Working in the games industry in the UK there was always a lot of competition for jobs and the jobs are also thin on the ground (you have to be able to relocate).
Even working in a small games company I had to do crunch. Some of my friends who still work in games tell me that this has got worse not better. A couple of my friends who was working at Eurocom last year was having to do an extra 17 hours a week unpaid (his reward was being put out of a job at christmas).
Working outside the games industry is different because there is som much variety. Being a database programmer isn't the same as writing video editing software which is also different to writing iOS applications. I now find jobs outside the games industry are much easier to come by. I get around 30 recruiters contact me per day and around 10 direct employment requests from other companies. I also have never had to work late or done a weekend. This isn't always the case I do know people who work at Bloomberg who work every single weekend, however they do take home over £100000 per year.
The big thing everybody mentions is the salaries. The company I work at now hires graduates strieght out of university for £35000 per year. There is not a single games company in the UK that will pay that much to a grad. My salary in the games industry was £24000 one of my friends who has been in the games industry for 9 years and is a studio lead working on a big AAA title only takes home £40000 per year. My own salary is now approaching the 6 figure mark.
Also working outside the industry does not mean I never work on games. Working as a programmer for an Ad agency for example offers very varied work. One month you may be developing a sales website and then the next you may get to write an iPad game. Working for gambling companies is also very good because they have a lot of crossover into games but don't suffer the same low salaries or working conditions.
It does sound like I am rubishing the games industry but, I am not. From outside looking in it seems really bad that you have to work late and you get a poor salary but whilst you are doing it, it is amazing to work with so many talented people. The only reason why I no longer work in the games industry is that I got made redundant becuse of studio closure and had to take a non games job to pay the bills. After a little time I got used to the higher pay and now it would be financialy impossible for me to go back into games.
First, thanks for taking the time for such an informative reply
The impression I get at the moment is people who work in the games industry must have a true passion for making games, which I worry isn't really there for me. I do like making games, it's great fun, but professionally, for considerably less pay than other programming jobs makes me think twice. And I'm not willing to submit my life to games programming like some people (employers @ bloomberg, blizzard) seem to. I want to have 'a life' (for lack of a better phrase ). I think I may just stick to being a hobbyist games programmer for now and drop the expectation of doing it professionally any time in the foreseeable future.