I wanted to write this months ago, near the middle of my last semester of college when I first made the decision not to enter the game industry, but decided against it. In light of the sudden, brutal closing of Telltale Games, one of my favorite studios, a studio I yearned to work at for years, I feel now is a good a time as ever.
This past May I graduated from college with a Bachelor’s in Science for Game Design from a reputable state university; I made games outside of class every semester and published them to Itch.io with some success; I was fortunate enough to go to GDC 2018 on a scholarship from Unity; I went to local meetups and stayed informed on all news from the game industry for years.
Recently I started my new job. It’s not in the game industry, and that’s on purpose. Despite my passion for games, my training in the development and production of them, and the privileges afforded to me by being a white, cisgender male — the game industry default, beard, glasses, and all — I decided months ago that attempting to go into the game industry was not only not worth it for me and my family, it was bordering on unethical.
To be completely clear: unless the game industry changes its labor practices, I have no intention of ever entering the game industry, and I believe that many other people will reach the same conclusion, leading to a labor crisis.
The game industry is notoriously young and in constant turnover. Earlier last week, Capcom Vancouver shut down, bringing the tally to almost 400 people who lost their jobs in the space of a week in major studios. The 2017 IGDA Developer Satisfaction Survey shows that only 22% of its respondents were over the age of 40; 49% of respondents had been in the industry for less than six years; 70% of respondents had two or more employers in the last five years. You don’t have to imagine a world in which well-informed young people will simply skip the average six years of service and go straight into accounting for the sake of stability and mental and physical health.
In their most recent episode of Waypoint Radio, the hosts contend that for the game industry to change, cycles have to be broken and sacrifices, unfortunately, must be made; as Natalie Watson puts it, “both things that are sacrificed and sacrifices made by active agents”. The closest thing I have to being an active agent in the games industry is to simply say no to becoming part of the problem, even if it means giving up a creative and personal dream.
I can hope for a world where developers are unionized, or where the labor structures are at the very least more equitable towards the artists and artisans who create the games players love. If that starts to be a reality, maybe I’ll re-consider, but until then consider my childhood dream of becoming a game developer dead - or more accurately, laid off without severance.
Note: I wanted to keep this piece short and sharp, and did not get to even touch upon the social injustices that also have a stranglehold on the industry, including the treatment of its women workers, and I want to also categorically condemn that culture, and highlight it as another reason for my resolution not to enter the game industry.