Full time employment and incentives in the Game Biz

Discussion in 'Indie Business' started by svero, Apr 22, 2005.

  1. sparkyboy

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    Very true.I'm just a hobbyist programmer and my job used to be in the building industry.Not anymore,since my accident!The few employers I worked for here in France would squeeze as much as they fucking could out of you.
    What every employer needs to know is that its the workers that got them where they are but they dont give a fucking shit.
    Take a look at the portals now.They started off small looking for developers,so they gave a good deal and everyone was happy.Now they have a nice catalogue of games,great customer base and developers falling over themselves to get their games on show that they too are screwing the developers now.
    Unless you are Will Wright,John Carmack or Popcap,then somewhere down the line someones gonna screw you over.Unfortunately that seems to be human nature,be as fair as you can till your big enough then just fucking screw everyone and his dog!!
     
  2. John Rush

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    sparkyboy,
    While your point of view is appreciated, the tone and language you used does not fit in with the professional focus of these forums.

    Having said that, I suspect that if you talked to any one of the parties you mentioned, they will report having been taken advantage of at one time or another. The issue is to try to avoid it if you can and to move past it if you encounter it.
     
  3. KNau

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    Yeah, my experience wasn't so much that it was a sweatshop. I mean, if you love games then screw it - work for 12 hours a day if you believe in what you're doing. Most of us indies work hours that would make studio personel curl into the fetal position and cry.

    My problem with the studio system is that the people in charge don't even really like games, and it shows in the products they develop. The game really is just a widget that needs to be shipped by x date - nothing more.
     
  4. Spaceman Spiff

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    Itsme – thank you for the John Carlton links. Several things really hit home.


    Coyote's post struck me enough to chip in my worthless comments.


    Coyote is essentially right in that there is ton a person could learn about making games by going to work for an existing studio. It's not a civil-service career, but then I don't think most of use could stand such an existence. Many indies have *no* idea how established developers go about doing things, and could benefit in many ways if they did.

    I'd separate existing studios into three rough categories:

    1) Studios owned outright by major companies such as EA, Sony, Microsoft, Activision, etc, or their in-house development teams.

    Working for one of these can be seen as the most secure route (well, as secure as anything is these days), as you don't have to worry about the company going down if the latest game tanks.

    Upsides include defined career paths and benefits, and access to a lot of resources.

    The biggest downside is that you are usually nothing more than a cog in the machine. If the parent company doesn't give non-managers bonuses, then your team ain't going to be the exception, no matter how good the game sold. Basically, you can wind up in Dilbert land, slave to the big corporation.

    The usual experience is that how well you conform to the company culture, kiss ass, look good and stab backs has a much greater bearing on your future, financial and otherwise, than your trade skills. The path to riches lies on your ability to climb high up the ladder, and out-duel the other ambitious dogs along the way. Money for those up the management chain comes in the forms of salary "levels", raises, bonuses of various sorts, and stock options or grants. Less filters down to the grunt level.

    I would venture that these studios produce some of the most bitter ex-industry people.

    How good is it at the top? Check this out: VP Contract at EA. It's gotta be one hell of a rat-race there.

    2) Established mid-sized independent studios. These are the 30 to 100+ person companies that are often next in line to be acquired by the big boys or publishers.

    These studios have usually shipped successful games, but are for the most part not the in the position to survive if their next game is a total bomb. A few can, but a second bomb will take of most of that group.

    Rewards among this group are all over the place. (See below for more about ownership). Some share nothing with the employees, whom they often underpay and overwork. Some are exceptionally generous. I know of one right now where everyone, without exception, who worked their latest game (top-10, AAA) from the start is getting a 6-figure bonus check (before tax) at the end of this quarter. Most fall somewhere in-between.

    Salaries at these studios are generally less than the group #1 studios, and benefits not quite as comprehensive. Instead of being run by formally trained business people, these companies are often run by the founding entrepreneurs. Raises and bonuses are less formal and regular (less established HR policies). Playing the games still counts for a lot, as politics are fact of life, but your talent and performance counts for a lot more as these companies literally can't afford to keep useless people around*

    Ethical and account weirdness start to show up among this group of companies. Forums like The Chaos Engine have great stories of such.

    * = unless they have a specific "in", like being the owner's brother-in-law.


    3) The smaller studios. Essentially the entry-level to the business. You wont find many of these studios working on AAA titles with 3-year development cycles. These are the companies that live hand-to-mouth. If a publisher yanks a deal on them, or a title bombs, it could be layoff time. Often, their situation is of their own doing – they don’t know how to negotiate a contract with a publisher properly or they cave in because they are hungry. They can be a great place to learn a lot in a hurry. And if you are in a hurry, expect to work a lot.

    Salaries here aren’t the greatest, and this group seems to have the greatest amount of promises made to its employees… which usually depend son the next game selling unrealistically well. With smaller projects and less continuity, they can tolerate a greater level of employee turnover. I wish I could say good things about bonuses and royalties, but I don’t know enough to do so. With very small companies, benefits like health insurance tend to suffer due to lack of leverage and management bandwidth.

    The upside is that if something does hit, and the owners and management are of the right mindset, unexpected wealth can be shared liberally.

    I do want to note that in this group, there seems to be more variance in how employees are treated, and a good number seem to really value and treat well their people.

    --------------------------------------------------------------------

    Ok, with that out of the way what I really wanted to say is that it's often all about ownership and control (not so incidentally one of the big benefits of being an indie.)

    The people who start game companies usually put forth a huge effort and take a tremendous amount of risk on (not to mention debt) with absolutely zero guarantee of anything in return. They sacrifice a lot to make something out of nothing. Then... Then, they offer a job to another person. A person who doesn't have to make that level of sacrifices and is guaranteed a salary and some benefits. Think about your own indie company, and for those who are one-man shops, think about being successful enough to be in the position of hiring people to work *for you*.

    Now, with things finally going right and rewards coming in... Why should someone who didn't make the effort and take the risk you did feel that they own a piece of that? So it's up to you to decide just what extra compensation their efforts are worth. Wait! I'm the boss. I have power. Who says I have to be a nice guy. I can keep it all for myself!

    Ok, so I'm being a bit over the top. My point is that the person with the power (usually from ownership) gets to make the decisions. They can be good for the company as a whole and forward thinking, they can be selfish and short-sighted, or anything else that you can dream of...

    But no matter which, someone gets to make decisions about what someone else gets. And that someone is often just a person, fallible and human, subject to conflicting goals and imperfect judgment.

    ManuelFLara mentioned that id Software shares profits between all employees. Not so. id gives out bonuses at the discretion of its owners. The size of the bonus depends on their judgment. There have been employees who were completely *unaware* that a round of bonuses were just given out... because, of course, they didn't get one that time.

    Is it right? Is it wrong? Who really is to say?

    Kerchen hit it on the nose in a way:
    Either you are working for someone else and letting them make the decisions, or working for yourself and taking on all that is brings, good and bad.

    Ok, that's enough senseless rambling for now.
     
  5. sparkyboy

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    I apologise to everyone for my use of language.Had a bad day yesterday
    plus a few beers and when I read this thread,it just brought back bad memories.I have a crippled left hand(minus a finger :mad: )due to the actions of an employee of the head company(we were sub contractors).This happened due to the fact that the big Boss was pushing everyone too far and hard to finish a job.. :mad:


    True,but what I mean is that today that would not happen to them.Until someone gets a good reputation they will get shafted.

    Of course the only way is to work for oneself,whereby you control all aspects i.e. marketing,distribution etc.

    Anyway thats my 2 cents,and once again apologies to anyone offended.
    Oh yeah,nearly forgot,may I take this opportunity to say what a privilege it is to be involved in a forum with so many pro developers. :)
    Kudos and good luck to you all (including Svero) :)
     
  6. -gf-

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    I just wanted to point out that I think there are two types of bitterness. I think I saw some previous post also in this thread where I got the feeling that all the bitter ex-industry people get thrown into one pot (then again I probably just got it wrong). Some people are bitter about publishers in general and want to escape their control, not necessarily about the companies they worked for.
     
  7. Coyote

    Indie Author

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    No matter who you are, no matter what situation you are in, you are going to be shafted at some point. You may be screwed by an employee who dissapears during a project where he's the critical path, only heard from again to ask where his last check was. You may be screwed by an employer by any number of means. You may be screwed by a business partner who was once your best friend, who suddenly turns around and tires to steal all your clients for his own 'new' competing company. You may be screwed by the company you outsourced art to, and you may be screwed by the company that is outsourcing work to you.

    I think all of us here who have sold games have been screwed by "customers" with stolen credit cards, or pirates, or portals / publishers that dock you with surprise charges or don't pay you on time, or don't pay you the royalties you believe you have earned, or whatever else.

    So don't think for a second that going indie or owning your own business is going to protect you from being screwed. It happens. Deal. Cover your bases as best you can, try to limit your liability as much as possible, but otherwise just learn to roll with it. Don't give away trust for free, but don't be afraid to give it.

    I don't know if that's the most sound business advice in the world, but it seems to be the way to deal with life.
     
  8. sparkyboy

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    On reflection this is possibly very true.It used to be the old addage 'there are only 2 guarantees in life,death and taxes'.
    I think we can add 'being shafted' to that equation. :D
     
  9. Jim Buck

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    Isn't that already accounted for in taxes? ;)
     
  10. gpetersz

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    I worked for http://www.appaloosacorp.com/
    In 1996 and 1997. I participated 3 projects (Sesame Street on Sega Genesis/Pico, Disney's Hercules (stopped developement on that platform), and Grossology (PC).

    How I felt myself depended really on the "management". We had a director who was more leisure (when I got there). It meant: we might play Descent instead of lunch, and nobody argued about it. We got salary and nothing else really (see later). In my second year the management decided that this director was ineffective (in their point of view it might had been true) and replaced it with a tough one. All hard work stayed but no more gaming was allowed...

    As I mentioned the work was hard (long days, many weekends to finish milestones), and the compensation was SALARY (no royalties or anything). We was promised BONUS (as many said here before) but I never saw a cent of it. (though I finished 2 projects in nearly 2 years there). To be totally correct I left them just before we finished Grossology because I got an offer from my former class-mate of an ORACLE developer position and I was really fed up with nights spent at the studio. On the other side I met people there who stated that they GOT bonus from time to time. Unexpectedly. It was better when the studio was younger (and less crowded) they said.

    So actually, I was there when we finished Sesame Street but I wasn't when Grossology was finished (though I worked nearly a year in that project).
    Probably a month was back until the release of the title, but I should decide in days about the ORACLE developer job. And I decided...
    I even got one free piece of the software and t-shirts and all, yep this was an other way of compensation... (doh).

    So I got one software, 2 t-shirts, and /month salary when I worked there.
    Nothing extra.
    It worked until I was single. I got married some months before I left them for the other work, so this model works best for youngsters without any responsibility (there might be exceptions) and without any serious family (only girlfriends, parents (maybe living with them) and so).
    You can do what you like (as your work) and make money out of it. I do not complain about the salary what was fair. Not great or anything but my new one as a "man-in-suit" oracle developer I only earned 10% more (that time)!
    (though I worked only from 8-17, so the /hour rate was a way better)

    SUM:
    It paid well, but no extras (I wasn't interested in how the game sold, I wasn't promised or contracted on royalties). I felt good until the conditions were more leisure and friendly, but I were demoralized when a more "falanster" like behavior got around. I worked from 10-20 (sometimes it was 10->10 next day... then got home slept a bit, and got back at the afternoon). It took at least one weekend each month, sometimes more.

    So any better construction might help you to have the best developers around. Maybe you are not as known as EA, but it is not hard to surpass these conditions... :)

    Oh. I worked as a programmer-graphic artist hybrid there.
    I started as an artist then when my boss saw my own game making system (assembly-pascal frame) he at once got me to program as well. It was my fault, I developed/tested it at work while I was waiting for new key animation frames from the lead-artist :).
     
  11. zoombapup

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    Very similar experience. My 8 years at Team17 saw a few things.

    1) Royalties died... JUST before me :)
    2) No overtime... stupid hours
    3) Larger companies got worse at paying
    4) Small companies died

    Benefits are rare and usually paid by high end indie devs

    "normal" benefits are 40k and whatnot.

    Pay royalties... you'll just need to be honest and actually pay it!

    I love royalties.. I get em for books.
     
  12. zoombapup

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    Fantastic review by spiff, I pretty much agree 100% with his take on things.

    I finally got bored of being someone else's puppet a few years ago and changed industries a bit. I'm still a game developer, but also an educator.

    At least with a "day job" you can pick how much of yourself you put into your day to day worklife. I found with games I couldnt exist outside of my work (at least initially, things got a bit less so later when I knew I was going).

    Working at a good studio with lots of money and backing is great experience, I would advise everyone to do that for at least a couple of years.

    But eventually you may choose to be your own man and go indie. Neither is "right" or "wrong".

    Svero! sorry for the thread hijack. So youre finally going to hire someone? is this a native thai or a remote worker?
     
  13. Spaceman Spiff

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    Zoombapup - I loved Worms; tip of the hat to you, if you had anything to do with it.

    Looking back at the post, I only said about half of what I hoped to say in describing the tiers of companies. Oh well. I had best not share all my cynicism here, or people will tire of me.
     

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