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In defense of personal projects

Why studios should encourage instead of restrict employees doing hobby projects on their own time.

I'm an animator by trade, but I also like to make indie games. Evenings and weekends, or when between projects, I build my own games at home.

Unfortunately, when working at a studio, sometimes you run into contract clauses like this:

- All work done by Employee relating to interactive games is the property of Employer.*

*including anything done at home outside working hours

This is pretty common in a lot of places (though less so in Europe). Some companies even altogether prohibit personal projects of any kind (!), commercial or non-commercial.

I'm not going to go into the legality of trying to enforce such clauses as 1) I am not a lawyer and 2) it varies enormously from region to region, but I will instead argue that clauses like this are a loss for the industry:

When you work on a personal project in your free time, it gives you energy and ideas. It can even provide motivation when your job is temporarily less fullfilling, like there's some tedious but necessary grunt work that needs doing, or that project your team has been working on for years gets cancelled for no good reason. Nobody can pull the plug on your hobby project but you.

And the thing is, you take that energy and everything you learn in the process back to your full-time job...

For me personally, implementing movement and AI in my own games helps me better understand how animation interacts with gameplay, working on sprites for my 2D platformer makes me better at posing and silhouette, solving design and tech problems improves my ability to communicate with design and programmer colleagues and helps me give more constructive feedback when playtesting. It makes me a better game developer.

I wish more companies would see the wisdom of encouraging this sort of thing.

Imagine all the amazing side-projects from full-time devs we're missing out on because of onerous non-compete clauses. Imagine all the advances in design, art, sound & tech from small experiments by devs just having fun with some ideas in their free time. Imagine all the voices we're not hearing...

If you ask me, when studios don't put obstacles in the way of personal projects, everybody wins.

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