Working For Big Publishers

Two years ago I wrote this article about what it is like to work for big publishers after the original “EA Spouse” article hit the news. With the recent follow up on Gamasutra, I thought I would pull it out of the dust bin and publish it. As a little disclaimer, I really don’t care, politically, one way or another how this turns out. I wrote this article to contrast working at a “secure” big company as opposed to going it Indie. I know I won’t work for large companies since I have the means not to, and because even if I didn’t, I would rather dig ditches than put up with this kind of work environment.
Photo by www.flickr.com/photos/santarosa/ Provided under the Creative Commons license.
Publishers such as Electronic Arts, Activision, Ubisoft, and Microsoft are the largest sources of money and employment in the Games industry. They create billions of dollars of revenue, then reinvest it in development, marketing, distribution, overhead, and what is left over is their profit. In some cases this profit is huge (Electronic Arts, well usually), and in some cases pathetic (Atari). If you are considering working either directly or peripherally (see DEVELOPER post coming up soon) for these publishers, it is important to note these profit numbers. Here’s why:

Companies that are on the very edge of existence such as Atari (or Acclaim not too long ago) may very well go out of business before your check is cashed for either direct wages, expenses owed, or developer/contractor milestones. In addition, this financial condition makes them desperate, with the treatment and well being of their employees and developers being the last thing on their mind. Quality of products goes out the window as well, further exacerbating the downward spiral. The lesson here is to make sure to check the financial condition of the company you intend to work for. A simple check on Yahoo Finance will give you all of the information you need to know. Look at their profit and loss for the last two years. Are they making money? Look at their balance sheet. Do they have any cash? Finally, just talk to your friends. Have any of you been impressed with any game they have come out with in the last two years? Do they have any products you are looking forward to? Have they dealt away their best franchises to other publishers in an effort to raise cash?

You can take a calculated risk and go to work for a publisher that is on the ropes, but remember this is a business of “what have you done for me lately?” Working on a game for a year or so that does not ship, and is then held under NDA so you can’t even show your work to prospective employers produces a big hole in your resume and makes it difficult to get another chance. My advice is, no matter how desperate you are to get into the games business, don’t go to work for a company teetering on the brink of collapse.

So, if you should not work for a weak, money losing publisher, what about the powerful, money making giants? Publishers that make a lot of money have their own set of problems. Now, a lot of these problems described below are the same in any big company, but you should be aware of what goes on before you take the plunge.

Most large companies pay lip service to being a great place to work, but in reality they make so much money that they tend to not care for their employees. Large companies chide their middle managers into exercising a process they call “churn”, using a simple phrase like, “how is your churn coming?” Churn is a code word which means to fire the bottom performing 10% of your employees every year and replace them with a new, promising group of wide eyed recruits that will not have chips on their shoulders, and are willing to play into the “work them like dogs until they break” business model.

It is easy to see how employees become demotivated when they are expected to work incredibly long and intense hours for months on end. In the widely circulated blog post written by an EA employee’s wife two years ago, the pressures of crunch time on employees became a nationwide issue, causing the company to consider its methods. The blog post detailed how the company pressured employees to work 80-100 hour weeks starting nine months before the completion of the game. Of course, everybody in the games business can expect to crunch (work incredibly hard) four to six, maybe even ten weeks prior to the end of development of any game. That is just the way it is, but nine months was an indicator that it is actually in the company’s business plan to overwork and burn out employees.

OK, so you know you will have to work at least 50 hour weeks with a crunch at the end, but everything else will be hunky dory, right? Not exactly. A natural part of working for a big company is politics. In a word, you will be judged on whom you know and where you choose to put your internal allegiances almost more than what your work product looks like. If you choose to back an ambitious Producer or VP that has a falling out with an EVP or other higher executive, guess what happens to your product and your future chances of advancement at the company? Yep, poof! Or even better, you befriend one of these ladder climbers and tell him your best ideas for how you think your project’s development could be made better. Imagine how great it feels when, at the next staff meeting, your ideas magically become HIS! Welcome to world of big company politics.

For all of this anguish, you will be compensated fairly well. Average programmers at large publishers make decent to good wages. But, when you consider publishers are almost always located in the most expensive areas to live such as Los Angeles or the Bay Area, these wages will not go as far as you think. In addition, most people get caught up in the stress of the situation and start to give themselves “presents” such as expensive new cars, exotic vacations, and other such baubles as compensation. Add in stretching for an overpriced home, and soon, the need for this steady stream of large income is an addictive process and cannot be easily escaped. If you ever want to Indie or start your own company, you must resist this temptation. You do not want to become a “share cropper” for the rest of your life.

In the early days of the high technology industry, stock options were widely circulated as the ultimate pay-off for employees expected to work as if they were a principal of the company. As companies such as Electronic Arts became publicly traded and grew from several million dollars in sales to hundreds of millions to billions, their market cap grew quickly, so that four or five years on the front lines could often mean a million or so dollars in stock option appreciation, in addition to traditional wages. These kind of rewards made it worth the effort, but now stock options are only reserved for the select top few, are increasingly coming under the scrutiny of the SEC, and the upside potential of any game publisher’s stock is no longer attractive. As a result, wages made today are the only compensation you will get for working harder than you ever have in your life.

But, if the work is hard and the politics are bad, then working on great games will make up for it, right? As anybody that PLAYS games knows, the industry is getting more and more conservative, and good games are getting harder to find. Sequels litter the landscape. If an idea was good once, won’t it be even better the sixth or eighth time? Licenses from books or movies seem to calm the executives risk worries, so Harry Potter, Spiderman, the NFL, The Simpsons, and other big name IP are used over and over. Even original, game driven IP is stretched to the limit. Does anyone doubt, with recent success of of GTA IV, that some day game makers will be toiling on Grand Theft Auto IX?

Alright, but work on these monstrous, next generation versions of big licenses and sequels will be interesting, won’t it? Well, if you consider creating algorithms for realistically making sweat roll off the eyebrow of an ultra-realistic football or basketball player interesting work, then the answer is yes. You will not get to work on the creative design work at the front end of a product. That is reserved for the executive design team of producer and director. Instead, you will be forced into the tiniest of niches, much like a modern age factory worker, dutifully cranking out code snippets or art widgets under the strictest of controls and supervision.

Should you find the work tolerable, the products acceptable, and decide to commit your life energy to helping bring these products to market and making high level greedy executives rich, surely the companies will reward you with a secure job considering the amount of profits they make? Not true. One of the biggest mistakes people make when working for one of these huge corporations is thinking they are secure. The executives at the top of the company care about one thing, and one thing only. Profits, and not just profits, but increasing profits on a quarterly basis. Remember, the people at the top are paid in stock and options, so their wages are tied to making the price of the stock go up. As a result, they feel no remorse in laying off an entire team once a product has shipped or it is cancelled. Consider this, two years ago the entire Digital Illusions Canada team was laid off after completion of the latest Battlefield product. Two weeks later, EA announced its largest quarterly profit in company HISTORY. The moral is that even the best teams working on highly successful products for the largest and most profitable game company in the world in the best financial quarter in the company’s history can immediately find themselves out of a job.

Putting in some “slave” labor at an established publish can teach you a lot about the game’s industry in a couple of years, and give you a good resume to start you own company. Just remember, if you do choose to work for one of these companies, please follow much of the advice in my Foundational Five MBG article, keep your resume up to date, and always be prepared for the worst. Remember, these people are not your family, in fact, they are not even your friends.

-Jeff Tunnell, Game Maker
www.makeitbigingames.com

Note: Photo by www.flickr.com/photos/santarosa/ Provided under the Creative Commons license.

  • KevinMc

    Jeff, thanks. Good to see you posting here again, even if it is something your wrote a while ago. :) I read well, pretty much everything you post here, and always find it worth the time. =)

    I've never worked for a large publisher, although I've considered it a few times. Reading things like this are just reinforcement of why taking the path less traveled can be a lot more rewarding in the end. Anyone who always wanted to make games, but is worried it sounds like a bad idea after reading this, go RIGHT NOW and read the article on this same blog called “Five Foundational Steps To Surviving As A Game Developer”.

  • KevinMc

    Jeff, thanks. Good to see you posting here again, even if it is something your wrote a while ago. :) I read well, pretty much everything you post here, and always find it worth the time. =)

    I've never worked for a large publisher, although I've considered it a few times. Reading things like this are just reinforcement of why taking the path less traveled can be a lot more rewarding in the end. Anyone who always wanted to make games, but is worried it sounds like a bad idea after reading this, go RIGHT NOW and read the article on this same blog called “Five Foundational Steps To Surviving As A Game Developer”.

  • http://www.shapesandlines.com ToddPickens

    Not that you need to hear it from me, but that is very sadly dead accurate.

    As much as I love making games, I have dug ditches for a living, and it's not a bad option, considering the alternative.

  • http://www.shapesandlines.com ToddPickens

    Not that you need to hear it from me, but that is very sadly dead accurate.

    As much as I love making games, I have dug ditches for a living, and it's not a bad option, considering the alternative.

  • John H.

    Excellent. This post needs to be read by anyone with even the slightest interest in making video games.

  • John H.

    Excellent. This post needs to be read by anyone with even the slightest interest in making video games.

  • Simon Love

    Having worked at EA, Gameloft and Strategy First (not a huuuge publisher, but still responsible for my very negative outlook on the industry :)), I totally agree with what Jeff writes here.

    I could also write at length as to why big companies are not cool places to work at, but it is not as black and white as it seems. It really depends on your perspective.

    Some people consider these as excellent jobs!! Free coffee, Free bagels, a lounge with plasma tvs and all the new consoles…Sure beats working at Mcdonald's flipping burgers!!! Most of these people are specialists, unable (and uninterested) to do anything else than their basic task description.

    If you're more of a jack-of-all-trades, a person with a solid interest in game making, I seriously doubt you will find much enjoyment and advancement in these offices.

    The lure of the industry is really tempting, but ultimately, it's all smoke and mirrors.

    Thankfully, Independant games and more importantly, the indie mentality lives on.

  • Simon Love

    Having worked at EA, Gameloft and Strategy First (not a huuuge publisher, but still responsible for my very negative outlook on the industry :)), I totally agree with what Jeff writes here.

    I could also write at length as to why big companies are not cool places to work at, but it is not as black and white as it seems. It really depends on your perspective.

    Some people consider these as excellent jobs!! Free coffee, Free bagels, a lounge with plasma tvs and all the new consoles…Sure beats working at Mcdonald's flipping burgers!!! Most of these people are specialists, unable (and uninterested) to do anything else than their basic task description.

    If you're more of a jack-of-all-trades, a person with a solid interest in game making, I seriously doubt you will find much enjoyment and advancement in these offices.

    The lure of the industry is really tempting, but ultimately, it's all smoke and mirrors.

    Thankfully, Independant games and more importantly, the indie mentality lives on.

    • http://www.makeitbigingames.com Jeff Tunnell

      For sure, not only free bagels, but basketball courts, video game machines, Nerf balls, Friday beer bashes, employee “courage” awards, and all of the little drivel to keep the brain washing alive. You get a two dollar award for working two straight months with no days off. That is not very good pay is it?

      Again, I am not saying people should not take these jobs. Just be aware of what you are getting into, don't buy into the lifestyle, pay your dues, and squirrel away your money getting ready for your big break into your own company.

  • Eastbeast314

    Always an interesting read!

    Taking this article to the logical next step, what will the future bring to your conclusion? If a huge company can make tons of money off of developers and then fire them anyway, what's holding back those developers from making their own games? Do the publishers then just buy those cash-strapped young companies and do the same thing over again?

    The next issue is whether this will continue until the industry stops growing so quickly. If there aren't wide-eyed fools to replace the wizened elders, will companies then stop firing so casually?

    Then again, perhaps the bigger issue is why wide-eyed fools can outperform experienced vets just by working longer hours. Is that just for, say, artists? I would imagine that designers and programmers would be much harder to recycle every few years. Maybe that really is the case, though, and the quality of the majority of games reflects it.

    Hmm, lots to ponder, I suppose. Maybe grad school will make these shark-infested waters look a little more like the beach. Definitely going to have to test the waters a couple more times first. ;)

  • Eastbeast314

    Always an interesting read!

    Taking this article to the logical next step, what will the future bring to your conclusion? If a huge company can make tons of money off of developers and then fire them anyway, what's holding back those developers from making their own games? Do the publishers then just buy those cash-strapped young companies and do the same thing over again?

    The next issue is whether this will continue until the industry stops growing so quickly. If there aren't wide-eyed fools to replace the wizened elders, will companies then stop firing so casually?

    Then again, perhaps the bigger issue is why wide-eyed fools can outperform experienced vets just by working longer hours. Is that just for, say, artists? I would imagine that designers and programmers would be much harder to recycle every few years. Maybe that really is the case, though, and the quality of the majority of games reflects it.

    Hmm, lots to ponder, I suppose. Maybe grad school will make these shark-infested waters look a little more like the beach. Definitely going to have to test the waters a couple more times first. ;)

    • http://www.makeitbigingames.com Jeff Tunnell

      Thomas, the movie industry has been around for a long time, and they used to use the “slave labor” approach, but eventually the industry was unionized and that changed the way things were done. I am NOT a proponent of unions, but feel that our industry better get things under control, or unions or guilds will become a reality.

  • http://www.wazooinc.com wazoo

    Replace a few keywords here and there, and you end up with the same picture of the I.T. industry I'm in.
    The industry where management is always watchfull of your mistakes to build a case for outsourcing your role to an office overseas…

  • http://www.wazooinc.com wazoo

    Replace a few keywords here and there, and you end up with the same picture of the I.T. industry I'm in.
    The industry where management is always watchfull of your mistakes to build a case for outsourcing your role to an office overseas…

  • http://www.makeitbigingames.com Jeff Tunnell

    For sure, not only free bagels, but basketball courts, video game machines, Nerf balls, Friday beer bashes, employee “courage” awards, and all of the little drivel to keep the brain washing alive. You get a two dollar award for working two straight months with no days off. That is not very good pay is it?

    Again, I am not saying people should not take these jobs. Just be aware of what you are getting into, don't buy into the lifestyle, pay your dues, and squirrel away your money getting ready for your big break into your own company.

  • http://www.makeitbigingames.com Jeff Tunnell

    Thomas, the movie industry has been around for a long time, and they used to use the “slave labor” approach, but eventually the industry was unionized and that changed the way things were done. I am NOT a proponent of unions, but feel that our industry better get things under control, or unions or guilds will become a reality.

  • http://fosters.realmwarsgame.com Logan Foster

    A very fun article to read Jeff. I think it will really put things into perspective for the young adult who is thinking of seeking his or her fortunes with regards to developing games.

    One thing that you have omitted, which you probably did on purpose because it annoys me as much as it probably annoys you, is that many (though not all) of these big house studios are now utilizing government grants and tax credits to further maximize their profits! With some jurisdictions giving out at 50% tax credit for any tech work and other bonuses for employing a tech employee (even if they are a QA tester), a $60,000 employee can cost these studios as low as $8,000 out of their own pockets! And the reward of this employee is that they get to be a slave as you have outlined treated as if you should feel priviledged that you have a job instead of being treated like a valuable cog in the money making machine.

  • http://fosters.realmwarsgame.com Logan Foster

    A very fun article to read Jeff. I think it will really put things into perspective for the young adult who is thinking of seeking his or her fortunes with regards to developing games.

    One thing that you have omitted, which you probably did on purpose because it annoys me as much as it probably annoys you, is that many (though not all) of these big house studios are now utilizing government grants and tax credits to further maximize their profits! With some jurisdictions giving out at 50% tax credit for any tech work and other bonuses for employing a tech employee (even if they are a QA tester), a $60,000 employee can cost these studios as low as $8,000 out of their own pockets! And the reward of this employee is that they get to be a slave as you have outlined treated as if you should feel priviledged that you have a job instead of being treated like a valuable cog in the money making machine.

    • http://www.makeitbigingames.com Jeff Tunnell

      Good point, Logan. That is a dirty little secret the big companies use. They promise jobs, but only if they can get huge tax cuts and credits. There is no promise to treat those employees in a humane manner. Then, to add insult to injury, a lot of times these companies pack up and leave when the tax credits run out. Here in our little part of the world, Sony made huge state-wide headlines when they put plant in Springfield, OR, USA. Eight years later, they pulled up stakes when the taxes started.

  • http://www.makeitbigingames.com Jeff Tunnell

    Good point, Logan. That is a dirty little secret the big companies use. They promise jobs, but only if they can get huge tax cuts and credits. There is no promise to treat those employees in a humane manner. Then, to add insult to injury, a lot of times these companies pack up and leave when the tax credits run out. Here in our little part of the world, Sony made huge state-wide headlines when they put plant in Springfield, OR, USA. Eight years later, they pulled up stakes when the taxes started.

  • Simon Love

    Speaking of which, EA, Ubisoft and Eidos are doing exactly what Logan describes in Montréal, Québec. (where I currently live). As long as they get generous tax cuts, they will remain here. The minute these cuts are lifted, they will simply take the expertise they have built over here and go somewhere cheaper.

    Another similarity sprung to mind, similar to the I.T. crisis which wazoo describes : One of these companies had a Q.A. department of about 25 employees. One day, out of nowhere (from the employee's Point of view, obviously), 24 of those were let go. They kept their top Q.A. tester, shipped him to India to train cheaper Q.A. workers over there.

    I have also heard people encourage others to buy EA games for no other reason than to help the local industry…not realizing that EA is anything BUT the local industry.

    At least, Montréal's got some great talent, as demonstrated by Fez, an indie game I can't wait to get my hands on! It's simply absurd that the genuine game-makers out there have to fight uphill battles just to get simple, fun games published while millions are wasted on developing the next 'version' of Madden.

  • Simon Love

    Speaking of which, EA, Ubisoft and Eidos are doing exactly what Logan describes in Montréal, Québec. (where I currently live). As long as they get generous tax cuts, they will remain here. The minute these cuts are lifted, they will simply take the expertise they have built over here and go somewhere cheaper.

    Another similarity sprung to mind, similar to the I.T. crisis which wazoo describes : One of these companies had a Q.A. department of about 25 employees. One day, out of nowhere (from the employee's Point of view, obviously), 24 of those were let go. They kept their top Q.A. tester, shipped him to India to train cheaper Q.A. workers over there.

    I have also heard people encourage others to buy EA games for no other reason than to help the local industry…not realizing that EA is anything BUT the local industry.

    At least, Montréal's got some great talent, as demonstrated by Fez, an indie game I can't wait to get my hands on! It's simply absurd that the genuine game-makers out there have to fight uphill battles just to get simple, fun games published while millions are wasted on developing the next 'version' of Madden.

  • Steve

    Jeff,

    Well written and a good reminder. I do, however, feel the urge to point out the 'yeah, that's the way businesses work – especially the larger the corporation'. Under the skin corporations are borderline evil, driven by the bottom line. It's the nature of most large corporations in most industries (I've worked in few that don't exhibit most of the disturbing traits you talked about). Noting 'churn' – wow, not a bad practice in my opinion – although not for the same goals. For a large corporate group, it seems like 10% would be about the threshold of coattail riders, the sick lame and lazy, and attitude problems. Cutting the bottom 10% on a regular basis would certainly create some outside incentives for all to stay out of that bracket…

    I have to wonder if there is any loose relationship between the corporate reference and your recent departure from GG:)

    Good stuff, I'm in a similar dilemma. Looking to make the move from a corporation of 700 (still medium sized) to a team of 4. The unknown completely scares the crap out of me, so I'm easing into it. The key is that there is steady progression from one environment (which I hate) to another (that I love the concept of).

  • Steve

    Jeff,

    Well written and a good reminder. I do, however, feel the urge to point out the 'yeah, that's the way businesses work – especially the larger the corporation'. Under the skin corporations are borderline evil, driven by the bottom line. It's the nature of most large corporations in most industries (I've worked in few that don't exhibit most of the disturbing traits you talked about). Noting 'churn' – wow, not a bad practice in my opinion – although not for the same goals. For a large corporate group, it seems like 10% would be about the threshold of coattail riders, the sick lame and lazy, and attitude problems. Cutting the bottom 10% on a regular basis would certainly create some outside incentives for all to stay out of that bracket…

    I have to wonder if there is any loose relationship between the corporate reference and your recent departure from GG:)

    Good stuff, I'm in a similar dilemma. Looking to make the move from a corporation of 700 (still medium sized) to a team of 4. The unknown completely scares the crap out of me, so I'm easing into it. The key is that there is steady progression from one environment (which I hate) to another (that I love the concept of).

    • http://www.makeitbigingames.com Jeff Tunnell

      Like I said, I wrote this article two years ago. GG is still a very small company with a headcount around 60 people, so this has nothing to do with my leaving.

      Good luck being independent. It IS scary, and that is one of the best things about it.

      • steve

        Keeps you frosty! Comfort = complacency.

  • http://www.makeitbigingames.com Jeff Tunnell

    Like I said, I wrote this article two years ago. GG is still a very small company with a headcount around 60 people, so this has nothing to do with my leaving.

    Good luck being independent. It IS scary, and that is one of the best things about it.

  • steve

    Keeps you frosty! Comfort = complacency.

  • Nikos Beck

    That's not just big companies. I worked for a startup and they drove us hard. We worked long hours, had a share of royalties. After a while, management realized we were taking a long time putting together games. Their estimates of six months for a killer title seemed more and more optimistic as they changed details, added to the game, hired on more staff to speed things up, etc. In the end I walked away. Some other walked away before and after I did. I think that profit-chasing mentality happens in any company where they keep an envious eye on the competition and profit without bothering to streamline their own business, prefering to push on.

  • Nikos Beck

    That's not just big companies. I worked for a startup and they drove us hard. We worked long hours, had a share of royalties. After a while, management realized we were taking a long time putting together games. Their estimates of six months for a killer title seemed more and more optimistic as they changed details, added to the game, hired on more staff to speed things up, etc. In the end I walked away. Some other walked away before and after I did. I think that profit-chasing mentality happens in any company where they keep an envious eye on the competition and profit without bothering to streamline their own business, prefering to push on.

  • http://www.psychochild.org/ Brian 'Psychochild' Green

    One word of correction about “politics”:

    Politics happens as soon as you get more than two people involved in a project. Business will turn even the best of friends into bitter rivals if the opportunity comes along. If two people can gang up on the other, it gets ugly.

    The awful reality is that a lot of businesses fail or don't really take off. When that happens, it's a lot easier to blame the other person rather than taking a cold, hard look at yourself. You can have the majority beat up on the minority in company “politics” whether you have 3 or 333 employees.

  • http://www.psychochild.org/ Brian 'Psychochild' Green

    One word of correction about “politics”:

    Politics happens as soon as you get more than two people involved in a project. Business will turn even the best of friends into bitter rivals if the opportunity comes along. If two people can gang up on the other, it gets ugly.

    The awful reality is that a lot of businesses fail or don't really take off. When that happens, it's a lot easier to blame the other person rather than taking a cold, hard look at yourself. You can have the majority beat up on the minority in company “politics” whether you have 3 or 333 employees.

  • http://www.glennbroderick.com GlennB

    Jeff-

    I think it's woth noting here that more start ups fail than succeed (and they fail in the short term i.e., 4-5 years or less). That's a universal truth, not one specific to the games business.

    When you look at employee churn for most of the “big” companies you reference in the article, it's certainly something less than 50%.

    So if you have a start up failure rate of over 50% and a “big company” churn of less than 50%, then the only realistic option for lots of people is going to be the “big company.” (few people, even if they 'right size' their life, can afford to stack the odds against their having a job 4 years in the future). While there is no guaranteed security at big companies, you have even less at small, entrepreneurial companies.

    There will always be entrepreneurs willing to take the gamble, to take an extraordinary risk for their and their family's/employee's futures, and I definitely applaud those folks. For those that succeed, the rewards can be huge and life changing (as I'm sure you know personally). For those that don't – and that's most of them – the penalty can be very tough to recover from. For that reason, I tend to disagree w/ your characterization of folks working at the big pubs/devs as “slaves.” I have to believe that a lot of those people have simply weighed their options, determined they couldn't hack the consequence of a start up failure, and opted to pursue their passion for games in a different way (rather than giving up on it altogether and digging ditches).

    Bottom line: I don't think that working at a big company for the long haul is somehow “settling”; I view it as risk mitigation. I'm biased bc I work at a huge company – one of the hugest, AT&T – but I've worked at smaller companies, too, and my view on this has always been the same. It's essentially a risk assessment.

  • http://www.glennbroderick.com GlennB

    Jeff-

    I think it's woth noting here that more start ups fail than succeed (and they fail in the short term i.e., 4-5 years or less). That's a universal truth, not one specific to the games business.

    When you look at employee churn for most of the “big” companies you reference in the article, it's certainly something less than 50%.

    So if you have a start up failure rate of over 50% and a “big company” churn of less than 50%, then the only realistic option for lots of people is going to be the “big company.” (few people, even if they 'right size' their life, can afford to stack the odds against their having a job 4 years in the future). While there is no guaranteed security at big companies, you have even less at small, entrepreneurial companies.

    There will always be entrepreneurs willing to take the gamble, to take an extraordinary risk for their and their family's/employee's futures, and I definitely applaud those folks. For those that succeed, the rewards can be huge and life changing (as I'm sure you know personally). For those that don't – and that's most of them – the penalty can be very tough to recover from. For that reason, I tend to disagree w/ your characterization of folks working at the big pubs/devs as “slaves.” I have to believe that a lot of those people have simply weighed their options, determined they couldn't hack the consequence of a start up failure, and opted to pursue their passion for games in a different way (rather than giving up on it altogether and digging ditches).

    Bottom line: I don't think that working at a big company for the long haul is somehow “settling”; I view it as risk mitigation. I'm biased bc I work at a huge company – one of the hugest, AT&T – but I've worked at smaller companies, too, and my view on this has always been the same. It's essentially a risk assessment.

    • http://www.makeitbigingames.com Jeff Tunnell

      Glenn, Starting your own company or going with a small start-up certainly is not for everybody. I am not trying to imply that it is. However, for the people that are inclined to go that way, this blog is to help them get over the hump. I do think that if you want to “make it big”, you do need to make the leap.

  • http://www.makeitbigingames.com Jeff Tunnell

    Glenn, Starting your own company or going with a small start-up certainly is not for everybody. I am not trying to imply that it is. However, for the people that are inclined to go that way, this blog is to help them get over the hump. I do think that if you want to “make it big”, you do need to make the leap.

  • Anonymous Game Dev

    This post is absolutely SPOT on. I worked for one of MS's internal game studios for five years. The politics where insane, and the cool-aid was bitter but flowed freely.

  • http://www.gaminghorror.net steffenj

    “these people are not your family, in fact, they are not even your friends.”

    True. And even worse, i know some could be, it's not even their fault. You can get caught up in day-to-day business and/or corporate politics and quickly lose connection to the people you work with.

    I was both in a small studio and enjoyed it a lot until half of the team was let go (guess what: corporate pressure), and a small studio that was always set out to become big. The bigger we got the more i felt detached from my work and especially from the products we were building.