An Open Letter To Game Developers

Original Author: Mike Jungbluth

Dear Apathetic, Bitter and Jaded Game Developers,

Get out.

If your answer to a problem is always, “I don’t care” or “That sounds too hard” then just get out. If every time someone comes to you excited about an idea, and you always find a way to shoot it down, get out. If you are content to just keep pushing out the same thing forever and do only the bare minimum, get out. If you are afraid to go somewhere else or stick your neck out for a good cause, get out. If you are combative anytime someone points out a flaw in your plan, gather your belongings and get out. If you believe your job is just one step removed from being an electrical engineer* then get out. If you think that having a story or believable characters is no more important to games than they are in pornos** get out. All of you just get out and stop making games.

Still around? You didn’t get out?! Well, fine. If you took offense to any of that, GOOD! It means you still care. I know, I’m as shocked as you are. But that’s great, because it means you don’t have to get out! You just have to find that spark that just crackled to life there and start using it again! But it doesn’t stop there. Once you have turned that spark into a fire, use that positive energy to help others find their spark. It’s not easy, but if you wanted to take the easy way out, you would have gotten out when I or the Bieber said to.

Now some of this might come off as naïve, and in another five years when my 10 year veteran self looks back on my five year self, I might blush a bit. But I certainly won’t apologize, because it meant that I cared damnit. And since you cared enough to become defensive, or even agree with me, it means we are where we should be. But guess what, so are all those people that should probably get out. SO, what are we going to do about that?

Well, I am sure we can both come up with some rather inventive ways of getting rid of them. But ultimately, we are game developers and not master assassins or heartless business execs who take pleasure in handing out pink slips. We are excited and passionate Artistes! And that is the solution. Excitement is contagious and our most valuable possession as creatives. That excitement is something all the curmudgeons had at one point, even if its covered in cobwebs and crust now. Yes, they still have it! They have just taken what little is left for making games and built a fortress around it. After years of having their light go dim, they shut down everything but the essential systems to keep it from going dark. So let’s jump start those systems, because then you can feed off of each others energy.

Next time you are challenged, take it on. Especially if it sounds really hard or it is something new. I’m not saying be unreasonable, but if you are saying no just because it might take a little more work than something you have done a million times before, accept the task! That challenge is going to get your brain thinking again, which gets you invested in solving the problem and actually CARING about what you do again. If you have something you feel passionate about, but you run into someone who always dumps on a challenge, just do it anyway. Deliver them the assets so that they have an opportunity to rise to the challenge. Show them the potential, give them the pieces, and set them up for success. Because if they can see that the challenge has a good shot of paying off, they are going to be more willing to jump. Or at least they may do it because they then assume, at that point, it is what is required of them. And just meeting requirements is what gets the apathetic through their day. If you work with someone who isn’t passionate about the characters, world, story, or design of the game you are working on, try and find out what DOES excite them. Another game, a book, a movie, a sport. Find out what gets them going and get them talking about it. Then ask them what those have that your game is missing. And BINGO, that is the moment! The moment they invest their interest into the personality and purpose of the game again. And investing themselves is what they have been so afraid to do.

None of this is easy. And it isn’t fair that its up to us to get them to do what they should be motivated enough to do on their own. It is quite like entering a relationship with someone that has been emotionally abused. They are going to be slow to trust, and who can blame them. But you can do it, because you care. And the more people you get to care, the easier it becomes. Soon enough, you will have a passionate posse and all your effort will be rewarded with a game and company culture you can be proud of!

But be careful. Some people might be too far gone to save. It’s sad, but sometimes your excitement alone can’t sway them. And if they are in a position of influence over the company’s culture, they can actually sap your excitement, turning you into the type of husk you despise. In that case, you might very well only have one option.

Get out.

Get out of there because maintaining your own excitement is essential to your longevity in this industry. Get out of that putrid environment and find a place where your passion and creativity can flourish. Those places exist and you deserve to be a part of it. You can find a place where you won’t be the sole candle in the darkness, but the lightbulb in a string of many that work together to keep each other bright. Find a team where everyone wants to be excited and challenged, because that is how you will create something that makes people stop to take notice.

Making games is hard enough when everyone on the team is excited about what you are creating. Making them when you and especially those around you are checked out is cruel and unusual punishment. So when it comes to that point. Just remember…

Get out.

Love,

Mike

* An actual quote I heard from a senior developer I worked with

** Another quote from another senior developer at the same studio. Guess what I did. I got out of there. And it has been glorious.