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Tips for surviving layoff roulette in the gaming industry

It sure seems like there's been a surge in layoffs recently in the game industry. Having gone through it myself a few months back, I thought I'd jot down some thoughts on how to approach the situation if it happens to you.

Layoffs happen all too often in gaming.  It's a hits-driven, fast-moving industry, so your job security can change pretty quickly.  It sure seems like there's been a surge in layoffs recently, with OnLive, PopCap, Funcom, Sony's Studio Liverpool, THQ, and Idle Games all catching the bug in the past month.  These were some great companies/studios with extremely talented employees, and if it happened to them... it could happen to you.  Sometimes, when choosing between job opportunities in the gaming industry, you're really just playing a game of "layoff roulette". 

I've been thinking about this a lot lately, because my co-founder and I were both laid off at 6waves Lolapps when the development studio was shed (basically all of Lolapps was let go).  It was a scary and uncertain time for everyone, and my thoughts are with anyone who's recently been affected by a layoff.  

Here's some advice from my experience, in case it can be helpful at all in the event something like this happens to you:

  • Band together with your former co-workers - Start a Facebook group for alumni from your company.  Organize happy hours.  Get and share everyone's contact info.  The people you worked with are by far the most valuable asset from your previous job.  Stay close with them.
  • Find out what really happened, so you can screen for this situation in the future and be better prepared - Did the company run out of funding? Was a particular game performing badly?  Were the costs to acquire users higher than the LTV of those customers?  Did the market shift to a new technology or platform?  Did the corporate office decide to restructure?  Each of these can be turned into questions that you can ask your future potential employers as you evaluate each opportunity.
  • Start your job search immediately (save the vacation until you've found something) - If the layoffs were publicized, which they usually are in gaming, it's likely that recruiters and headhunters will start reaching out to you and your co-workers almost immediately.  This is the time when you should try to line up several interviews, and hopefully get a few job offers to come in around the same time.  Having more than one option is the best way to negotiate a better compensation package, and since you're no longer working a full-time job you might finally have the time to line-up your job offers correctly.  Then, once you've made your decision, you should be able to squeeze in a vacation before your start date.
  • Learn a new skill - Hunting for jobs all day can be exhausting and monotonous.  Consider learning something new in the downtime, or when you just need a break.  Take a tutorial on that new programming language, start hacking something together, experiment with a new piece of software, learn to play guitar, take a toastmasters class, etc.  I'd recommend picking just one thing that you really want to focus on during this time.
  • Submit your unemployment claim right away - Unemployment eligibility is calculated and paid out on a weekly basis.  So don't wait even a couple days or you might get delayed to the next week, which could potentially cost you hundreds of dollars.
  • Consider starting your own thing - If you have some savings to tap into, a layoff may be a 'founding moment' of sorts since you have a group of like-minded and talented co-workers who are all in the same situation as you. This is the route my co-founder and I chose, but it remains to be seen if it was the right one! 

Does anyone else have tips or advice to share on dealing with a layoff?  Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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