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Discussion in 'Indie Business' started by svero, Apr 22, 2005.
/raises hand. Worked on both sides of the Atlantic.
Where I work(-ed), there were different bonus systems, but any sales-dependent royalty bonus was at the discretion of the publisher and was a pie in the sky. However, the company was not a big one, so it's not so relevant to your question.
I can, however, give you an example of a friend who works at SCEE and received no sales bonus for Getaway 2 despite it shipping a million units on its first day. Something along the lines of the numbers having been moved around by marketing ("well, the bonus was dependent on actual sales, and not preorders, so nyeh" or some such) and the bonus was not paid out. Others' mileage may vary
I did it for 12 years, at four different companies, although the second and fourth actually bought the first and third ones outright.
Incentives were performance-based raises, some promised profit sharing, free soft drinks and one pretty good stock deal (I made out okay when 4 bought 3). Profit sharing never really happened, and for most of my career, my stock options were worthless. For the first six years or so, I barely made enough to cover my rent and bills.
It sure beat getting a regular job, though
I had plenty in the past. The best deal I ever got was the usual bonuses for milestone completion, plus a slice of a royalty pot kicked back to the developers.
There's always been good bonuses to be had too. I usually made half my salary again in extras. Smaller companies do this more than the bigger ones as a way to keep good staff.
That's all a bit old news though. The last few years of my life in the mainstream was basically, "Forget the bonuses, be thankful you still got a job you damned ingrate" That's pretty much why I left. Fuck em.
I wouldn't recommend a career in mainstream game dev now at all. If a guys option is that or street-cleaning, I'd recommend he get a good broom. The publishers have reduced the whole thing to a steaming pile of poo, blaming crap money on having to carry failures rather than admit that this is just bad decision making and get their act together.
More games are sold now than ever before. Developers make less money now than ever before. Do yourself a favour and get a job where you'll be appreciated. Or at least still employed six months later.
I worked at two different studios, but only until 2000. Things may have changed a bit.
I encountered three different kinds of bonus programs:
A pure royalty-based system
A portion of the royalties goes to the team, divied up among team members by some scheme.
This system can provide high motivation for people to make the game as good as possible. There is the potential for LOTS of money.
The downside is that it's demotivating if you aren't on a project which you feel there's a good chance of success. You end up with a lot of senior people who get a say in the matter working on the sequels, because it's more of a sure thing, while your new properties are being staffed by juniors and people who feel like they drew the short stick.
This system was phased out by many larger companies because - well, mainly because they were greedy and decided they were giving too much money to employees.
A Capped Bonus Structure
Probably more common these days, this is a traditional bonus structure - employees have a maximum bonus they can receive based on their salary and other factors (CEO's get millions while everyone that does real work gets squat). The bonus is usually based on both personal performance and the meeting of company profits.
It has the advantage of rewarding performance more directly, but it's VERY clear to employees that their potential rewards are very limited and not directly tied to the company (or their project) - so you get more politics and butt-kissing than game development.
Uncapped Royalty-Sharing Pool
This is my favorite for a smaller company. Each employee had a weighted percentage (initially based on their base salary) of a bonus pool they were eligable for. A portion of the profits of the company (royalties from game sales, basically) went into this bonus pool, which was to be divied up by weights to all employees. The theory was that while the office manager may not have been directly involved in game development, she's nevertheless helping everyone else getting their job done.
This has a little bit of the advantages of both previous systems, and less of the disadvantages - but I think it only works well for smaller companies where each employee can feel like they can contribute a significant factor to the success of the company as a whole. The company can still throttle how much goes to the bonus pool, but in theory (until they prove too greedy) it appears as unlimited potential for all employees.
Of course, all of these go down the tubes when employees realize there ARE no royalties or bonuses coming through at all (unless you are a publisher).
I worked as a janitor for Sierra College, while studying there. Believe it or not, I loved the job.
No, don't get a job. Hire yourself. Find something you are good at start your own business. Look, if somebody is paying you 50-100K a year, it means that you are probably worth 3 times that. At least. Corporate workplace is a deadend road. Read John Carlton's latest blog, it'll lift your spirits
The picture painted here is very bleak. Kinda worrying considering I'm hoping in a few years to be working for a big games company.
Is it really that bad everywhere?
We've had a couple of medium size developers come out to speak to us at uni and they all claim that they AREN'T as bad as a lot of people make out about the industry.
How many people have had positive experiences in terms of pay, job security, bonuses?
Money isn't everything, but working under threat of keeping your job is something I've done in other parts of the IT industry. If I wanted that kind of stress I wouldn't have quit and went to uni to re-train for the privilege of it.
In my experience, if wages are low and there is zero additional comp offered to regular employees (outside of worthless options):
1. The execs are not owners of the company, or the company is a public corporation
2. The execs are/have been bleeding the company into their pockets.
Of course, in this same case, benefits can be good, as long as exec benefits are better. One company I worked for gave all execs an "honorarium" bonus after laying off half the company. Make sure the leadership has a stake in the company's _future_ success.
Hehe. I just did exactly that. Moving into some proper premises and opening a 'real' company as we speak
What exactly do you expect them to say ?
Seriously, do not do this. You'll be fine as a new intake post-grad with lots of hopefulness and potential. Two years later you'll be on similar money wondering why the boss drives a ferrari and you work 60 hours a week and still buy the store-brand baked beans.
If your boss doesn't drive a ferrari, thats even worse - he's skint as well and you'll be losing your job real soon because yet another contract just got cancelled for a made up reason.
Honestly, I used to love my job in gamedev but I'm now coming across as bitter and twisted basically because me and all my colleagues at various companies have been fucked into submission.
I now exist in the mobile sector which is no way near as glamorous at face value but is damn rewarding because the big boys haven't totally knackered it yet. You can still make a lot of money AND have some fun, at least for a while longer anyways.
Mainstream console development is dead, though, and the next range of consoles are going to finish it off for everyone not directly owned and controlled be either MS, Sony or EA.
I was hoping that because they aren't Sony or EA or whoever else from the AAA games list they might actually be nicer employeers.
They did talk about the insecurity, and about the increasing budgets required to make games, and how that was going to get worse with the next gen consoles, but they were very careful to stress no long hours.
Of course it could be because they're fairly local and want to trap us all for work placements in two years time
By the time I graduate the mobile market will probably be as commercial as everything else. What would you recommend? I did business related programming for a while, but that wasn't my thing. I'm loving games coding as it is to me a) more challenging, and b)more satisfying, but going it alone seems like a huge risk when you don't have experience of actually running a business.
That was a very good read, thanks for the link
I especially liked this:
It's funny how many of us leave the mainstream game development business *BITTER*. And the fact that the game industry experiences such a HUGE turnover (a startistically insignificant number of people actually stay in the business for longer than six years), that's a lot of bitterness.
There are a lot of horror stories of people being screwed by these "mid-size" studios. And yet more that were shared with me in confidence, so I won't share them here. You pretty much gotta figure that these companies are almost always teetering on the brink of extinction, living contract-to-contract without a whole lot left over. Back-end-royalties, which studios STILL believe will provide them with their margin, are largely mythical.
It sucks all over, but I still recommend going into the mainstream industry. Why? Consider it an apprenticeship. The lessons you learn from going through the process of shipping a couple of titles, working with people who can teach you the ropes and learning processes that work and don't work -- all that is invaluable.
But don't do it for the money. It's become a joke these days.
For the most part, my time at Maxis was quite positive. The pay and bonuses were very good (not "a percentage of The Sims profit" good, but still nothing to sneeze at) and job security was never an issue (EA did lay off a lot of people after they bought Maxis but at the time I was pretty sure I'd be spared the chop--most of the cuts were in QA). Also, many of my friends at Maxis have been there for many years, quite happily as far as I know.
And, though I've only been at my current game dev job (www.stardock.com) for less than six months, I'd say my position there is pretty secure too. Many of my co-workers have been with the company for years and turnover is pretty low. I guess it's possible that these companies (Maxis and Stardock) are the exceptions to the industry, but I suspect there are other great places to work in the industry too.
And even if all the other development houses in the world are the sweatshops that some people claim them to be, I don't have any sympathy for the people that work in them because working for other people will always suck (to a greater or lesser degree) no matter what the job. I've never understood why some people think that working at a game company has to be fair and fun when that's not the case for any other job on Earth. As jobs go, game development jobs are pretty damn good if developing games is what you want to do.
I love John Carlton. He doubled my income with his brain-dead simple Operation MoneySuck ideas. You can read some of his newsletters here
Thanks for the John Carlton link. That WAS very inspiring.
Thanks much for this. I just came across my favorite piece of wisdom ever written in issue 3:
I'm tempted to say street cleaning tbh.
If you want to do this to find our for yourself, working at a smaller dev thats not far from home probably isn't a bad start. Just don't believe anything they tell you about the future, especially if its related to future pay, royalties or continued employment. They may even mean it, but its still not gonna happen!
I work for SCEA, and they pay royalties. PS1 days saw excellent royalties ("can buy a new car" type of money). That was when the teams were very small and generally costs per unit sold were very low. Now that the teams are pretty huge, royalties aren't as much as before.
Having said that, SCEA is probably pretty rare as far as paying royalties goes - I generally hear that most studios do not. (EA is another that definitely does pay royalties.)
Havas (now Vivendi, owns Sierra, Blizzard, etc) shared royalties with the developers. 2% of the profits was divided up among the developers. I heard the Blizzard folks went out and bought things like Corvettes with their royalty bonus. They also gave a nice completion bonus, up to 20% of your base salary.
Microsoft does not share royalties directly or have competition bonuses, but they pay really well and have tons of benefits. They do have merit bonuses.