26 September, 2008
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?