30 May, 2007
Over at Joe Ludwig’s blog, he posted a bit about the original Middle Earth Online project by Sierra. He worked on a version that eventually got canceled. His story is a fascinating look at what turned out to be his first three months in the industry.
His story ends with him having to relocate to another state in order to keep his job. I thought I’d talk about one of those dirty little secrets we don’t talk about much in the industry: how often you’ll probably end up relocating.
I was talking to a friend of mine today who was talking about his current job. He was a bit disappointed at the lack of pay increases, but he realized that he didn’t have a college degree, so he had to “pay his dues” by sticking around for a few years at one company. He had been talking to other companies, but nobody wanted him until he had a bit of experience under his belt.
But, the truth is that many companies don’t promote people very often, and they don’t give raises, either. Large companies have strict rules in place to limit how much someone can grow, and smaller companies often can’t throw around huge sums of money. At 3DO, my raise for going from Software Engineer I to Software Engineer II was as big as my previous cost annual raise. Needless to say, I was a bit disappointed. Worse, of course, some companies will fire most of the development team after a project is released, so raises and promotions are moot points anyway.
Some people game the process by moving to a location with a high concentration of game companies. For example, Austin is the place to be if you want to work in online games and don’t want to move around much. Origin created a lot of its own competition in Austin, and losing your job or closing your startup means you have to go next door to get a new job. A new friend of mine told a story about how salary negotiations at one company he worked at in Austin included the phrase, “Let me go up a few floors and see what your competitor will offer me.”
So, for most people, big increases come from jumping to a new company. A developer who happens to be part of a huge success can often get a nice job at another company. I did some contract work for a publisher to review a budget submitted by a company. This company had a few designers that worked at Blizzard when WoW launched, so they had some pretty outrageous demands in there; for example, the contract six-figure signing bonuses for the key company members. Their association with WoW made them worth more.
Of course, very experienced people are often worth more. Anyone who sticks around for more than a few years obviously has some attributes that mean they’re a good developer (even if it’s stubborn determination! ;) If you’ve stuck around for almost a decade, you are one of the grizzled old veterans in the industry. (Ow, my hip!) But, this doesn’t mean I’ve got job security, either. In fact, it’s a bit worse for online game developers. I’ve had to fly to France, Germany, and China in the past few years for my contract work. I’ve flown to Germany about once a month this year and I’m potentially moving to Germany if things work out. If not, I might be taking up a project with one of the numerous companies in China. Or, perhaps try to start my own company again and move someplace with a lower cost of living.
So, if you work in games, get used to relocating. I think it will get worse as things progress, and especially as some types of games become international. Time to make sure your passport is up-to-date, and a night class in another language might not hurt if you’re developing online games. :)
What do you think? Is travel in our future as game developers?
UPDATE: Joe posted the second part of his story up on his blog. Fascinating reading.