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Can old people break into the game industry?


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#1 johnnyMakesGames   Members   -  Reputation: 168

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Posted 01 February 2010 - 11:26 AM

Does anyone have stats on the average age of a game designer (programmer, comp. sci. person)? Ever heard of someone 50 starting out in the field? Or do you have to be "young"? Thanks.

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#2 Promit   Moderators   -  Reputation: 6335

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Posted 01 February 2010 - 11:27 AM

Barring the usual reasons someone older might have trouble getting any job, I suspect that not too many skilled people that age are willing to settle for an entry level salary. But if you can do the job and you're okay with that level of pay, then why not?

#3 johnnyMakesGames   Members   -  Reputation: 168

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Posted 01 February 2010 - 11:32 AM

Quote:
Original post by Promit
Barring the usual reasons someone older might have trouble getting any job, I suspect that not too many skilled people that age are willing to settle for an entry level salary. But if you can do the job and you're okay with that level of pay, then why not?


I suspect that by the time I hit 50 older folks will be more involved than they may be now. More that just project managers or senior programmers but people wanting second careers or just trying to get a new job (like they do in any other job type). thanks.



#4 Atrix256   Members   -  Reputation: 510

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Posted 01 February 2010 - 11:39 AM

Due to the crunch time etc, it is a young man's field, but the conditions are getting better.

If you have programming experience from other fields i dont think the jump would be too hard to make, and you wouldn't have to start at entry level either (:

I know a couple of people that have done it that I work with.

One did sound and video codec programming so came in as a senior audio programmer.

Another guy did financial software and game in as a regular engineer (as opposed to an associate engineer).

I myself came from a hobbyist background but had 6 years of web dev on my resume so was hired as a regular engineer and given the title of "acting lead engineer" on my first project (which shipped fine)

So, I think it isnt an impossible dream, and like you say i think it will get better in the future as well as this industry matures.

There is a huge learning curve coming in from the outside though if it isnt something you also do for fun on your own. Heck even then going pro is a whole new level, so be prepared for some hard work (:

#5 Orymus   Members   -  Reputation: 154

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Posted 02 February 2010 - 05:10 AM

Ya, it may not appear logical to someone who hasn't experienced it, but crunch time is really heavy on your health.

Working 80 hours for one week isn't bad, but going nuts 120h/week for 2 months is something that is often considered harder on older people.

#6 frob   Moderators   -  Reputation: 19757

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Posted 02 February 2010 - 06:33 AM

Quote:
Original post by Orymus
Working 80 hours for one week isn't bad, but going nuts 120h/week for 2 months
Who does that?

I've been at bad companies that wanted 60/week (which I refused), but never 120.

If any company I worked at wanted that, I would quit on the spot.


#7 jtagge75   Members   -  Reputation: 139

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Posted 02 February 2010 - 06:52 AM

Quote:
Original post by Orymus
Ya, it may not appear logical to someone who hasn't experienced it, but crunch time is really heavy on your health.

Working 80 hours for one week isn't bad, but going nuts 120h/week for 2 months is something that is often considered harder on older people.


I hope this is a typo. I don't care how much you like games but there is no reason to give your every waking moment of it. Maybe the smaller company/paid indie lifestyle has spoiled me as I probably wouldn't be working for a place requiring 60 hours a week very long.

#8 Atrix256   Members   -  Reputation: 510

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Posted 02 February 2010 - 08:46 AM

I can confirm those working conditions are still really prevelant.

On the first game i shipped, working at the first company i worked at, there was a period of time where we worked between 60-90 hour weeks for 9 months straight.

At the end of the project they gave us 2 days paid time off as a reward (woohoo...)

During the crunch time they always bought us dinner which was nice, and they told us it was "voluntary" but like yeah... it wasn't really haha.

I remember i was venting on the gameprogrammer.com mailing list about it and a factory worker in cuba responded saying not even THEY - in a communist country with no labor laws - would tolerate that :P

This company, who shall remain nameless (nobody would know it anyhow) had about 100 employees and was located in southern california.

I later went to work at midway and now wb games and the conditions are a lot better (although short periods of crunch still exist - such as 2 to 4 week long pushes working 60 hour works or a lil more).

I think where im at now is run a lot better and the crunch time is a lot more focused, and there for a defined reason as opposed to my first job which said "work harder with no defined goal!" which is absolutely retarded :P

If this scares you though, this field may not be for you cause crunch time is a reality. The good companies minimize crunch time but it's still there. (:

#9 Ravyne   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 6955

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Posted 02 February 2010 - 10:34 AM

If you're working at a place where 60 hour weeks are "normal" -- where I'd define normalality as a period lasting more than 4 weeks, it's probably a sign of serious mismanagement -- either someone doesn't really know how long things take, or someone deliberately promised an unreasonable schedule.

If 60+ hour weeks have become normal and compulsory (whether its explicitly stated or "understood"), its seriously time to consider a change of scenery -- by which I mean run, do not walk, to the nearest door; its time to GTFO.

Remember also that Games are an industry where the engineers are typically not being paid a rate that even approaches what similarly "experienced" (and possibly less-skilled) engineers are earning in other industries/specializations, and that game industry benefits (such as health, retirement, etc) are not nearly as good either. Those other engineers are only working 40 hours a week too, and the thought of having 60+ hour/week crunch for more than a couple weeks would have them rioting in the halls. At some point, the "fun" of being in the game industry just doesn't make up for the bullshit that some poorly-run studios expect.

On the flip side, working for a well-run studio making an exciting product is worth its weight in gold.

#10 Orymus   Members   -  Reputation: 154

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Posted 02 February 2010 - 11:21 AM

I'm surprised by the replies. I live in an area where 4 of the top game software developpers have studios, and this is a generalised kind of schedule to be honest.
Sorry to break your desilusions, but this is indeed often the case in the industry that a person is asked to spend several extra hours for long periods of time...

60h/week for 6 months is kinda "easy"
80h/week for 4 months is kinda "hard"
But it may exceed that depending on project status.
Most people will refer to it as the Crunch time so to speak. While a crunch time is, in theory, short on span, it may last for weeks or months.
The main part of it is the submission crunch time or the "final crunch". Until the game is ready to ship, people will stay day and night.
It is not uncommon to have people bring in sleeping bags and sleep under their desks (see Assassin's Creed II for a very recent example of that).

My advice, if you're not in the business and are thinking about getting in the business, get ready for that, as it is not only required, but possibly one of the best vectors to get "something more" eventually.

Of course, there may be exceptions, such as smaller business, but places like EA, THQ, Ubisoft and the likes really depend on overtime. Overtime itself is not considered "extra". It is part of the requirements. And to be bluntly honest, it was the third question I was asked in my interview "how do you feel about overtime" and God am I glad I said something positive... Otherwise, I would've failed ;)

#11 jtagge75   Members   -  Reputation: 139

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Posted 02 February 2010 - 11:48 AM

Quote:
Original post by Orymus
I'm surprised by the replies. I live in an area where 4 of the top game software developpers have studios, and this is a generalised kind of schedule to be honest.
Sorry to break your desilusions, but this is indeed often the case in the industry that a person is asked to spend several extra hours for long periods of time...

60h/week for 6 months is kinda "easy"
80h/week for 4 months is kinda "hard"
But it may exceed that depending on project status.
Most people will refer to it as the Crunch time so to speak. While a crunch time is, in theory, short on span, it may last for weeks or months.
The main part of it is the submission crunch time or the "final crunch". Until the game is ready to ship, people will stay day and night.
It is not uncommon to have people bring in sleeping bags and sleep under their desks (see Assassin's Creed II for a very recent example of that).

My advice, if you're not in the business and are thinking about getting in the business, get ready for that, as it is not only required, but possibly one of the best vectors to get "something more" eventually.

Of course, there may be exceptions, such as smaller business, but places like EA, THQ, Ubisoft and the likes really depend on overtime. Overtime itself is not considered "extra". It is part of the requirements. And to be bluntly honest, it was the third question I was asked in my interview "how do you feel about overtime" and God am I glad I said something positive... Otherwise, I would've failed ;)


Sorry but 60 hour weeks shouldn't be "normal" and it would never be a requirement to a place I would work at. Rarely in enterprise development do you ever work over 40 hours and that would only be if you are really behind. This is just big companies preying on young kids who will do anything just so they can say they program games. I'm glad I didn't get into games until my mid 20's so I was over that feeling.

Getting paid $50k/year working at a smaller company and actually having some kind of life outside of work seems to be much better then $70k/year but chained to a desk 12 hours a day for six months out of the year.



#12 Josh Petrie   Moderators   -  Reputation: 3100

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Posted 02 February 2010 - 12:02 PM

Quote:

I'm surprised by the replies. I live in an area where 4 of the top game software developpers have studios, and this is a generalised kind of schedule to be honest.
Sorry to break your desilusions, but this is indeed often the case in the industry that a person is asked to spend several extra hours for long periods of time...

Logical inconsistency. Let's suppose for the moment that you are correct in that the "four top studios" near you consider 60-hour weeks normal. That does not mean that it is common in the industry. Only that those four studios do it.

I worked at a game studio that expected unreasonable hours of me. I quit as a result. Now I work at a studio where 40 hour weeks are the norm, and in fact regarded highly.

You don't have to settle for it. And if you're going to settle for it, demand a higher salary.

Quote:

My advice, if you're not in the business and are thinking about getting in the business, get ready for that, as it is not only required, but possibly one of the best vectors to get "something more" eventually.

Of course, there may be exceptions, such as smaller business, but places like EA, THQ, Ubisoft and the likes really depend on overtime. Overtime itself is not considered "extra". It is part of the requirements. And to be bluntly honest, it was the third question I was asked in my interview "how do you feel about overtime" and God am I glad I said something positive... Otherwise, I would've failed ;)

Places that "expect" overtime, that include them as part of the requirements, are poorly managed. That doesn't mean they are not successful or popular, only that they have the inertia and control over their workforce that it's hard for them to be challenged. Or they they simply haven't been challenged to do something different. The presence of successful studios that manage 40-hour weeks is an indication that is possible.

It is, quite frankly, complete and utter bullshit for our industry to be considering itself so important, to view our release dates as so absolutely critical that we have to push our employees so hard. We're not saving lives or curing cancer, here, we're making video games. Let's get some perspective.

It is not required, not everywhere. It is endemic, perhaps, but the only way it will ever be corrected is if we are willing to stand up for ourselves and say -- in interviews, for example -- that we will not accept unreasonable, obligatory, uncompensated overtime.

Josh Petrie | Core Tools Engineer, 343i | Microsoft C++ MVP


#13 phantom   Moderators   -  Reputation: 6891

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Posted 02 February 2010 - 12:07 PM

I am... shocked.. at the hours coming up here... seriously.

I'm contracted to work 37.5h a week, it says in the contract you may be required to work overtime 'sometimes'. I've been here for 2 years now, in that time I've know of one project to have horrible times during its last few milestones however those people got the time (or the majority of it) back but this was a couple of months at most and may have hit 60h weeks, but never 80h and certainly not 120h.

The worse I've known someone to do was 2 weeks of 12h days, which is two 60h weeks and he got half that time back.

Myself, I avoid it, I get my stuff done and get out. At most I'll do a couple of days over IF I know I'll get the time back AND its to my advantage to do so. I've done a few 12h days and a 14h day however this is the exception, not the norm. (I'm at the point of pretty much refusing to do significant overtime on my current project simply because I don't think my pay matches either my abilities nor the work I did over the last 2 years.)

If I was ever put in a position where I was working 45h weeks constantly with no end in near sight (like a week, maybe two) then I'd be looking to exit, because as much as I love coding, and as much as I love games, that's bordering on abuse and slavery and the places in question need to sort themselves out because they are CLEARLY taking on more work than is practical.

#14 ssebelius   Members   -  Reputation: 393

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Posted 02 February 2010 - 12:09 PM

Quote:
Original post by jpetrie
Places that "expect" overtime, that include them as part of the requirements, are poorly managed. That doesn't mean they are not successful or popular, only that they have the inertia and control over their workforce that it's hard for them to be challenged. Or they they simply haven't been challenged to do something different. The presence of successful studios that manage 40-hour weeks is an indication that is possible.

It is, quite frankly, complete and utter bullshit for our industry to be considering itself so important, to view our release dates as so absolutely critical that we have to push our employees so hard. We're not saving lives or curing cancer, here, we're making video games. Let's get some perspective.

It is not required, not everywhere. It is endemic, perhaps, but the only way it will ever be corrected is if we are willing to stand up for ourselves and say -- in interviews, for example -- that we will not accept unreasonable, obligatory, uncompensated overtime.

I feel sorry for you.


Quoted for truth and emphasis.

#15 way2lazy2care   Members   -  Reputation: 782

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Posted 02 February 2010 - 12:09 PM

Quote:
Original post by Ravyne
If you're working at a place where 60 hour weeks are "normal" -- where I'd define normalality as a period lasting more than 4 weeks, it's probably a sign of serious mismanagement -- either someone doesn't really know how long things take, or someone deliberately promised an unreasonable schedule.

If 60+ hour weeks have become normal and compulsory (whether its explicitly stated or "understood"), its seriously time to consider a change of scenery -- by which I mean run, do not walk, to the nearest door; its time to GTFO.

Too add on. Recently a lot of studios have become very successful by stressing proper management and scheduling with huge gains in productivity. Workers just won't be as productive if you're working them 60 hours a week normally and 80 hours during crunch. They'll start hating the game and producing sub-standard work and the product will suffer.

#16 AndrewBC   Members   -  Reputation: 280

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Posted 02 February 2010 - 12:10 PM

As EA says: Challenge everything.

#17 Josh Petrie   Moderators   -  Reputation: 3100

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Posted 02 February 2010 - 12:12 PM

Quote:

As EA says: Challenge everything.

You are my new hero.

Josh Petrie | Core Tools Engineer, 343i | Microsoft C++ MVP


#18 Rycross   Members   -  Reputation: 576

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Posted 02 February 2010 - 12:21 PM

I'm not in the game industry, so I have a question about the hours. How much of the overtime/no-overtime thing is just a matter of putting your foot down and saying "No overtime"?

In my non-game-industry job, I notice a lot of people who work overtime do so because they assume its expected of them to meet their (unreasonable) deadlines at all costs. I tend to just say, "X is going to be late because we overestimated," and then let the project manager deal with what that entails (because frankly, that's their job). The one time a manager approached me about how the team would feel about mandatory overtime, I frankly told him that I would quit on the spot if they did that. Didn't hear a peep about it again.

Perhaps its different in the game industry because there's a never-ending supply of fresh CS graduates, but I find that a lot of managers really, really don't like the idea of their skilled work-force quitting. Lets see them hire, train, and get that new guy to 100% productivity, compared to guy who knows the engine inside and out, in time to meet that deadline!

#19 phantom   Moderators   -  Reputation: 6891

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Posted 02 February 2010 - 12:38 PM

The problem is probably cultural to a degree; everyone expects crunch and over time so they don't take a stand when it comes up. Couple that with the supply of fresh faced people coming in at the other end and you find youself looking over your shoulder.

There is also the peer-pressure aspect of it; if everyone else is doing 60h weeks and you come in and do your 37.5h and then bugger off leaving them to it the team will start to dislike you and no one likes that.

It may even halt your advancement in the company; it can be hard enough to get a raise/promotion at the best of times, if you aren't putting in the extra hours like everyone else then you'll stand out as 'not a team player' and thus go no where.

Finally there is the fear in some cases that 'if we don't ship I have no job'; this is the same thing which keeps people working places when pay stops turning up. "Better to have a job and some hardship then to be out of one now", so they keep quite and carry on.

I'm pretty certain, unless you had a harshly worded contract, that they would have a hard time firing you if you said 'no.'. Even a clause like 'sometimes required' could be worked around by doing an hour or two every now and then when required (something which is common in most jobs, not just the game industry) as it forfills that requirement.

The only way this is going to get sorted out however is if EVERYONE says 'no' together in one voice; from the oldest engineer to the youngest new recuit so that overwork is tackled at that level.

Unfortunately any time someone even mentions the idea of a 'union' people get all jittery and dismiss the idea most likely because they are more aquainted with the power abusing unions of modern times (car plants or the recent Xmast thing with BA where the company was losing cash and the union demanded more for the workers) rather than the reason they came about in the first place; to give the common worker a collective power to get rid of poor working conditions.

Unfortunatly we loop back around to culture again at this point because for a union to be effective it needs to have large buy in and too many youngsters come into the industry wide eyed and taking crunch as 'normal' because they have hit their dream of being in the games industry where the magic happens...

I fear complete change is still some way off.. best you can do is start local and hope it spreads...

#20 shadowcomplex   Members   -  Reputation: 445

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Posted 02 February 2010 - 01:01 PM

The notion that you should stand up to overtime abuse is 100% totally correct (and very near and dear to my heart.) From my experience, however, the long hours are almost always consumed by the lower rungs of production staff who have many less job options if they quit (and plenty of eager programmers who'd gladly take their spot.) For a lot of these younger workers, working 60 hours a week in the games industry is better than working 40 hours a week writing database software. That was how I felt when I was in the situation and that was how almost all of my colleagues felt too.

FWIW, our crunch schedule came in two flavors: Phase 1 was Monday through Friday 10 hours a day and Phase 2 was Monday through Saturday 12 hours a day. I'd estimate that 50% of a non-senior programmer's production time was in a crunch phase, with the second phase being...maybe 5%. I've never, ever heard of a 120 hour week from anyone I know in the industry. There were a couple times where I stayed overnight (and then take a full day or two off) but a week of 17 hour days?? Never.

True story: Since leaving the mainstream industry and opening up a full time indie game shop I work much longer hours. People do crazy things when they are determined to reach a goal, especially when it involves doing what they love (and feeding their family!)

@OP: The average age of a production level employee at my last job was 28 and the average programmer age specifically was 26. The oldest production programmer on staff was around 40. Game studios are often composed of really great people who love what they do - if you have the skills and the passion you'll fit in at any age. Salary might be a concern though, as others have mentioned.




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