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Developer Perspectives: On The Road Again

Column By Sanya Weathers on June 29, 2012

Most of us become developers because we have a passion for games, for creating worlds, for telling stories. We could work fewer hours for more money with the same skills in the "real" world, but I have to tell you - I've tried it. Every hour of overtime feels like an hour or worse. On a game project you're excited about, you only notice the overtime when your fingers cramp up. It just doesn't feel like work when you're in the zone.

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This trait gets abused, and that's why developers sound so cynical when you get more than one of them together with alcohol. I mean, besides the volatility/instability that has led me to start off speeches to high school career clubs with "The game industry: The only career that will relocate you more often than the armed forces."

I also tell the kids "Learn. To. Code."

No, besides all that, I'm talking about all the questions that start with "why." Why pay fairly? Why share profits? Why try to retain your human capital, when for every experienced developer who wants to see his family, ten new people are begging for advice on how to break into the industry? Why talk to the people in the trenches about their boss, when their boss looks so good in meetings? Why plan for the future when you can give shareholders an extra nickel dividend at the expense of a thousand "contractors"?

Why bother with any decency whatsoever, when so many of us love our jobs in spite of everything?

You try and watch that for years on end without getting a little cynical.

But you live, and you learn. There are some contract clauses you don't sign more than once. (The one where they own your every creative thought while employed.) You figure out that some jobs aren't worth it. (Anything with no firm budget or management structure, but a firm delivery date.) You make a list headed by the note "do not work with this tool ever again." (Don't even think about it.)

You learn to speak up when the interviewer says "any questions?" You eventually stop paying movers to haul the box you haven't un-taped since 2003. You talk about staffing, expectations, goals, technology, and above all you chat about the industry connections you have in common.

Because you discover that the industry can be sort of like a (large and dysfunctional) family. The list of people you'd love to work with is way longer than the tool list. When you run into trouble, you're at least surrounded by people who get it, who've been through it. Just like the best days on the job don't feel like work, so too does reaching out to your comrades for help and advice not feel like networking.

This is my last contribution to Developer Perspectives, at least for the time being. I've started a new job as the Director of Community for Undead Labs. (Briefly and incompletely, a team of people who all have more experience than I do is making a zombie apocalypse simulator for the Xbox - and taking the feedback they get on the mechanics and concepts to make a zombie apocalypse Xbox MMO. Yeah. You'd have taken the gig, too.)

My perspective, I freely admit, has grown a little jaded over the years. But I've lived and learned. I know where a lot of the traps are ("what third party toolsets are you depending on"), and I've learned not to mistake a red flag for colorful bunting ("we don't discuss profit sharing, but don't worry, we'll take care of you"). I know what to ask, and I have a lot of people I trust to give me the straight dirt. And really, at the end of the day I'm always willing to try again. I think I've landed in a happy place.

Alright, "think" nothing, I'm happy. I'm excited. I'm enthused. I'm picturing the possibilities, I'm tearing into Q&As with fans and reporters, and I'm about to bounce off the wall at the thought of going to PAX in two months to show off a kickass and truly original concept. The only flyspeck of sorrow in the whole universe for me is that we're not going to Gamescon 2012.

Man, I love that show. Excuse me while I wrench my head away from the beer and the cheerful attitudes toward nudity combined with a civilization where it's safe to be a pedestrian.

Right! Happy place! The excitement of new colleagues with new ways of thinking is better than any high I've ever heard about. The thing about game developers is that we're all like this, whenever we start a new project. Unlike most rose-colored glasses, things only get better the more you work with a great team, and I know from experience just how amazing better can be. It's... it's f**king magic, y'all.

That's just my perspective.

Sanya Weathers / I''ve been complaining about video games for fifteen years. Fifteen years, people. In internet years, I''m not just old, I''m DEAD.

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