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A Young Industry

We are a predominately young person industry. Which means for the most part we are operating out of gaming not development experience. Why do people leave when they've got a few years on them? What forces are at work that drive them away?

What kind of industry has nearly one third of its employees’ tenure under 2 years? Nearly three fourths no longer than 6 years, and a greater portion of employees that have worked less than 1 year than over 10?  The fast-food industry would be my guess, if I had read this out of the context of reading it here: Study: Game Developers Increasingly Newcomers To Business .  

The reasons the author and readers gave for having such an inexperienced work pool were many.

  • Employers hire younger employees, who take lower salaries and are burned out less easily.
  • The industry grew so quickly that the results made sense.
  • Crunch.
  • Business people take away creative freedom that was once experienced by older developers.
  • Social gaming brought an influx of younger developers.
  • A lack of guilds protecting the developers from the business executives.
  • General quality of life concerns (work hours, pay, etc.).

All of these in varying degrees make sense. But when we get past the numbers, what does this really mean to us? How and what do they illuminate about the conditions we are creating for the individuals making games?

 I met Wes Jenkins when he was a guest speaker at the school I was attending. He gave a lecture on effective brain-storming strategies. I was very impressed that an Interactive Achievement Award winning co-creator and creative director would take the time to lecture in our class. I kept up with Wes – which was not hard, because if you wanted to get into the game industry, you naturally went to events held by the industry. And Wes was always there helping out, always giving you his undivided attention, and telling great stories that also illuminated the answer to the question you had just posed. I have benefited a great deal from knowing this man. And I have unfortunately not been able to work with him – although I have done a few game design improvs at conventions with him. I guess I got into the industry too late or he retired too early. That’s what I thought.

I was wrong.

In a recent email exchange with him, I found out that this veteran of many shipped games was not retired at all. All that time in Austin he was looking for a job and living off his savings. I had to drag this out of him over several emails. He had always been warm when I talked to him; in our most recent exchange he was warm as usual but depressed. I asked him, “What about Zynga –  they just open an office in Austin?”. He said that he has been trying for years to get jobs in the industry and was sure that it would be the same with Zynga. I said we would hire him, but have no money at this point. He said “I’m very cheap nowadays. Hell, for you, I would do it for free. I’m tired of telling my cat my ideas, and I think she is too.” I told him I could not accept work for free when work for money is what he needs. I cannot take up his time and prevent him from getting a job. Then I saw this on his Facebook page:

 The Heart of Wes Jenkins

Save my Heart Version .02

It has been requested by some kind friends that I keep the site up longer...

It's like this:

I'm unemployed with no prospects and uninsured. I have had quadruple bypass, defibrillator insert, femoral bypass, renal and carotid work done, nerve damage from surgery in the foot anemia and depression...Screw the whales -- save my heart!

The generosity of some friends have made getting up to date meds, mortgage up to date, a few blood tests and the ability to make an appointment to discuss the approaching next surgery schedule possible. These friends have saved my life. Surgery is in the $hundred thousands these days when uninsured -- I am trying to get on a program to ease the payments but it won't happen in time...
A quadruple bypass, defibrillator inserted, femoral bypass, renal and carotid work done, nerve damage from surgery in the foot, and anemia would drain anyone’s pocket, much less someone looking for a job for years in an industry that values (what?) over award-winning proven experience. Do I work in the fast food industry, where the bottom line is that employees are expendable laborers? Do years of experience price you out of this industry?


Will anyone give this man an interview? Will he lose everything he has worked for?

It is up to us: what are we?

B.T.W. Before I posted this I asked Wes if he would be O.K with it. Leaving out the personal stuff he said to me -- He concluded that it might help the industry mature.

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