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Quitting game development

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Ok... this is gonna hurt...

I've been thinking a lot about my situation over the last couple of weeks. Mainly because I lacked motivation to do something useful. Programming (at home) became more of a "Let's go... you've got to finish this..." than "Yeah! This is real fun!".

I've been working as a professional game developer for almost 8 years now. 6 years for different companies such as Blue Byte and Electronic Arts and 2 years struggling as an independant game developer after the last company I've worked for has gone bancrupt.

Programming (specially games) has always been what I've been best in. Heck, I'm programming since almost 19 years now and everything I did was focused on game programming. And now I fell as if I'm spit out...

There are several reasons why I've decided to quit game development :

1. Game Programming almost never pays out.

For most people going into the game development business is just like a dream becoming true.

It was the same for me when I signed a contract with Blue Byte in '96. The company was 160km away from my home but fortunately they had some old offices which had been arranged so the newbies could sleep and actually live there. At that time I was already with my wife and she was happy for me, too, because she actively contributed to the demo I send to Blue Byte.

So, because the road the drive was so long, I decided that I would only return home on week-ends. My wife and me didn't live together at that time (I was living with my parents), so this experience was quite good for me. I worked a lot and almost every day had 16 working hours. You're really motivated, when you come into the industry.

Since I've been working on some core technology for the company, I was involved in almost every project at that time. Thus, I kept working and working. Even though I wasn't explicitely scheduled for the different projects, I had to start working on week-ends to finish the stuff needed by the games.

The payroll wasn't that much but you were happy to be in business, so sh** on that. ~$2400 was what I got (before taxes). Since Blue Byte was a publisher at that time, there was a bonus payment every 3 month which was somewhere between $400 and $600.

2 years later, the company went quite bad, so many people had to leave. I've been offered to work for Funatics as the lead programmer for Catan - The first isle, a table top conversion. The game was scheduled to be done in 9 month. At first, we thought it would be quite easy to do because the ruleset was obvious (as we thought) and the content quite "limited". How wrong have we been. 4 months into development, we realized that we would not do it on time. So I started to sleep in the office. I had a mattress just beside my computer and worked for 20 hours a day. I've done this for almost 6 months until the game was finished (one month late). My nerves were on the edge so I had to search for psychological help. 6 month of intense stress and 4 hours per night sleep.

At that time, my wife and me have moved together and bought a house. She was pregnant, too. I missed 5 month of her pregnancy. That was the time I vowed her that I would not work that much ever again.

I vow I broke within a year working as a freelancer for Blue Byte again. Settler 4 was the project and the first 6 months went quite smooth since I worked from home on tools and the dark tribe AI. Once the crunch time started, I had to be in office for the whole week. And then I saw that the project was unbelievable behind schedule. Normally, we would have finished the game within a month but after I checked the actual status of the game, there was work for another 5 months. We started working for 16-20h a day again. Everyone was on his edge but the game had to be finished. The release date has been pushed back 5 or 6 times. And then, in january, the game finally released. Buggy but released. We were all bleeding like hell.

2 weeks later, the boss announced that he had sold the company to Ubisoft with a big grin on his face and telling us how much he has gotten for it. We were stumbled because he had made promises to everyone. And it was those promises which made us work longer. Most people have been offered a nice sum of money. On my side, I've signed a precontract for the development of Settler 5. A contract which has been broken with the selling to Ubisoft.

I then worked some time for Electronic Arts Germany. It was ok but Football is not my thing so I agreed with Westka to work for them and quit EA (for whom I've been working as a freelancer).

Westka was the first time where the development team really had time to work out a game design, do a planning and actually work without stress. Unfortunately, the management wanted to do a second project called "The Y-Project" which used the Unreal2 Engine which (at that time) was under heavy development. Alot of mis-management had been done and the company depended on the money coming in from its mother house. That mother house got sold and the new mother stopped the money... 3 month later, I was on the road.

Game development in germany was quite bad at that time. The number of companies has been reduced by 50% in less than a year, so I wasn't able to find a job. Most companies wanted me to work at their office but they were all far away. Remember that I have a wife (who doesn't speak any word in german), a child and own a house. So moving was out of question.

The last two years have been hard because I've been offered to do some casual games which on delivery have been canceled and not paid. So I tried to publish myself but you can't do everything on yourself.

Meantime, I got my second child and my wife was quite unhappy with my working situation. So now, I work for a german company that doesn't do any games but pays well.

The last 8 years I've been working very much only to stand before the ruins of my work right now.

Since this already was a long read, I'll post the next topic tomorrow ("Publishers suck out your essence").

My CV which must be updated.

Edit: Typos
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Sorry to hear of the bad times. Also sad to hear that the game business sucks as bad outside the US as it does in the US.

If you really enjoy games, then try looking for a 9-5 job that you can really leave at 5 o'clock. That way you'll have time for the wife and kid and maybe have 1-2 hours available now and then to work on something that's uniquely your own. It may never make money, but you'll have fun doing it. That's basically where TANSTAAFL and I are right now.

BTW, Settlers is an awesome game. It's a bit of a "niche" product here in the US (i.e. it's not available at big retail stores but at small specialty shops), which is why I presume I've never seen the Settlers computer game here. I'd love to check it out.

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