266: Making Fun Ain't Always Fun

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I agree with this article, but does anybody really believe that making games is all sunshine and roses? Even when I was entertaining the thought of entering that industry when I was a kid, I was vaugely aware that it would be a lot of hard work and frustration.

And susddenly, your director walks into the ofiice, and yells "Crucnch time people!".
Heh, but you survive, get promoted to director, and need to attend even more meetings, leaving no time left to do what you thought would be your actual job, and then everyone gives you a mad look when you're the one entering the office and yelling "Crunch time!".

But still, when you work as a team -the kind where everyone supports one another- it's almost as much a rush to get just one big task done, as it is when you get to ship the game itself.

Wendy Despain:
Making Fun Ain't Always Fun

Many believe that creative endeavors are an easy job, with tons of perks. Wendy Despain tells the truth about designing games. Hint: It's not fun.

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I liked this article.

It left me with one thought though:

"Isn't that how most jobs are?"

Of course they are not, but in the broader field of product development (which I view games to be a part of) it often is the case.

I think whenever you create something new there will be a lot of lows, but the highs are so much more rewarding when you can point at something and say "I had a part in that" and be proud.

But yes, I think a lot of people believe game design is a constant fun job, a belief I do not share.

The only sad part is the work hours VS pay. It is a sad thing to hear that people are worked hard and not payed for it, and I think the industry might have gotten a lot of really good people if the pay was correct (I know a lot of people that refuse to work in the industry because they want to be payed for the work they do)

To me it appears that making games with a small team of people as an independent developper generally is far more fun than having to answer to the wishes of a big publisher. Of course you shouldn't become an indie developper because of the money, because you'll usually won't make a lot of it.

Nice one, Wendy. Much truth, and even Truth, with a sprinkling of wisdom and self-loathing. :)

The thing is, you can say the same about any industry. I'm sure the marketing industry isn't entirely as sweet compared to the video games industry (though I don't know marketing, so I could be talking bullshit).

The marketing industry is where a lot of my old co-students have "retired" to, and from what I hear it's a step up for them. Then again, to each his own. I know that industry has it's problems too.
I think the reason I wanted to answer to your post specifically because of the implication that making games exactly like any other job, which is oversimplifying it all a bit. The videogame industry is very new and has a lot of problems that more established creative fields, like tv, movies or marketing doesn't share. There are very few industry standards, and those that exist are arguable and fleeting. The industry is not unionized like the movie or marketing industry. You might very well end up in a company that expects you to work an unpaid extra 50% overtime, all the time. Or suddenly find that your studio went bankrupt because your publisher didn't pay your studio for a game it developed. Or whatever.
Your question about a development cycle is a good example. Maybe there will be an equivalent for games in the future. I hope so. As it is the games industry have all the glorious problems of the software development industry with some added problems shared by the rest of the entertainment industry but without the experience.

I'm not saying it's the worst industry in the world or anything, but it's really not on par with most. And it's certainly a lot worse than it needs to be.

But really, what I got from this article was "It's PURE HELL for ANYONE who goes through with it, only the EXTREME of people live for that SMALL SATISFACTION and they are NEVER THE [email protected]#[email protected]"

Replace the "anyone" and "only" bit in that sentence for something less absolute and I think you could probably find a lot of game devs to sign on that. Of course it's a bleak article. But that's really because of the subject matter, not the writer. I personally found the article really uplifting. It reminded me why the hell I'm doing this.

In my personal experience I can only relate that I've met more people with severe stress-related issues in my relatively short time in the industry than I have in total during my entire life outside of it, and it's not like I haven't had other jobs.
I was at a lecture where a guy talked about a pretty large failed title he was on and he related that out of the twenty-something people who were married at the start of the project only around two or three managed to stay married throughout the three-year development. Is all of this anecdotal? Certainly. Unique? Sadly, probably not.

I tend to see these articles as a mix between a cry for help and a call to arms. In order to fix the problems of the industry we need to acknowledge that they're there, and articles on gaming-oriented sites like these are good forums for it. Also, a lot of the people at the top often don't care much about their employees(or the employees at the studio they've commissioned a game from) but DO care about the gaming community. And, as such, the argument could be made that it would be helpful to get the gaming community to acknowledge that the gaming industry is problematic rather than thinking it's somewhere between being just any other job and being totally amazing.

Glad i read this.
i've really not been to sure about diving into a gamedev channeled education.
signed up for 4 tech/ADVANCED math courses for next year, on the whim that i MIGHT like it.
Im working on a map/mod right now but at least this will also help me decide about that course change coming up at the start of the year...

My Uncle and his wife both work in the games industry (they both are in management), and both of them have told me similar horror stories about the games industry that are mentioned in this article. Alot of talk about lack of sleep, game developers who are constantly working, and an overall atmosphere that, while fun at times, is also far more demanding than most other fields in terms of time commitment. Their words are one of the major reasons why I decided to avoid an attempt towards getting myself into the gaming industry. I enjoy my free time too much.

A great article! :)

suprisingly romantic article but it does less to turn me away from the career and more to persuade me to go towards it... there's a beauty to the labour that I very much appreciate.

As someone who is a composer and that occasionally makes games I will say that because of the puzzle-nature to writing music/making games/creating any art in general is what makes it so much fun.
I don't think I'd be able to survive outside of a field that is constantly challenge my abilities to create a craft that I enjoy doing some much.

Losing the magic of experiencing an interactive fictional world must be the most cruel thing that can happen to a video game fan, maybe even worse than listening to the audience, that you and your team tried so hard to please with your ideas, criticizing your work.

This article has been amazing and it both turned me on and off about video game development.
I love puzzles and fantasy worlds, and I really want to touch others with my work, but I will never want to give up this great feeling that you get from just starting a game up for the first time and exploring the new world..

Yes, thank you, I'm aware that my chosen career path will likely bring me nothing but despair, frustration and a soul-less existence scrabbling day to day just to make the money I need to feed my pathetic skeletal form. Ugh.

I wish people would stop telling me this. Is there actually a gigantic silent population of game design students who believe they'll be going straight to a magical fairytale creation-land as soon as they leave uni? If there is, god, just let them have their optimism. Just for a while.

This was a good article. There is no such thing as the "ideas guy".

So what you're actually saying is that making games is *work*? As in waking up early each day and spending most of it doing things you don't really enjoy that much? They really don't pay you money to have fun all day? Enlightening.

I also really enjoyed this latest Escapist issue and loved every other article, but this one sir is just over-10k-characters stating the obvious to the people who apparently never had a job in their lives.

I agree with this. It happens over and over again, more so than in any other profession, that people in the videogame industry feel like they have to publish articles about how "Man, it's not as awesome as you think. We, like, totally have to get up, and leave our houses, and go to meetings." Yeah, so do I. I've had to do that at every job I've ever had. But you know what else? I can't claim at the end of the day that I've also been a part of something creative, cool, and ultimately satisfying. I have a normal job, like most of the people in the civilized world. I go to work to do something I don't like, among people I don't like, and at the end of the day I haven't produced anything I care about, or anything that is going to brighten anyone else's day.

Cry me a river, Wendy Despain. You have what most everyone on the planet would call "a good job". And that's okay. You don't have to feel guilty about it. Be content with the fact that you've earned it, and you're earning it. Go do it, and don't rub it in my face.

Great article. I mean it varies from company to company, but it's rarely, if ever, the perfect utopia people make it out for.

I'm lacking the proper derangements to join in this industry.

The dream is shattered and it has become a Dilbert strip

For the last few weeks, I've spent a few hours working on a game every night. It is rewarding, but not particularly fun. I do enjoy it though.

Like with any job, it's not the work that makes it fun, but the environment. If you keep the environment fun and the work atmosphere positive, then making games is and will be fun. Sure, it's tough and will cause a lot of frustration and anger, but isn't that the case with playing games as well? From what I could gather from the Naughty Dog extra videos in Uncharted, they managed to create a pretty good work environment that would make creating games a blast.

Wait, I like coding stuff...I mean, really, the only thing stopping me is my lack of knowledge...will I enjoy it then?

It comes to a shock for people that working is less fun than playing??

Obvious article writer is obvious..

I'm a middle ground kind of guy.

I understand what your saying, and I don't doubt that it's true for some of those in the gaming industry.

However on the other hand, the opinion a lot of people have about the gaming industry and the code monkeys and such is not unfounded. Over the years there have been a lot of people writing articles "shedding the light" on how the game industry works. Pretty much every serious gaming news site, or paper periodical as run a bunch of these. A common issue is of course producers vs. developers and pointing out the tug of war that exists between them. When looking at some of the things producers have commented on about why they are wary about giving developers a free reign is specifically because they goof off and tend to pitter away the money while doing very little in the way of actual work. One thing I do remember going back years ago for example is how it was mentioned that game developers tend to do things like order out for three meals a day out of the development budget. Compared to more efficient companies which will either provide a free employee cafeteria (like the casinos where I worked) or some kind of catering/lunch cart arrangement. This leading to a lot of money being spent on doing things like feeding the employees that could be invested in the game. When you consider that the majority of people who work wind up having to pay for their own food out of pocket this kind of thing can be seen as being even more decadent.

On the other hand you also have guys who acted like rock stars, like the old "Ion Storm Entertainment", or cases like "Duke Nukem Forever" where the developers kept managing to get more and more production money which they lived on while doing absolutly nothing (from the way it appears). Then you have Valve which seems to be dedicated to goofing off, taking the time to engage in elaborate practical jokes (like responding to bogus mail orders for Team Fortress 2 weapons) while they games sit in a development limbo. Or perhaps more relevently the famous "Rock Star Wives" incident where according to many reports it seems like the guys working on "Red Dead Redemption" spent so much time goofing off that they needed to enter a "super crunch time" to actually finish doing what the money they were spending was supposed to be used for, and when the employees actually started to look/act/live like you describe it worried their families.

No need to debunk these point by point, since my point isn't really about the truth of any specific allegations, but how things like this lead to the perception your argueing against. What's more, despite any arguements that can be made I'm sure there is more than a single grain of truth in any of those stories and incidents as I conveyed them, and more like them.

While many people hate this, especially on big "political" type issues where everyone feels they are already talking from a middle ground or whatever, I feel that in cases of great contridiction and hardbitten positions the truth is indeed going to be found between the extremes.

The bottom line is that I am sure a lot of hard work is being done, and it isn't a complete utopia. I mean in the end these projects are being completed. But at the same time I am also pretty sure a lot of goofing off and time wasting takes place, the industry hardly seeming all that professional and focused from what I've seen (including office tours and the like). I'm sure many days go by where nothing productive at all is done, and people pretty much just sit back, suck up the money, order out, and goof off in comparison to those days where people put their nose to the grindstone. Your talking a very "hair down" kind of enviroment which is enviable compared to where most people work. Understand, everyone feels they work hard, but America is becoming the "Medication Nation" because most people exist in a state of abject unfulfilled misery, and take tons of drugs to try and counteract this and cope (a lot has been written about that).

While I understand the "fan friendly" point of some of the virtual office tours we've seen of places like "Blizzard", I will mention that if a video like that wound up on the internet for pretty much anywhere I worked, with how a lot of those guys comported themselves even while sitting at their desks, heads would be rolling. A lot of the professional world is all about uncluttered, well organized, professional work spaces, crisp ironed shirts and pants with military creases, non existant or neatly trimmed facial hair, combed and clean hair at all times which is to go no further than the collar for men, or the very top of the shoulders for women... etc... there are people who would have taken a flame thrower to an information services department that looked anything like this, even going beyond the point of the video, just by how people's hair was, how they carried themselves, and what was on their desks above and beyond anything likely to be shown off for the video.

I guess what I'm saying is that tired and stressed people at meetings is pretty much a "given" for any workplace enviroment for the vast majority of people, and I think a lot of it is that going by some of the people I've seen in those videos, they probably haven't worked in many other enviroments to know exactly how good they have it. I doubt any of them working for these companies have had the experience of watching a co-worker escorted off property because his hair was too long, docked pay, and told that if it wasn't fixed by the next day they were on the street (and as someone who worked security, I have been the one sent to walk such people out). Simply not having to worry much about that kind of thing is a major perk that isn't being considered in comparitive terms.

Edit.. Dang double posts..

Jon Etheridge:
Even though I'm not a game developer, a lot of the stuff talked about in this article relates to what i do as well. A lot of people think my job is fun because I make cartoons but they don't see the endless hours I spend in front of the computer going frame by frame to make sure Neeb's lip sync looks good. I can completely see how game design must be that same sort of grind.

Yeah, but I bet the end product is so worth it. I bet it's a tree-mendous feeling.


I never really had any illusions, fortunately. Quite certain I don't want to spend my life de-bugging, texture-mapping and getting slowly but surely obese..

"Being creative on a deadline can be hell."
That's why Valve is so awesome. I have yet to see a Valve game being released within it's designated deadline, and none of their games has ever disappointed me.

I think Left 4 Dead 2 released on time.

Wasn't this kinda obvious?
Just because you are making things that are fun, it doesn't mean making them is fun.

It's just like any other job.
Sometimes it fun and rewarding and you feel you've accomplished something significant.
Other times, reality smacks you in the face and takes a dump on your chest.

There's an old, albeit, obscure adage in movies and television that the more fun you're having on set, the more likely it is that you're not working on a very good project - as a testament to how hard it is to create visual art, the inverse of that statement is never necessarily true (having a horrible time on set doesn't mean you're making a good movie) either. The truth is that i don't think anyone works in these industries because it's fun - we're hard working people who want to be a part of the glory that comes with making successful projects, for love and frankly, because no normal job would ever hire us and we literally have no idea how to do anything else.

"Being creative on a deadline can be hell."
That's why Valve is so awesome. I have yet to see a Valve game being released within it's designated deadline, and none of their games has ever disappointed me.

Blizzard. I don't agree with this article. I think that all jobs can be this tedious and game design is far more rewarding and fun than say washing cars for example. There is nothing worse than standing there and washing a Ferrari knowing that you will never get to ever drive one in your current job and the guy is going to jump in his car and simply not give a shit that you have been toiling away to clean it. When you make a game, you leave a legacy. Enough said.

Very interesting article, I really enjoyed reading that :)

I must say I disagree in a whole lot of the points you are making in your article.
Beginning to read this, I was wondering if your intention was to stop people from becoming game developers (may it be to warn them or because you want to still have a safe job in 20 years), then, after two pages, I thought I'd slowly understand what you were going for until you suddenly broke apart in self-pity. First things first.

This overly long talk about how horrible it is to make games really struck to me. I'm no game designer, but as a filmmaker I can tell you that if it is really this terrible for you to make games most of the time, you've picked the wrong job. Maybe you yourself are or were one of those gamers you are trying to warn here - just because you like to play games you'd also like to make them and held on to this idea until it was too late to start something else. Maybe I am completely wrong on this, I don't know your past, but I do know exactly that this part of your article went on for far too long and the comparison between the advertising business and the - let's call it art-business, as it's not restricted to games - is ludicrous. Anybody with the slightest insight in the topic should know that.
Then you started talking about the good sides and it reminds me of what sometimes happens when making films - with the exception of that the rest of it is not as horrible as you describe it (it's more stressful with big budget productions but still nowhere near as "3.5 hrs horrible - 10 mins fun"). This was the part I thought was the best, because it really describes how a person in the entertainment industry is working - stress, stress, stress, but loving that and being euphoric in the end.
Until suddenly you start to getting all dramatic about how thankless the job is. Well, tough luck, this is the entertainment industry, and most you'll ever hear in you career is (harsh, often unfounded) criticizm. If you cannot deal with the fact that it is always the loud assholes you hear and expect a huge load of praise all your career, you're definetly at the wrong place. I understand you're trying to give exactly this across in your comment, but you seriously do not sound like a professional on this one - you sound like you regret your decision and just want recognition like big hollywood stars. It's mostly important you are satisfied with your own work yourself. The things other think should only come second, or, even better, third.

Edit: Many have pointed out now that "It's a job, not a hobby". Well, I can tell you people that making films to me does not feel like work. It's hard. It's exhausting. You need to concentrate to keep the level of professionality you target. But it's not work. I love every second of it.
Edit#2: I don't see why game designers (or any other artist) should feel any different about their expertise.

"Being creative on a deadline can be hell."
That's why Valve is so awesome. I have yet to see a Valve game being released within it's designated deadline, and none of their games has ever disappointed me.

Hmpf. Just because they take all the fucking time they want doesn't mean it's not possible to do your work at least a little bit quicker.
It's also not like they make the unarguably best games in the world. There are many games out there that are at least on the same level of professionality like theirs.

Sadly the 14 year olds will likely continue thinking that "ZOMG GAME TESTING IS TEH SHIZZITZ!"

People seem to forget: it's a job.

Sadly the 14 year olds will likely continue thinking that "ZOMG GAME TESTING IS TEH SHIZZITZ!"

You're mentioning it yourself. 14-year-olds. Who don't even have left school. They've got plenty of time to get educated about this topic.

It's been said before, but I'm repeating it because I agree:

If you can wake up every day and not bemoan that you're going in to work.
If you have co-workers who are entertaining, supportive or at least don't make you want to smash someone's (theirs or yours) head on your desk.
If you have a high enough income to support the lifestyle you want.
If the hours allow you to do at least some of the things you want to do as opposed to those you have to do.

If the job you are working fulfills all four of those criteria, you have a good job. And of course, where you work can change, who you work with can change, and how much you work for can change. You can make broad generalizations about any industry or portion of an industry, but they won't always be true, except for one:

A job is a job is a job, and jobs are hard work.

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