The Pizza Party Where Everyone Got Fired

The Pizza Party Where Everyone Got Fired

Yesterday, the game development studio Daybreak went through massive layoffs, culling a large number of jobs in order to stay "profitable." That's just business as usual in the video game industry, where it seems like there's a new round of layoffs every single week.

For months now we've been covering the way game publishers and development studios treat their employees in an attempt to spotlight the painful and unstable environment behind many of the games we love. (See our companion feature for a look at why layoffs happen so often in gaming.)

In this, our fifth (and likely final) volume of layoff stories, we've got anecdotes from people across the world who have lost their jobs at video game companies. There are stories about forced relocations, about unexpected studio closures, about pizza parties that go horribly wrong. The last story, which is very long, might be the most heartbreaking layoff story we 've published so far. Give it a read.

The stories, which are recounted in first-person, have been edited for clarity and brevity. Names have been redacted upon request.

The Pizza Party Where Everyone Got Fired

The Pizza Party From Hell

The testers at [MAJOR PUBLISHER] had just finished wrapping up testing on a project we'll call "Biolands". And to congratulate them, the man in charge arranged a huge bowling/pizza party for the end of the week. Of course everyone is hyped for the event. So the day finally arrives and all the testers show up. They all start bowling and eating pizza. After a few hours of everyone enjoying themselves, the VP asks for everyone's attention. When he does manage to get the team to listen, he begins to thank them for their hard work and has the leads hand them their termination papers.

After that event, the crew could no longer throw events without scaring everyone to death.

The Pizza Party Where Everyone Got Fired

We Were In The Wrong Building

I was a game analyst for [SOCIAL GAME COMPANY], working out of the Seattle satellite office from 2012 through 2014. We had produced two profitable Facebook games and launched our third title in July of 2013. As soon as it went live, everyone in the studio who reported up to someone in headquarters started getting negative feedback during review cycles. Nothing seriously negative, but nothing we did seemed to please our superiors down in San Francisco.

Right before the holidays in 2013, our game turned the corner from "still working out the bugs" to "retaining players and making money" and started to grow. Development settled into a reliable content cadence and we started thinking about what would be next for the studio.

In January, the studio was informed that we would be closed down permanently and the game would instead be supported from San Francisco. Only two people from an office of 30 were offered positions in San Francisco. Headquarters was pretty callous about it, labelling the move as one necessary for the company to cut costs and maintain profitable games. The severance package was ok — one month of salary per year of service and an extra month on top of that of healthcare.

Perhaps what stung the most was our title being given to a team at headquarters that hadn't been able to make a profitable game in years. Always hurts to see failing teams keeps their jobs simply because they're in the right building.

The Pizza Party Where Everyone Got Fired

5000 Miles Away

I was hired by this huge studio in early 2014 to work as a Game Designer on one of their free-to-play titles. They recruited me because they wanted someone to help revamp the game to make it profitable again. The recruitment was very fast: there was a single interview, and the next day, I was informed they wanted me to fill the spot.

So my wife and I started to pack on, ready for a new adventure 5000 miles away from home. To be completely honest, the global offer was pretty neat: decent salary, relocation package, all working permit fees covered, accommodation paid for one month upon arrival to give us some time to find our own place. All of this, plus the promise of a fresh start in a new country.

One month after I started working, the studio head informed us that for profitability reasons, they were abandoning the project. Well, apart from the disappointment that I didn't have time to *really* work on the project and bring it back from the dead (which is why they had recruited me initially), I wasn't that worried: these things happen everyday, and they would not have asked me to relocate and give up everything I had unless they had long-term plans for me. They surely knew the project could go either way and had something else in store that would use my skills.

Except they didn't.

At first, when I told them I was slightly worried about my future in the company, they immediately reassured me that they knew what I was going to do next. The team was slowly dismantled, with some people moving on to another project very quickly, and others staying a little longer (myself included). At first I thought it was fine, as different departments might start at different times depending how advanced a new project is, but I was a little bugged by the fact I wasn't told how long this downtime would last.

Well, it didn't last long.

Two weeks later, at 11am on a Tuesday, I was summoned by an HR counsellor for a "10-minute meeting". I went there, convinced I was going to learn more about my new assignment date. When I entered the room and found the head of HR at the table as well, I immediately understood what was going to happen. They told me the project I was supposed to work on had not been approved by HQ and that as a result, there was nothing for me to do in the company any longer. I was stunned. Stunned to be laid off, of course, but also stunned that they would have someone travel across the globe with no contingency plan.

That was it: I would hand over my badge, and the HR staff would retrieve my belongings from my desk. I couldn't even say goodbye to my co-workers. It was noon, and I had all my stuff in a box, ready to come back home and inform my lovely wife that 1) I lost my job, 2) I had NO right to work anywhere else because my working permit was strictly attached to the company, unless another employer agreed to pay for and wait two months for another working permit. On a side note, I was not the only one from my team to be made redundant during the month, but none of my former coworkers were in my particular situation.

They knew what they were doing when they laid me off. They knew I had only been here for a few months and that I was not entitled to any compensation. They knew I would have to go through the working permit process all over again and that it would make the search for another job much more difficult. We could not go back to our previous life simply because there was nothing left from it. And yet, they did it anyway.

The Pizza Party Where Everyone Got Fired

'I wasn't allowed to say anything'

Until a few years ago, I'd worked at one studio for about six years, mostly on console games. The company itself wasn't anything spectacular. They didn't seem to care about making great games, or innovation, or original ideas in general. Their games were exactly the sort that would instantly be compared to something similar and better, and then disregarded. Even when we got to work on a major [intellectual property], it was usually on the last-gen port of a current-gen game. Still, playing it safe meant that the company managed to keep about 80 people employed for a while.

The company's culture was very programmer-centric — if you were a programmer, you were one of the 'cool' kids. If you were an artist, as I was, you were practically seen as less important than the janitor. If anything art-related didn't work in game, it was automatically your fault, because it certainly couldn't be a bug in the exporter or the engine. On one game, our animations looked terrible and jerky. This time, the programmers knew it was a bug on their end but didn't have time to fix it. A month after the game shipped, they finally fixed the bug, but by that point the game had already been doomed by bad reviews.

Some time later, there was talk of a much larger company buying the studio. Everyone was excited because this company was buying smaller studios left and right at the time, and we all really wanted their name on our resumes. The buyout offer vanished after our CEO passed away.

My last year at the company seemed to drag on forever. Many people complain about being overworked, but in my case it was the opposite — the game (a port of a next-gen title) was so mismanaged that we rarely had anything to work on. The animation team would get an assignment, with the expectation (or hope) that it would take us at least two weeks to complete. It often took closer to two days. Between assignments, eventually there was this dread that everyone knew there wasn't enough work, and sooner or later we'd be let go. It took several months, but in the end it finally happened.

One day, I was called into a meeting. I noticed the rest of my team wasn't getting up, so I took my time. I never got called into meetings on my own, unless it was a one-on-one with my boss. "We're waiting for you," I heard a couple minutes later. I walk into the conference room, and seated at the table were several people I recognised but had never worked with directly, if at all. The door was closed behind me... I knew what was happening before I even sat down. The boss confirmed our fears, but with a bit of good news — we would all be getting two months' severance pay, plus our [paid time off] time would be paid out. I was the only person smiling. The others hadn't been working on the same game that I had, so they had no idea that this felt like a blessing to me.

At the end of the meeting, things got awkward. We were allowed to return to our desks — supervised, of course — to collect whatever belongings we could carry out by hand. I picked up my bag, and waved good-bye to my team, who only then realised that I had just been laid off. I wasn't allowed to say anything, which confused them even more.

Some time later, I learned from my former teammates that there were more rounds of layoffs. More than that, I'd learned that I was one of the lucky ones. My supervisor was one of the last to be let go, and by then he not only didn't get any severance pay, but the company also hadn't been paying him at all for several months.

The kicker? Not only had the final round of layoffs occurred just before the holidays, it had happened just before the royalty payments were due for one of their most successful titles. Since royalties were only shared with current employees, this meant the remaining staff — about five people — were going to have a very merry Christmas.

The Pizza Party Where Everyone Got Fired

'Daddy's job in video games was no longer a cool thing they liked to brag about'

My husband has worked in the video game industry for just about 14 years. It was always his dream to make video games, and it was a goal he's worked towards since he began learning to program at 12 years old. One day on a whim, he applied to a major console game developer, and three weeks later our family of five was moving to California.

The company my husband was working for was really great. The benefits were amazing, he was paid well, and we had a good life — but we would never be able to afford to buy a house in California. We loved it there, but owning our own home has always been a huge dream of ours, and there was no way we would be able to work out having both. We decided to keep an eye out for positions in other states and entertain the thought of moving somewhere else with a lower cost of living, hopefully enabling us to purchase our own home.

We found some possibilities and, after interviewing, he received a great offer from a wonderful and stable company, in a state where we already had friends and family. We purchased a home and relocated our (now) family of six, leaving California for good. This was a really exciting move for us. Each child had their own room (they had to share in California), and they could paint or decorate their rooms however they liked. Our in-laws were in a position to buy a second home in the area, so they could be closer to the grandchildren. It was a ranch, and the kids loved to explore it. Life was looking very good, and we were all very excited about the future.

The following summer was when we experienced our first layoff. It was devastating and extremely scary. My income wasn't enough to cover the mortgage, even with the unemployment. We received no severance, and our health benefits would run out at the end of the month.

We tried applying for positions at numerous gaming companies (and non-gaming companies) in the area, but no one was looking for my husband's skilset at that time (in addition to there being a mass layoff and the market being flooded with great talent of all levels). In the end, we were forced to relocate. We chose a studio that had been around for many years and had survived through releases of games both good and bad. We had friends in that area, and the entire situation looked like a pretty good fit for us.

We continued paying for the house while it was on the market, and we were once again put up in temporary housing. This time, the six of us had to stay in a hotel for a month, until an apartment that would fit us all became available. Once we moved into the temporary apartment, it was time for the children to start school again. We registered them knowing they would only be in the school for a month or so, and then they would move to a more permanent school once we found our own apartment to rent.

This time, our stay in temporary housing was extended due to the amount of overtime my husband had to work, and we were not able to transfer the children to their new school until they were between semesters. As was inevitable, they had begun making friendships and establishing roots, even though they knew they wouldn't be staying. It wasn't easy for them, but we had prepared them well from the start, and they knew they could keep in contact with their friends and maintain those friendships if they wanted to. I think that made it a little bit easier on them.

After we were settled and a couple of years had passed, I received notice that my appeal for in-state tuition was being granted and that I was able to register for classes at the local college. My son had been very sick for the past few months, and our family paediatrician told us that he felt our next step was surgery. He said it was probably best to do it sooner rather than later. We got him scheduled and started preparing for it. My husband requested some time off so he could be there. It was approved and we were all set.

Two days later, my husband was laid off again. He called me and told me not to freak out, but that he would be home soon. He had been laid off, but we had a great severance package, and we would be able to figure things out. My heart broke, and after I hung up the phone, I cried. I cried until I heard him come home, and then I didn't shed another tear. We would get through this, and we would be fine. I had to be strong for the kids, my husband, and myself.

The company he had been working for was wonderful about everything, and they did give us a great severance package. I think we received paychecks for 60 days, and our insurance was covered for 60 or 90 days, I don't quite remember. At this point, I don't think we would have been able to survive if they hadn't. It took him approximately 40 days to find a position with another company — and we would have to relocate again.

This particular company would not pay for relocation or assist with temporary housing. We were not offered a trip out to find a home. All of those expenses had to come out of our own pocket. Our home still had not sold, and we started renting it out, but our tenants caught it on fire and then abandoned the home. Our property management company gave up trying to help us; we were drowning in debt and eventually headed into foreclosure. We didn't have the finances, strength, or energy to keep going after the tenants ourselves, so we completed a Deed in Lieu of Foreclosure instead (apparently, this is not any better than a foreclosure itself, but we did not understand it at the time).

My husband began work at the new studio, and within months was working 100+ hour weeks, often times not coming home at all. He did not have days off. Sometimes he would manage to come home for two hours, and the most he was ever home was five hours a day. If I wanted to see him, I had to watch him sleep.

After the game came out, he was given a week of compensation time for all of the hours he had been putting in. Even though he was on a break, he wanted to keep up on how the game was doing, so he attempted to check his email and see how everything was going on. His login failed. He tried again thinking he'd typed the password wrong. It failed again.

He called in to find out what was going on and after only having worked there for 10 months, he was told he had been laid off, yet again. There had been no phone call, no email to his work or personal account. There was no notification. There would be no severance, and he would not be paid for his compensation time. Our insurance ended at midnight that evening — not the end of the month like most places.

When my husband was laid off, our oldest daughter was in ninth grade attending her ninth school, my fourth grader was attending her fourth school, and my second grader was attending his second. All of the children had just really begun making close friends and getting settled in. It seemed like with each move, it was taking long and longer for them to get settled. It was really sad to watch, but at the same time completely understandable. This time, they really loved their schools, the neighbourhood, and the city we lived in. With each move, you hope it will be the last — that your luck will finally change, but that just never happens.

When we had to tell the children the news about the layoff, they were in tears before we finished. They asked us if we'd have to move and begged us to find a way to stay. It was at this point that Daddy's job in video games was no longer a cool thing they liked to brag about, but instead a source of heartache and pain they didn't like to mention or talk about.

We tried our best to find a job in the local area, even outside of the video game industry, but yet again, it didn't work out for a variety of reasons. This go round, we had a lot of offers from all over the nation (we have always felt incredibly blessed about this — a lot of people have trouble getting any offers, much less multiple ones).

I had several company owners and directors ask to speak to me directly to assure me of their stability and address any of my fears and concerns over their job offers. Out of character for me, I actually did speak to most of them and voiced my fears about layoffs, and accepting offers only to be laid off when the project was complete. I explained how my ex was threatening to file for custody of my daughter because we weren't stable, and my children weren't as young as they used to be. We needed to find them a home, not another temporary place to stay.

We really took our time making our decision and picked the most stable company we could. It was another company he had worked with in the past, who had been around for many years, and the entire team was really down to earth. We promised our oldest that with this next move, once we found a home to rent and were settled, we would do everything we could to make sure she could finish out High School wherever we landed.

With this next relocation, we had to live in a hotel for 45 days. It was the middle of the school year, and because we lived in a hotel, my children were classified as homeless. Their bus stop was located outside of the homeless shelter. This new school didn't offer the same foreign language my daughter had been taking, so she had to switch to a different one. Most of the classes she had been taking weren't offered, so she had to pick new classes and was very behind in most of them. She spent most of winter break catching up, and we spent that Christmas in a strange city, in a hotel.

A year and a half later, we were told he would be laid off in two months. I was seven months pregnant. Our insurance would end two weeks before the baby was due.

This was the first time we'd ever had notice, and that was extremely helpful. They even tried to get him interviews at other local studios, find contractor work, and finagle ways to extend our insurance so that the birth would be covered. They tried everything they could in order to help us in any way possible. It's weird to say, but it was the best layoff situation we'd ever gone through. I will never forget everything they did for us.

In the end, we were able to negotiate a deal with a company in California that would allow him to work from home where we were living at the time. My children would not have to change schools, and my daughter could finish her last two years of high school with her friends. They knew about the baby, and due to circumstance, we had a scheduled caesarean section so we worked out a bit of paternity leave into the deal, and everything was all set. We couldn't believe it! Our daughter was so happy that we'd been able to keep our promise, she really would graduate from the same high school after all. I felt like I could breathe again, and that our luck had finally changed.

I really can't put into words how excited and relieved we were. He was finally working for a truly stable company who had been around since the beginning. They were amazing to us, and they made sure we were all taken care of and covered by insurance in time for the baby to be born, and tried to make sure we didn't worry about a thing.

It was at this point we really felt like life was solid. We decided to actually unpack everything and make a home out of the house we were staying in. This was something we hadn't done since we left the house we had purchased. We hung pictures on the walls. We invested money in decorating the kids' rooms, as best we could in a rental. We took the time to really settle in, and even talked to the owners about purchasing the home in the next few years, if they'd consider selling it.

That company was LucasArts.

He started working in the spring of 2012, and Disney shut down the studio in April of 2013.

That year, my husband couldn't fly out and attend my stepson's graduation, because we had to move instead. We couldn't afford for him to go, or to send him any decent graduation gift.

My oldest daughter just graduated from her 14th school, where when we registered her for classes, the school forced her to take almost all freshman classes because she didn't meet this state graduation requirements. It didn't matter that she took equivalent or more difficult classes, or that she'd taken some of the requirements in middle school, and it didn't matter that they were preventing her from taking AP classes. In the state we left, she only needed two credits to graduate. I had to appeal all the way up to the Board of Education and threaten to go to the state level, so that the school here could allow her to take more difficult classes than they were trying to make her take. They conceded on three of her eight classes and allowed her to take AP Government as an independent study course for the fourth. My daughter did not bother to make any friends or walk at graduation, because, "what's the point". She had no ties to this school, and her senior year was a disaster.

She was accepted into the state university here but assigned out of state tuition because we hadn't been here for a year when she applied. We're working on getting that fixed and so far, it looks like it will be — but if it isn't, her tuition will be $US20,000 more than it would be if she were a resident.

Our current state won't accept her out of state driving permit, so she has to get a new one and hold it for a year before she can get her licence. We didn't realise this until a few months ago. Her college is an hour and a half to two hours away depending on traffic, and I don't have four to six hours a day to drive her back and forth. It takes three hours one way via public transportation. Instead, she'll have to live in the dorms, so that's another $US10,000 for college we weren't expecting.

My middle daughter has recently been diagnosed with extreme depression and anxiety. She has started hurting herself. She has a few close friends but absolutely hates her new school. She had her first therapy appointment recently, but I'm almost afraid to take her because I know it will take a lot of time for her to get comfortable before she opens up and then she may get too attached to that particular therapist.

I'd like to repeat that — I need to get my daughter therapy to help with the trauma and stress from all of these moves, but I'm afraid to because I'm terrified she'll become attached to her therapist, and we'll have to move again.

My son was recently diagnosed with Autism, is severely ADHD, and has a heart condition. He's been put on a six month cardiologist schedule so he can be watched for surgery, because his heart defect is deteriorating faster than it should be. We always knew he would need this surgery, but he wasn't supposed to need it until he was around 50-60 years old. I'm terrified we'll lose our insurance and he won't be covered when he needs it.

He has no friends at school and is picked on, not only by the students, but the teachers as well. To get them into better schools, we'd have to move again, and I don't have the heart to do that to them.

We just hit the one-year mark in our new state, and I am terrified every time my husband calls during the work day, or that he'll walk in the door one day while he's supposed to be at work, to tell me we have to move again. I don't know how long it would take for that feeling to go away, or if it ever will. I literally think about it every single day, and base most of my decisions on the fact that we are only here temporarily.

I paid off all of our debt from all of the moves just last month. We have no savings, and no retirement. We would love nothing more than to buy a home, but even if we were in the financial position to do so, I'd be too afraid to actually do it.

I don't bother making friends, trying to go back to school anymore, or starting a career — with as much as we move, it would only bring more heartache and stress the next time we have to leave.

Everyone asks us why we move so much, but no one outside of the industry understands or can make any sense of it. Everyone thinks or assumes we're military, but we've been told we move more than they do.

After the first couple of layoffs, companies would ask about the one to two-year stints at different companies on my husband's resume. Now, it's become so common, they don't even bother to bring it up.

By now, I have a routine when he's laid off. We immediately file for unemployment and get the children free lunches at school. We fill out the paperwork for food stamps and state health insurance, luckily we have never needed TANF, but we fill out that paperwork too just in case. If we get a severance, I don't submit any of it, but if we don't, I submit it immediately. Next, I cancel Netflix, cable, and downgrade to the cheapest internet connection we can get. I cancel any other optional services and bills we have, like pest control, etc. We no longer throw away our moving boxes, instead we put them in a safe dry place for the next move.

With our last move we decided that when we arrive in a new home, we'll give ourselves one month to unpack everything that isn't seasonal or isn't going to stay in a storage area. We're tired of living in homes with empty walls, so we make sure to hang things up on them, because, when we don't, everyday life is much more depressing. Right now instead of waiting until we're in between jobs and have to pack in a rush, we're trying to weed down our belongings as much as possible. That's our project over the summer.

That protection that insurance dealerships try to sell you when you buy a car, and no one ever buys? The kind where if your car is totalled and you're upside on the loan, it covers it — but it also covers payments when you lose your job? We buy that. It may be stupid or not worth it in the long run, but it makes me feel a little more secure and stable. It's worth it to me to know that in the worst case, I at least won't lose my car.

Private mortgage insurance when you buy a house? The insurance everyone says to avoid getting if you can? Anything that protects us when he loses his job, or takes care of bills when he's out of work, I welcome with open arms at this point.

Every time we accepted a job offer, we were offered promises of stability and plenty of funding. We were told about the "project after this one," and no offer was given as temporary, or "for this project only." Instead of companies asking us if we'd stay for the long haul, we began asking them instead.

The Pizza Party Where Everyone Got Fired

Illustration: Jim Cooke


    Either that last story was cut off something fierce or someone had a happy story they wanted to share amidst the dreadful reality of working life.


    Last edited 13/02/15 12:45 pm

      It's drastically cut. The full story is a massive read, and massively sad.

      The last story has been cut to a ridiculous extent. Come on Kotaku!

        And just as you said that it appears to be up!

    The guy with the "5,000 Miles Away" story shouldn't stay anonymous. He should name and shame big time - what a massively jerk move by the company!

    Err, that last story seems happy, so far.

    Last edited 13/02/15 12:20 pm

      Seems likely it was extended after the first version was posted.

      The husband now has a job, but their daughter is inflicting self-harm and son has been diagnosed with ADHD, family finances are a wreck, and they no longer have any confidence in the stability of the husband's work.

    5,000 Miles Away

    Ho-ly shit.

    "Kids, you tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is, never try."

    Reading that, who'd want to work in the game industry!?

      To be blunt, if you're a programmer, the only reason to be working in the game industry is if (a) you have specific training on gaming technologies and your skillset is worthless elsewhere, or (b) you are exceptionally passionate about gaming.

      Working on applications or system software is almost always going to get you a more stable, better-paying job.

        No programming skillset is worthless elsewhere. You work in games 'cause you love it, and because working outside, no matter how stable or lucrative, feels hollow and frustrating.

          There are programming languages that are used almost exclusively in gaming, and certainly skillsets (such as Unity) that aren't much use elsewhere.

          You're right that it's hard to find a skillset that's completely useless outside of gaming; the skills needed for game programming are incredibly broad, and the field as a whole is once of the most challenging in programming.

          In general I agree that the only reason to work in games is for the love of the field, but I can think of some skills that are pretty much unsaleable anywhere else.

            Any serious game made in unity uses C#, and even unity script is just a deformed version of Java script, both of which can be applied elsewhere. The only examples I can think of that would be useless elsewhere are game engines not used by and larger company, like RPG Maker

              I learned a lot of basic programming concepts and decided I wanted to get into programming as a full-time thing off the back of scripting new campaigns for some obscure RPGs as a teenager. Even something like RPG Maker can have useful and applicable knowledge that can be applied to other things.

                Oh yeah you can use knowledge from using something like RPG Maker to springboard into more mainstream languages, but I was more saying if you were trying to get into a programming position only knowing that sort of scripting it was highly unlikely

              Lua isn't used significantly outside the game industry, as far as I know. Of course, if you can program in Lua, you can probably learn to program in something else - but most programmer positions require that you know the language beforehand. Programming in general is the useful skill in that case.

              3D programming has some uses (such as modelling) but the vast majority of people with 3D modelling expertise will be working in gaming.

              Sound design (special effects) - again, not much used; many applications are essentially silent. Foley is a dying art.

              Game level design probably has applications related to architecture or interior design but I doubt you'll get an architectural position on the strength of your level design resume.

              Originally I only included the "worthless elsewhere" phrasing because I do actually have a background as a programmer, and one of the associated skills is to ensure that you've covered all your bases when drawing up a list of alternatives. Per the above, however, there really are some skills in the gaming industry that if not worthless elsewhere, are very nearly so.

              Games programming covers an incredibly broad set of skills, which need to be kept up-to-date very often, and positions are typically underpaid and frequently unstable. You wouldn't have developed a games programming-specific skillset unless you were determined to work in the field. I have great respect for people who choose to do so.

              However, every field has its niche skills that are not much used elsewhere. A Javascript/web programmer needs to know CSS. A financial modeller needs extensive statistical knowledge and deep knowledge of matrix arithmetic and modelling. Any programmer needs to know the APIs most relevant to their field. A networking application coder would be insane not to know the details of the TCP/IP and UDP protocols. A network admin should be able to decode netmasks in their head and recognise the major protocol port numbers.

              If you don't recognise that some elements of the game development skillset are essentially worthless elsewhere, you probably need a reality check. It would be difficult to develop an entirely useless skillset... but it's not impossible.

            Yeah, any company that would look down on your programming acumen because you worked previously in game is a software company that is simply not worth working for. Good games programmers are often some of the best out there in terms of technical skills.

          No programming skillset is worthless elsewhere.

          Bang on right. Game programming has very difficult challenges in doing great things with minimal hardware.

          Such programers would know how to write effective yet tight and small code which is desired virtually anywhere.

        Yep. I'm a pretty good software engineer and wanted to get into games, but I started hearing these sorts of horror stories when I was in University and decided I'd rather have something that's kind of boring but stable, and could work on games stuff as a hobby if I wanted.

          Same here. Studied programming and even got a Research PhD in cloud computing.

          The only problem is Cloud Computing has degraded down to a marketing term. I have a good line of work now but it's sad that my skill set in cloud computing will never be used again.

          I'd still like to be a game designer but as I'm well past my 20s I consider that ship long gone as I'm too old.

            Funnily enough I work on a product where we do a lot of intensive data mining and machine learning on a map/reduce cluster and it's incredibly hard to find and hire people who actually know this stuff in Australia. Probably because the people that do actually know it have been scared away by all the marketing crap around 'Big Data'.

            Age probably isn't an issue, but making the transition is tough. I had to take a pretty substantial pay cut when I first entered games programming. I've been out for about 5 years now, having left to find some stability for my family, and I just can't force them to make that kind of sacrifice a second time. The hours were long, the pay was very low, the only person who enjoyed that period was me.

        the only reason to be working in the game industry is if (a) you have specific training on gaming technologies and your skillset is worthless elsewhere

        Your specific skillset may be worthless, although it probably isn't, but if you're an actual functional game programmer who can produce results you're smart enough to make the minor alterations to your skillset that will make you employable elsewhere.

        To be blunt, I am a programmer, and my reason for working in the games industry is because the IT industry has been awful to me. I am honestly very tired of people saying 'there are jobs in them there hills' about the IT industry, I have had many an IT company try to scam free work out myself and colleagues (even going as far to advertise positions as full time jobs, and then only discovering the job pays nothing in the contract, after going through the application process and 2-3 interviews at your own expense), games studios were more upfront about the 'we have no money to pay you' situation.

        I do have some experience from a perspective of a games developer interviewing potential candidates, quite often we have two kinds of candidate and one rarer kind, of the two typical kinds we have: The eager but not amazingly skilled gamer turned game developer, what often unfortunately happens is that they don't have staying power and usually leave when they decide that deadlines aren't their thing; The second kind of candidate is someone originally from the software industry and is looking to tap into the massive dollar figures bandied about the games industry sometimes, what often happens is that they end up at an indie studio that pays the software engineer at their requested rate for a while but then has to let them go because it simply isn't sustainable especially if you are an indie studio that wants to sell your games for around $15; The last and more rare kind of candidate is the appropriately skilled and enthusiastic engineer, these people are a amazing to work with both as a colleague and as an employer, however the flip-side of that is they are rare because they are always working somewhere.

        In short: Software Engineer vs. Games Programmer is never a black and white decision, I was originally trained as a software engineer but went into games because while the work is often transient they actually treat me better, lesson learned: never put an industry or a profession on a pedestal because it only gives them a license to mistreat you.

    If you really want to change the industry you should name and shame these developers not protect them by blanking their names.

    I'm going to be downvoted to hell for this but what ever. To the couple in the last story, try using a god damn condom. Seriously, what they did to their children is selfish, irresponsible and as pointed out in the story, completely damaging to the rest of their lives.

      So people who want to work in the video game industry should give up their right to have children? That seems like a pretty back to front way of looking at things, especially if the industry wants to attract and retain talent (although reading these stories makes you wonder if it actually does want to do that or not).

      There are clearly some fundamental problems in how this industry operates that is what is creating these situations. The problem here is the way the industry works, not people having kids. Any industry that treats its workers and their families in this manner is in need of some serious self-examination and a drastic overhaul of the way it does business, and if it doesn't do it itself then the government should step in and do it for them.

      Although I'd be curious to know if this is also a symptom of a fairly brutal industrial relations system in the US, since all of these stories seem to be from there. Does the industry work the same in other countries? Obviously there are still studio closures in other countries, I'm just wondering if they're better handled than in the US or if we just hear the stories about the US ones.

        Of course there are problems with the industry,but if you have a repeated history of being laid off in said industry then you probably shouldn't go getting pregnant again while expecting to work in the same industry.

        Unfortunately this is no where near exclusive to the US, hell it even happened here with Team Bondi and Pandemic

        You have to admit there may have been a bit of questionable judgement involved on both sides in that story though. I mean, anyone going into Lucasarts in 2012 and thinking that would be a stable job would have to be misleading themselves. The writing had been on the wall for games development over there for years.

        I wouldn't think it's selfish to have kids when you're in that kind of a situation, though I don't think I'd have one when my financial situation is unstable, but I wonder why he stuck in the industry. I mean, wouldn't someone consider moving to a more stable one after the third or forth layoff? Even if not to a more stable industry, to one where you're in higher demand. In California especially, if you find yourself laid off as a decent web developer/engineer, you shouldn't have that much trouble finding another job in the same area, to avoid relocation.

        Trying to stick to your dream is something I can understand, and even admire. But when you've gained a layoff routine? When you're kids been to their 14th school? Isn't there a point at which you'd think that maybe the industry isn't the place for you at the moment?


      Family planning decisions are made on the assumption, not usually unreasonable, that someone who has been promised ongoing work will keep it. What was damaging was the way they were treated by (some) of the companies that the husband worked for, and by the general economy in a country where support to the unemployed is not great, and (judging by the article timeline) at a time of global economic upheaval.

        All I know of the US support systems for unemployment, healthcare, etc, make me very glad to not live there...

        At one point a few years back I was very close to moving there to live, and every time I hear stories like this I am so incredibly thankful that I didn't.

          And yet everytime someone tries to improve it somehow they all freak out about it eg: Obamacare.

            I don't know much about the specifics of Obamacare, I initially thought it was supposed to something akin to Australian Medicare... Free healthcare for essential needs for those who can't afford private health cover, etc, basically.

            At one point an American friend of mine flipped out on me for even suggesting it was anything like that... Talking about how they now pay more for their private health cover because of it, and that none of it is free to anyone, etc.

            And to be honest, between the two of us I still don't know who's facts were actually wrong on the subject.

            Last edited 13/02/15 2:38 pm

              It's not really Medicare comparative, more regulating the health insurance industry to stop them being jerk bags screwing everyone they can. Also has a bunch of provisions for people near the poverty line to receive federal assistance so they can afford to get health insurance and not be denied because they are poor and once got hospitalised 30 years ago.


              The main problems with US health care are that (a) it is generally treated as a work benefit, so you lose cover when you are fired (and won't necessarily be able to keep insurance you like when moving jobs), and (b) insurance companies have tried to move to a model where they make a profit off of every customer rather than just make a profit on average (which means that they would flat out refuse to insure certain people, and you were in a much worse bargaining position when trying to get individual health cover).

              The main changes in Obamacare is forbidding health insurers from excluding pre-existing conditions, and making it easier to get health care through exchanges. It's still not a single payer system like Medicare, and you've still got hospitals charging outrageous fees for services (especially to the smaller insurers), but it is a start.

              My understanding is that the real issue is that "something like Medicare" would never, ever get passed there - for some reason - so the actual bill is a watered-down "compromise" that ends up bad for a whole bunch of people.

                It probably ended up bad for the middle class... Because the middle almost always ends up paying for what the rich should pay for...

      It's laughable that this moron thinks "i'm going to get downvoted for this..." and doesn't attach the words "...because it's stupid."

      ehhhh...I can see what you're saying. On one hand, they have been poorly treated by the industry. On the other, having 4 kids while working in an industry that has constantly proven itself to be unstable and unreliable to you is poor judgement.

        The trouble is, if you read it, at the time they got into the industry, mass-layoffs were not exactly commonplace (he joined the industry ~2000. Whilst it was not the world's most stable industry at that time, mass-layoffs didn't really become commonplace until a couple of years later) , and they already had 3 kids. Having experienced a single layoff, he was not to know more would be coming, so along comes kid #4.

      I hate to say it, but I agree with you on this. It really sounds like the guy put his career ahead of his family. But, it's a tough call. When they were starting out they couldn't have envisaged what would happen with the constant layoffs, and it's hard to change careers. That being said, if it was me I would have taken any job that allowed my kids to stay in a consistent school and grow up with friends.

    My heart broke on the last story, I hope that woman and her beautiful family find what their looking for.

    Back in the day - I worked for a company who's lay off plans leaked in the press before anyone at the company knew.... Not a good way to find out that jobs were going...

    These articles always seem to get cut off for some reason. Is there a character limit or something on Kotaku AU?

      I imagine it's some sort of problem with the reposting system

    Does anyone know which company the one that mentions the CEO dying is? I remember there being a small company that was going to get acquired and that their CEO died and it fell through a few years back and im really going crazy trying to remember who it was.

    Last edited 13/02/15 1:35 pm

    Well, I'm not a big supporter of surprise lay-offs, but this is the industry. Once a product has been made and has been tested etc, there is actually no more work for that particular engagement.

    UNLESS they do DLC. But then everyone on here screams blue murder that companies actually want to keep employing people.

    So I'm actually all for DLC if it keeps the devs in a job between bigger releases.

      DLC is fine as long as you don't pull the Evolve card...

      Don't announce it all before release, ramble on about how your game is basically built as a platform to sell DLC, have a bunch of it standing by for release and then still charge full price for the base game.

      It's that sort of shit that people scream blue murder about, not the idea of DLC itself.

      Last edited 13/02/15 2:25 pm

        Evolve should have been $20 max and then have their DLC...

      That's actually a very interesting point.

      However, as an alternative, can we not bring expansion packs back? Not worthless shitty DLC.

      This is why I've never understood all the whinging about post-release DLC as well. Even stuff that comes out really close to release probably wasn't cut out of the game - there's usually several months between a game being done in terms of the art & levels and so on, and the game passing through certification etc. and released, especially for AAA games. It used to be that studios would fatten up toward the middle of a project, hiring on tons of staff who knew they'd only be there 6-9 months and work accordingly, and then the studios would shed tons of people immediately after the game was done and go into pre-production on something else, hire more people and so on.

      DLC allows them to employ a larger pool of people and keep them employed and working for them. That shouldn't be a bad thing. Trouble is the shrill 'oh my god they cut the content out of the game to sell it to us later' crowd have dominated the thinking on it, which is kind of sad (probably doesn't help that in some cases it was probably true).

        It's hard because you'll never really explain to someone who blindly hates DLC that a video game is a massive production that requires a mountain of planning. There's no such thing as Day One DLC because all modern DLC is -1000 Days DLC. Before they write line one of the code they sit down and say 'we need this much money to make the game, and we think we'll make this much by selling the game, but if we put DLC in it'll cost this much more to produce but it's ok because we'll make this much more selling the DLC'. It's not just paying a bunch of people to sit behind computers for a few years and then everything they did is put on a disc for $80.
        Just because the team finishes the DLC a year before the core game is released doesn't mean that they cut it from the core game. 9 out of 10 times that content simply wouldn't exist if they weren't planning on selling it as DLC. There's obviously some shady stuff that goes on, but most evil publishers are well aware that nobody spends money on DLC for shitty, half complete games that were a total rip-off.

        Last edited 13/02/15 4:51 pm

          I really hope that the complainers are the minority, because I find the DLC situation far more preferable to the no-one-can-afford-to-make-games-any-more scenario. Also it's not like that stuff is going away.

            Yeah. I really hope that something can be worked out. If used correctly I think a mix of DLC and small project XBLA/PSN/Steam games can fill in the blank spots and make a full staff studio viable between projects. Nothing to make anybody rich, although there's always that viral chance, but something that wins as much as it loses and averages out to enough to keep the wages paid.
            Gradually wind down the main team as the game is moving to gold, but instead of firing the 'dead weight' push those people off onto small, short term project work or DLC (after giving them a well earned break that isn't code for 'don't come back'). Make experimental and low budget obscure stuff that builds IPs and charms gamers while educating staff members and giving them experience in leadership roles. It also has the added bonus of refueling staff members by giving them an outlet for their passion projects. The freedom to roll the dice on something that's not a safe enough bet for an AAA project.
            Keep people working on those as the new main project is built at a conceptual level by the people who wouldn't have been fired, then kill off the production of those smaller projects as the individual staff members are required to go back onto AAA work. In theory you're going to get a more loyal staff, a lot of street cred for doing more than just the safe bet games, some new IPs that might some day result in big money AAA franchises, more/better DLC packs, a more talented and experienced workforce that can do the job to a degree that justifies paying them more rather than paying two people less. You won't be able to manipulate your financial reports just by firing everybody, but if done right you shouldn't need to.

            It's funny, everyone chases mobile money and alternative financial models but nobody seems to want to do any experimentation with those things from a production perspective. They just hold firm to the 'pay 80 people to make it then kill 70 of them when they're done' model.

              I'd love to see teams re-using their assets & engine to make simple downloadable spinoffs in their spare time too, like Ubisoft let the Far Cry 3 guys do with Blood Dragon. That sort of thing could be a pretty viable alternative to DLC for the base game.

                Yeah totally. It seems pretty crazy that they build a huge engine, pay people to create all these top notch tools, train all these people how to use those tools, and then only use them for two DLC packs that aren't really interesting on their own. That stuff might not be at a level where you could license it out but give the people who know how to use it a chance and they might just give you Team Fortress, Left 4 Dead or Portal. Give a System Shock fans use of the Battlefield engine and you'll probably see a pretty cool standalone project.

                  On that note, I wish that Ubisoft would open source or otherwise license out their UbiArt framework that was used for the Rayman games, Child of Light and Valiant Hearts. I'd love to see more games using that.

    To be fair, if you're a QA tester then you're hardly going to be needed until the next project goes into QA, yes it's terrible for those in that position but that's just effective governance on part of management and stops businesses from spending unnecessary amounts of money... 'The pizza party' sounds a bit more like they weren't expecting it than they probably were.

    As for other cases, I'm afraid this is the sate of the industry, no unions, usually contract work and very unstable. In other words, why I went to law school and play games on weekends.

      I'm afraid this is the sate of the industry, no unions, usually contract work and very unstable.

      A near limitless supply of fresh new employees who are willing to go broke and burn out doing what you do at an unsustainable pace. A group of naive dreamers that publishers and studios would be stupid not to exploit.

      I realised at 17 that I love game programming and design but professional game development comes with baggage I simply couldn't live with. At the time I didn't think I could run my own business and I knew my area of expertise was one that would be exploited. I honestly think I'd be dead by now if I went down that path. I'll admit it took me a little too long to find what was right for me but it happened eventually. I read stories like this and just want to scream at them to get out. There is no room in game development for people who want to make games. The industry will take your love and use it to grind you to death with sweatshop labour while whispering into your ear 'work hard, don't make noise, and if you have enough faith you will reach the promised land of stability'. 'We're working on this pile of crap right now, but if you give us everything you've got and pour your soul into it, when we finish this game and start work on the real project there will be a place for you'.

    I was seven months pregnant.

    At that point I just had to grab my head in almost physical pain. Why. Why. Why????

      Agreed, it's a heartbreaking story.

      But speaking as a developer who has been in and out of work constantly over the past few years, the main takeaway from that final story was "why would you DO THAT!".

      Family of five. Start working in game industry.
      Get laid off a bunch. You realise that working in the industry is very unstable, and you're in financial trouble. As soon as you get a job, you sign up for all the stuff you don't need (netflix, cable etc).
      Family of six. Finances still unstable. Children suffering.
      Family of seven. Finances still unstable.
      Is family member number eight on the way? Find another industry already!

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