, state, private and Ivy League schools adopt them to attract more students with fewer desires to become lawyers or doctors. 

In an effort to gauge the current trends of our industry's employment rate I hosted a poll to find out if people that were getting educated and those who self-educated were gaining employment that they wanted in our industry. It’s been well documented that one doesn't require a degree from a higher educational institution to gain employment within the industry regardless of the required qualifications posted by an employer, but it does help. I realize now that I should have better formatted my questionnaire to ask not only how long people have been out of school before they got their position in the industry but also how long they might have had the position or had been in the industry prior to taking the poll. Of the 120 people who took the poll, 68 people were self-educated and 52 reported as being college graduates. Their current positions whether involved in the major industry or by Indie development or unemployed is shown below: (Unable to paste the chart here is the info)

Educated - 52:      Major Developer - 24.8%, Indie Developer - 64.8%, Unemployed - 10.4%

Self Educated - 68:     Major Developer - 48.5%, Indie Developer - 45.5%. Unemployed - 5.8%

Had I gotten more people to take this poll and incorporated more determining questions I'm sure the numbers would show more of a discrepancy. The point is there are more graduates every year fighting for position in our industry.


Developers and publishers that face financial problems often end in foreclosure. Hundreds of people at any given time can lose their jobs not just from the financial turmoil that a company may face but even from the completion of projects or the failure of meeting the expectations of budgets. It's unfortunate in our industry that we always hear about the unfortunates. We never get news worthy reports of a developer/publisher involved in mass hiring’s, a boon to our industry if that were to happen. Foreclosures are not the only reason why our industry is flooded by veteran talent fighting for position, but changing of formats can single out console developers who've been doing this job for the past 20 years and have no formal training to meet the changes from console to mobile. Since 2006 over 130 developers have closed operations, this year alone has seen 13 development teams fired from their respected employers. Of the 120 people polled 84 answered questions in regards to losing employment due to foreclosure or market change, here are those results posted below:

Loss of Employment - 84:         Foreclosure - 97.6%, Changing Markets - 2.4%

Industry SOP

Standard operating procedure when it comes to the hiring of talent to a developer is experience. It trumps everything else, no matter what your portfolio or degree without experience you will not be looked at twice. A good friend of mine, who's an exceptional artist, applied for a position at a well respected AAA developer, she had an immaculate portfolio and passed their art test with flying colors, but when the time came for her to have the second interview and get that position she was instead passed over for someone who was less qualified for the position but had more experience. Less qualified but more experienced, does anyone else see the problem here? Current needs of the industry fall under a minimum of 3-6 years experience, with a high need for senior level talent continuously, as costs for development continues to rise due to emerging technologies, developers will not want to risk investing money in unproven talent. From my understanding it takes close to a month to properly acclimate an entry-level talent into the day-to-day operations of any company, however to acclimate someone requires a senior level to actually work with them which takes time and money. As I walked the career pavilion at this past GDC, I observed many a student patiently waiting in lines that circled the block of each developers section, with portfolio in hand, prepared to show their worth. I asked a representative of each developer a simple question, how many entry-level positions are you offering, I didn't get so much a response as I got a strange look from each, as if I was talking in Latin. Entry-level positions are a thing of myth, like unicorns or Sasquatch, instead internships are offered by various developers, but are considered by many as the employment Olympics as about 1% of all that apply will gain that position.

Quality Assurance, not debating on its importance, as some released games could have used more of it. It was once considered the preferred method of gaining entry into the industry, you start testing, you prove your worth for another position and your career is off. Nowadays it's a part-time position with practically no chance of becoming more than what you're there for...some instances prove to be lucky. For the most part though your experience as a QA specialist amounts to experience in QA which is probably not what you went to college for. Some of my colleagues that were very gifted programmers found themselves taking on positions with a QA outsourcing company, it wasn't ideal for them but with encroaching student loans how could they pass up a lucrative opportunity that wasn't necessarily as challenging as software development. Unfortunately they've lost their talents as game programmers, I assume they could retrain with little issue and regain their abilities but its still seen as a waste. The final portion of the poll was dedicated to the discovery of how people got their start and whether or not they were in the position that they wanted in accordance with their desires. The results of those questions answered by all 120 people are posted below:

Developers - 120:       Started in QA - 51.6%, Started as Intern - 8.3%, Started in Desired Field - 40%

Proactive Solutions as Individuals

Go Indie, it's easy to state the obvious but if you're unable to find the necessary employment in the industry, then you might want to consider holding on to your everyday job and develop games on your own time. There are plenty of people out there that can help you with advice on how to get started, but in all honesty, regardless if you want to make that leap into creating your own company or just developing with your friends, it's important to start making games now. Developers want to see your hard work from your portfolios actively involved in a game not just sitting idly by in your portfolios. Indie is big right now but remember the cardinal rules involved, never steal anyone else’s game, its bad form. There are plenty of potential games that can be created as long as an emphasis in innovation, not necessarily innovation in technology and quality are behind it.

I know companies are quiet and cringe at the thought of it but perhaps it's time we unionize. A union for software developers and artists to keep the companies accountable for their actions. Our medium is as entertaining as the film industry, yet the people behind creating films are unionized to protect themselves. If we don't start protecting ourselves then we allow the conglomerates to fire anyone at anytime regardless of their poor financial choices.

Proactive Solutions as an Industry

Developers and publishers must begin to accept the problem and work towards solving it. Start with the types of games that are being created, most developers will inherently strive for franchises, frankly there's nothing wrong with that, a development team should strive for an employment extended further than just 3 years. MMO's or games requiring episodic content as a delivery method are also proven methods to providing long term employment for development teams. On the flip side to it, if there's not a sheer desire for an unplanned sequel, something that the community actually desires, and then it's in the best interest of a developer to not create the game. An abundance of sequels will only cause your community to seek new challenges and experiences that are being offered by someone or something new.

Provide retraining for your industry veterans to acclimate to current development trends if the decision is to change formats. It's a better investment long-term as you already have the experienced personnel comfortable working alongside the teams you employ and you wouldn't have to find someone to replace them. HR should not be the people making the decisions as to whom should be hired to a development team, if that's not an option than the focus to hiring the talent should be based on the capabilities of the individual instead of the experience.

A Maniacal Game

The indie developer I started was just a simple indie developer with desires to create innovative games. I changed it this past year in response to the very problems many face each day in our industry. We provide the entry-level position for young developers and give them the means to help themselves. Allowing people to work in their desired field, with an international team, developing games for quantifiable experience and the prospect of earning that employment that they deserve. We primarily recruit new graduates but also have opened our doors to people trying re-acclimate themselves with current trends. We offer memberships, not employment, as I'm the only investor in this company and the motivation from people to work needs to come from themselves. People can choose what type of membership they want which is different based on the needs of the individual, the responsibilities involved and the form of compensation received. Then members choose what projects they want to work on, nothing is forced on anyone here. We do believe that people should get paid for their work, based on the membership that one chooses that can come in two ways, either on delivery for assets on a minimal work turnaround or on the net % of a project when it goes to market. Our ultimate goal as a company is to play better games, they don't necessarily have to come from us, but we believe that better talent will create better games, if we have to be the stepping stone for new careers to begin we'll accept that responsibility. 

We're not afraid to ask for help within the industry as well, I understand we're not the normal everyday type of company, that we are trying to do something new and new things are always scary. We have received support from the IGDA in our formation as well as Mary-Margaret Network with recruitment. In return we're trying to mold the new generation of developers for the future needs of the industry, the ones that create games for the desire of furthering their talent and joy of experiencing something new. The type of talent that a major developer would always want to have working for them but are exhausted with sifting through thousands of people to find. We want to see our members that prove themselves to gain that future employment, I take a bit of satisfaction to see that occur, that through us they have realized their career goal. For more information about what we do as a company I invite you to look at our website:


With all the greatness that our industry exemplifies I stand by with the belief that we can always do better, that there's always room for improvement. I have a hard time believing that there will be a more entertaining and expressive medium past our industry, but we must grow-up and be willing to change it for the better. Thank you for reading. 

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