Video games are not recession proof. With the cratering global economy, the game industry is certainly feeling the effects — most notably, those making the games.
"The environment creates stress and strain on all fronts," an insider told Kotaku. "Management finds themselves unable to maintain the funding for their staff, and employees find themselves working harder than ever without reward."
Every week it seems like another company is slashing staffers or shuttering. Folks are out of work, finding themselves starring in a new game: The game of finding a job.
But how has this all effected those in the industry? How are they getting by and how have their lives changed?
We talked to those in the game industry impacted immediately by the economic downturn. Some who we talked to freely mentioned their former employer or position. Some were hesitant. That information is largely irrelevant to this feature. We don't really want to know what they did or who they worked for, but rather, how they've taken the news, how it's changed their lives and what they're gonna do.
Losing one's job is hard — so much of who we are is pegged to what we do for a living. To have that taken away suddenly is not easy on one's pride.
To those who were generous enough to open up their lives, we appreciate your honesty and respect your courage.
• Christopher Kaminski
"The layoffs came as a complete surprise. We trimmed costs around the office, which was presumably a move to stave off a reduction in workforce. It all happened very fast. We found out about the cuts in the morning and were out by lunch. The support of friends and family has made it easy to keep a positive attitude. Thankfully my world hasn't been turned upside down. Life is different though.
I'm not the type of person to remain idle. I started talking to everyone I knew about finding a new gig. I am following a few solid leads. Some of them are in the industry, though I'm entertaining the idea of switching to movie production and starting my own business. In my spare time I've been catching up on some of the games that were in my queue and working on my photography. I also started up a new website, Suddenly Free, designed to help people survive unemployment."
• Casey Richardson
"I've been an animator for games since 2001. I was living in the San Francisco Bay Area and, after working an extended contract job on Spider-Man: Web of Shadows, I was having trouble finding anything else. The thing is there are still opportunities, but so many studios have laid off people in the past year there is a surplus of animators and artists looking for work so the competition is greater than it has ever been. The Silicon Valley is an incredibly awesome but horribly expensive place to live, so after a couple of months I was worried that my financial situation was going to become a problem, so I packed my bags and moved to the New Jersey to stay with my girlfriend. She had been going to school in Manhattan and the only job offer she got out of school was in New Jersey. So now I'm in New Jersey, jobless. Have I improved my situation?
Looking on the bright side, I'm using this time take an intensive online animation course which will take at least 18 months to finish. I figured now was a good time to go back to school and then if I don't find anything while I'm taking the classes, at least I will come out of it a stronger animator and have more doors open to me. The problem is I don't know how I'm going to continue to pay for these classes, because it's pretty expensive and the well is drying out. The cracks in the dam are smaller here than in California but a leak is a leak and it all leads eventually to the same thing. Since I'm not really in the vicinity of the games industry anymore, I am hoping studios will be looking for off-site contractors but so far nothing has come up."
• Joshua Perez
"Being laid off has certainly been difficult.
I am relatively new in the Game Industry, and this is the first time it has happened to me. Paying rent and my car payment are the priority bills right now. Getting Unemployment Insurance has proven to be a tough process for me since the Government has mixed up some of my data, and I am currently in the process of proving I am myself, so I can receive some help.
Since Southern California is where most of the industry is located, and layoffs happening every day, you get at least three to four people a day, competing for the possible (if any) jobs there could be around your area. So I've been doing the only thing I can, working on my portfolio and applying anywhere. I have had to make some sacrifices though, I've had to apply out of state, reduce my spending considerably. That means food, gas, cable, and other services are reserved if not canceled.
Outside that, you also overcome the fact that you are unemployed and with the economy the way it is, your mind likes to play tricks on you when you have a lot of free time. I've been trying to keep myself busy in order to stay positive, however, it has been tough to sleep at night and also its been hard to evade my family, since I really haven't told them the bad news, nor do I want to.
What else can I say it has been a tough month. Christmas season was specially tough since I could not afford to give anyone presents, and lied to everyone I knew because I did not want to ruin people's holidays.
Hopefully I will find something soon, I do have some prospects and possibilities, but nothing is tangible until a studio gives you an offer letter, and when 30 guys are competing against you, those chances become smaller and smaller."
• Tony Albrecht:
"Fortunately, I've been through this before. I was made redundant after Midway bought Ratbag Games and then shut us down soon after. That was much harder as I was totally unprepared for it. Given the financial problems in the world and the game industry in particular, I figured that there was a fair chance that I could be made redundant. Having a wife and two young kids to support, as well as a mortgage to pay, it was imperative that I had a backup plan — my wife and I talked about it regularly. Also, to complicate things, I work remotely from home so, in my mind, that made me even more expendable — out of sight out of mind.
So, yeah, when I was made redundant this time I was prepared for it (I even did a blog entry on what to do when Auran shut down last year). I actually spent the week before (I was camping) waiting for a phone call to tell me that the worst had happened. When I was told this time, I fired off a couple of emails and updated my blog to let people know that I was available. I then spent the day talking to people on MSN, saying goodbye and good luck to friends and fielding emails about work. Unfortunately, since I do work remotely, I didn't have the pleasure of the traditional booze up at the local pub.
Luckily, Backup Plan A has worked. On the day I was made redundant, I received an email and a subsequent phone call setting the wheels in motion for a new job. As I haven't signed on the dotted line yet, I don't want to say who I'm working for, but its a dream job for me. I'm looking forward to starting in a week or so, and I'm still working remotely from home. A generous redundancy package has ensured that I'm actually coming out of this quite well indeed.
So this has gone pretty smoothly for me, I'm lucky that senior programmers in Australia are hard to come by and are therefore in high demand. More junior staff can have a much tougher time of it — its hard enough to get into the industry the first time, let alone twice. They have my sympathy and I wish them good luck."
• Josh Singleton
"I was looking for jobs within the gaming industry for about 6 months. I feel like my experience, job history, and references were all solid enough to get me a job under normal circumstances, but in an economic meltdown, I felt like I was going up against out of work associate producers who were willing to take a position/pay cut just to pay the bills. It's was a nightmare, filling out form after form, writing cover letter after cover letter.
I stopped looking once I started day trading. There was a lot of pressure to find a job. I actually had to go on unemployment once my severence ran out. I am still without health insurance, but a recent doctor visit showed everything was, to quote Chris Tucker from 'The Fifth Element', 'Super-green!'"
"You've probably heard this same story from contract testers out there but if not, here goes. Winter sucks arse for having a job in Game testing. I've been testing a little over two years now and about 80 percent of contract testers lose their jobs between November and New years. Quite simply, all the games that come out for Thanksgiving and holiday stuff go gold two to six weeks before launch. Any testing done post launch is for patches or in rare cases some DLC. So by New Years developers just don't need any testing done and most of us get sent home. The hard part comes in finding a new job. Most contract testing cycles don't start until March or April so you have 3 or four months of delivering pizzas or collecting unemployment before getting a new contract. Whats worse is places like Microsoft have a mandatory 100 break for any contract worker. And that rule is company wide so I couldn't move from the games division to the Zune divison to get around it.
Personally, I got lucky and scored a gig with another company very early its development so I'm safe. But the guys on my team from MS are mostly still out of work. Bottom line, this isn't hitting contract testers any harder than usuall. This is something we see coming every winter. The real test will be what happens in early April. Will there be jobs then? I hope so."
• Josh Anderson
"I got laid off on Dec 10, and although I can say it was shocking, it doesn't really feel that way. It was maybe an hour or two between when the company had declared they were laying off people, then being laid off. Like most somewhat sane people, my initial reaction was something along the lines of the sensation of having just run off a cliff, trying to figure out if this was a good thing or not. I've actually been upbeat about it; I packed a parachute. I've spent 90 percent of my time working on my portfolio since then, and spent the holidays with good music, good drink, good friends, and loving family. Freaking out and being worried seems somewhat a misdirection of what to fill my emotional baggage with right now. The whole world is worried, somebody has to be upbeat.
I've passively searched for jobs for the time being (application to local companies), but mostly focus my efforts on portfolio projects. I hope my efforts will steer my career in a direction I solidly want to go in. I'm a firm believer in that if you're good enough, you can do whatever you want, just got to keep working at it.
If I can give people any advice it would be to make sure you always have a plan B. Plan C would be nice too."
• Carl Dungca
"This past Friday I was laid off from my Designer position at Gorilla Systems Corporation (All-Star Cheer Squad, Nancy Drew, Hannah Montana Music Jam). The unfortunate part is that I'd just moved down to Tampa and haven't even been with the company for a full month. What I understand happened was that they signed several contracts and went on a big hiring spree rather than being more selective with their projects so that they could work with the existing staff that they had.
A little over a month prior to that I interned at EA Tiburon as the Matchmaking feature owner for all the next-gen sports titles. (Pretty huge task for a "n00b.") Unfortunately, at the time my internship period ended, there wasn't any headcount available to keep me on, and my peers in EA Canada were still assuming I'd be driving forward one of our new features.
After my internship, I was just over a week under the required working days to qualify for unemployment. Of course, I didn't build up a long enough record at Gorilla, either.
I just graduated from the University of Central Florida's FIEA (Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy), their Master's program created in collaboration with EA. What sets us apart from most other programs is the jaded focus on business, rather than just making something artsy that wouldn't otherwise be commercially viable. During our final internship presentations to the current class, there was a somber, uncertain air as many of us were unable to retain our positions. I felt bad for the gloom that the students must have been feeling about the uncertainty of finding a job out of school, but I'm hoping things will have brightened up by the fall."