Transiting away from gamedev

Transiting away from gamedev

Background: It's been a year now, since I moved away from making games for living and doing some serious coding stuff instead. It's not that common transition inside our profession, so I want to share some thoughts on the subject if you consider such shift yourself.

Tiny-spoiler warning: this would be mostly useful by people who are deeply into gamedev as of now :-)

No one cares about games experience.

Making games teaches us one very important thing: optimization. XBOX360 had exactly 512 megabytes of operating RAM, Nintendo DS (on market almost at the same time!) had 4 megabytes...

We accounted all our resources (trying to fit DVD or cartridge), we developed advanced frameworks for memory usage verification across different modules, we even abandoned STL Lists, because they were generating that nasty memory fragmentation, not to mention optimizing structure alignment to fit it into CPU registry...

No one needs that in serious business.

We have plenty of CPU cycles, execution time and available memory inside cloud, or even inside our customer systems. If we run out of it, we just ask customer to purchase more, everyone's happy. Response time isn't the factor anymore (the client can wait that 600ms for that query result!). In short, we have abundant resources we were starving for in gamedev. Imagine asking Microsoft to provide us with more RAM for gaming platform back then!

So, what is the resource we long for now?

Ah, I see in my mind how you answer: money.

No. Corporations have plenty of it and still produce more. The resource in demand is time.

Oh, I am not talking deadlines right now, I am talking manpower time. IT is growing considerably in recent years, and already exhausted supply of experienced programmers. Universities in Lodz are producing about 1,000 - 1,500 IT graduates each year, most of them requiring heavy mentoring (and drawing other programmers away from their jobs!) to jump into projects (Data comes from Hays raport for 2011). At the same time market needs thrice as much manpower.

It is no longer oddity to offer bounty of $2,000 for letting HR know that there is someone we can hire. Projects are running desperately low of manpower and companies frequently borrow programmers between projects or even bribes them to change their work.

So, why should we stick to gamedev?

I see in your mind: Hey, that's great for me! I'm going to X company, they'll probably offer me much better conditions than in gamedev! That is basically true. You'll earn more, you'll get much wider benefits, you'll get b2b and five figures each month...

... and if you get very, very lucky, you'll get a project that is almost as enjoyable as making games.

Seriously, if you've been in gamedev for some time, you've used to see the results of your code directly on the screen. But if you move to serious companies you may as well get into project that after half year of coding would produce green or red rectangle on empty screen... and hell lot of internal logs and mechanics. The most important stuff these days - and your most likely job if you're good - is the backend, where logic happens and nothing is displayed.

And believe me, it's not that self-rewarding.

But I want to do it anyway!

Okay. But keep in mind that you still need to have some kind of safe valve. You will probably consider at one point or another: Hey, I can do both things! I will code for work, and after job code games for fun!

No, it also won't work. You will be tired, you will be busy with family stuff (even if you're single nerd right now!), you'll have enough of problems at work to find motivation to debug that HLSL shader...

There must be a solution!

... okay, so time for good news at last.

You won't be doing small-to-medium projects, because you won't have time nor passion for it. But you can still do tiny projects. Projects that can be completed in scope of weekend. Projects for hackatons. Open source projects. Grab some repository and propose a patch. Catch topic you've never tried before and do it 2h sprint-shot. Try Jams. Reach out. You won't be doing something that is indie-value, but you still can do something that is your-value. And this can keep you live as you make that shift yourself.

Good luck and winds to thy wings.

(Part 2 upcomming)
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