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disposablecoder

Hostility in the field

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I have been thinking about shifting into the game programming industry, but when I see various message boards about the subject, I see comments like:

 

Stop making excuses. If you wanted a job badly you could get one. End of. This isn't 1950's germany. You probably just like being a victim.

 

Is this industry really that hostile? This seems a bit extreme to me.

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Is this industry really that hostile? This seems a bit extreme to me.

 

 

Not at all. I would not worry about the hostility displayed by a handful of people on the internet; those people are not a good, representative sample of people actually working in the industry, most of whom are quite excellent.

 

As an aside, if that quote was from this message board, please flag the actual post or PM me a concrete link to it.

Edited by Josh Petrie

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No, it's from another board.

 

Also, someone I trust that works in the industry suggests that there is a frat-house mentality in the industry - is that true? If so, I'd say that would be almost as bad.

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I haven't seen any frat-house behavior in my entire career (the past decade or so). It might happen somewhere, but nowhere I've been. Edited by Nypyren

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disposable, your friend works in a lousy place, if bro-gamer culture rules there. They need some female coworkers to help them grow up.

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I don't think he's referring to his current place of business - the last time I visited him, it was a diverse (surprisingly and refreshingly so for CS) workplace - though another company has taken over much of the management of the one he's working at; maybe his workplace has changed since then.

 

Another acquaintance has had *extreme* difficulty re-entering the workplace - he's how I found the first quote. The experiences he's described seem downright abusive, but he might be especially sensitive to adverse behavior. I *do* know that the game programming field is exceptionally competitive (what field isn't these days?) but what I heard from him seemed like it was deliberately meant to dissuade him from attempting to re-enter. I admit it's incredulous, yet this person is one of the most honest people I know. Have you heard of anyone actively steering someone away from the industry?

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disposable,
OK. So your friend doesn't work in a frat boy bro-gamer cesspool. I don't think there are a lot of those. And as for your acquaintance who's having
a hard time re-entering the workplace, he needs to look within. It can be hard to re-enter once being squeezed out, but the good ones always get
back in. The game industry can be hard, but it's a lot better than working in, say, trash removal or sewer maintenance or bail bondsman. Not
everybody is cut out to succeed in it. It won't hurt you to give it a try, if it is something you want to do. You are always free to leave, if it
doesn't suit you.

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Also, someone I trust that works in the industry suggests that there is a frat-house mentality in the industry - is that true? If so, I'd say that would be almost as bad.

 

 

Those places exist.  They are not the norm.

 

Pick an industry -- nearly ANY industry with a predominantly male workforce -- and you can still find places where women are met with wolf-whistles and there is a pinup calendar in the back room.  The numbers of that type of shop is dwindling, but they still exist.

 

 

In the game industry those shops tend to be smaller and run by frat-house aged youth.  Over time they either mature and accept mature work environments, or they die out.

 

Because games have an allure similar to movie star syndrome there are many youths who fight hard to get into the industry, including taking lowball wages and being willing to work dangerous levels of voluntary unpaid overtime. Sadly there are unscrupulous studios who love to take advantage of those workers. 

 

When hunting for a new job, go in with your eyes open.  When you interview pay attention to the details:

*  What is the age distribution?  If they're startup size then it is difficult to have diverse ages, but if they've got more than about 20 people you should see a good mix ranging from fresh graduate to senior developers with gray hair.  If you don't see a good mix, that's a flag.

* What is the race distribution?  It should approximately match the regional racial distribution, although software generally tends to have more caucasian and asian people than blacks or hispanics. If there is a large number of people and there is no racial diversity, that's a flag.

* What is the gender distribution? Women tend to not get into software development, it is close to one in twenty. So if there are 30 or 40 developers, you should see a few female developers, not just female secretaries.

 

A lack of age diversity is probably the easiest warning sign to spot.  Experienced older people are valuable at spotting problem trends long before they cause issues, and older people tend to not put up with crap like staying late into the night or abusive behavior.

 

There are many other things to look at; is the water cooler well stocked? Are they offering visible perks like soda or snacks? (That is potentially good or bad, as it may be a way to try to get people to work over lunch break, or it may be to help boost morale.) Is the building well maintained or in disrepair? Consider what is on people's desks, are they permanent or transitory? And on and on and on.

 

 

On the flip side for employers, they are asking two questions:

 

First, can you do the job?  There is evidence of this like having completed games in the past, having completed your degree, or showing a solid demo project that you've done.

 

Second, will you fit in?  I don't mean "young white male", although that's how some people interpret it. Instead, are you passionate about making games? Do you have passion for making software? Are you a quick thinker, have broad general knowledge, and are able to communicate clearly?  Those are all important in game studios.  People who are slow and methodical may work well in other jobs, but tend not do well in software.  People who struggle to communicate tend not to survive long in the industry.

 

 

 

 

More on hostility, many people on the internet suffer from generalized inhibition from perceived anonymity.  People online are extremely bitter and vile toward anything at all, particularly things they dislike or are are passionate about.  Since people tend to get passionate about their games, these dis-inhibited anonymous people tend to be highly abusive toward anyone who doesn't share their views, including the developers of games they love.  Sadly if you are working with the public --- or even reading what the general public writes about your products --- you need to have a very thick emotional armor.  Like troll armor.  People are jerks, you need to let that stuff roll right off you.

 

That vitriol shouldn't exist inside the workplace, however.  While it is sometimes tolerated in small startups, companies cannot afford to tolerate any personal abuse, especially abuse by mangers and supervisors.  That problem leads to lawsuits that lead to bankruptcy, and all it takes is one disgruntled employee to turn on a cell phone voice recorder before a few meetings and they've got all the ammunition they need to destroy the company.  It may be a problem for some small startups, but once they hit about 20 people it cannot continue.

 

 

 

There is a strong attitude of meritocracy in the industry.  If you show merit you will rise to the top quickly. If you don't produce all kinds of amazing things and do it consistently, you may not rise at all.  This can tend to lead to some ego problems, but good management can help control or leverage that.

 

 

Making games is first and foremost making software.  You can love playing games all you want, that is different from making games and game software.  For programmers you've got to love building software, be passionate about picking the right algorithm, study new software patterns and practices, love studying how software is built, the tools and technologies, and all the parts.  For artists you've got to be passionate about game art, study all the components of game art, including architecture of various ages and places, nature, people, and more.  Animators need to be passionate about animation, study all the great works, learn all the modern tools and tricks and technologies.  If you don't love making computer software or your topic in the computer software, you won't succeed in games.

 

Most people don't fit that mold.  They might love playing games, but they discover they aren't passionate about parts of making games; maybe they aren't passionate about making software, or they aren't passionate about keeping current, those won't fit.  Maybe they are passionate about it but they just aren't quick on their feet, sadly I've worked with some people who had passion but never were able to work quickly, these people tend to get hit with a round of layoffs.  There are people who get in and discover they love playing games but hate making games. Lots of people enter, then become former game developers after a year or two. 

 

 

But if you've got all that, you are passionate, smart, quick thinking, love making software, and have all the other superpowers, you can do great in the software industry.  Many people do.

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The culture will be different at every team, studio, company, city, state, country.

I work in a shared office building that's sectioned into over a dozen different game studios, and "hot desks" for individuals and smaller teams. Every single studio there has quite a different internal culture, though they all fit into the city's gamedev subculture in different ways.
I'd say maybe one of those Indie studios has a frat house feel to it - NOT in the brogamer, beer-pong, misogynist kind of way, but in the elitist, privileged, snobby way :lol:
Every other studio is lovely though.
In the broader city-wide scene here, I find the student body actually has the most toxic culture, often looking down upon professionals for making money from their art, and going along with gamergate nonsense, etc... meanwhile the big studios are all pretty great.

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Hodgman: So you're saying that somewhere out there there's an office filled with companies all in the same field (theoretically) competing against each other? I can't imagine what that would be like - I assume part of the lease agreement includes no espionage or poaching; but still, the dynamics there must be unprecedented. Someone could write a thesis on the interplay there and ace it.

 

Frob: Two things caught my eye - first, you mention that "People who are slow and methodical may work well in other jobs, but tend not do well in software"; to me that's very counter-intuitive. I would think being very methodical would be instrumental in preventing bugs - a very worthwhile trait. I can see slow being an issue, but if it's not so slow as to adversely affect deadlines (which the ability to catch bugs before they're made would offset), is that really that much of a problem?

 

Second, you mention passion - a lot. I've never seen the word passion mentioned that many times in a safe-for-work context. It's almost cult-esque in its flavor - not that I'm accusing of anyone in the games industry of being in a cult. It does give me great pause, however; if passion - not deliberate, careful thought - is necessary to create a game, it is contrary enough to my experience to wonder if it's the right fit for me.

 

Tom: Now, not knowing the person I'm referring to, I can understand how you could just toss a well-meant (if cliched) comment regarding his character; but to someone who's actually met him, your comment seems... incongruous. He's one of the more insightful people I've seen and be's a better programmer than *I* am - saying that he needs to "look within" sounds facetious, and reading that someone like him can't cut it frankly makes me wonder what criteria you or your respective HR departments are using to judge. *I* would hire him had I my own programming studio. Furthermore, your statement, "the good ones always get back in" smacks of the same self-assured (and self-reinforcing) elitism that I'm trying to abandon. I have seen my industry dwindle after some of the best talent was turned away not by a lack of skill or drive, but by exercises of dignity after refusing to put up with the excess liberties of management. There is a vast difference between the natural obstacles of difficulty, and the artificial flaming hoops of arbitrary roadblocks. Please convince me that the attitude on display here (and in the quote that started it all) is the consequence of the former and not the latter, and I am misreading your intention.

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