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Cast Away

Eight years in the industry, and met with a wall of silence on the job search. How can job seekers fix what's wrong if they aren't given feedback? Warning: highly personal.

Post-facto preface: This piece is highly emotionally charged, in service of making a serious point. Please skip to the end if it makes you uncomfortable. Also, some people describe this as a 'negative' piece. I'm sorry if it seems so. I'm not a negative person, but I am emotionally honest, and this is a dark time for me. My intention was not to lambast anyone in specific, and there have been exceptions to the rule. I am grateful for all of them.

Hurt. Angry. Confused. I've got that and more on tap, and an open thesaurus to filter it through. Who's got an empty glass? Because I'm ready to pour.

Here's the deal: I'm trying to get my career back on the road. But somehow, I ended up in the woods (literally, as I live in Oregon), and all I have is a map from 2007 that was pre-Facebook, pre-Mobile, pre-Indie, pre-Kickstarter. It just has interstates labeled AAA, main streets labeled AA, and back roads labeled Casual. Coincidentally, that seems to be the year my career got way off track. But who can say? Nobody wants to hire me, and nobody's willing to say why.

It would be spectacular if I could channel this potent emotional fuel into finding a solution. That's what I'm built for: fixing broken things in inventive and effective ways. Finding new ways of thinking for new types of problems. But the key component here is knowing what the problem actually is, and I can't, for the life of me, figure that out.

Did I not post enough on Twitter? Should I have shipped a mobile title or two on my own, just to show that I know how to do things? Or did my obsession with quality -- which prevents me from publishing unfinished work -- sync up with my love for life and family, and keep me out of the Game Industry Spotlight long enough for it to lose me completely?

Here's the struggle: GDC went great. Hands were shook, jokes shared, resumes read with interest, cards passed, e-mails sent. Then… nothing. 

I examined my portfolio to check for problems. Yes, it's more broad than I'd like it to be. Thanks to a rapidly shifting array of projects at my previous job, I rarely got to work on one thing for more than a year at a time (if I was lucky), leading to a scattershot resume listing 11 shipped titles in 8 years. How many projects did I see beginning to end? If you count the social title the company made to "get back" at Zynga, the one where we were given three months and zero marketing dollars to make an original IP on Facebook… well, yeah, I wouldn't count that either. So, not counting that, it would be one AAA Tony Hawk that did well, one AAA Tony Hawk that didn't, and a Wii port of Tomb Raider.

That doesn't fill people with excitement. Hell, I know it wouldn't fill ME with excitement if I was looking at the resume. But oh, the lessons you learn from doing project after project after project! It's like a crucible. You get crushed and you leave, or you're transformed into galvanized steel. I didn't leave. But I guess there's a third option. Maybe I was just used for fuel, burned up, charred up, and thrown away with the ashes.

I don't know.

But on the same day the hammer fell on my most promising prospect -- the one where I applied over the internet, had a great phone interview, thought I had a great in-person interview -- I had successfully established the production pipeline from Unity to my OUYA, less than one day out of the box. Making games is in my blood! That's what I love to do! That's what I'm good at! And yet I'm being turned down, and nobody is telling me why. 

I can't fix whatever problem they're finding if they're not saying what it is!

Or worse, it's a problem I can't fix. My resume timeline goes from AAA to ports to social. I don't know why, that's just how it turned out. Is that a red flag to people? Honestly, that reads like a downward spiral to me. Like I couldn't hack it at AAA, and moved down, and so on. But it was the trajectory of the studio I joined. By being loyal to them, did I inadvertently kill my career?

Now I'm at a crossroads. We have savings, but I have a family, a mortgage. Do I gamble it at the Indie Casino? Do I take the knife to the heart, and give up the career I've dreamed of? Or do I just keep plugging away at the wall of silence, sending out resumes and making phone calls, only to hear nothing in return?

When do I know it's over? And what do I do if it is? That's the problem at its most personal. 

But it reflects a larger problem with our industry as a whole. It's become acceptable to turn down applicants without any reasons as to why. It's become acceptable to not even acknowledge that a resume has been received and reviewed. As game developers, we thrive on feedback. By withholding that information, especially if honesty is needed, you are pulling up the ladder while people are in the water. You are saying it's OK to cast people away, to leave them in the dark, without hope, without direction, but full of questions. And anger. And sadness. And enough breath for a final, clarion call before they sink beneath the waves, asking only for an answer. For a clue. For a task.

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