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So You Want to Work in the Games Industry

Usually when I mention having worked in the games industry, I'm met with envy. Once again, a slightly paraphrased version of that line from The Devil Wears Prada pops up -- "A million nerds would kill for your job!" So when I announced that I was leaving Blizzard, I was actually delighted to get a different response.
The answer is complicated, and certainly too complicated to answer in 140 characters on Twitter. In short, yes they do, and the industry as a whole can be a nightmare if you go into it completely unprepared. It takes a very special kind of person with a certain amount of dedication and comprehension of exactly what they're signing up for to thrive.

Disclaimer: These are my experiences in the games industry, and are general statements only based on the studios that I have worked at -- but I'm not going to go very deep into specifics, because this isn't that type of blog. I'm not bitter or angry about the time I spent in the industry and I don't regret a single second of it. The goal here is to prepare any interested parties and help them make informed decisions about their career, not to dissuade them from entering it at all.

A shift for me was expected to be eight hours long, plus an hour for lunch -- note the expected in that sentence. During a game's development, twelve-hour days, six days a week for months at a time was the norm for most people. If you're an engineer of sufficient rank, you might also be on call for live issues, meaning 2 a.m. phone calls to come into the office and fix a problem that's just cropped up. It's nowhere near as bad as before the EA Spouse lawsuit, which theoretically limits the demands that a game studio can place on its employees, but it's still no walk in the park. My marriage fell apart for many reasons, but an inability to match up our schedules was very much a part of it. Later I dated a couple of coworkers before finally finding the love of my life just a couple of office doors down from me; I didn't have the time or the energy to go anywhere else to meet people, and it's hard to find anyone outside of the industry who understands and can cope with your schedule.

I did not get to just play videogames all day. I had way too many meetings and way too much work to do. I found that I knew less about the games I was working on than I did before I started working on them. There's a running joke that you can figure out who's a developer by finding the worst-geared character with the least progression in the game, and it's often not too far off the mark, although there's obviously exceptions to this rule. Raiding after work was an impossibility for me because I was just too tired. I didn't have time to grind out everything I needed to get raid-ready, anyway, and by the time I cooked and ate dinner and cleaned up, it was nearly time to go to sleep so I could get up and do it all over again.

My physical wellness took a major hit from the time I entered the game industry. I was exhausted all the time. The stress inherent to any career where you have tight deadlines, lots at stake, and the desire to get ahead caused the symptoms of my existing illness to flare up more severely and more frequently. It goes without saying that the mental strain was nothing to ignore, either. I gave up a lot of the things I enjoyed doing because I just couldn't bring myself to do them anymore. Looking back, I'm fairly sure that I spent many years of my time in the industry fighting depression without even realizing it.

Not only did I not have the energy to do the things I loved, I wasn't allowed to do them in many cases. Most studios won't let you work on any creative personal projects at all, others will require you to submit them for review and get official permission to work on them. When you work for any studio, you're representing that company, no matter how many disclaimers you put on your social media accounts. You're limited on what you can talk about and how you can present yourself; there's the obvious things, like don't talk about unreleased content, but even things as simple as theorycrafting aren't allowed, lest they be misconstrued as promises of things to come. You cannot give negative reviews of other developers' games, even if they're constructive. You're encouraged to not weigh in on "controversial" subjects, and if you do, all it takes is one follower upset enough to send your employer an email -- you could very easily find yourself marched into the HR office the next day for disciplinary action. This is at least part of the reason that I delayed speaking about the less shiny side of the games industry until I had left; it can be something as simple as expressing mild displeasure that leads to severe consequences for you.

An important thing to note is that every game studio is very different as far as culture goes, especially if you're female. I have been very fortunate to only experience the "brogrammer" mentality a handful of times, but other women in the industry have really suffered as a direct result of some narrow-minded individuals. More often I found myself having to deal with offhand comments like "oh man, I'm so triggered" and "I have PTSD after that match!" being thrown around, not out of malice, but out of ignorance -- they've sadly become common memes in the gaming sphere and thus in the industry without the words and context being fully understood. However, as a PTSD survivor myself, the lack of intent didn't really make it less upsetting. There's also a pervasive culture of drinking in the games industry. I don't drink because I'm in recovery; while everyone I met in the industry was very understanding and accommodating whenever I'd refuse an alcoholic beverage, having kegs and bottles of whiskey all within easy access sometimes got very uncomfortable for me. I am proud to report that despite the constant temptation, I'll have two years sober under my belt in August.

By now it probably seems like a whole lot of stormclouds instead of the sunshine that most people expect when they dream of a career in games, so let's move on to the good stuff that makes it all worth it.

I have met too many incredible people to list them all in one place. The ability to work with so many like-minded people who shared the same passion for games as I did was really a once in a lifetime opportunity. These friendships have lasted for years and through multiple job changes. This isn't unusual, either; most people I know who've been in the industry for a while are still in contact with friends they worked with a decade ago. I've had the opportunity to shake hands and work with people I considered my idols before I started my career. It's a humbling experience, to be sure.

There's also the knowledge that at the end of the day, all of your hard work has been poured into making something that is being loved by people all over the world. There will be plenty of detractors on internet forums and trolls in chat, but when you're walking into a convention with your employee name tag on and a group of random people screams "YOU ROCK! THANK YOU FOR MAKING GAMES!" at you, it's enough to move you to tears. When you see people posting about how they met their spouse or their best friend in your game, or how they've used your virtual world to escape something truly terrible in their own, it suddenly seems very much worth it. You get the knowledge that you made a thing. You can hold the game box in your hand. You can point to your name in the credits. It's a kind of immortality, really -- long after you've left the industry, long after you've died, someone's going to launch your game and see a part of you.

I won't lie: the swag is pretty awesome, too. At the very least, you'll never need to buy another T-shirt or hoodie again. If you're the type of person who enjoys collecting memories and sentimental things, you'll be in absolute paradise! I started my career with maybe half a small moving box's worth of stuff to decorate my office space. When I left my career, I had four boxes worth after donating or throwing out a bunch of stuff.

You gain a completely new appreciation for videogames. There's a sort of deeper understanding that comes with working in the games industry and seeing the work that goes into them. This can, of course, be a double-edged sword, because I've also lost the ability to just sit back and play a game without analyzing it to death or wondering about the underlying mechanics, but it can lead to some really interesting conversations and thought processes down the line. They're not just games on a shelf anymore, they're living, breathing things containing the work of countless engineers, designers, artists, producers, quality assurance analysts, customer service representatives -- it really does take a village.

If you've weighed out all of the pros and the cons, done your own research -- I can't stress that enough -- and still settled on the games industry as where you want to be, I support you, and I wish you nothing but the best. I hope that it is everything you want it to be and that you achieve each and every one of your dreams while you're there!

And let me know, too, once your game drops, because I'd love to stream it.

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