Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

So You Want to Work in the Video Game Industry…

Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 16, 2011

This video has totally been making the rounds over the last 24 hours or so… or at least, I went from never hearing about it to seeing it in a dozen places overnight. So I’ll make this a baker’s dozen…

Now those in the video game biz (or close to it – like game journalists) are getting a kick out of this video because it speaks truth. Though in the interest of fairness, I’d like to note that it is somewhat exaggerated truth. But it does ring true and resemble a whole bunch of discussions I’ve had with wannabe game developers.

It’s also exactly why I wax evangelical about the indie game movement.

But from my limited mouse-eye views in an ever-changing industry, I should note that it’s not all as horrible as presented here. I think that was done mostly to counter-balance the doe-eyed optimism of the wannabe.  In my experience, creativity is still heavily valued among developers, and they find ways of expressing it even while having to perform a rapid turn-around on a sequel of a game using some kid’s TV series license.  It may not be well-rewarded in the marketplace, but the developer culture still values (insofar as I have seen) the creative spark and the willingness to go balls-to-the-wall to make a quality game.

In fact, the 80-hour workweek is not generally a mandate from the upper echelons, but comes from the developers and middle management themselves trying to make sure they have the quality they want from their creation in spite of not having time for it put into the schedule. The greatest cynicism in the industry comes from the developers themselves and their own frustration at shipping product that doesn’t meet their own demands for quality (which may be impossibly high, as well). But if it was totally up to them, games would rarely ship…

And yeah, the poor game testers. We’d often hire new testers who would come in on Monday to start their “dream job” who would disappear before the week was out.  There’s an expectation that making games is a lot like playing them (even though they know, consciously, that’s not the case…). It’s really not.

Ultimately, video games are business. That goes for indie games, too. Like any industry that provides entertainment, the work that goes on back stage to produce the product doesn’t much resemble what the audience sees.  If you’ve ever hosted a big party, you know exactly what I mean. That’s a fact of reality that will never change. It’s a lot of work to make something fun.

But that doesn’t mean the industry built around that can’t change for the better.

Filed Under: Biz - Comments: 18 Comments to Read

  • DGM said,

    >> “And yeah, the poor game testers.”

    Now I’m curious. Aside from the obvious parts – setting my own schedule but not getting payed – what’s the difference between what I’m doing and what happens to testers in big companies?

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    I think you have the heart of a game maker.

    These were kids just out of school who, I think, thought they were just gonna get to play the newest, hottest game before anybody else. They probably didn’t realize that “play” meant “tedious, detail-driven, repetitive work” and the “before anybody else” meant “before it actually works right or even resembles a game.”

    I think many of them, when they quit, couldn’t imagine how Twisted Metal would go from the state it was in to one of the biggest-selling early Playstation titles.

  • sascha said,

    Couldn’t watch it to the end, too depressive! Somebody please shoot that I want to be a game designer robot lol!

  • DGM said,

    Never mind, I fired off a quick comment without watching the video because I had to run off and attend something. I think I get it now. 😛

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Heh – I loved the “I don’t care” he kept repeating. These are the kinds of people the games industry chews up and spits out.

  • DGM said,

    >> “They probably didn’t realize that “play” meant “tedious, detail-driven, repetitive work” and the “before anybody else” meant “before it actually works right or even resembles a game.””

    As I said before, I do kind of enjoy rooting out bugs and other issues. Even if there’s profanity involved sometimes… Maybe it’s a “love to hate” thing. 😛

    But it probably also helps a lot that I can stop whenever I want and come back to it when I’m ready. It seems easier to sustain when I can jump back and forth between the game and the code to fix things myself.

    >> “I think many of them, when they quit, couldn’t imagine how Twisted Metal would go from the state it was in to one of the biggest-selling early Playstation titles.”

    I think Frayed Knights also has great potential. And not just because you occasionally take my suggestions, either. 😉

    Looking forward to seeing the next version. 🙂

  • JHurdlow said,

    So, so true. I didn’t see any exaggeration there at all based on my experience. I not-so-fondly remember my normal 20+ hour work days, sleeping on a beanbag next to my chair most nights, delivery 3 times a day, and my fiancée having to come to the office if she wanted to see me. All for peanuts. I’m so glad I moved on (and married my now wife). I occasionally run across kids like the one in this video, and I do my best to make sure they go in with a realistic understanding of what they’re getting themselves into (dissuasion is typically not worth bothering over).

  • Spencer Lee said,

    Haha, I have little experience in the development of games, but I know enough to have an honest snicker at this video. So much of it is true, and a lot of young adults think that making games is uber fun and exciting. Well, it can be, but often times they have the wrong attitude and are often, if not always, unprepared for the reality of making games. It takes masses of sweat, ingenuity, focus and determination to craft a game to completion.

    The way I see it; unless you are a stubborn problem-solver or an unrelenting innovator, it will be excruciatingly difficult to last long in the business of game development.

  • Xenovore said,

    Great video! Pretty much nails it…

    The key thing… Game development is typically 90% work, 10% play, so perseverance, self discipline, a desire to be constantly learning new things, and a (healthy?) dose of masochism are all essential. =)

    But the payoff is huge — knowing people are playing (and hopefully enjoying) your game; that’s pure awesomeness.

  • McTeddy said,

    I know that little robot!

    Sigh… When I tell most of those little shmucks that game development has major downsides I usually get insulted because “I’m just a downer.”

    No one ever seems to consider things like management being in charge of your game. As a dev… your ideas don’t match the leaders “Vision”. Sure… my vision takes into account the negative reviews of our last title… but what do I know… I just code.

    They don’t take into account the fact that your game was downloaded more times from Pirate Bay than it was sold. “I should just be proud to have made it!?” I am damn proud… but pride doesn’t help hunger or rent.

    They don’t take into consideration the fact that you aren’t making good games… you are more than likely making shovelware and being insulted by your players because you aren’t bioware.

    But as the “Future Game Idea Men/Women of Tommorow” always say… “What do I know?” They CLEARLY know better than an experienced dev.

    Xeno is right about the healthy dose of Masochism… though I’d probably put the ratings of 90% pain and 10% pride. Because the majority of being a developer is beating your head against a wall because you were ordered to… but the truth is I still do love game development.

    I hate it… but I really do love it.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    As I always say — I love making video games. But I hate the video games industry.

  • Joe Larson said,

    The part about “The average shopper at Wal-Mart doesn’t want innovation” was something that bothered me. While other parts of this thing are hyperbole that line is a flat out lie. or ignorant. Not sure which.

    It’s not that folks don’t want innovation. It’s that innovation is risky more risky than the sure thing. But folks loved Katamari and De Blob. The Lego series didn’t really become the safe bet until Star Wars. And for that matter EVERY new series started with innovation.

  • LateWhiteRabbit said,


    I don’t think that’s a lie. Gamers and people will SAY that they want innovation, but they often reject it when it is presented to them.

    Look at the discussion we had on RPG streamlining and changes yesterday. Most people cry foul when a formula is changed, regardless if good reasons were behind the change. Much of what people do on a day to day basis is built on comfort and familiarity – successful innovation can’t be too different or new or it will be alienating. “People think they know what they want, but they often don’t want what they think.”

    Katamari was just a twist on Marble Madness with colorful graphics. The Lego game series was based on a decades old successful toy tied to a decades old successful franchise. I’d hardly call that “innovative”.

    Ha! “I love making video games. But I hate the video games industry.” That’s good. We had a similar saying in the Marines Corps – “I’d die for my fellow Marines, but fuck the Corps.”

    All this rings very true to everything I’ve heard. One of my professors in school openly laughed in a freshman’s face who stated matter-of-factually he was going to work on the next “Gears of War-killer” in the industry. He said, “You think you’re going to be working on some awesome title with blood and guts and everything you love about games? No, you are going to be working on Barbie’s Horse Adventure or Tonka Trucks Race Track 4. You won’t be modeling chainsaws – you’ll be modeling Barbie’s tiara for the ball.” The professor knew what he was talking about – he had extensive experience in the industry – making Barbie games, and Tonka games, and games based off of Saturday morning cartoons. He might have been a tad bitter though – I don’t imagine 80 hour work weeks feel worth it when you are making a game for six year olds. The freshman asked him, “Well, it’s all worth it though, right?” To which the professor replied, “I don’t know. I guess that would be up to you. But here’s a hint. I’m not making video games now, am I? I’m in a job teaching YOU how to make them and I get to go home to my family every afternoon.”

    But seriously, they should show that video to every freshman at any school that is joining a game design program. Include testimonials by big name developers they know about. Then give them the chance to run screaming out the door to join a career field that still gives them time to, you know, play games.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Oh, they won’t show that because they don’t want people to quit the school. 🙂 Although at ITT (before they froze the program) they invited indies to come and participate. Mainly because there were just too many game design graduates and not enough game companies ready to hire them. That’s the lifeblood of schools like that – making sure their graduates exit with jobs.

    So I guess we were brought along as advisers to make suggestions for these kids to do it for themselves.

    Now if only I knew how to get rich doing it…

  • Balance, Part 4: Triangles, Trinity and Triage « Tish Tosh Tesh said,

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  • Modran said,


    My little brother told me he wanted to be a game tester, because he’d “play videogames all day”. I tried to explain to him exactly what they said in the video.

    When that wasn’t enough, I made him playtest one of my boardgames.

    I think he gets it now…

  • nyxalinth said,

    I work in a call center. As mind-numbingly dull as game design no doubt gets, I’d gladly do it. Bug hunting compared to getting screamed at all day over things not my fault sounds heavenly 😛

  • NeonKitten said,

    WoW hands down sums it up in a nutshell =) but sheeesh didnt have to be so harsh lol…… Work is Work no matter if its fun, thats why it must be a passion to stick with it…. This Vid was Epic in and yes truth be told but still the positive always over looks negative…..