The Subtle Demon: The Games Industry's Problem With Ageism


19% of gamers are over the age of 50. But only 1% of the men and women making those games are the same age. Is the games industry no country for old developers?


This article was originally published on May 15, 2015.

David Mullich tells the story.

A friend of his: an executive at a major video game company. In talks with another video game company for a similar role. Several interviews; both in-person and over the phone.

The job involves relocation. New job, new home, new city. Both the exec and his wife are flown on the company’s dime to help with house hunting. They are put up in an expensive hotel. Everything is paid for. As a formality, a final interview is conducted. The exec finally gets to meet his immediate supervisor: a man 20 years his junior.

The very next day: a phone call. David’s friend, the exec, is no longer a candidate for the job. Unceremoniously given the boot. Why? No reason is provided. At a guess? He suspects the supervisor felt uncomfortable managing someone 20 years older than him. He’ll never know for sure.

Back to David Mullich. David has found himself in similar situations. He’s 55 years old. Last year he celebrated his 35th year working in the games industry. His first project: a well-received adventure game based on the British television series The Prisoner. It was released in 1980. That is not a typo. David worked on Duck Tales. David worked on Dark Seed II. David worked on ‘I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream’.

David can’t find a job.

Here’s what David noticed: the older he got, the longer it took him to secure work. In the tumultuous world of game development lay-offs are common. Studios close, new ones open in their place. Usually it would take David a month or two to line up a new position. After he hit 40 it could take as long as 18 months.

At first he attributed these changes to a downturn in the games industry. Eventually he began to openly wonder: “is my age a factor?”

During one interview David tells a hiring manager that he can “easily” do the producer position he is applying for. He has many years of experience. This will be a breeze. David doesn’t get the job. Later he is told he came across as “arrogant”. He dials back the confidence in response for the next interview. Rejection. David is told he sounds “burned out”.

David Mullich turns 50. Hiring managers become a little less subtle. He is told he won’t fit into the “company culture”. During one interview David is informed he won’t get along with the rest of the team. Everyone is “young and energetic” the hiring manager says.

David gets desperate. He takes his resume and deliberately shortens it to hide his age. He can’t hide it for long. More rejections. He begins applying for junior level roles when he can’t secure senior positions. David is told he is overqualified. Employers are afraid he’ll leave for a higher paid position.

As of today David Mullich has given up.

“I received so many rejections,” explains David, “I eventually gave up looking for full-time work.”


Catching Up

Does the games industry have a problem with ageism?

According to an IGDA survey conducted in 2014 the answer to that question is ‘yes’. Ageism was cited as the second most common form of discrimination found in the games industry. Second only to sexism. Ahead of every other form of discrimination you can name. The games industry, according to some, is no country for old men. Or old women for that matter.

Research reflects what you might expect: a vast majority of game developers are white men, aged between 20 and 35 typically, and very few have children. As of 2014 men and women over 50 years old made up a paltry 1% of the game development population. The Urban Institute predicts that, by 2019, workers aged 50 or above will make up a staggering 35% of the general labour force.

Video games have a lot of catching up to do.

Over the past two months we’ve spoken to over a dozen game developers aged over 40. Some with children, some without. Some happy with their position, some who felt trapped, excluded and marginalised.

“I've never been discriminated against because of my age.”

“My 32 years of experience in the industry have opened up an incredible amount of doors.”

That’s Tony Albrecht. He’s been writing game engines for almost 20 years. Age has never been an issue for Tony. In most cases his age has been treated as an asset. Tony’s been around the block a few times (his words). He knows a mistake when he sees it, because he’s made those mistakes himself and learned from them. “There are a lot of smart kids out there,” he explains, “but what they generally lack is experience.” Larger studios are desperate for developers with experience, claims Tony.

Steve Fawkner is the founder of Infinite Interactive. He describes himself as the “Puzzle Quest guy”. He agrees.

“My 32 years of experience in the industry have opened up an incredible amount of doors.”

Older developers are an asset to any team explains Steve, and if you don’t get that then you’re not a good project manager. “For twice the price you get 10 times the output. Seriously.”

Does the games industry have a problem with ageism?

Everyone seems to have a different answer to that question.


The Constant Tug Of War

Tug of war photo via Shutterstock “People that aren’t part of minority groups or marginalised groups don’t see the problem because they’re privileged.”

That’s Michelle. Michelle is the kind of recruiter David Mullich spent the better part of two decades trying to impress. She is the gatekeeper. In her words: “I identify the candidates that are worth talking to.” Michelle asks that we don’t reveal her surname or the video game publisher she works for. Suffice to say it’s big. You’ve heard of it. You’ve played its video games.

Michelle is in a unique situation. For a person like David Mullich she might be considered the ‘enemy’, the person holding him back, but Michelle is in a similar situation. By games industry standards she is old – in her 40s. She understands his predicament.

Does the video games industry have problem with ageism?

“In general yes,” says Michelle.

But it’s more complicated than that.

“There’s a constant tug of war going on,” explains Michelle.

That tug of war is between hiring the person that’s right for the job, and the person they can afford.

“Sometimes we take a junior because we don’t have a lot of money and we just need to throw a body at a problem,” she says. “Other times we need visionaries and that means paying through the nose, sacrificing other positions to get somebody who is actually worth it.”

Michelle says every situation is different, every project is different. She’s turned away vastly qualified people because she simply didn’t have the budget. She’s hired those same people because she did have the budget. It depends, she says. It depends on the position. It can depend on something as arbitrary as the time of year.

“It’s just a constant balancing act.”

Michelle is adamant: diversity should be a huge priority for anyone in recruitment. A fact she is constantly trying to impress upon hiring managers in her team.

“We’re thinking about that all the time,” she says. “Why do we need a woman on the engineering team? What is the value that person would bring?

“What benefits can we get from people with different sexual orientation, different ages, different genders. There are advantages across the board. You just have to figure out what you want to bring to your team.”


Back To School

Back to School photo via Shutterstock

Heidi McDonald has a lot of friends.

One: 51 years old, 30 years of development experience, worked on at least two well-known AAA franchises. A wealth of knowledge. Unemployed. Frequently told she is over-qualified for positions she applies for.

Another: 42. 25 years of tabletop gaming expertise. Expertise routinely ignored during the hiring process, even if that expertise is directly relevant to the games being created.

One more still: 50 years old. Well-known in games industry, years of experience in community management for major studios in the US. Currently working in a bar to make ends meet.

Amongst her friends, Heidi McDonald might be the exception: an older developer who feels secure and valued in her job, partly because of her age.

Heidi’s story is unique. Once upon a time she was a musician. Then she was a full-time mother, working part-time. But when Heidi’s third child was just about to head to kindergarten her husband became one of 5000 people made redundant by IBM during the Global Financial Crisis.

At aged 39 Heidi McDonald was required to work full-time again.

But how? Heidi had no degree and, despite being an award-winner in her field, struggled to find work, losing out to younger, less experienced workers with the relevant qualifications.

Heidi decided to go back to school.

Mid-way through her course: a seminar focused on creative career paths. At the seminar: a presentation on the games industry. Heidi, a lifelong gamer, was stunned.

“That talk changed my life.”

A female developer, from a local studio, discussed her job in the games industry.

“First, I was like, wait… that’s a job? Then I was like, wait, she's a woman doing this job? And then, wait, there's a video game company here? Mind blown. I just needed someone to show me, ‘this is available to you’.

But that’s just the beginning of Heidi’s story. As soon as the talk finished, she badgered the female presenter with a litany of questions.

Later, when Heidi asked her about internships, she answered in the affirmative. One successful internship later Heidi – at the age of 41 – was offered a full time job -- her first in the games industry.

“I have since shipped five titles, two of which are award-winning.”


Learning To Adapt

Heidi walks into the office for the first time: a weird brand of chaos.

“It looked like everyone was goofing off,” she says.

People were watching movies at their desk, casually drifting off to get coffee, playing Magic: The Gathering. Sometimes, people would take naps. In the workplace.

How did these people ever get any work done, she wondered. And where the hell were the phones? No-one had a phone at their desk...

“I later realized that all the office conversations were happening over GChat, and people will stay at work 12 hours a day in order to put in their 8 hours.”

Forgetting everything she had ever known about traditional office work was the biggest challenge of Heidi’s transition into the games industry.

“The idea of work being task-based and not time-based was a big adjustment initially.”

“That was another key adjustment. You cannot rest on your laurels.”

Other challenges: learning how to operate the multiple different systems and programs used to make video games. Heidi was initially brought on as a writer with audio experience, but had to multi-task and acquire new skills. Rapidly.

“That was another key adjustment. You cannot rest on your laurels.”

Heidi now works extensively in Unity; she codes state machines in C-Sharp. She does features work, systems work, quest design: work she couldn’t have imagined doing when she entered the industry as a 41 year old woman with a limited skill set. Now at 45 she is comfortable in her ability to learn and relearn in an industry that is constantly in flux.

“There are days when I feel like I'm riding a Big Wheel in the Tour de France,” says Heidi, “but those days have gotten fewer in direct proportion to how much effort I expend keeping up on trends and tech. It’s thrilling and exciting.”

Heidi describes herself as the “zany aunt” of the office, handing out Kleenex and cough drops. She brings a layer of discipline and knowledge to the office that the team would otherwise miss: that ability to be an adult and do adult things. Heidi frequently finds herself helping younger co-workers do their taxes or look after themselves in general. Part of that give and take, Heidi believes, has to do with her willingness to learn and ask questions when she is having difficulties.

At 45 years old, Heidi has learned to adapt and be accepted in a work environment that initially felt foreign to her.


One Bad Apple

Bad Apple photo via Shutterstock

David Mullich is tired of the assumptions.

The assumption that he couldn’t fit into a modern studio environment; that he won’t work long hours, that he isn’t willing to learn new systems, new engines, new ways of working. The idea that he is set in his ways, that he thinks he knows better. That we won’t listen, that he is physically incapable of matching up to the rigours of game development.

As far as he’s concerned, that’s complete bullshit.

“I may be approaching sixty by the calendar, but I don't feel much different from when I was thirty,” he says. I am just as productive as I ever was.”

All David wants is the kind of chance Heidi was given: the chance to prove he still belongs in that environment.

But convincing hiring managers that older workers are worth the risk can be difficult. Even Michelle, the recruiter, is willing to admit that hiring managers operate on a set of biases. It can be difficult to overcome those initial impressions and hire older developers.

“One bad apple tends to colour the whole group,” she admits.

The reality, Michelle claims: some older developers do find it difficult to adapt to a rapidly changing industry. Some older developers do think they know better. Some older developers do refuse to learn new techniques. Some developers are stuck in the past. All it takes is one bad experience to confirm the bias.

“I try not to get negative, but there are definitely some people who are jaded,” says Michelle.

“30 years have gone by and they’re still talking about how things used to be. You see that sometimes with the older developers and it can be limiting.”

A difficult truth: the games industry is competitive. When you have 10 younger, cheaper applicants who can do the job just as well as the older developer, that fact can be difficult to ignore, says Michelle.

Increasingly, the benefits of experience are being dramatically overlooked.

“In some studios having a lot of years in the industry can be seen as a detriment,” she admits. “It’s the idea, ‘oh you’ve been around for so long, you’re used to doing things the old way’.”

Michelle’s worry: she spends much of her time trying to be aware of these biases. Most other recruiters do not. That awareness -- that ability to create a diverse workplace that benefits the studio and the end product – sometimes doesn’t exist.


Experience Trumps Gender

Ann Lemay says something interesting. She says, “I am finally at the age where my experience trumps my gender”.

Ann started her career at Ubisoft Montreal, trained alongside a group of new recruits who didn’t necessarily have much experience making games. She was trained, essentially, from the ground-up to create games the Ubisoft way. A handful of job changes later -- including a stint outside of games -- and Ann found herself at BioWare working as a game writer.

In the past, whenever there was a point of contention or a debate, Ann’s gender would always be brought into play. A common assumption: “you don’t know what the audience wants because you’re a woman”. This happened rarely, admits Ann, but if something was held against her it would be that fact: she was in the games industry and she wasn’t a straight white man.

During the last couple of years, says Ann, there’s been a shift. No-one talks about her gender anymore. They talk about her age.

More specifically: they talk about her experience. And they talk about it in positive terms.

“All in all,” says Ann, “being an older dev has been a good thing for me.”

Ann’s age has helped colleagues forget she is a woman.

BioWare is an interesting case study. In general, Ann believes, there is a move towards what she calls a “short-term mentality”. Hire young developers as cheap labour ("we don't have to pay them as much, they'll work for the passion") ignore the important elements of development. Ignore experience, ingenuity and the fluidity of a stable team firing on all cylinders. Close the studio after it ships. Scatter those important resources to the wind. Start all over again.

BioWare works a little differently. Ann's age wasn’t an issue during the hiring process and, recently, one Creative Director has taken to hiring certain developers because they are older, because of the life experience that comes with age. One hire: an older writer with an extensive background in theater.

“In her case, her age was valued,” explains Ann.

According to the Creative Director: hiring older applicants is often preferable. They react differently in tense situations. They tend to have a different approach to problem solving. They have a better understanding of appropriate interpersonal dealings in a professional setting.

And it all comes back to Michelle’s point: recruiters have to be aware of the strengths of different potential hires, and think constructively about what they can bring to the team.

“BioWare in general has a healthy amount of older devs,” says Ann.


The Subtle Demon

“Ageism is a subtle demon,” says Tracy. She’s in her 40s, an ex-writer on a popular MMO. Again, you’ve heard of it.

When studios hit hard times, older developers tend to be the first to go. At one point in her career, at a previous company, Tracy remembers a brutal series of lay-offs. The vast majority were aged 35 or above.

But ageism is everywhere. It’s embedded in games and the broader culture surrounding it. In the language: job advertisements that ‘weed out’ older applicants. Company websites featuring only the youngest workers. Statements: “we have a vibrant and active culture”. Deliberate or not, this language tends to alienate older developers.

Work benefits designed for the wants and needs of white men in their 20s: free gym memberships, laundry facilities, retirement funds set-up for developers straight out of college. The instability of the work: the speed at which studios open and close. The harsh truth: games development, as an industry, can often be hostile to people at a different life stage to the majority.

“When you’re starting up a studio in the tech industry,” explains Michelle, “you tend to start with people who have their degrees and their MBAs and have some money in their pocket: those people tend to be young straight white males.

“And once you get that youth culture in play then it’s much harder to bring people from outside that culture.”

In other words, certain studios are hardwired from the ground up to alienate older, capable developers.

Is it affecting the video games we play? Is it holding back video games as a medium? According to Digital Australia 19% of gamers are 51 years old or above, but we’re still playing video games designed by young men in their 20s and early 30s. Is this a self-sustaining, self-fulfilling cycle: video games designed by young men, marketed towards young men, bought by young men.

“It’s a chicken and the egg thing,” says Michelle. “It wouldn’t surprise me if one led to the other but I have no idea which direction is which.”

Change is occurring. At a slow pace. Too slow for David Mullich, who can’t find work. Too slow for Michelle, who remains frustrated at the hiring policy of her peers. Too slow for Heidi McDonald who remains frustrated at the lack of opportunity for her talented friends.

“45 is a scary age to be looking for work in any industry, I just think it might be a little worse in this one,” says Heidi. “The phrase ‘you don't fit into the culture’ seems like such a cop-out to me.

“These youngsters don't have a monopoly on good ideas, on innovation, on passion, on energy. We're just as bad-ass. We totally are.”


Comments

    I'd like to see more of these types of articles on Kotaku. I think it's a great insight into the industry and the real-life aspects associated with working (or trying to) as a game developer.

    I for one think we could do with a few older heads. Obviously, things are always evolving and I think it's good to have the knowledge from someone who has experienced the evolution first hand. Greater perspective is really important.

      Although I absolutely love the way games are transforming (in terms of control, design and intricacy), I think it's valuable to keep something from where games came from. I work in a similar industry, the car industry. I've learnt countless things from my older co-workers, having been in the same job for over 36 years. I've taught them things and I've only been here a year.

    I worry that we'll soon run out of isms that the game industry suffers from.

      Ageism is alive in every industry. I have a friend who's 28 and got rejected from management interviews because he was too young, despite having executive experience

        As @mypetmonkey also mentioned, indeed it is. This article seems to make it out like it's a huge problem only in the games industry though and it only affects older people. When in fact there's a ton of factors involved and it's something that people face in virtually all industries.

    At this point, I'd be looking for like minded developers in the same position as me and form an independent studio. Studios that have big name games like that in their employees' catalogs do well, particularly with Kickstarter campaigns. It's much easier to back a company when you can see real past success. No that doesn't mean they will succeed, but it does make success seem more plausible.

    Right now I'm the villain in this story, I'm a 17 year old male going on 18 wanting to break into the Systems Engineering crowd. Personally, I would love to work in a studio where we have truly wise developers. It's easy for people to see the changing world of technology on face value and forget that the fundamentals haven't changed in decades. If anything, it's only ever become easier.

    Having a developer on your team who through virtue of the decade they were born in, makes code that runs as efficiently as possible, is a god send. Why can't we use traditional principles to develop anymore? Why not start small and optimize to all buggery? Why not develop one line at a time, ensuring everything written is as solid as it can be.

    Could just be my naive view on the world though.

      Developing one line at a time and highly optimize sounds good, but in practise, its not common for programs or games to even NEED it.

      Hardware has become powerful enough that they don't need to do this in most cases.

      it also depends on if its a new program/game or a established one, established have their own issues with changing any legacy code, and new ones have issues with delays because you spend too long optimize 1 line when over 100k need to be written (and that is not that large a program).

      I don't believe in getting rid of anyone who has skills or experience, or not hiring someone just because of age, its stupid.

        I do agree with you, I reckon I got a bit carried away there. It's just a shame to see a lot of good programming principles getting cast aside for no reason other than laziness.

          ... or time pressures, or scope, or lack of manpower, or financial realities, or...

          Good engineers will always try to apply best practices to what they do, but there are any number of reasons beyond laziness why they may not always be able to in a commercial project.

        Hardware has become powerful enough that they don't need to do this in most cases.

        I remember about a decade ago a friend of mine went on this huge rant about exactly how much processing power computers have. All of our terminology exists to reduce specs to measurements that can be written in three digits or less, so when you stop and think of exactly how many operations per second a standard PC can do it's sort of mind blowing. Even when you know how a program works it can be hard to wrap your head around how you could ever possibly use that much.
        Of course his argument was that people should quit being lazy and that we shouldn't accept/praise the (then) current measuring points for graphical performance since the average computer was (theoretically) capable of so much more. I tend to lean on your side of the fence. The extra power frees your range of movement. You don't have to fight a PC to squeeze out every last drop and that generates a better outcome.

        Last edited 17/05/15 6:23 pm

          This is sort of true and sort of not true, it depends on a lot of factors. For instance, I currently specialize in Unity development. For most things, UnityEngine runs great. However, physics and collision in UnityEngine are notoriously slow. If you are using Unity to develop a commercial game, it is a given that you will have to write any serious collision and physics in C++. On the flip side, Super Evil MegaCorp has created what they call the E.V.I.L. Engine for mobile devices, because they claim that engines like Unity and Unreal are just too slow, at everything. This extreme viewpoint is also untrue. Most studios that do everything from scratch are large and have large budgets.

          An increasing number of smaller studios use something like Unity, even though it is less efficient, because they can prototype and iterate very rapidly by not having to build everything from the ground up, which they lack the manpower to do unlike the larger studios. They then optimize the parts that need optimizing for that particular game. For instance, if you're writing a card-based combat game for mobile, physics and collision aren't really important. If you're writing a racing game, physics is important, but collision can probably be very simple. If you're writing an FPS, you'll need to worry about both. Optimization is also * very * important for heavily CPU-bound tasks. AI structures like behavior trees can and will bring even the most powerful systems to their knees if not coded correctly.

          Optimization is * extremely * important for server code, even when it is running on modern dual-CPU (or even in some cases now quad-CPU) Xeon servers, because hundreds or thousands of instances have to run on the same machine and handle constant traffic. Yes, the server may have 32 GB of RAM; but that 32 GB is being shared between hundreds or thousands of running processes, so the actual memory budget for an operation is very much smaller.

          Optimization is also very important for smaller devices, like phones, tablets and consoles, which have far less impressive specs than desktops or even laptops. A laptop with embedded graphics, for instance, is very difficult to develop a game for. The fact that relatively recent games are still being developed and run well on my XBox 360, like Dishonored or Bioshock Infinite, is an amazing feat of engineering, and comes down to a lot of optimization.

      Traditional principles in software development are to leave optimisation to the end. The same goes for any form of writing, if you get bogged down in minutia as you go, you'll never finish.

      There's no hidden secret to why old games tended to be less buggy, they tended to have a fraction of the complexity modern games require. Development teams numbered less than ten in pretty much every case, usually less than five. Small codebases written by small teams generally work out pretty well, but you can't make the kinds of games that are expected in the AAA category these days with teams that small.

      Complexity is the root cause of nearly every bug you'll encounter in modern software. The correct way to deal with it isn't to agonise over instruction-level optimisations or spend what would amount to colossal amounts of time on studying every other bit of code your new code can interact with, it's to have solid testing procedures in place, both automated and manual, so that problems are detected as early as possible while they're still relatively close to the surface, before they gain additional complexity.

      Many jobs no longer care about or want efficiency in code -- they want code faster, not faster code. It's an immense frustration to me, but it is reality. Generally speaking, hardware is cheaper than code.

    Forgive me if this was touched on, I didn't quite read the whole article.
    I wonder is this more a western problem or do developers in Japan and Asia have similar problems?
    It seems that the Japanese game developers are still using venerable developers (excepting Konami).

    What problems do Asian developers face if not the age gap and a sexist workplace?

      It is very much the same.

      Just like in the west, you need to make a name for yourself to remain in the game when you get older as with most industries.
      We have our own western legends of the industry like Carmak, Meier, Schafer etc

    Yeah, hit 46 last year, damn near impossible to get into places now. All goes well on the phone etc. until the age comes up.
    Got one job and realised later they had mis-typed my birthyear as 1978 instead of '68 on the system, people just assumed I was in fact 36. When they realised my age they made fun of it, but I was already doing a great job, and it all went well. Can't crack new ones easily though.

    Harder to find work in pretty much any industry as you get older.
    Add to it game dev being a creative type, ever changing one and yeah it does not surprise me.
    It's not an ism, just the nature of life and work.

    Calling it 'ageism' is somewhat oversimplifying the issue.

    Generally speaking, competent people working in technology fields are competent because they're always learning something new - it's really a requirement of the job. That means if you take a competent / experienced person and stick them in a role they know how to do for too long, they get bored and move on to something new.
    In the example above that resulted in the 'arrogant' feedback - the applicant has said they already know everything. In the interviewer's mind, they can see that minimum notice resignation letter coming the second a better opportunity is found. And on the flip side, for 'burned out', here's someone with loads of experience resigning themselves to a lower role because they don't care any more and have lost the spark that got them here.
    It's a catch-22 for sure.

    The big problem is, both sides of this arrangement are looking for more long term certainty while still wanting the standard flexibility to cut and run if something changes. The risk profile is greater on a more experienced resource, and if that experience isn't needed, why take additional risk for no quantifiable gain?
    More clear and open negotiation is the only way forward - it would need both sides to adjust their expectations on what job is required. And there's the problem - why bother going to the trouble of figuring out a new system when there's plenty of younger workers that fit in just fine with the current one?
    Something has to disrupt the status quo for large companies to significantly change the way they do business. I don't know what that something could be.

    I'm a developer currently working in the games industry, though my concerns extend beyond games to the software industry as a whole.

    I'm 36 years old and very much aware of age becoming problem as my career progresses. Many companies do value experience, but in simple terms: do they still value that experience when somebody half the age is willing to take half the money but work twice as long? Possibly not.

    So I'm finding that I'm taking conscious career decisions that clearly differentiate me from being a code monkey. Aspects of management and team leadership. Actively pushing to further expertise in important and emerging technologies. Strong communication and documentation. Things where my work record will hopefully be enough 20 years down the road that I'll still be considered for a senior position on the strength of my abilities, irrespective of my age.

    It's a shame that I couldn't just be a code monkey all my life if I wanted to - but I guess I'd have to strike out on my own if that's what I really wanted.

    Last edited 15/05/15 2:11 pm

      Yeah, it's a concern for me as well as a 40 year old developer. Have no real plans to go into business for myself nor do I aspire to management - I'm happy to just code.

      I wonder what is going to happen over the next 25 years of my career, especially if I find myself out of a job. The only card up my sleeve at the moment are skills in a legacy language, but to be honest there's not a lot of work out there in it.

    I love Heidi's story. The 'different work culture' is a massive take-away point. Seems like she embraced it and came out better off for it.

      Thank you. :D I appreciate that a lot. What I do worry about is, what happens if/when I need to move on from where I am? Will I be able to do that? No idea. My friends are having it pretty rough right now. I just keep on keeping on, trying to get better at what I do. The bar for entry is higher now than when I entered the industry 4 years ago; there is more tech knowledge required for designers. My challenge will be to learn and adapt, quicker than that bar moves!

    Anyway the important thing is that I was wearing an onion on my belt, which was the style at the time...

    Welcome to what the rest of the world has been experiencing forever now. It's obvious from the comments so far that most people are still too young to have experienced what this is like. It starts around 35 and is usually full blown by 40. After that it only gets worse. I've had people flat out tell me I was too old. And illegal as it is, I actually appreciate their honesty - just not their stupidity and bigotry. The smart ones - afraid of legal repercussions - phrase things like, 'Wow, you have a lot of experience. Would you really feel comfortable working with people with so much less experience compared to you.' At that point you know it's never going to happen. So I just get up and walk out. Thanks for wasting my time and money assholes.

    Something that the article failed to touch on is that a lot of times the only reason older workers -- as well as minorities - even get interviews is it's way for corporations to cover their asses in case they ever do get sued for discrimination. That way they can hold up their record and say 'See, we interview a broad range of candidates, there's no merit to their claim!' Though all you'd have to do is look at the average age of the people working there.

    I once ran into a guy in a bar who I interviewed with about 6 months previous. He bought me a beer and apologized. He was actually quite angry about the whole thing because he had wanted to hire me and female - who was also in her 40s and had all the skills he wanted. Yet, he was told in no uncertain terms he wasn't to hire anyone over 30, in fact, anyone over 25 would be pushing it. So he was in the process of quitting that company to go elsewhere himself.

    And so many people wonder why so many 40+ workers go into business for themselves. It's not that they necessarily want to, they just don't have a choice. As it stands now, we're in a race to the bottom. About the only thing that will stem this are unions. All my buddies that are blue collar with good unions sure don't have these problems.

    Oh, and by the way, whoever had that idea about starting a studio for older developers...wouldn't that be something! Get government grant money and do it as a study about older workers. Study the work culture, the products and their success, and compare it to other products made by studios where the mean age is younger. I think the games would be incredible.

    If only the system would support ANY game/software deveopment/industry in Australia, I would play a game made by elders. Its a good job.

    Just look at the streaming industry

    95% of us cant get on that bandwagon because of internet speeds

    Last edited 17/05/15 10:46 am

    Ageism tends to be brought up when times get tough and the pie isn't big enough for everyone. Youth unemployment in Australia is insane, especially considering that those stats are masked by the fact that university and tafe students don't get taken into account. But in the media while these stats are really bad you see story after story about ageism and how older unemployed people aren't being given a fair chance. It's society that needs to change in that consideration. But youth are simply labelled as lazy, it is them that need to change (even if they are used as work monkeys for no pay in internships with a higher turnover rate than a hyperactive pancake) .

    Ageism isn't the problem, unemployment is the problem. And to solve the problem of unemployment you need more jobs. Short answer, start up businesses. Maybe a bit of the capital you've maybe managed to build over the 50 years in the industry could be put into a new development team that uses the experiences of all the older and out of work vets.

      I agree that a lot of the 'solutions' here just swapping one unemployed person for another, hiring the older person doesn't magically open up a job for the younger person, but I think it's still a valid problem. If tomorrow morning 1,000 new jobs opened up the attitude would remain and older developers would still struggle to get hired. The hurdles would remain. It's only when the studios get desperate for employees that these barriers come down and they tend to only stay down while demand is high.

      Maybe a bit of the capital you've maybe managed to build over the 50 years in the industry could be put into a new development team that uses the experiences of all the older and out of work vets.

      Well that's the problem when you do something you care about. You give up over time here and there. You dip into your savings while you're unemployed rather than changing fields. It doesn't sound like much day to day but over a lifetime it adds up. You work for 30 years and you get by and make some retirement savings, but you're willing to sacrifice to make your career work so it's hard to plan and save the extra required to get your own project off the ground. It's not the smartest decision on paper but it's very human and thus has a sort of additional value in that it's one of the less tangible things that makes life worth living.
      Especially with something as team centric as game development. It's rare to find a programmer who is willing to sink two years of the teams hard work and send the business broke for the sake of getting that little extra that's required to save up money over a long period. They'll stand up for themselves when there's no food in the fridge, but even those who don't care get invested in the project enough they can usually be pursued to take a hit when times get rough for the studio and they don't need the extra money today. It's a terrible habit but it's easy to think 'yeah, I'll get through this, things will get better, and then I'll pick up saving where I left off'. There's always plenty of time to catch up.
      It also doesn't help that getting loans and such for tech based companies tends to land you in a similar situation. If you actually need the money that makes them feel like you're risky, double that if you're looking to start a business in a field where you had a career for two decades and didn't get rich, so they look for reasons to reject you. If you're young you're too inexperienced. If you're experienced you're not young enough to be the sort of tech genius they picture running that sort of operation.

      I mean I'm fully into the idea of starting your own business. It's fantastic and normally I won't shut up about how great it is. It's just really friggin' hard kick some businesses off. Especially when you need enough money to pay several employes, rent, power, setup a high tech workspace and keep it all going for what could be years before you're tiny little game actually launches. Traditionally you setup and get a publisher on board for that, but I can't imagine it's easy courting a publisher that not only appreciates the higher level of quality a more experienced team can bring to the table (especially when the team itself is relatively new) but understands that old people aren't going to poison the games ability to sell to the demographics they care about. In many ways you're just setting yourself up to run face first into the same problems you face with hiring policies.

    I think there are two things at play here, one is covered in the article the other is not discussed. The games industry relies on the cheaper labour provided by a constant stream of young and impressionable talent, who will work crazy hours for no extra pay, because they love what they do.
    Older game devs know this is how it works and won't do those long hours anymore, they often have families and other commitments. The game studio is left with a choice, hire a young inexperienced talent who will work 60hours a week, or hire a senior talent for twice as much cost and only get 40hours. Essentially they get 3 times the working out for the same money by hiring younger people. The truth is that it's unlikely that the senior guy will be 3 times faster/better.
    Unfortunately as time goes on, you need to have a very special skill in order to stay valuable. And as the tech moves so fast, having 30 years experience is irrelevant as they may as well be a totally different career. None of the tools I used when I started, are the same as we use now :(

      Ron, it's been my experience that this isn't really true. For starters, junior engineers these days don't make 1/3 what a senior dev makes, or even 1/2. It doesn't work that way. You accumulate some salary increases for a while, but after several years it levels out to the market ceiling. A junior dev makes more like 3/5 or 2/3 of what a senior dev does... not to mention that as you get older, your value starts to decline again due to market pressures like the ageism mentioned in the article.

      Secondly, while they may be more energetic in general, young employees invest a lot of that energy in things that young people tend to do more of, like partying, gossiping at work, playing games at lunch, etc. A young employee may not have kids to go home to, but she probably has lots of friends who want to hang out, go to concerts, eat out, etc., so she will often leave work just as early if not earlier than an older co-worker. They also tend to do a * lot * of socializing online during work hours.

      Also, because they are less experienced, younger devs write a * lot * of crap code. This code leads to bugs, which slows down the whole team, and inefficiencies because they have to delete and re-write code multiple times for a given feature. The senior dev can accomplish more in a shorter period of time, and in my case, actually works typically longer hours than the young guys.

      At my last role where I was the lead, I consistently put in more overtime than anyone else except for one gold-bricker who occasionally put in more. I also used code metrics on our repos and determined that I was regularly putting in 200-300 LOC a day (which is a lot, believe it or not). My two junior devs were putting in between 50-80. Sometimes their average LOC for a week would go negative, because they would have to delete so much code after re-writing something. And they would often take 2 or 3 weeks to write something I could do in a day because they had never done it before and had to figure it out for the first time. Junior engineers also often get into passive-aggressive code battles where one engineer will delete another's code without saying anything to the team, and then the other will do the same, back and forth for weeks, because they lack the necessary communication skills to resolve it like and adult. It's amazing what you can find when inspect the logs of your repo.

      Keep in mind not all older people are married. Some of them might be divorced and only see their kids on the weekend. Some of them may be single. Some of them may be old enough to be empty nesters, or they just never had kids. Or they have kids, but they are a workaholic, so they prioritize work. In my experience I have seen no correlation whatsoever between work ethic and age. I have, however, witnessed vast differences in EQ, efficiency, communication, etc., typically favoring older employees.

      More than likely they are actually getting two devs, not for the same cost, but for about 1.33x the cost (2/3 times two), and getting probably about 1/5 the productivity out of them (1/10 each times two).

    I'd love to read a follow up and find out what these people are doing now and how their attitudes have changed.

    I think in this age of heavy Microtransaction proliferation and smothering, anyone in the high end of the industry who disagrees with it, gets sacked and then turned away from other companies. The people most likely to disagree with this terrible turn are the older lot.

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