How the best devs are ‘fleeing in droves’ to escape the abusive games industry


My only nephew is something of a math prodigy, and the fact that he wants to be a game designer when he grows up (and has even been to game dev camp) fills me with the creeping horror that only someone who’s been living in or chronicling the game industry for years can know. The industry is awesome, and it is also a meat grinder that chews amazing people up and spits them right back out. He deserves a better future than that. Everybody does.

Such is the subject of a lengthy piece on Gamasutra this week. Author Simon Parkin interviews multiple developers about their experience making games – and their obvious relief when they finally escape. They’re not just talking crunch; they’re discussing relatively low pay, contract positions, nepotism, instability, post-launch exhaustion, sexism, and actual corruption driving people away.

“Long-term careers in the video game industry are uncommon and are, counterintuitively, becoming rarer as the years progress,” Parkin argues. “The figures, which are in line with previous GDC surveys, paint a picture of a tumultuous, unstable industry from which employees are fleeing in droves in search of stability and security.”

Of note to MMORPG players in particular, some of those interviewed did indeed work on MMOs, which may be unusually prone to this type of experience, given the number of people required to build an MMO vs. to run it after launch. There’s a programmer from Elder Scrolls Online in the mix who discusses ZeniMax’s on-paper “no rehire” policy (he left a few years ago to develop indie games, then left to work in computer security).

Another producer from an unnamed MMORPG says “the environment for making games is worse than ever” with “too much ego, too low salaries, too much extended overtime, and pettiness in general.” He left the industry when a studio investor made off with most of their money and the studio imploded. “Making games today is like having a garage band, most of them are kind of bad, but you get fun doing it, some of them are good, and less than 1 percent are going to be discovered and make it. From a business and professional point the situation is horrible. But I don’t know if it can be changed.”

Kristen Koster, whom you’ll recognize straightaway as a former Ultima Online designer and one of the pioneers of MMORPG economy mechanics, illuminated the extra layer of sexism in the games industry that stretches far back into the 1990s. In fact, she was all but forced out of her position when her husband, Raph Koster, was promoted to lead designer. She left rather than be effectively demoted to customer service, saying, “Why they thought a new mother would jump at the chance to work crazy hours with a shifting ‘weekend’ […] I still don’t know.”

In other words, we’re losing the industry’s best people because it’s still being run like a clownshow. Don’t even take their or my word for it; just run a search for “layoff” and “sunset” on Massively OP. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to email my sister-in-law and try one last time to talk them out of another year of game dev camp.

Source: Gamasutra

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Kevin McCaughey

The quality of games has been steadily and inexorably dropping since the late 1990’s. Anyone who has watched gaming that long knows this. This would be explained by the good people leaving. I was involved briefly in the gaming industry in the early 1990’s and it was obvious to me then that it was low pay and exploitation all the way.


It’s not just the gaming industry, the whole world is going to shit. Even Microsoft has dropped the quality of Windows with Windows 10 being the new low in decades.

On the scale from 1 till 100

XP is 75
Vista is 70
7 is 85
8 is 65
10 is 60

Music and movies are also dropping in quality.


From my experience, you are faced with two options in the gaming industry (generally speaking, not counting exceptions).
Either you can work on low profit projects that allows you to be creative and have influenc, with the conditions closest to what all developers get into the business to do; creating great games.
Or you can work your way to the big companies who can pay a decent salary, but you will most likely be a part of the machine with little influence, which is onviously not the reason you got into the business. The problem is if you are just a part of the machine, you might aswell work in other industries that mostly pay much better and often also give you creative freedom and professionel pride.

Also, my opinion is that f2p has made it less fun to create games, because there is more focus on designing cash grab that designing great game features. So all your great (and not so great) ideas never gets tried; of course most never would anyways, but with f2p you are even more tied creatively speaking.

I have been working in the low end of the gaming industry on and off for 6 years as a freelancer, on programming and game design. And my conclusion so far is unless it is a calling and you just have to do it (like the poor painter who just HAS to paint), stay away from the gaming industry.
Right now my mentality goes like, if a good opportunity in the gaming industry comes (a game concept that I like and a decent salary), then I will take it. But otherwise, I am going to work as a developer in other more profitable industries, and occasionally spend that extra pay on “hobby” game projects because there is still a little painter wanting to get out.

Brian McBride

Not only can you make more money and have more sane hours in other software development fields, but the game industry is notorious for laying you off once the title you are working on is published.

It’s been a while since I’ve had friends working on games (they all bailed to other industries) but I gathered that it was always a small few at the top; like the publisher, producers, some senior directors, etc… that got great bonuses where the team themselves got the “Well, we are downsizing for the maintenance team now, bye!”


And people still scoff at the idea of unions.


When has it EVER been a good idea to be in the video game industry?

It just seems like the cutthroat brutal nature of the video game industry would be obvious to everybody, but people still continue to join and work in the industry.

It seems like if you have the programming skills to make a game, why not just do programming in other fields?


People who are passionate about games dream of helping create them. Unfortunately, corporations see “passion for the work” and correctly extrapolate “will ensure horrendous working conditions long enough to get at least one project out the door” from that. When they burn out, there’s always more fresh-faced graduates of normal colleges or “game development courses” to take their place.

Sally Bowls


I am not sure what it means, but would point out that [almost] all of these are millionaires who seem to not be employees or have bosses.

Bryan Correll

Work on pushing him toward being an actuary. It’s heavy on the math and consistently ranks as one of the most desirable careers.


We’re losing the best and most experienced because it stopped being a clownshow.

Clowns are funny, free to express themselves, unbound. Developers are the exact opposite.

They can’t afford to be funny as humour is not universal. Their sarcasm may be misinterpreted, their irony misunderstood.
They’re not free to express themselves at all. They need to perform the show which is guaranteed to make money, not waste time ‘developing’ something ‘new’ as that’s nothing but a risk not worth taking.
They’re bound by contracts set up by suits who have no interest in their professions or their personality whatsoever.

It’s become a business whereas I preferred the clownshow.


Err. Don’t know where you’ve worked, but that doesn’t sound like any software development workplace I’ve ever been in. Ever.

I can count on one hand, the number of developers who have humorless. buttoned-down personalites that I have worked with. Sarcasm and other-nerdly interests are stock-in-trade.

Andy McAdams
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Andy McAdams

Agreed. All my devs are pretty unique people. Worked with one guy who was crazy into LARPing and talked about it all the time and would put Easter eggs in the code around LARPing. Now I work with someone who’s a music composer and is an engineer to pay the bills. The rest are nerdy, irreverent, sarcastic and generally loud, outgoing and opinionated people.

Every organization I’ve been in the engineers are viewed jealously because they get waaaay more latitude than most other departments in the business.

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Cosmic Cleric

Now I work with someone who’s a music composer and is an engineer to pay the bills.

I’ve known two, one who released a professional CD of his classical music.

Curious as to musicians moonlighting as programmers, gotta be some kind of mental link there.


This one of those articles that makes me want to wallow in a very stiff drink after reading this… :(