Why Not to Be a Game Developer


On every game studio community forum, you see postings like “How to Break in to the Industry”, “How do I get your job?”, etc. It’s just assumed that every gamer’s ultimate lifelong fantasy is to have a full-time job making games.

Here I’m going to argue the opposite: You might want to avoid the game industry completely.

Advantages to working in game development over business software

  • Cooler: You can say I’m working on game XYZ, and people instantly know what you are talking about and you get cool points right away. You are also far above business programmers on the dating food chain. Women won’t be throwing themselves at you, but at least you have a fighting chance.

Advantages to working in business software over game development

  • More stability: Government and health care are probably the most rock stable fields above private industry. But within private industry, which does experience waves of layoffs, game development is still one of the riskier fields to work in. Some devs have had great fortune and a great experience, but most of the stories that I hear are far worse.
  • More pay
  • Happier Work Environment: The happy companies to work at are the successful shooting stars or at least the stable happy clams. The real nightmares are working at the companies with lots of unrealistic fantasies, failing projects, missed expectations, and shattered dreams. Every industry has a good mix of those, but the business industry has a better ratio.
  • More Engaging Work: This is very counter-intuitive. When people think of games programming, they think of writing fancy graphics engines or AI algorithms or tuning game logic. When people think of business software, they think of some indescribably bland sleep-inducing data processing app. In reality, most of the day to day tasks in game development is the exact same kind of obscure crap work that you would get anywhere else. The big difference is that in the more lucrative industries, workers can get more leverage that allows them to work in the areas that interest them.

There are tons of layoffs in the software industry and the games industry in particular. Sympathies and best wishes to all involved.


Written by: Darrin - Contributing Editor


  1. #1 by SL33PY on January 31st, 2009 [ 2371 Points ]

    People and gamers in particular have the false perception that working on games is tons of fun. I’m not saying that it is the most boring job on the planet. But gamers generally kind of romanticize the game development world.

    I worked as a game developer in Germany and the time that I had there was a blast, but … 6 months in, I already had about 140 hours overtime in. By the end of the development cycle when your product is about to go gold you work very long days, mine were starting at 6 am and going on to 1 am the next day.

    It is really fun to be creating a world for others to enjoy, but as stated in this article unless you’re with the lucky 5%, your wage will suck, no benefits (unless you count a free copy of your own game a benefit), and lots of overtime.

    I’ve been working as a software consultant after my time in Germany and my wage has risen almost 100% since then (it’s now 4 years ago), not counting additional benefits (company car, gas card, insurance package, …)

    Even tough at times I do get the itch of game development, I have a lot more time for myself and my family when I work in the traditional software industry.

  2. #2 by John on February 1st, 2009

    You can scratch the cool factor for dating too, it just makes you look like a geek that hasn’t grown up, and the typical game dev spends too much hours at work, and the rest playing whatever games at home.
    A consultant on the other hand has business appeal (asuming it’s not a basement one), and will be out meeting people at customer’s, save the occasional damsel in distress from a bad computer, etc.

  3. #3 by chris kamens on February 6th, 2009

    Game Design is fun but very stressful, especially when doing big projects. But it must be cool when you see your name in the credits knowing you were apart of the creation of the game, especially if its a number 1 hit.


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