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The Homeless Game Developer - Prologue

In need of a career boost, follow game designer and producer Jonathan Neves as he takes a journey from one location to the next in pursuit of job placement and professional satisfaction.

Jonathan Neves

September 28, 2017

7 Min Read

What am I attempting, why am I doing this, am I scared, what could possibly drive me to this idea...these are probably the questions you're asking yourself after reading the title and you'd be correct in being concerned. But there is a method to this madness, there is a logical reason for me attempting this and it's seeped heavily within certain norms that the general employer is okay with but not necessarily the possible employee. Basically, I'm purposely going homeless so that I can get a better job at a professional game developer. Reading that out loud even sounds strange to me but with the context in mind, it's more bold than strange. Let me explain.

I'm coming from an Indie game development background. I started my company A Maniacal Game during my last year of college after numerous attempts and applications to obtain a low-level position in various professional environments ended in failure simply because I lacked the necessary experience. So instead of biting the bullet and performing QA, not even for games at the time, I started a business to obtain my own experience. Mind you, I had no idea how to run a business, manage finances, recruit like-minded individuals or develop a community. I simply wanted to either be a part of the design process for video games or be a part of the production. Given the option to either own a company and make whatever games I want or work for another doing what I love, I'll choose the latter every time. I never desired this, but it was the best way for me to earn experience in my career fields.

(This isn't the first time I've blogged on Gamasutra about my experiences,  I wrote a featured submission titled "Is it suppose to be this hard?" during a time where I was exhausted mentally and financially from the development process that continued to drag out and was full of problems. My hope was to engage in some feedback and support to help me complete the development and it worked, I made some personnel changes, some changes to my professional acumen and 3 years following that blog I finished and released the project we were working on. I wouldn't say that my time as an Indie game developer is over, but it is definitely on hold while I pursue this bold idea.) 

Following this month, I don't lack the experience anymore, it's been 6 years, 2 different development cycles, 2 different development teams, varying job titles and responsibilities within, I can finally apply to professional jobs and not be immediately dismissed for a lack of experience. I can now compete against others vying for the same position and feel confident that recruiters will take a harder look at me instead of just writing me off. All good things, well not exactly, there's another issue to deal with where experience doesn't come into play, location. This is in reference to an experience from one the best game designers I had the pleasure of working with at my company, for this purpose I'll call him Brad.

Brad wanted to work in the professional industry, like me, he only had small experiences in academia and with small teams, he also lived in Nebraska. There isn't a whole lot of opportunities for game developers in Nebraska in case you weren't aware. Applications may ask if you're willing to relocate for the job, but unless you're hot-shit or in high demand, most developers are only going to hire locally. So Brad decides to move to Seattle where there are lots of opportunities for game development. He stays with his brother and applies to job after job with some possibilities coming to light, with some interviews even, but ultimately he doesn't get hired by anyone, even for contract work, because of his lack of experience. Brad starts having a hard time financially, he can't help his brother pay for rent or food and the constant disappointments take a toll on him mentally to the point where he has to move back to Nebraska, more in debt than when he started and feeling hopeless for the industry. Brad is a good worker, one that would make any employer lucky to have, but the mitigating factors worked against him and his tale is one of caution instead of triumph.

I have the experience to compete in the job market for mid-level positions but I don't live close to any professional developers that are hiring at this point. I'm not willing to move to a new residence at any of the locations that are hiring right now until I have the new position as I don't want to be stuck in a lease or going broke without a job to back me up. The position needs to come before the residence, so I'm going homeless on purpose, for a purpose. Applying to positions I have the experience for, in select areas I'm willing to travel to, in the hopes that if an interview or follow-up is required of me, I'll either be in transit to that interview or actually be within the area. If I'm hired, I'll plant my flag and stay, and work and live and be happy that I can continue my professional career. If there isn't a follow-up for any of the applications I made for one area, I can freely relocate myself to the next area and attempt the process again. 

I'm applying for every position that I'm experienced enough for, I'm not just limiting myself to locations that I'm traveling to, but there are reasons why I'm traveling to only certain locations instead of the whole country. My plan for travel includes Texas, California, Oregon, Washington and finally British Columbia with my starting point and current residence in Las Vegas Nevada. Most major cities in all the states I plan to travel to have a large game development community and the chances for employment at these locations grow exponentially as I go. It's expensive to live at all these locations, so very important to get the job first before I keep a residence. I also earlier stated that I'm not necessarily done with Indie game development, though I'm taking a break from my company right now as I pursue this change in my life, the company is still under my name, I'm still legally responsible for it and have to make sure any operational considerations are taken care of, that includes taxes. It's the main reason I moved to Las Vegas in the first place because the state taxes for California is astronomically high. Texas and Washington are similar to Nevada in regards to state taxes and small business licenses, so that is something I thought about when deciding my trip. Lastly, most of my friendships are in California, I miss them, I miss talking about game development with them and I have family in Vancouver, it seemed like a good way to end my trip if I ended up not succeeding in getting employment at any of the previous locations.

Am I scared, you better believe it. I certainly don't want to add to the statistics of homeless veterans. But I need a change in my life, I need a change of scenery, I need the next challenge in my professional career. I would be extremely happy if I got a position at the first stop and not have to continue traveling to other locations, but I also need to prepare myself for any eventuality that may occur. I thought, what if I wrote a blog series about this experience as I was experiencing it, even if nothing comes from this plan, I don't get a good job, I don't find a place to live, maybe it can be a cautionary tale for someone else. At least I'm attempting something bold and fortune favors the bold, or so I'm told. 

Look for my first follow-up to this blog next week as I make my way to Austin, Texas.

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