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Balthazar Auger

Burning the candle on n ends (with n > 1)

3 min read

Picture this: after having graduated from a fairly prestigious public game school with a heavily academic and independent-development-oriented curriculum, you immediately land a job at a big-name publisheloper (publisher + developer) as a designer on a top seller, yearly released license.

As usual with that kind of gig, the pay is nice, you have lots of good workplace relationships, you have vast resources at your disposal and the overall quality of life is better than average. On the other hand, you also need to learn how to cope with the -sometimes Escheresque– logics of HR, Business and Editorial services. You also need to deal with yourself-from-two-years-ago constantly whispering you’re sometimes just reinventing the wheel and treading familiar paths.

Is there a way to reconcile what you were taught to do and what you are doing now? Let’s find out together.

  • What’s the point? Just quit and go full indie!

Tempting, but not yet! I’m learning so much right now… Working for a big company is exactly what my degree didn’t teach me.

One of my definitions for what game design is about consists in getting the most (meaning, fun, entertainment) out of a set of resources and constraints. Designing for a big company allows you to tap into tremendous resources while throwing an unending stream of unforeseen constraints at you!

Also, one of the most important things you learn is that if you’re planning on spending your life working on games, the best way to do this is to avoid burn-out. In France at least, big companies can’t afford paying too much overtime and are not allowed to let employees work unpaid overtime either. Rush periods are hence handsomely compensated and many months apart.

So, since I can be home by 6pm everyday, what happens the rest of the day?

  • Okay, then just do everything at once

Yeah! let’s do that! Awesome! I’ll start a new game that will earn me (lots of dough || internet fame) and finish it in a week, while writing a paper on some fundamental thing about games nobody has noticed before, all while I try to give my best at work to make the shareholders happy.

Okay I guess we all see where this is going. Let’s be roundabout instead: Paris is a gorgeous city and I have awesome friends with whom I like spending time with. So, granted, the über-awesome game I’m working on might take a month or three instead of a week (and honestly might not be all that awesome) and frankly I haven’t written anything longer than 140 characters in months .

In this case you just have to face the fact that everything you want to do will get done only if you come to terms with the fact that they will be done slower. So slowly maybe that between the time you think about it and you get around doing half of it, someone will have already done something better than you and will be earning money off it. Those are the breaks.

  • What’s the point then? just stick to your day-job!

I won’t bother answering that one.

  • Isn’t there any other way?

There might be one that, when combined with the “Hindu deity” approach mentioned above, might yield interesting results. It is somewhat tricky to get going but I’ve been getting pretty good results so far. It might help if you get to be present at the early design processes in whatever project you’re working on in your day-job, though.

Part of the answer lies in having an agenda. It might sound secret-agent-like, but only because it is: I believe you need, as a designer, to have an underlying goal that drives your career somewhere. In a nutshell, you need to want to accomplish something (and if you don’t, what are you still doing here?).

Once you know what your objective is, you can surreptitiously (like a NINJA! Game design ninja, that is…) try to interject your own goals with the goals of the project you’re working on in such a way that what you do at home also serves the project, and conversely some of the work you do for the project pushes your home production forward.

I’m not saying you should sell-out or refuse to work on a project that doesn’t match 100% your ideals (because that’s how you learn to be a better professional), I’m just saying that a little overlap between the two can be beneficial for both.

And it might just make you a little happier.

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