Taking It on the Chin

Working in the games industry is awesome. It’s a creative field in which, if you work hard and are very lucky, you get to make fun stuff that entertains people. If you’re very, very lucky, you even get paid to do so.

This year, that last point was not something to be taken for granted.

I was unemployed for exactly one third of 2012–four sucky months. Four months during which I wasn’t sure how I’d feed my family, how we’d pay for insurance, what we’d do if we couldn’t sell our house and get out from under our mortgage. Stress was my constant companion, and despair regularly gave me the stinkeye from across the room.

The ironic thing is, it turns out I was lucky.

After four months, I landed a great job at a place I already loved, with people I’d missed dearly. Had to endure an expensive move from one corner of the country to the other, but after that things clicked into place.

Many of my colleagues weren’t as fortunate. Some are still trying to find work, having to compete with more and more layoff victims for fewer and fewer spots. Some had a second mortgage dumped on them for a house they assumed had already been sold. Some were left with no insurance and a baby due in a matter of weeks. Some even faced cancer. All of us still have our retirement funds frozen with nothing we can do about it.

And now, some of those who had seemed to have landed okay just found out that they got laid off. Again. Twice in the same year.

There are many contributing factors as to why 2012 has sucked for most of the gaming industry, and you’ll hear no shortage of theories. We’re at the end of the current console generation. There’s a glut of social/Facebook/mobile gaming companies and the bubble is bursting. Multiple MMO companies chasing WoW overspent and under-delivered. The learning curve of the free-to-play business model has caused many big companies to stumble. No one’s funding new IP. Investors have been scared away by the economy, turning to safer bets. The list goes on and on.

I happen to think the flood of new recruits into the gaming industry is a factor. Not only do you have folks coming in through traditional avenues (QA, CS, community, related fields), you have more and more universities churning out graduates with degrees in game design, game-specific art training, and so forth. More people looking for fewer jobs–not a recipe for happiness.

Arguably the industry is going through a period of self-correction. Maybe some who have been burned badly enough–or who never got their foot in the door in the first place–will move on to other fields. But I bet most will keep trying to stick it out, because let me tell you, when all cylinders are clicking, this is a great space to be in.

But in the meantime, I’ve got more friends to worry about, more jobs to help them find. And man, that really sucks.

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