This is an excellent take-down that probably shouldn’t be needed.
I really find the “wage slave” hatred to be perverse. It’s what unnerves me, more than anything else, about the post-1980 U.S.: the fact that we’re so willing to write people off as worthless people, just because of their circumstances. “Loser” has become the biggest insult, when all it means is “one who loses”. (By that definition, it’s actually most of us, but never mind that.) We’re now so inclined to victim-blaming that the corporate master class can justify anything and most people will go along with it.
Even though society has gotten worse, economically speaking, for the past 35 years, people are still willing to attribute others' misfortunes to personal failure. (Don’t feel bad about the layoffs. Those were just “wage slaves”, so fuck ‘em.) It’s like they don’t live in reality. No one wants to admit that a serious health problem would (a) almost certainly cost them their job, because employer loyalty died more than a generation ago, and (b) possibly bankrupt them even if they retained insurance (despite losing a job and possibly being unable to afford it) and almost certainly do so if they lost theirs. People want to believe that nothing bad can happen to them, so they make up stories about other people to whom bad things happen. This anti-“wage slave” attitude is just an extension of that.
The games industry seems much more hesitant to discuss the “sucker culture” problem than the software industry as a whole. (Although that could just be my perception due to systematic avoidance of things Silicon Valley related.)
Is the programming/engineering work that much different than a similarly-sized software project? Along the same lines, Is the “creative” work (animation, graphic design, music, etc) radically different from their respective “parent” industries? I get the feeling the talent pool is considered effectively limitless, despite it having a reputation for being a technical and managerial shitshow. Is that the case? Why?
The games industry pays poorly, even for good people. I wouldn’t count Zynga (which pays well, though its games are garbage) because it’s not actually a game company but a content/analytics company where games are pure commodity content.
The appeal of the gaming industry, I think, is that games are actually finished. You ship a title, you have a genuine success and you move on.
Compared to the rest of the corporate programming world, where most projects fail, and where getting promoted or moved to a more important or promising project is political rather than formal, that ability to finish something has an appeal. The negative of working on a shippable project (with a binary definition of being finished) as opposed to an Agile/enterprise project is that you have tight deadlines and less allowance for slack. Since these deadlines are set in part by people with bad intentions (i.e. cost cutters who don’t want to make great games, but who’d rather make the same crap, cheaper) it can be painful.
The games industry seems much more hesitant to discuss the “sucker culture” problem than the software industry as a whole.
I think that the age discrimination problem, except in a few elite studios, is worse. If you’re my age (I’m only 32) you’re not a “wage slave” working on a AAA product. Either you have an independent reputation in the community, or you’re out.
Because the people in it are so young, and because the conditions are so bad, and because people have been indoctrinated into the belief that there are millions of hungry people ready to replace them (which is, sadly, true) there’s not much of a will to speak up. It’ll just make you more angry or get you fired.
Is the programming/engineering work that much different than a similarly-sized software project?
The economics are different. A game’s sales will be driven largely by its trailer. As with the movies, the marketing campaign leading up to the release determines the economic payoff. Quality pays off (with luck) on the back end. No self-respecting executive is going to bet on a back-end payoff (because, if the first week is poor, he might not keep his job long enough). This means that one core aspect of the game (graphics but, especially, the trailer) has a large commercial impact.
The quality of the game, over the long term, will drive reputations of franchises, studios, and occasionally even individual designers and star programmers. However, most executives don’t care about product/studio reputations (they’re good enough at moving around that those things don’t affect them) and they certainly don’t want to hear anything from programmers/designers who pull for quality because of a value on their own personal reputations.
If you care too much about the quality of what you’re releasing, the executives will paint you as a prima donna perfectionist. You’re not a team player, because you only want to ship an excellent product that will boost your personal reputation, as opposed to a mediocre one that will still make money. Regular software isn’t different in this regard, except for the fact that in regular software, people have largely agreed upon what level of quality is correct. In games, you have executives who view games as commodity “content”, while you have programmers and designers who consider themselves artisans and despise the commercial aspect of the work.
I get the feeling the talent pool is considered effectively limitless, despite it having a reputation for being a technical and managerial shitshow. Is that the case? Why?
So, I’m probably biased and working on incomplete information, and I’m also old, but I feel like the quality of games has declined in the past 20 years. The constraints of the 2D era brought us Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger and Terranigma and Tales of Phantasia. These days, however, most games feel like third-rate movies with a small interactive component. There is excellence in contemporary video games in, say, the physics and verisimilitude– just not in gameplay. However, I’m also an old crank (not the target audience of mass-market video games). If I want a story, I’ll reach for a novel. If I want a puzzle, I’ll read a hard math paper. If I want a competitive social experience, I’ll break out a board game. When I look at a 2016-era video game, I’m impressed by the programming (the shading, the smoothness with which it re-renders perspective shots) but not by the game and certainly not by the story (if there even is one).
Whatever the games industry is doing, however, seems to work well enough for it not to change. I’d imagine that the graphics PhDs are an exception to the horrible treatment that the plebs get.
Is the talent pool limitless? Unfortunately, the games industry seems to be profitable while running mostly on commodity talent. Like I said, I’m sure that it hires a few top-notch people to do AI and graphics, and I’d imagine that they’re treated well. However, the games industry has managed to remain commercially successful while taking in a lot of marginal people and, unfortunately, also taking in some good people and treating them like the marginal ones.
Unless we organize in the right way, the limitless supply of hungry, good-enough people will always be there.
In fact, as time passes, I realize that it’s only a certain set of circumstances that make excellent people necessary or even useful. In particular, there are still cases where small teams are more efficient and large teams of “commodity” people are inefficient or even dangerous (security risks). There are others where large teams of commodity individuals outperform the excellent. I can out-code five kids straight out of college, but who’s going to know more about consumer trends and fashions? Even one of them wins on that front, much less five. Fashion matters a lot in the AAA games industry– there’s something to be said for having more eyes and hands, even if the average person isn’t especially knowledgable– and the large teams of mediocre people are probably necessary.
it’s not just a game industry issue; i’ve seen this identical attitude from startup founders who expect all their employees to be “passionate” enough to put 80-hour weeks into their company because of the wonderful opportunity to be working for a “world-changing organisation”.