Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

26 September, 2008

Reputation

One thing that experienced people coming into the game industry don’t seem to understand is the role of reputation. Especially when you start talking about online games, which are a subset of the industry as a whole; the few of us very experienced people pass around a lot of information about people we’ve worked with.

So, let’s take a look at how you manage your reputation in the game industry.

Now, this isn’t to say that reputation isn’t important outside the industry as well. But, in a large industry, you can often escape a bad reputation by going to another company. The game industry, despite all our bragging about how much money we make, it still a very small industry. Given how the large companies treat employees, a lot of people don’t last very long in the industry. As I’ve mentioned before, my decade of experience in game development is mostly just a “good start” in other industries, but it makes me a grizzled old veteran in this one because so few people stick with games this long.

One of the most important things to remember is that reputation isn’t based entirely on logic. It’s based on word of mouth, so you get some potential miscommunication as things go along. You can be a great worker that did everything to the best of your ability, but if the project is recognized as a tremendous flop, then that will potentially taint your reputation. Or, people may remember your loud arguments during the discussion phase of a project, but forget that you were one of the workers that buckled down and did things as ordered after the decisions were made.

You also have to do some self-promotion. If you’ve done awesome work but nobody knows about it, it won’t affect your reputation. As a personal example, I’m known as being the “Meridian 59 guy”, even though I’ve done expert work for law firms, programmed CS tools for an MMO company in England, and was even contract Lead Designer on a project for a German company. My midwestern upbringing means I don’t brag about myself all that often, but people think I’m just some kook living in the past without knowledge of modern game development. I’m working on educating people that I do have a lot more experience beyond what little I do with M59 these days.

Of course, M59 has worked both ways for me. A lot of former M59 developers, like Damion Shubert, originally chatted with me because I did work on his old game. So, one element of your reputation can have both good and bad effects.

I’ve come to realize that a lot of what you want to do as a new person in the industry is to establish your good reputation. Even as someone looking to break in, your goal is to establish a good reputation: someone who is friendly, persistent, capable, smart, and/or helpful. If someone remembers you in a positive light, they are much more likely to contact you in the future or refer you to others.

In the end, you really do live or die by your reputation. Pissing off the wrong person means it could be harder to get people to work with you in the future. Of course, there’s always the reality aspects where if someone with a poor reputation is hiring and you need a job, you might take it anyway. But, if that reputation is accurate, you might be looking for the next opportunity sooner rather than later.

I’m interested in hearing what other professional developers have to say. Have you noticed your reputation affecting your opportunities? Have you known anyone that has successfully recovered from a very poor reputation? As the industry grows, will reputation become less important?







11 Comments »

  1. Can you recover from a bad reputation? Sure. Look at John Romero. He tanked his reputation with Daikatana and still managed to raise 10s of millions for Slipgate Ironworks.

    I don’t think there’s any industry within which reputation doesn’t matter unless you’re at the lowest levels of the industry. Even in huge industries like financial services, reputation is very very important to anyone ambitious. Reputation is the first impression people have of you, and the cliche about first impressions is true.

    -matt

    Comment by Matt Mihaly — 26 September, 2008 @ 12:52 PM

  2. (+100) You’ve Gained Reputation with the MMO Industry!

    [...] Brian Green has a great writeup about getting a gig in the game development industry, with a focus on MMO development. One of the most important things to remember is that reputation [...]

    Pingback by MMOG Nation — 26 September, 2008 @ 1:27 PM

  3. I think the importance of reputation is a factor of how openly your work is attributed to you. I can think of the open source world as a community where the developers of proven software are known, and the games industry.

    Contrast that with the work people put into building highly scalable web applications. Do you know many of them by name? How many people know who did the most substantial work on making Google search what it is? And that’s arguably the most used software in the world…

    Many companies, especially web companies, don’t publish credits for software. With that little communication, it’s hard to build a reputation… and therefore it matters less.

    Now I’ll admit that picking Google search might not be the best example here, as anyone with that in their resume probably will get a job, no matter what. Nowadays you just need to mention Google and people are awed (but that’s wearing off, I think).

    Let’s pick… Apple’s Pages instead. As a word processor goes, it’s cute but not hugely powerful, and only used by a comparatively small number of people. It’s an important product for a successful and well-known company on the other hand. But even if you spent a tenth of the time contributing to OpenOffice, I bet you’d end up with a better reputation…

    So I think it depends very much on what part of “the” software industry you work in, and that determines how prominently you’re credited with what you do. I’d say the less you’re credited, the easier it is to take advantage of the reputation that comes with being associated with successful projects, and at the same time gloss over being associated with unsuccessful projects.

    Comment by unwesen — 26 September, 2008 @ 1:36 PM

  4. In the first comment by Matt, he talks about the failure of Daikatana, but doesn’t mention Romero’s success with Wolfenstein and Doom. I think that once you’ve achieved that sort of fame and recognition, if you have a reasonable ability to sell yourself, you will always find opportunities.

    Brian, you are right in your description of the close-knit state of the industry. It’s very common to work for several companies, and a lot of people move around based on the boom & bust cycle of the industry. And it’s very much a small world – I don’t think you and I have ever met, but I’m good friends with Rich Weil who knows Damion very well. Alternatively, I know several of the Kingsisle (former Wolfpack) guys who also know Damion. All I’m trying to get at is once you’ve made a few connections it tends to be pretty fast to meet new people, and you want to present a professional image.

    But I do have a question for you – what do you think is the role of blogs vis-a-vis reputation? A few people, like Scott “Lum” Jennings, have used the blog-rant to carve an identity for themselves, and also used it as a tool to navigate within the industry. (Scott’s a sharp guy, but I’m sure he’s made a number of enemies over the years). Blogs can be excellent tools for self-promotion, but what line do you need to watch to make sure you don’t damn yourself years down the line?

    Comment by Jesse Scoble — 27 September, 2008 @ 9:33 AM

  5. Matt Mihaly wrote:
    Look at John Romero. He tanked his reputation with Daikatana and still managed to raise 10s of millions for Slipgate Ironworks.

    As Jesse pointed out, Romero made his reputation on several games before Daikatana. He can point to those to show that he has the chops. And, as an entrepreneur you know that failing at business isn’t the end of your career. If you can show you’ve learned from your mistakes, there are still people that will be willing to give you money, especially in an overly generous market. It’s more about timing than reputation at that level.

    unwesen wrote:
    I think the importance of reputation is a factor of how openly your work is attributed to you.

    I think you’re mostly talking about reputations with people outside the industry; in our case, that’s the players. In the industry, people will often know your reputation beyond your credits. As for your Google example, it doesn’t matter if users know who wrote the search, but if you’re working in the “search engine industry”, it matters that other people working in that industry know who you are in case you want to look for a new job.

    Lots of M59 players think I’m a total asshole, but that doesn’t matter unless they’re the ones cutting me a large check to work on my next project.

    Jesse Scoble wrote:
    [W]hat do you think is the role of blogs vis-a-vis reputation?

    As you point out, it cuts both ways. I think it’s also just one element to what you can do to build reputation. There is a core of people who read my blog, for example, but many more that know me from my M59 work, or my conference talks, etc. I get some useful contacts from blog posting, but I get a lot more from personal contacts.

    So, a blog can help. Standing out from the crowd by being a big ranter can also help. But, it can also hurt. Luckily Scott’s a pretty good guy in person, so a lot of people have forgiven him for his earlier ranting. He knows now that he was severely off the mark in many ways (and painfully on the mark in others), and he’s been a pretty decent guy about it. Even Jessica Mulligan tolerates him now, despite Scott giving her the worst of his bile back in the day.

    My thoughts,

    Comment by Psychochild — 27 September, 2008 @ 11:06 PM

  6. ‘riting & Reputation

    [...] second article is on Reputation, by Brian “Psychochild” Green. He discusses managing one’s professional [...]

    Pingback by Jesse Scoble — 28 September, 2008 @ 7:45 PM

  7. Short answer: yeah, reputation is really important :)

    Long answer forthcoming on my blog…

    Comment by Darius K. — 29 September, 2008 @ 11:18 AM

  8. I’m not in the industry, but just a perspective on reputation.

    People don’t want to play games with idiots, nor to people want to work with (or for) somebody who has been known to drive a process into the ground. Certainly, you’re not going to be recommended for employment by being an idiot.

    I wish people could understand how important having a good reputation is. But after working for a while, you just realize how little people actually care about their job, their reputation, their co-workers… They just want the paycheck.

    If you can’t trust somebody, or you can’t listen to somebody because of their ego, it’s highly unlikely you’ll ever do something for them.

    In such a connected world, developers have an opportunity toward making themselves or breaking themselves in a much more dynamic way. We don’t simply need credits on a game. A developer could create a blog, and bam, they’re known for being informative, and showing care toward the public. Developers, and consumers, all snoop the web…

    Look at an example. Brad McQuaid and Vanguard SOH. He was all over the internet during the development. I’m sure his reputation took a massive hit.

    Choose your medium at which you make yourself known wisely, and know thy self or your efforts might come around full circle and bite your ass. Don’t fake yourself, or the people around you.

    Comment by David McGraw — 29 September, 2008 @ 12:24 PM

  9. Screw you Brian Green! …and the horse you rode in on! Who do you think you are????

    ;)

    Excellent advice man, people should take it to heart. Reputation is everything in any circle, but with gaming the circles are still small enough to make it matter on a very wide scale. You can’t just pick up and move to a new town and start over, because folks will know you, or of you.

    Do I get points for knowing you for more than M59?

    Comment by Grimwell — 30 September, 2008 @ 7:35 AM

  10. Joe Ludwig posted a bit about developing your game development career as a whole: http://programmerjoe.com/2008/10/22/you-are-responsible-for-your-own-career/

    He wrote a bit about reputation, too. Some good advice over there.

    Comment by Psychochild — 26 October, 2008 @ 6:23 PM

  11. On the Blogroll: Psychochild

    [...] This week: Psychochild’s Blog, written by Brian Green. He is best known for running Meridian 59, but he has done other things. [...]

    Pingback by Kill Ten Rats — 12 June, 2009 @ 6:53 AM

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