[ Unpaid internships are skyrocketing. It's supposed to be illegal in the US. This needs to stop, NOW. ]
I have been bombarded with "notifications of new lines of work", daily, only to check that the offer is not a job. It's usually a gig with studio X / shop Y, offering "free training" and "work experience" and "networking connections" as an internship.
Without Pay. I am sick of seeing this. In an industry that's singlehandedly saving our world economy, it is an absolute shame for shops to even offer "unpaid work".
A job requires payment. With $_SHINY_$. I don't want "experience", I don't want mysterious brownie points, I wanna earn my keep.
My peer group should do the same. All Y'all. We should all want that shiny something fierce. It's not about selling out, but I don't think we can make games on an empty gas tank. You can't love game design on an empty stomach, nor on a bank account flying in the red.
But some of our peers, fresh graduates from the ivory towers of academic game design, students grinding and hacking away, feel the need to prove themselves for free. Just like indentured servants.
I have met entire squads of game design students/grads who would gladly work for free. "For the experience", the most common lure, the siren's call. They want to pad their resumes. They want to earn credit to some project. And they are willing to do this while risking financial ruin......... not really a sane choice to work for free, when we have an economy ruined by the most ridiculous financial stunts. These situations are not mutually exclusive. They share the same irrationality.
This scenario is morally absurd, especially in an industry founded on creative designs.
I call on every graduate, and every game design student to hear a simple plea;
We are the cause of this. We are the solution.
0. The Imperialistic Lie
Working for free should not be your "passage into the industry". During colonial times, young people would come to the New World as indentured servants.
On the parallel, undergraduates are offered a "passage into the industry" on the same accord. The only difference; colonial indentured servants were given food and clothing. Most undergraduates taking these unpaid internships aren't even given relocation assistance. These days, we are being sold vacuous, if not, useless "network connections".
I don't like the idea of such an arbitrary burden placed on the undergraduate population. Is it too much to ask for minimum wage?
1. Working for free makes you look cheap and desperate. Making all of us cheap and desperate.
So, here you are, with at least some chops in the craft. Imagine an entire pool of skilled chopsmen just like you. You have spent most of your academic life honing yourself for this kind of career.
But the rest of your peers, maybe 50% of them, hell, even a small minority, are willing to work for free.
HR doesn't really see us individually. These guys crunch through loads of resume data, and look for the cheapest hires possible. Nothing is cheaper than a desperate graduate looking to prove himself in an industry. (I don't blame HR for any of this, btw. They are keeping true to their craft, and during economic downturns, they are the most overworked individuals I know.)
The lure of the gaming industry seems to cause a star-struck phase in everyone; game design students just want to get in, no matter what the cost. Even if it cheapens the rest of their peers, and themselves.
I would even wager that there are HR shops that ignore applicants who look too desperate, and have no sense of self worth. I betcha there's a perl script that already does this.....
2. Demand The Shiny.
The common conundrum in finding a game design job; you can't get the job without experience, but how can you get experience without the chance for a job?
Notice that the conundrum doesn't deal with money. And is often ignored. Game design grads seem to chase the "years of experience" label, for their resume. Ignoring their pockets.
So, they go for these unpaid internships, as a 'solution'. It's like someone who thinks they can get healthy by starving to death.
There's also that "gamble"; "Oh, they will realize that they wanna pay me." If you're thinking this, you are gambling on your own hunger, you are gambling with no chips, and you are placing yourself at their mercy; that's not something worthy of this profession. You are automagically screwing yourself, it's the worst bet you can make.
3. Your friends are doing it, right now. Tell them to stop.
If you have friends doing this right now; urge them to get paid. Hell, if they want, get paid minimum wage. Get paid for something. Don't accept anything less than your worth. Breaking in the industry should be done on your feet, not on your knees.
We're here to get paid too. We shouldn't be working for some ambiguous debt, nor earning 'credit' through our CV's, nor short selling our skills for the lowest common denominator. We should never sell out our time, we never have enough of it; working without pay means sacrificing the most irreplaceable resource in our lives. We can work hard as hell, but it doesn't mean we can ignore the bills.
We should be feverishly opposed to any act that mutilates our social capital. I don't want to be associated with another generation of 'starving hackers', not in a time when executives, bean counters and suits earn enough every quarter to pay off a college loan debt.
Keep your passions in check, and get some gorram coin.
The Suits have the shiny. Demand the shiny. Show some respect for our craft, and most of all, respect for yourselves. Stop thinking like a slave, start thinking like a Mercenary.