The games industry is a volatile place. Anyone who’s been in it longer than a year or two knows this firsthand, whether they’ve been let go themselves or survived a company downsizing. As the recipient of another headcount cut no more than a week ago, it seems apropos to reflect on how my response to these events has changed.
When I left Adult Swim for Kongregate in San Francisco in 2007 everything was awesome. The economy was doing great, the move represented a great step up in the business world for me and I was going to get to make awesome games. It was also a banner year for games – I remember being halfway through BioShock for the first time when I made the move and finishing it in my 450 sq ft studio apartment off of Mission and 6th a week later when my TV arrived.
Well, then the economy went south. I didn’t think it would really affect me at the time – people weren’t going to stop playing free web games, were they? – but in the end what I was doing wasn’t part of the core Kongregate business and everyone was feeling the pinch to cut costs. I understood – in fact I’m sure I would have done the same thing if I were in the founders’ shoes. It still didn’t make it any easier and emotionally I took it hard. After all, I had never been made to leave a job I didn’t want to leave at this point, and I had grown to enjoy working with the people at Kongregate.
Jim and Emily Greer, the co-founders, were wonderful about it. Jim handled my dismissal himself and admitted it was the hardest thing he’d had to do in his career so far. I think the fact that he took it so hard made me buck up more – I didn’t want to add to his burden by being choked up about it. My wife (who was working in TV and commercials at the time, and had only moved out to San Francisco to be with me a year before) wasn’t finding work anyway, so we decided the best place for us both to be was LA. Well, Jim and Emily had made the extremely generous decision to keep me on until Remnants of Skystone finished, and then made the even more generous decision to pay our way to LA, even taking over rent on our SF apartment. Words really can’t describe how thankful I am for their generosity. They made what was a painful and disheartening experience survivable and made it possible for me to move on to the next stage of my career. Thanks, guys.
I was lucky – within two months of my last paycheck from Kong, I was hired by Break Media in Los Angeles. This was a godsend – it wasn’t exactly a booming job market at the time and Break was just the sort of place where my previous experience could be of use. I think those two years were some of the most exciting in my life – I was doing work I loved with people I liked; my wife and I were expecting a baby; and I was flying off to foreign lands on a regular basis where we worked hard but had a lot of fun together too. But the games group never managed to pull off the hit game that would have saved it (for dozens of reasons I won’t get into here), and it crumbled. This time was less painful – maybe I had grown some emotional immunity since the first time, or maybe it was because the trajectory was a lot clearer ahead of time. I was still unhappy about it, though, and the fact that we had a little girl now made it potentially a lot more devastating if i didn’t get a new gig soon. Break was really good about this as well – they were aware of my daughter’s genetic condition and graciously provided 6 months of health insurance for us.
Well, luckily, I only barely needed two. I began working with Majesco soon after, first working remotely and then moving to Boston to be with the core games group. Now, with the studio having dissolved a year later, a few people have asked me if I regret the move, but I don’t think I do. I think being in Boston allowed me to interact with the rest of the team in a way that would have been difficult otherwise. I learned a lot in the past year and I find it difficult to regret any of that. This time it was a bit like pulling off a band-aid. There was some pain, but it was quick and I was able to move on to the next step of looking for my next job without mourning this one too much. I think I’ve become a lot more hardened to the realities of the game industry.
Still, I hope the next place I go to will last me a while… I’m getting tired of changing addresses!